I listened to “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers the other day.  And though its royalties alone likely keep the Withers clan laid up in mansions eating shrimp, it’s as if I was hearing the song for the first time.  Oddly enough, just the intro of the song took me back to a childhood summer vacation spent with my family in Florida.  Growing up, we’d rent a house on the beach every summer.  My grandparents would come, along with my aunts and uncles, sisters and cousins.  It was always a fine time.  This year in particular was a weird one though.  My sister was extra kooky and needy.  She of course had some sort of drama cooking.  But I just remember seeing my little Nannie’s eyes close and her head start to keep time with the music.  She was listening to the words of “Lean on Me”.  I remember her asking me to replay it several times, stopping me and asking if I’d ever heard this song before.  Being a teenager, I rushed by her quickly saying, “Yes, yes of course Nannie.  Everyone knows this song.  There’s even a little dance to it.  Here let me show you!”  I then proceeded to perform my dance interpretation of “Lean on Me” over and over and over again.  I could tell she liked my little dance but she wasn’t nearly as interested in it as she was in the meaning behind “Lean on Me”. 

Though it wasn’t until just this week that I finally understood what moved her about it all those years ago.  I know it sounds cheesy.  I know it does but frankly I don’t really care cause this is just how the realization occurred in my heart and mind.  It was night time, probably Tuesday night.  I was brushing my teeth for bed and “Lean on Me” came on my Pandora station.  And it was as if little angel babies swooped in from heaven, circled my head in fairy clouds and chimed in unison about the beauty that is my family.  Cause that’s exactly what it felt like.  It’s as if the fog of my childhood memories lifted and I was suddenly able to see the wealth I was born into. 

I’ve been known to complain about my childhood.  I mean who doesn’t have things to complain about.  Humans raising mini-humans will invariably educate their offsprings with some sort of false precept, varying social insecurities and simply put, well meaning oopsies.  Not the end of the world - though definitely not the goal we’re going for, but it happens.  Basically, along with all the good stuff, the not so good stuff happens too.  Well mine always seemed to be a bit more topsy-turvy than one might have hoped.  That being the case, instead of seeing my childhood through rose-colored glasses, I managed to somehow only focus on the moments in which I was left holding the bag of responsibility.  I got quite good at keeping my emotions in check all the while cleaning up after other people’s emotional messes.  But overall that was definitely not the supporting role I was going for.

Well in all my years of glamorizing my heroic inputs into my family’s life, I managed to skim over all that was right and good and graciously given to me by my family.  However, in the last four months I’ve begun to see my family in a totally different light.  I’d say this new perspective started back in May, when I almost lost sight in my right eye.  Up until that point, in my mind, I was all alone.  I mean I have family and I have friends and true, I depend on some of them at a heart level that is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.  But ultimately I’ve always been alone.  But not to worry, cause in my mind I’ve got it.  No worries.  You handle you, I’m more than glad to help if you so desire, but me?  I got this, please don’t be troubled.  Well in May, I didn’t have it.  I was scared as shit and I don’t do fear well.  I wear bravery much more comfortably.  I was terrified and in mass amounts of pain.  But even though they were on the other side of the country, with seemingly no real way to help me, my family stepped in.  My sweet mother began alerting something akin to a phone-tree soliciting prayers for me.  I heard from family members I hadn’t heard from in years, all letting me know they were praying for me and also sharing their own similar experiences.  I typically didn’t feel like talking to any of them as my eye felt like it was going to pop out of my head.  But that’s not the point.  The point is through all the outreach of support, I began to truly see the sincerity and love that my family easily has in spades.  I was born into a group of the most generous, fiercely loyal and compassionate people I’ve ever known.  And dare I say I’m embarrassed to have not seen it so clearly until now.

Sure, there are things about my childhood that I’ll decidedly never replicate within my own family.  Of this I’m certain.  But I’m finding that there are far more things that I am determined to replicate no matter the cost.  Sure my young life was rocky, but even in the worst of times I always knew my mother loved me.  And I don’t mean my mother just loved me.  I mean in my mother’s eyes I really am one of the greatest people to have ever walked this planet.  She doesn’t say it in so many words but she doesn’t have to.  I hear it in her voice whenever we speak and I’ve heard it through her attitude towards me throughout my whole life.  My mother adores me and since I came into the world she has yet to stop speaking those very affirmations into me.  I am her “precious”, her “honey” and even her “muffin” and I can do no wrong.  Even when I am in fact very wrong, or I’ve done something entirely stupid, she may lightly point it out, sometimes crossing the line of my temper but will undoubtedly settle back into her place of thinking the sun and moon sets in my eyes.  So many people never have that kind of love and affection. 

When I was a child, on Saturday mornings she and I would hop into her little white Honda, roll down all the windows and open the sunroof.  Saturdays were our “pick flower days”.  Being in Mississippi during the spring time means wildflowers everywhere.  Well at least on the back roads.  And the back roads is where we’d go.  Everyone in my family is musical.  Though I may have been one of only a handful to grab at the visual arts, I am but one of many who have spent their lives obsessed with music.  Needless to say our “pick flower days” were filled with music.  Who am I kidding, everyday was filled with music in our household.  My mother had a rule, good music had to be listened to loudly; there was really no exception to this rule.  Her taste in music ranged from The Beatles to Tchaikovsky and from Tchaikovsky to Bonnie Raitt and from Bonnie Raitt to Pearl Jam. 

She’d always quiz us “For 500 points who wrote this song?”, “For 800 points, what year did this album come out?”… “For 10,000 points what was the name of the woman this song was written for?  They had a wild fling that lasted until she tragically died of cancer in 1971.  What was her name?  Come on Laura Katherine, you know this!”  And my favorite part, “When and where do the key changes in this song occur?”  We’d flap our arms wildly around the car, expressing the risings and fallings of the song with our dancing hand motions.  I loved these games with her. 

My mom had an answer for everything.   As a child, if I told  her that I had spent the afternoon with a troop of aliens, sipping coca-cola and coloring in coloring books she would have invited me to sit down on her bed and tell her all about it.  Sure should would have her doubts about the authenticity of my tale but she would have never shown it without first hearing me out.  Even as a young child my mother didn’t talk at us.  She always treated me and my sisters like we were people too… Albeit miniature people.  But we were people.  And from this upbringing here I am.

So sure, I bitch and gripe about certain aspects of my childhood.  Many things were very, very painful.  But in the midst of all of it, I have this amazing family.  A 90 year old grandmother who is so sharp that she owns an iPhone of which she uses to text various members of the family and is now teaching herself how to send emails.  For goodness sake, I received a YouTube video from her the other day.  I mean are you kidding me? 

And this is my life.  This is my family.  This is the stock I come from.  I don’t know how I missed it before.  I think I must have been taking the whole “Lean on Me” thing a bit too seriously.  As sure, yeah I became exhausted from the perpetual bearing of weight on my shoulders.  But at the same time, my Nannie was insightful in pegging “Lean on Me” to be our mantra.  Cause really, no matter what I do, no matter how much I screw up, or how much of a disaster my life could ever be, my family loves me and I love them.  There’s nothing I can do that will ever change that.  I would do everything in my power to stop time for them, or fast-forward through the pain and get them to the other side safely.  And I have frequently seen the same look of intention in their eyes towards me.  And that’s what love does.  Love, simply put, loves.  With no strings to be yanked or manipulated.  Sure just as I wish for them, they wish for me that I wouldn’t do certain things.  But love doesn’t dictate.  And even when you do something you know you probably shouldn’t do for the 15,000th time, love is there to stand with you no matter the outcome.  And I consider myself fortunate to have a love like that only a phone call away, even if it does require a bit of leaning.

 

 
 
I’m reading a book that was written back in the mid 1960’s.  Due to the context in which it was written it’s gotten me thinking about the evolution of gender roles in the United States.  So much has changed since it was written.  This is an odd one for me, I’ll tell you right off the bat.  Maybe it shouldn’t be but it is.  And I know no matter how eloquently I illustrate my views on the matter, I will undoubtedly be misinterpreted as saying and meaning something I’m not.  But I suppose when has that ever stopped me before. 

Seeing the stark contrast of how women were viewed in the 60’s as compared to how they’re viewed today is really quite remarkable.  And maybe I should be all “Go women go!  Burn that bra bitch!” but I’m not. 

Reading about how things were causes me to feel torn in several directions.  Part of me makes note of the way the men in the book shush women from speaking their mind and it enrages me to the point of an elevated heart rate.  Then again I read further and see the way the same man goes on to treat her later and I find it nothing shy of inspiring.  Women were revered back then.  The lines of how to treat a lady were clear.  Sure she may have been seen as incapable of fending for herself – not only not true but decidedly not good.  However, there was something intentional about the way men looked after women.  You didn’t just hold the door for her.  You humbled yourself to see to any of her other needs while you were at it.  And this wasn’t just a one way street.  Women did the same for men but came at it from a different direction.  Both made it a point to see to each other’s needs without having to be asked to do so.  And this is not because they couldn’t do it themselves.  But speaking as a female, there are certain things that I just never want to have to do.  This is where things get murky and I don’t quite know where I stand, especially without pissing people off or being gravely misunderstood.  But I know that there are parts of this attitude that I do agree with.  And frankly I adhere strongly to them.  Namely, I do not think a woman should have to take out trash.  Ever.  Can I take out trash?  Of course I can.  And do I?  All the time.  But I shouldn’t have to.  A man should do that as my hands should not have to get near that because I’m a lady and trash smells like a Petri dish.

I was raised by a very strong yet very lady-like woman.  She taught me and my sisters that there is absolutely nothing we cannot learn and/or accomplish if we so desire.  Growing up I watched her take apart VCR’s to repair them, purchase power tools to install window treatments and get dirty in her garden.  And at no point in time did she stop behaving like a lady.  Maybe it’s because she’s a southern woman, I dunno.  But I remember this clearly.  She was both strong and gentle, simultaneously.    And I watched her male suitors be incredibly persistent in their pursuit of her, though she remained aloof and seemingly unaware of how intent they were.  Maybe she noticed, maybe she just didn’t care.  It was probably a good bit of both.  But this is who raised me - by herself.  So I grew up seeing and hearing nothing but the unending capabilities of females.  We really can do anything a man can do.  But frankly I don’t want to.  And they don’t want to squeeze a child out of their birth canal either, so it all works out. 

And true, today the lines of gender responsibilities are blurred.  Women work while men stay home to raise the children.  Daddy and daddy adopt kids and play picnic with their lesbian cousins.  It all works out.  And as long as everyone is happy and the weight of responsibility is dispersed evenly then I say so be it. 

But with all this 21st century gender equality, I feel we as both males and females have lost something fundamental to who we are as people and what makes us a wonderful species.  You don’t have to agree with me.  You don’t have to even read this.  And really, this isn’t banter.  So, if you disagree, go write about it on your own blog.  This is the way I see it.  It does not have to be how you see it.  That said, a week doesn’t go by that I don’t feel the twinge of both pain and disgust by how we’ve evolved as a people.  All it takes is a couple of rides on public transportation.  It never fails.  I find myself standing in a herd of females, all of us trying to keep our poise while balancing in the aisles of the bus while the driver takes corners like Mario Andretti.  This in and of itself would be nothing to make note of.  What I find issue with is when everyone that is standing is female while men occupy seat after seat.  Each one fiddling with their electronic gadgets, as if to pretend they didn’t notice us standing in front of them, doing all we can to precariously hold onto a bar that was made for people at least a foot taller than us, someone more, say, the height of a man. 

But this is the society we live in.  We burned our bras and this is what we got.  Well frankly I don’t want it.  Let me be clear: I don’t want your pity nor do I want your misogynistic attitude.  What I do want is for you to get up off that seat and put all that testosterone you have coursing through your body to good use.  And no, it’s not because I want your seat.  I actually don’t want to take your seat from you.  You’re likely no less tired than I am.  But I want you to be a gentleman and offer it to us as females because you are a man that has excess strength to spare.  You see when you do this men, the non-verbal speaks volumes. 

Sometimes I just want to tell men, “You were made with balls for a reason.  Stop asking for permission and just be a man about it.”  And no I don’t mean in mere romantic sentiment.  I’m referring to day in day out encounters.  You’re a man.  It’s okay to act like one.  And I don’t want to see you flinch and pause as we decide which of us will be the one to do some undesirable task or carry a heavy load.  As the longer you contemplate whether or not you’re going to man up, the more I question your masculinity.  Let me let you in on a little secret, heterosexual females love strong men.  It’s a fact.  Sure you’ve got the women that had some sort of traumatic home life and now they have a need to dominate all men forever.  They exist, I know they do.  But I’m not talking to or about them.  And yes, I know I’m making broad sweeping over generalizations here.  Need I remind you this is my blog and I can do that. 

But I have to say that men are not entirely to blame for their emotional castration.  We as females had a huge part to play in it.  We basically walked up to them and in one fail swoop tried to correct all that’s been wrong with gender inequality for thousands and thousands of years.  Because do not misunderstand me, a lot was wrong and still is.  The movement of feminism accomplished a lot of things both good and bad.  And ultimately I’m very grateful for it.  But I’ve found that it’s given women the platform to publically emasculate men, which should never, ever happen.  Did I say ever?  I meant it.  We can’t expect men to be men then rip their pride from them.  It doesn’t work that way.  That being said, it’s also given men the excuse to be lazy and apathetic claiming they merely want to give us “strong women” equal opportunity to exercise our strength.  How noble of you.  Why don’t you roll up your skinny jeans, go hop on your fixed gear and see if you can find some modern girl to swap instagram photos with while you sip lattes at a cafe.  Now, wouldn’t that be lovely.

There has got to be a balance between what was and what I see.  I picture my mother in the book I’m reading.  A man reaches over and puts a finger over her lips to silence her ideas.  I smile when I picture this because I can only imagine my mother’s articulate, pointed reaction.  She’d never stand for it.  Though don’t doubt she’d not lose her cool or behave unladylike.  She’d simply make her point and then be about her business.  Then I picture all the ways the book illustrates the men in the 60’s with their chivalry and intentionality towards women and I think ya know, “I want that too.”  I want the freedom to speak my mind as what I have to say matters.  All the while I want you to hold the door for me and ask me if I need anything.  And I promise you I will return the favor and then some.  As that’s how this works.  One side gives and the other receives only to give it right back.  But as long as we’re screaming balls to the wall and boasting about the power of estrogen, I fear none of this will occur as it should.  And that would be such a sad evolution for us all.