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Mothering in real-time

By Jane Hammons

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"If Hillary can forgive Bill, why can't you forgive Dad,"my seven-year-old son wails one night as I put him to bed.

It is 1998 and his father and I are in the first year of a difficult divorce. My son's familiarity with the President and First Lady is the result of the constant reportage on Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. I do monitor my sons' TV-watching, but I'm also a news junkie. I listen to and watch a variety of news programs and subscribe to several newspapers and news magazines. The transcript of President Clinton's testimony has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Jokes about cigars and blue dresses abound on the playground. We have come to know Hillary and Bill and Monica as if they were characters in a sitcom. Except I'm not laughing. Okay, sometimes I'm laughing. But when my son compares my capacity for forgiveness to Hillary Clinton's and I come up short, I resent her.

"We don't really know if Hillary has forgiven Bill," I explain to him, falling into the familiarity he expresses. "Just because she is staying with him doesn't mean he is forgiven."

Despite Hillary Clinton's 1992 proclamation on 60 Minutes that she was "no Tammy Wynette standing by her man," in 1998, she is still standing by her man. The accurate part of that statement is that she is "no Tammy Wynette," who was married five times and perhaps understood something Hillary Clinton does not: standby is one way to fly. But it's pretty clear that Hillary is not going to fly -- not first class, not standby. She's going to remain by Bill's side.

"Why would she stay with him if she isn't going to forgive him?" my nine-year-old son chimes in from his bed on the other side of the room. A conversation about how Hillary Clinton gains and maintains power, in part, from her marriage to Bill Clinton isn't one I particularly want to have with my young sons. In fact, there is very little about this conversation that I do want to have with them.

"People make all kinds of choices about how they want to live," I try to explain. "I can forgive your father and still not want to be married to him." Having stayed in my own dysfunctional marriage for far too long, I have vowed to be honest with my children who have witnessed their father's decline into alcoholism, drug addiction and delusion. He is violent and unpredictable, flying into rages at the park, threatening my sons' classmates and their parents. He has stumbled into walls, knocking himself unconscious. We have found him in pools of his own blood and urine on more than one occasion. He is often prevented by restraining orders from seeing our sons. I would be lying if I told my children I had forgiven their father at this point. And they would know it.

We don't have much use for euphemism in our lives. When they ask questions, I do my best to respond in what I hope are age-appropriate but concrete ways. More often than not their inquiries lead to what I think of as cultural exchanges between the worlds of adult and child, women and men: thus issues of power are often at the core.

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I was a junior in high school when I declared myself a feminist

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