The things they found when they were moving

Everyone always hails the purge when you move, the commendable, enviable ridding of Excess Stuff that one accumulates from living for too long in a particular place. We could all Marie Kondo our way through our domiciles on a weekly basis but sometimes you still open a door and lo! The entire Oriental Trading catalogue appears to have been deposited, in glow-in-the-dark form, where your cookie cutters should be.

I do not exaggerate that the moving out of our Tennessee rental home was a six-month liquidation of crap. I don’t know if my kids are just at that fringe age where they are still clinging to ye toys of olde whilst embracing the accoutrements of Tomorrowland but they were categorically unhelpful when it came to parting with any of their possessions. I was all, “I put this in the basement for a whole year and you never asked about it once,” and they were all, “Wait, Mom, that’s my favorite band-aid of all time!” So we sent them to my parents’ house for two weeks. Seriously. This was hard but necessary. Separate, stop, collaborate and listen. We sent them away and made 23824390234 trips to the donation bin at Goodwill and finally we only had one truckload of stuff to move into our new Boston apartment and we’re here. Yay. Somehow still unpacking boxes of stuff. Weird.

In the wake of this move, here are some interesting artifacts discovered:

UntitledExhibit A: Charlie Sunshine Lotion – The lotion itself is starting to sort of ferment but you can open the tube and catch a whiff of Summer 1999. The sense memory is fierce with this one. One sniff and I am transported to  early college years and all of the homes of my high school friends who were still working high schooly jobs for one last summer. Lifeguarding and nannying and working at the mall and whatnot. This perfume smells of being young and mostly dumb and patently irresponsible and yet I always had enough money to fill my Honda Civic’s gas tank. So basically this lotion reminds me of a time and a metabolism I will never get back.

Exhibit B: Costco Calling Card – This item is not only completely obsolete but is incredibly sentimental. This was The Calling Card that made possible the 1.5 year long-distance relationship between Loverpants and myself. Any time one of us would get paid, we’d load a hot $20 onto that ticket. For a time, Loverpants had the phone number and code memorized. It’s a hell of a thing to be able to look at a 2 x 3 sheet of plastic and think, you were indispensable. Upon you were all anecdotes about his grad school endeaCalling cardvors and my undergraduate misadventures and all the sighing and crying in between. I’ll never know how much money we logged onto that calling card, talking about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime, but kids today will never understand why one was necessary and this makes us Betty and Barney Rubbles: The Long-Distance Courtship

Exhibit C: 8th Grade Math Trophy – It may not have had my name on it (because I was part of a team! A team of mathletes!) but kids, there is now proof. Mama was once smart enough to do math and get a trophy for it. Nevermind that I was 12. Nevermind that it was on a Saturday and everyone else who could add and subtract was probably playing football or watching VH-1 Pop-Up Video. Mama got herself some heavy metal for her mad math skillz. I took a picture of it so it’d last longer, yep I sure did, Pee Wee Herman.
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Why no one tells you how to be a woman

You hear this refrain often. You hear it in fond toasts by groomsmen. You read it in Father’s Day greeting cards with pictures of old timey vehicles on the front, the hood popped open. “You showed me how to be a man,” they say, and these tributes are usually followed by specifics. You showed me how to shave,  how to parallel park, how to hook a fish,  how to cook a perfect ribeye on the grille. Or maybe it’s just a general platitude offered to someone a man admires. A salute to a strong oak of a man who stood firm even when the winds of change or his son’s mood swings or his son’s girlfriend-of-the-month swept through.

I take no issue with this tribute, even if it is sometimes an affectation. We need men to mentor well, to usher in a new generation of moral leaders. We need good men to model virtuous manhood. I don’t think anyone is arguing against this the business of Showing a Boy How to Be a Man.

But no one ever tells you how to be a woman. Never, never have I ever heard a bridesmaid tell another woman,”You showed me how to be a woman.” Mother’s Day Cards are usually covered in flowers with floral script, populated by words like “sacrifice,” “patience,” and “love.” There is no mention of womanhood–there is no holiday or occasion to salute Being a Woman. I have several theories about why this is.

The first is that the business of being a woman is murkier. Womanhood cannot be boiled down to feats like tying a bowtie or changing a tire as are the hallmarks of manhood. Womanhood is evolving for each of us, by its very definition. The entry into womanhood is often marked by a change so profound it is uncomfortable. Just now, for instance, I have lost all 2 of my male readers who are afraid I’m going to mention something about menstruation. The horror. But if we are honest, this is part of the reason womanhood is so veiled in mystery. Each girl will go through a reproductive change at a time over which she has absolutely zero control. If you think about it, it is incredible how something that has been happening since the beginning of time to girls is still something each one has to learn how to navigate for herself. She has to listen to her body, understand its rhythms, overcome the discomfort and pain that reminds her regularly that the business of being a woman is so freaking fluid.

Another reason is that we seem to be afraid of proactive womanhood. Instead, womanhood is often reactive. You don’t have to look far to see evidence of this. We could spend a lot of time discussing what this past presidential election taught us about proactive versus predatory behavior, but it is just a microcosm of a larger culture that favors women tossing up the white flag of surrender rather than canvassing for a cause about which she cares.

This is why Wonder Woman blows us away–because a girl reared by all female elders to fight evil is so radical an idea we don’t even have a context. Then she goes and partners with a mere mortal of a man and doesn’t emasculate him? Holy Novel Narrative, Batman.

If machismo is the affliction of believing too fiercely in one’s manhood so that he belittles women, there should perhaps be an equivalent for women. There is no womanismo, though. Women who are independent to the point of self-sufficiency are often portrayed as simply man-hating. What a shame that no one tells you how to be a woman because that might threaten men.

There is a final reason I believe we don’t tell girls how to be women, and I think it’s the saddest of all. I think it’s because we lack creativity about what it means to be a woman. 

Forgive me if I am too strident here, but why am I more likely to read an article about “How to fight an attacker” than I am “How not to raise a rapist”? Why do colleges and universities need to teach matriculating co-eds about self-defense, about not being ruffied, about the protocols one should follow if one is sexually assaulted?

What if we spent half the time and energy expended toward reacting to the inevitability of rape and instead fueled our energy reserves toward cultivating an equitable world for girls and boys. What if instead of raising awareness about rape culture, we poured a modicum of those resources into investing in the awesomeness of girls and their interests?

Vancouver

Remember those Nike commercials “If you let me play sports…” and all the gnarly residue of girls who are allowed to participate in athletics? Well, it’s 2017 and we don’t need to use that kind of weaksauce language anymore. We don’t let girls play sports. Boys rarely have to ask to be let to do anything. We just encourage them to play sports, if that’s their jam. And we should not be surprised if they grow up to be men who don’t ask permission. Who don’t need consent. In 2017, we don’t let girls play sports. We expect girls to play sports. And we expect them to be the ones coaching us in 10 years.

How sad that our definition of what it means to be a woman is often so lacking in scope and imagination. I’ve heard of so many friends giving their daughters smartPhones and the attendant restrictions. All the things not to do, the people not to follow, the behaviors not to replicate. This is all incredibly important, but what does it leave us with in terms of cultivating creativity in girls? Is there a Girlfriend’s Guide for How to be Awesome Online? A crib sheet for how to be a woman who inspires?

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I recently was feeling the freight of all this as I sent my daughter to camp. I was nervous about what she might encounter in girl world, bunking with all her besties away from me for a week. I met her counselor who introduced herself with a confident handshake and told me about her plans to become an English secondary education teacher. I was smitten and grateful for Counselor Raquelle. I was reminded how my nervousness could infect my daughter in negative ways, how it sent the message once again that being a girl was a liability and not a plum assignment.

Missing my daughter one evening, I logged onto the online portal of camp photos for that day. My son saw it first, the image of big sister at camp. It was as if she had memorized the Amy Cuddy Ted Talk.

Once again, I was smitten and grateful for another girl. Showing me that being a girl can be proactive, creative and awesome, lest I forget.

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Six Years a Southerner

“Looks like Michelangelo is getting a bath,” said the dad, bending over the grate where his offspring had wedged an action figure into a ground sewage stream. “Do y’all understand how this happened?”

One of the funniest scenes during our time in the South played out within the first month of our arrival, some six years ago. Loverpants and I still laugh when we walk by this spot in front of the Tennessee Aquarium, a destination that is the heart of Chattanooga’s renaissance as a Southern city. We think how the aquarium houses pods and plants and all manner of sea and river creatures. It also the little-known bathhouse of ninja turtles.

My own immersion into the South was almost as abrupt as Michelangelo’s. We arrived to our rented ranch house on three acres and felt the distinct awe of our new rural-burbia life, waking up to the sounds of cows mooing when only days prior, we had known only tinkering shopping carts rattling down city blocks, the siren cry of ambulances so familiar we barely noticed. We were soon introduced as newcomers to my workplace. We were awkward and unwieldy. Baby Girl couldn’t find her sleep groove for weeks. I couldn’t find time to lesson plan. Loverpants couldn’t find an office space to lease. Little Man couldn’t find his walking feet.

But then we did. We found ourselves doing life in the South as people who worked and churched and bought Aretha Frankenstein pancake mix to make at home on Sunday mornings. The difference, I think, is that finding a rhythm is not the same as finding a fit, which is how I would classify my time in the South. Just because Michelangelo is placed in the gutter and he stays there doesn’t mean he belongs there.

I have not found belonging in the South. This is not a criticism of the South, just a witness to my experience. Mercifully, though, I have found pockets of being known and that has been the great treasure of my life here.

Belonging in the South, specifically in a more junior city, specifically in a conservative religious community, requires a certain extroversion that eludes me. Small talk is currency in this environment where one mills in small concentric circles of interconnected folks. I am allergic to small talk so I am most likely to enter into conversation with, “I cannot freaking believe I am buying sex ed talk books for my kid already,” rather than preferred pleasantries about the weather. There is also a pervasive lack of directness that is borne of the aforementioned interconnected network. If good fences make good neighbors, then a lack of fencing can lead to a superficial neighborliness. Being authentic, after all, is a liability. And being authentic in one social circle where any misdeeds in one patch might bleed into another can leave us defenseless. The need to “play nice” at the expense of addressing conflict or wrong behavior is something I’ve observed too often. My natural bent is to be as direct as possible, even if it is hard. So whenever I have found others willing to join me to climb the chutes and slide down the ladders of directness, I have desired to call those people my kin.

There are a whole host of other aspects that I have found so foreign about the South (The expression “might could.” The frequent use of styrofoam in restaurants. The lack of sprinkler parks in spite of the heat much of the year). But if I dwell on these things then I fail to see the good and to celebrate the great things about the American Southeast (Publix Grocery Stores, hallelujah! The lushness of spring. Savannah/Tybee Island. Charleston. Birmingham. Nashville. Memphis. Crepe Myrtles. Sitting in the bleachers for Used Car Night at a minor league baseball game in the fall). There is so much to adore about this region that has been our home for six years, this city that has, at turns confused and enchanted us.

We will return to the Northeast from whence we came, with children six years older, with wisdom poured like a fine wine aged six years. And we will be glad for the friends we have made, the places we have served, the houses where we have worshiped.  We will count it all a blessing to not only have gotten wet but to have been fully immersed like Michelangelo in the sewer, with passersby asking if y’all knew how it happened.

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