Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In defense of ...well...me

A few incidences happened lately that have made me a bit defensive about what I do. Whether justifying my marriage and its longevity, my decision to have children, my decision to stay home and raise those children in lieu of vacations, new clothing, new cars and restaurant outings, or my decision to go into business with my husband, it all leads people to assume that I never left the 50s.

I’ll skip the whole issue of passing judgement on people’s life choices. I’m sure not everyone does. It’s just that people who do are very vocal about it.

“When women were just wives and mothers most of them had to take drugs to get through the day,” one college boy informed me, adding, “my professor said.”

I found the statement amusing in that 1.) It had nothing to do with what we had been talking about; 2.) “Just” wives and mothers; 3.) It assumed validity based on the fact that his professor said it and his professor is automatically assumed to be right due to the piece of paper on his wall; 4.) It indicated that all women without exception were on anti-depressants during the 50s; and 5.) It was total schlock.

I won’t go into the wretched disintegration of quality faculty at some of our universities just now. And chances are this boy’s “professor” was some 32-year-old professor’s aid who researched the literature and periodicals of the time and came to this conclusion.

It never occurs to anyone that the media only covers what is interesting, sensational or unusual. And there probably were upper-middle-class women popping amphetamines to create those perfect cookie cutter homes that we see in the media of the time. In my neighborhood there wasn’t money for that sort of thing. Women got through the day on the second cup of coffee, probably run through the grounds a second time, and the promise of being able to sit down after dinner. Their hair was in curlers and sometimes there were Cheerios on their kitchen floor.

Granted, my experience is merely anecdotal and, as a 10-year-old, I failed to gather statistics. And if there was rampant use of dexadrine and the like, those same women with the perfect houses and perfectly coiffed hair these days are running a house and a high-powered job, have their kid in every activity imaginable, are the head of every committee and do it all on a couple of cases of Dr. Pepper (or gallons of coffee or Red Bull or Surge or whatever) a week and tell themselves they’re not taking any drugs. Or they take the drugs. A user is a user no matter what century they’re in.

“I could never subjugate who I am enough to actually marry someone,” a young waitress sneered recently. This was a conversation with her colleague and was meant to be overheard by Dirtman and me, to put us in our place, as it were, as people who had sold their souls to be married. Young women making unbidden declarations of their fondness for independence is a hazard of showing up at a restaurant for lunch with your spouse. Dinner seems to be okay. But a man and a woman having lunch together: business peers, okay; “just friend” couples, chic; illicit affairs, exciting. But husband and wife: Don’t you two see enough of each other?

No.

Maybe it’s all in semantics. The whole concept of “stand by your man” sounds antiquated and passive. But I can stand by a friend and I can certainly stand by my best friend. Does that sound better, more palatable?

The fact is we subjugate ourselves all the time, whether it’s to save a friendship, get a job or mitigate a speeding ticket. It’s what we do as social animals. It’s how we live in communities. And if you don’t want to subjugate yourself, don’t. There was never a better time to be an unmarried person.

Given their youth, my two young friends can perhaps be forgiven their jaundiced view of the anonymity of being a spouse and parent. The woman ahead of me in line at Michael’s last week is another story.

She was about my age -- 48. Her long hair was a shocking pink and she wore a lime green and yellow poncho and a huge cowboy hat. Not a single fold of flesh was unpierced or un-tattooed and the amount of rings on her fingers looked downright painful. I thought at the time I’d never seen anyone so desperate to be noticed.

“I go everywhere myself,” she was saying to the clerk waiting on her and the clerk and customer at another register. “I’ve gone to Argentina by myself. I’ve gone to Paris. They’re always asking me who I’m traveling with. But I don’t need anyone, ‘specially not a man.” This last word was uttered with all the contempt she could muster. Why did we need to know all this? She turned to me, “Am I right?”

How do these people find me?

“If that’s how you want it to be and you’re happy…” I shrugged. Leave me alone!

“I own my own house. I don’t answer to anyone. I can go when I want and where I want.”

Did anyone ask her? I wondered. The clerks certainly didn’t look like they were chatting with her. Why this need to justify herself to a bunch of strangers?

“I listen to some of these women,” she switches to a high, baby voice, “’Honey, can we do this? Honey can we do that?’” She glances in my direction again, sensing I’m not the ally she thought I’d be. “They can’t (go to the bathroom) without asking permission.”

You might call me a wuss, but this woman had a head of steam going and nothing I could say was going to dissuade her. There was no way to talk to her without sounding as self-righteous as she was.

Later, of course, I thought of several clever come-backs, none of which would have convinced her otherwise. She’d found a paradigm that worked to justify whatever it was she deep down felt guilty about having or not having.

When she left, the other clerk laughed and asked her co-worker, “What was that about?”

“I just asked her what she was making,” the clerk said. “You know, trying to be friendly. And she just starts going on about how she doesn’t make anything for anybody.”

Then the other customer, a sweet little granny-type, cleared her throat nervously and said, “I think maybe I went on too much about my new grandbaby. I’m sorry.”

It’s true we’d met in the yarn aisle and had been talking about what we were knitting. She had told me she’d gotten back into knitting after several years and had made a blanket and now wanted to try something more challenging. Naturally she showed me pictures and gave me vitals and, while discussing babies is just above dental surgery on my list of things I like to do, it was very important to her, so I listened and cooed and “awww”-ed and “oooo”ed as is the custom of my people.

Perhaps that is what set the woman off. Obviously there was a whole other story behind her bitterness and that is all well and good. Beyond the fact grownups realize the entire world is not going to tip toe around you while you deal with your problems, was the fact that she’d made a little old lady ashamed of being proud of her grandchild. She hadn’t been “in your face” about it, no more than I am overbearing about what I do (I don’t even wear a wedding and/or engagement ring). Yet somehow her mere existence as a grandmother deserved the other woman’s contempt – out loud.

I never saw the show Desperate Housewives (just the name sets my teeth on edge), but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not doing much in the way of good PR. But, for the record:

1. I don’t spend my day watching soap operas, game shows or Oprah.

2. I don’t spend the day in my pajamas or sweats.

3. I am not required to check with my husband on every purchase I make.

4. I can and have gone to movies alone.

5. My life does not revolve around cleaning products and new kitchen gadgets.

6. Not a single room in my house is pink. If I had a daughter I would not necessarily dress her in pink. Unless the clothes were really cheap.

7. I have no desire to have an affair with any service worker entering my home and I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

8. I do sometimes have a drink at night. But mostly not.

9. If you think you have me, or anyone else for that matter, figured out and categorized, you are mistaken.

11 comments:

Jagosaurus said...

Bravo! Especially the sentiment expressed in #9.

I wonder why people feel like their either need to mind your business for you or make absolutely certain you understand how "defective" you are because you are not like them.

Spicy McHaggis said...

Raul will be dissapointed.....

Leslie Shelor said...

I like Number 7, although I was once tempted by a very cute washing machine repairman. Bravo to you for finding your place in life. That's all anyone can ask of themselves, and too many people just aren't there.

Hick said...

Okay...so I got caught in my sweats at 2:00 in the afternoon...

Good post. I feel like that much of the time. When someone asks me what I do, I feel almost guilty if I say I'm a homemaker. One time a friend interjected, "Yes, but she homeschools all her children" as if that would justify me being home. Sigh. I would have done the same thing you did.

John Boy said...

Your post is too long. I haven't finished reading it.

John Boy said...

One more thing -- #5, cleaning products and kitchen gadgets should be from the 1950s.

Cynic of the day said...

One woman wears lime green and yellow and talks loudly in her own defense, the other has a blog where she defends herself. What's the difference?

Dark Garden said...

Stop sittin' at the computer so darn much, and get into the kitchen and make something nice to eat for everyone!

Besides... I LOVE kitchen gadgets and a large varience of cleaning supplies. It's all very comforting, don't ya know.

jon said...

We tried it, but decided we are going to sell the kids and opt for the vacations and fancy clothes. The pink haired lady has probably taken her stance in life after the fact; nobody wanted to be around her or have a relationship with her, so she has turned it into something that she has decided, instead of others deciding. And her over willingness to blab about it sounds like someone trying to affirm it to themselves.

© 2003-2007 M-mv said...

One of the best posts I've read in a long time. I *love* stopping by here.

ericah64 said...

Here, here! Methinks that lady doth protest too much. I suspect that underneath all the color and piercings and proclamations, you'll find a whole lotta pain.

I must admit, however, that Thing One does have a pink & white room. Two shades of pink, no less.

Oh, and I'm still in my sweats at 1:19, but that's only b/c I worked out but haven't showered yet b/c I'm about to vaccuum the house.

Keep enjoying those lunches!