I was having lunch with my girlfriends, most of whom are mothers. Someone ventured down a urinary tract of conversation (insert comedy drum sound here).
“Obviously, I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything, but…” This is, of course, the phrase that launched a million bitches. All totally valid, I’m sure. Children are tyrants. But she went on to say that she was walking uphill when someone or something made her laugh and she “like… peed. Just a little! But, yeah.”
The other mothers in the group shared their own similar stories. In addition to funny hills, there are other situations that my friends admitted to avoiding. Squats, lunges, anything that involves a kettlebell, and sneezing. “I just wear sweatpants all the time,” one Mom shared. “They dry faster.”
I could have sat there, quietly and smug. Implying with my silence that my childless state has left my bladder intact: an impenetrable platinum fortress of pee. But that would be a lie.
“Last week, I was filling up my bird feeder. I went to lift it back onto the hanger and I couldn’t quite get it on the hook way above my head. Then, I suddenly realized that I had to go, and I wasn’t going to make it.”
My friends all laughed, and someone asked if I dropped trou and watered my lawn. I didn’t. I actually did make it back inside. (My snow shoveling session last weekend which has brought this conversation to mind did not end as successfully, damn you snow pants!)
“My point is, maybe having kids made it worse, but I think it’s also just age.” My one other childless friend at the table concurred, but declined to share details.
I’m only 41, for God’s sake. I’m not ready for depends! These are the moments that I remind myself that if I were living in cave times I’d be dead. Or used as bait on big hunts, at the end of my usefulness. Instead I’m lamenting the sunset of my fruitless fertile years and hoping I saved enough for retirement. That’s progress, right?
At some point in the week, a truck (I assume?) came through the neighborhood and collected the discarded Christmas trees. I didn’t see it happen. One day I saw the trees lying in the gutter, a corpse in front of every home, and I thought of the Monte Python line, “bring out your dead!” Then the next afternoon they were gone. One final Christmas magic trick.
My holidays were a whirlwind. As a new step parent, I am learning that Christmas with a child is much more fun, but so much more work! It is possible that we over-do it. The kids don’t need the dozens of elaborate recipes executed to perfection, for instance. They are so focused on Santa and toys and chocolate… and… and… and… But it all feels so important! Who knows what will stick out for them in the decades ahead? What smell, taste, or activity will come to symbolize “Christmas” when they are my age and looking back on it all? That is what we are trying to accomplish here. We simply aren’t baking cookies and roasting turkeys and instigating sword fights with the spent wrapping paper rolls. We are constructing memories! We are making happy childhoods! What could be more important?
I can’t pretend it is only for the kids, I suppose. I always put way too much effort into Christmas. I always expect too much from the day. And I nearly always ruin it for myself by trying too hard and indulging too much. It’s a character flaw of mine, and it burns brightest during the holidays. Do other families have that person, too? The one who goes overboard, wanting everyone to feel her love vibrating through her gifts? The one baking up a storm, wearing light-up earrings, and wearing everyone else out with her enthusiasm? I hope not. I’m exhausting. I wouldn’t wish myself on anyone else’s family, either.
At one point before my family arrived, I started a blog post, but I didn’t finish it in time to post for the holidays. There never seemed to be any TIME! I was too busy putting antlers on things (see below). I’m finishing it now and posting, belatedly. Just in case there was someone else out there who found, once the trees vanished from the street, they weren’t quite ready for Christmas to be over, despite it all.
Every year, I take note of the holiday honking, but then I quickly forget about it. What is that all about? Most of the year, I will occasionally hear someone honking their horn at another car, usually for truly bad behavior. But between Thanksgiving and Christmas, an epidemic of honking breaks out. People are in a hurry, and they are self-absorbed. Everyone has end-of-year deadlines for work and a shopping list the length of their forearm and no time for your bullshit. Each day it hear multiple people honking at cars for making legal maneuvers too quickly or too slowly, or just for existing in space and time. Someone honks at every light the second it turns green. People honk at jaywalkers and bollixed pedestrians wandering aimlessly though a parking lot as if concussed, trying to make sense of it all. Don’t we all feel a little shell-shocked? Can’t we employ a little compassion?
No. This is not the season for compassion. It is the season for douchebaggery. And for grumbling over the line at the post office, at noon on December 19th, when what in God’s name did you think you would find going there on your lunch break? And it is the season for treating retail workers like foam stress balls to be crushed between the fingers and the palm because we are human and therefore terrible.
I was in line at the grocery store’s post office and the woman in front of me was glaring at a the lady at the scale, who was wearing a name tag that said “Hello! I am in training!” I looked over the shoppers shoulder to read the message she was typing on her phone, which said, something to the effect of “OMG, I’m NEVER getting out of here!”
I quickly saw the problem. They woman was trying to save time by posting a package at the grocery store. No big deal. Same thing I was doing. Only this woman was sending something to Myanmar, or Somesuch. And the poor lady behind the counter (who was in her fifties, at her first week of this new job, thinking she was going to be selling eggs and deodorant), was furiously trying to learn how to fill out the customs form. She was asking for her co-workers to help her, but they didn’t know either. Because this is a grocery store! You take complicated crap to a real post office! Especially two days before Christmas! After the woman sent her text, she looked back at me and rolled her eyes with luxurious indignance, inviting me to join in the shaming of the proletariat in the apron. I declined, gazing behind me, as if to see who she was looking at. The man behind me had a shopping cart full of packages; I counted fifteen. This is another shipping mission that, at least during the holidays, should be saved for the real post office, in my opinion. I tried to tell him so with my eyes, but I don’t think he got the message.
After I mailed my small package to an adjacent US state, I wandered back into the store to pick up some chocolates and eggnog flavored salt water taffy to fill up stockings. I stopped at a table for a free sample of brie and sour cherry preserves on a lemon flavored cracker, and as I licked every microscopic crumb off my thumb and index finger I asked myself, “what is wrong with everyone! It’s Christmas! It doesn’t have to be ‘every man for himself!’ Just don’t be an ass-hole. And take deep breaths. Especially in long lines. Keep your sense of humor and we will all get through it together!”
I was still thinking this as I walked out through the sliding glass doors and out to my car, when I passed a white haired lady and her male companion, probably her husband. “Oh, my!” She said to me, and I stopped. I thought maybe she was going to ask if she knew me. I have one of those faces and I get that a lot. “You have a beautiful, smile!” she exclaimed instead, making my day, my Christmas, and my year.
“Thank you so much for saying that!” I said, deciding at the last second not to hug her. “Merry Christmas!” I said to her and her fellow, and I walked to my car.
Here is my Christmas wish for everyone: be that lady. I know, Christmas is Carnage. It is exhausting, and it will kick your ass. Especially if you are a Mom. (Sorry guys, but that’s what I have witnessed. See this Onion article for reference.) But you can focus on the smiles, and call them out when you see them. And if possible, instead of making cashiers go home in tears, make someone smile.
The weird thing about not having had children is that I don’t have a very accurate sense of the passing of time. I just bumped into a friend and I asked how his baby was doing. Apparently his baby is playing lacrosse, now. Which is funny to picture. “Didn’t I just come to the baby shower?” I think. And realize that if by “just” I mean twelve years ago, then yes. I “just” did that.
You would think this would make me panic, but instead the thought that occurred to me was, “It’s so crazy how everyone around me is aging and I’m not.”
I grew up in a crafty family. I think that is related to the fact that I was raised in the Mormon Church (I know they just made up that new rule that you aren’t supposed to say “Mormon” anymore; they want you to say the whole Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But it takes too long and I’m too old to make a change like that. Besides, I left the church. Stop trying to tell me what to do!), but I also recognize that Mormons aren’t the only craft people. There are tons of people on Pinterest and they can’t all be Mormon. Do the Amish make an exception to allow you to get on the internet just for Pinterest? That must be it.
Growing up, we had a Thanksgiving craft tradition. We didn’t do it every year, but I loved it when we did. Basically, we had a big meal with aunts and uncles and cousins, and when we were done with the pie course, the men folk watched football and the women folk went back to the kitchen to craft. One year we made tiny ski hat ornaments. I didn’t think anything about it at the time, but this required a lot of base skills. Everyone had to already be able to knit, for one thing.
“Our craft game was high!” I realized when I thought of it last month. I was getting ready to spend Thanksgiving with Matt’s family, making it the first turkey day I had spent away from my family in a long time. I was plotting to make Matt’s family do a post meal craft, but I knew it wouldn’t fly unless I found the right one. No knitting, for instance.
I found the perfect thing. Just a few materials needed and the most difficult part involved a glue gun. And so cute!
I found it here. You can also get the template on Etsy.
After dinner (and the subsequent naps) it was time to introduce my craft session to Matt’s family. I felt really sheepish and had to work myself up to it. And there were members of the family that gave me a “you want me to do what, now?” look. But they moved toward the TV and the others were intrigued. Once they jumped in, they legitimately appeared to be having fun. (I don’t think it hurt that I also provided wine.)
Matt’s sister-in-law enjoyed it so much she asked me to send her my proposed craft next year, even though we will be spending the holiday with our own families. That’s what I call success!
The day after the election, I learned an important lesson.
Actually, I learned two important lessons. The first is this: When you are raking leaves and you find a fun sized pouch of M&Ms that some hapless trick-or-treater lost in the chaos, do not say “Yahtzee!” and eat them. In the week since they fell, they have been reclaimed by the earth and are no longer safe for human consumption.
The second lesson, unfortunately, left an even fouler after taste.
I was at Staples getting some copies made. (Side note, if you sometimes wish you worked from home and not in an office setting, think about all the free copies you get when no one is looking! It’s a nice perk, and I miss it very much.) I had my essays for writing group and a craft pattern printed and was just about to pay, when a nicely dressed silver haired white man interrupted my conversation with the sales person to ask a question. Let’s cast him in your imagination with the actor John Slattery. I’m sure John Slattery is a perfectly lovely human in real life, but this guy was the same type of basic white man. And John Slattery did that movie The Adjustment Bureau which was terrible, so I don’t feel bad fobbing this off on him. (Spoiler alert: angels are real, but they are allergic to water. Same basic premise as signs but with a better looking cast.)
The man at Staples completely ignored me. He acted as if I wasn’t standing there, and once he got an answer he didn’t like, he began arguing his cause based on the semantics of the coupon he wanted to use. I waited to see if he was going to at least acknowledge me, as I would have done. As the minutes ticked on, it was clear this wasn’t going to happen. Then I thought over all the times over the last few years (since Trump was elected, basically) that I have been verbally interrupted or physically cut off or just disregarded by a white man and I have stood there thinking, “the next time this happens to me, I’m not just going to stand there like an idiot following my ‘respect the priesthood’ programming. I’m going to say something, dammit!”
Then I thought of an interview I heard with Rebecca Traister when her new book, Good and Mad, came out in October. It is a book about women’s anger. She said that she began writing it immediately after the 2016 election when she didn’t know what to do with her emotional response and the anger she saw all around her, but it had the good fortune of coming out during the Kavanaugh hearings when the anger of women in this country hit the bell at the top of that carnival attraction that tests your strength (just googled it: it is called a High Striker. The more you know!)
In that interview Rebecca Traister told a story about a friend of hers who decided that she was no longer going to step out of the way of white men plowing toward her on the sidewalk. She decided that she had as much right to the sidewalk, and she simply stopped moving to the side. And she body checked some people, which surprised them and delighted her.
I can’t think of a better metaphor for how I’ve been feeling since the 2016 election. We women have been patiently waiting our turn, thinking we had achieved so much and that breaking that “glass ceiling” was basically just a technicality that would happen in time. Be good, stay in your lane (or step out of it, but only if it serves others), and it will happen. But then… no. We learned. Not only had a highly qualified female been beaten by an unqualified mediocre white man, the highest office in the land went to a misogynist and self-described pussy grabber. We aren’t seen as equals with internal genitalia. And all of our waiting and staying silent in the face of that pussy grabbing shit has only served to hold ourselves and our daughters back.
So women are saying, “no more!” We are speaking up in the face of injustice! We aren’t moving out of the road for you! We aren’t covering for your bullshit! And, goddamalmighty, we are not letting you bastards butt in line!”
Effectively worked up into an “I just watched Oprah” esque state of empowerment, I said, “Excuse me sir,” I called him sir! “But we were in the middle of a transaction. Do you mind if we finish our business?”
I was polite. I might not have been kind, but I was polite.
And he LOST his FUCKING shit.
He told me to grow up. He called me names. He used the F word multiple times. He imitated my voice. And then had the audacity to ask me “Why don’t you just grow up?” I was shaking as I tried to pay and then tried to get out of the store but I first went to the “in” door and you have to go all the way around to the “out” door, and EVERYONE was staring at me, as if to ask what I had done to that man to deserve such a tongue lashing.
It was so bad, I went next door to Harmon’s and bought myself some flowers. Then I went home, and I logged back on to my computer to focus on work… and failed. And then I cried for nearly two hours.
I turned to Facebook and related the story, hoping my friends would tell me what I wanted to hear. Specifically: I was right to speak up for myself. (Meaning this man was wrong in his behavior.) I got the reassurance I wanted, along with a few laughs, which helped stop the flow of tears. Then a mentor of mine left a comment that read:
The man’s actions were unforgivable. He’s a boor, and you can bet that he’s a boor at every moment of his life. I suspect that standing your ground with him would have escalated what was brutal and painful. This guy lives on escalation–especially with women. You might have turned to the clerk and asked that the clerk verify that you were mid-transaction. So sorry you had to go through this.
“Boor.” That was the word, exactly. “An unrefined, ill-mannered person.” I belive completely that he wouldn’t have responded to me the way he had if I were a man. Or even if I had been accompanied by a man. Either way, there would have been some respect of the equality of status. I can’t prove it, of course. I believe that sexism was at the core of the exchange, as I believe it is why he ignored me in the first place.
I’ve thought a great deal about this exchange over the last few weeks. It is shocking how easy it was to kick that hornets’ nest by asking for something so basic as adherence to the line system. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been the day after the election. Maybe he was on edge because of the Democrats taking back the house. Maybe I was feeling more piss and vinegar in my veins for the same reason? I don’t know.
I have decided that I don’t regret standing up for myself. And I would do the same thing over again, and I will next time, even having had this experience of being put back in my place. I reject the binary choice that I seem to have: I can either be a doormat or a bitch. I can’t control the way others respond. Especially those who are accustomed to inspiring doormat behavior in those around them. Maybe I will start carrying my Dudeist Priest badge in my wallet so the next time this happens I can pull it out and say, “Respect MY priesthood, bitch!
(Actual photo of John Slattery in The Adjustment Bureau)
I had a dream that I was the owner/operator of a canoe rental shop named “Row vs Wade,” because even my subconscious loves puns. I woke up laughing but also knowing it wouldn’t work. For one thing, I live in Utah, which is a desert for both water and pro choice liberals. The bigger problem is that we also suffer from a lack of a sense of humor, so I guess I won’t rush out and license my brand… yet.
It would be a good fit in Seattle. Or Austin. Maybe I should look into that license… just in case this career in pharmaceuticals doesn’t pan out.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine made a statement about the stupidity of “I Voted” stickers. He called them a waste of money. I rolled my eyes. Lately I feel like I can’t go a full day without rolling my eyes at a white man. (In fact, the other day, I was trying to drive out of grocery store and a middle aged white man stopped on the sidewalk, right in front of my car – in a clearly marked exit – and began to tend to a hangnail. It lasted so long, I began to narrate. “Behold, the middle aged white man in his natural environment. Notice his complete confidence in his status of his surroundings. He is oblivious to the needs of others, and is even unconcerned by the fact that he is stealing that shopping cart. An act which, no doubt, will be blamed on a brown child.”)
I took the sticker thing personally because, not long before, I was lamenting about the fact that I voted by mail and therefore would not be getting a sticker. It is a small thing but I love them. I love the way wearing one makes me feel, because it reminds me of how lucky I am to be living in this time and place, no matter how frustrated I am with the system as it stands.
My grandmother (my Mom’s Mom) was born in 1909. William Taft was president. The “Gilded Age” was ending, but it would be another five years before “The Great War” began. And, in 1909, women could not vote.
As of 1870, all American men had theoretically been granted the right to vote through the 15th amendment. (“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Of course, in practice, we know the exercising of this right was more complicated and fraught.) The fight for women’s rights had picked up steam in the 1840s, but still had a long way to go. In 1875, the US Supreme Court unanimously decided in Minor v. Happersett that the 14th amendment (“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws) did not grant a woman the right to vote. The justices granted that a woman was a citizen but determined that the right to vote was not a constitutionally protected right of all citizens.
The fight raged on for many decades, and it got ugly. Many people (including a number of women) were against votes for women.
Nonetheless, as they say, they persisted.
In 1918, 100 years ago, some white women of England were given the right to vote. They had to be over 30 and either own property or be the wives of property owners.
White women of the United States were granted the right to vote in 1920, when my grandmother was 11 years old. This is not a historical figure that I have only read about. I knew her; we had a relationship. She died when I was a teenager. Women got the right to vote a mere 24 years before my mother was born. It will be another two years before we can celebrate 100 years of Women’s Suffrage in the United States.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, my point is: that was not very long ago!
Many other groups had to wait even longer. In 1924, Native Americans were granted citizenship and given the right to vote. In 1943, Chinese American immigrants were granted citizenship and the right to vote. African American women were not able to vote in some Southern states until the 1960s.
The forefathers of our country sacrificed and labored so that we could have this experiment in democracy, wherein the right to vote was given to white men of property. Since then, thousands of people fought and died to secure the right to vote for every citizen, and the fight goes on. In Florida, people are voting this very minute to determine if convicted felons who have served their time should have their voting rights restored.
The vote is the important thing. The sticker is just the little side thing that you can wear with pride, if you so choose. But I want that fucking sticker. Even if I have to make one for myself.
You don’t have to want the sticker. But please vote. No matter who you are, someone made a sacrifice so that you could. Getting out there and voting is the only way to say “thanks.”