On Being Mean

I didn't go to Montessori pre-school or Waldorf pre-school. I didn't go to Head Start. My early childhood training was very special. I like to call it the School of Ma and Moe. My mom (Moe) and her mom (Ma) were very close, both emotionally and in proximity. Growing up, we lived two houses away from my grandmother and I joined my mother at Ma's house every morning and evening. My mom was one of many visitors to Ma's house at these times of day, as folks dropped by for coffee and a donut and some rambunctious conversation. Whilst the adults smoked and swore, I sat next to them at the kitchen table, sipped my tea, munched my donut and colored. Every once in a while, another child might drop in, towed along by one of the other adult visitors, but often it was just me, a little gnome surrounded by big people who rarely noticed I was there. (Which, in those days was a good thing as children were to be seen and not heard.)

While I colored and munched, I was always listening and taking in the adult world around me. It is at the School of Ma and Moe that I learned my now oft-used, colorful vocabulary as well as quite a bit about the birds and the bees. It is also at that kitchen table where I observed the home life dynamic between men and women, a dynamic perpetuated from generation to generation.

As I mentioned, many visitors dropped in and out of Ma's house every day and without fail, every time a man entered the house, my grandmother would rush to serve him his coffee and donut, regardless of whether he wanted either. Or, if she was sitting comfortably in her rocker, she would order any of the women in the room, often my mother, to get up and do the serving. I witnessed this interaction day after day, week days, weekends. Of course on holidays it was the most extreme- women cooked, served and cleaned up. And yes, it may be true that one of the men might be headed to a barn to feed animals, but others retired to the living room for sports viewing and resting.

This dynamic continued in my own home where mom did all of the cooking and cleaning to the point where, at nearly 70 years old, my dad does not know how to operate a washing machine or the oven. She picked me and my brother up from all of our afterschool functions, managed our healthcare, and fostered our physical and mental well being.

This is not an odd dynamic and one that many of you have witness or participated in. Some of you haven't given much thought to this dynamic or maybe have accepted it. Yet for me, at such a young age, these very defined male/female gender roles stuck to me like a life-long barnacle that I can't get off my chest. This early schooling was my foundation, it shaped my personality and my orientation to the world.

In some ways, it has had a powerfully positive effect on me. If you did not know, Moe is the brightest star in my sky, Like the sun to the Earth, the rhythm of my early life rose and fell with her. I wanted to become a mother because of my mother. I also have been deeply attracted to the relationships women develop as a result of these gender lines, studying them historically, from an academic perspective, and also personally participating in women- centered activities. I intentionally chose to attend an all-women's college, where I learned that not only do great things come from women collectively working together in the home but also in the professional world and in our communities.

Yet, like the yin and yang, with all of the light I experienced surrounded by my early female role models, I also developed a negative view on male/female relationships that often has me frustrated and angry. When I got a bit older, and Ma would ask me to serve a male visitor, I would say no. I loved her and I loved my mother but I was not going to follow in their foot steps and serve men. I felt this way when I was 10 years old and, thirty years later, I feel the same way. It wasn't that I didn't want to be kind or helpful but I determined, back then, that I would be of service if it was warranted and if doing so did not demean me.

I met Andy when I was twenty-two and a full-steam ahead feminist. Off the heels of my Mount Holyoke education, I was ready to take on the world by kicking ass and taking names. (I did neither, but that's another post for another day.) Ma was still alive, and though her health failed and she became less lucid as her death neared, she maintained that women should serve men. Andy had a chance to meet her, but by then, she was a little old lady who forgot many things, was very tired, and has lost (nearly) all of her spunk. He met Moe and my dad within months of our first kiss and was then quickly indoctrinated into the Way Things Work in my family- the ladies do the dishes and the laundry but they also say what they think- no-holds-barred. Then, there was me: I didn't really want to do the dishes or the laundry but I still spoke my mind. I was a sassy, outspoken woman who wanted to conquer the world but couldn't boil an egg. Andy knew this. And he asked me to marry him.

Andy wasn't afraid of me like other men my age. Back then, friends told me I was unapproachable because I was intimidating or scary. I was erratic and loud. I was not the kind of woman you take home to your mother. But he did. He wasn't intimated or scared, because he thought that impression was stupid and superficial. And then, I started writing this blog as my extroverted way of processing being caught between the School of Ma and Moe and kicking ass and taking names. And sometimes it exposes his shortcomings or highlights him as the Only Man Who Does Stupid Gender Shit but he has never said once, in ten years, that I should stop writing.

But, other men do. Some men have told Andy that he needs to "make me stop" writing my blog or they make comments on our social media that I am mean to Andy. Maybe what I write, and weaving Andy into my own personal struggle, is mean or unfair. But, you wanna know what else is mean? Women being forced to juggle raising children and having a successful career or women still doing the majority of household chores despite being breadwinners in their homes and civic leaders in their communities. Or me, one month post partum, crying silently and listening to a baby and a toddler scream their heads off at bedtime while Andy played baseball. Or Andy asking me to email him when he needs to pick up the kids from afterschool and then asks me to text it to him and then, when he forgets to do it, he tells me he was just too busy to check his phone or texts that week. What's mean is listening to someone I work with tell a group of young professionals that they could draw upon my expertise, not in education, but if they wanted to learn about "making babies". Or Andy asking me, on our second date, what I thought about him having two girlfriends (me being one of them.) Now, some of you may be laughing now about that one but it's not funny to me. So, maybe posting a pic of me cooking and Andy on his phone in the background doesn't make you laugh and instead makes you feel like I'm demeaning him but he's done some demeaning things to me, you either just didn't see them or more likely, you didn't notice.

I'm learning to be gentler. I'm learning to be kinder. I'm learning not to treat Andy like he represents all men. I'm learning to forgive him more and I'm learning to pepper my moments of frustration with moments of thanks. He's learning to step up and be more empathetic to my feelings. We are who we are and our relationship may not work for you but it works for us. But don't call me mean because that's just mean.

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