I’ve never been fragile. Born into a large family of semi-feral children, I learned to guard my food and my stuffed animals early. I mowed lawns, lifted weights, and fought dirty with siblings when necessary (also when unnecessary).
Sympathy and coddling were in short supply. Like most young women, I powered through feeling like crap when I had cramps, headaches, and nausea.
The “I can endure misery” mindset was helpful when I was pregnant. I continued working out and playing volleyball, since the endorphins helped me not puke all the time. I still walked my rescue dogs for miles. My only concession to pregnancy was lighter weights and no squats.
A good hostess never yells at a guest, no matter how trying. A smart wife sucks it up and stays on speaking terms with her in-laws, no matter how insane they are. And a decent mom-to-be will put the needs of her future child ahead of her desire to throttle her maddening father-in-law until he drops the screwdriver of doom forever.
I’m white woman raised by a former debutante. My racist Southern grandma ran a charm school. As liberated as my mother tried to be, she was still stuck on Rules of Acceptable Female Behavior.
One such rule was “Be an Exemplary Hostess.” When friends came over, they got first pick of snacks, toys, and sleeping bags. They chose the games we played.
When my parents entertained, we children took coats. We handed around hors d’ oeuvres. We got adults drinks. If there was a shortage of chairs, we offered our seats to adults and took the floor. We cleared the table and did the dishes, too. My mother took immense pride in the praise guests heaped upon her for her adorable little helpers.
She shared their praise with us. And since we were many, and desperate for attention, we got a little warped.
I was raised by a liberated woman and a man who believed his daughters should mow lawns, change tires, and have the same curfew as their older brother.
My sisters and I crushed in academics no less than my brother. We were better singers, better dancers, and better athletes. Also more popular. (Sorry, Big Bro!)
NASA came to my schools seeking women astronauts. They told us women had better reflexes than men, handled G-forces better than men, and coped better in close quarters better than men and please could we girls consider being astronauts?
I never understood why a person should be more valued because they were born with a penis. I mean, having a penis means you’re kind of fragile and likely to die earlier than a woman.
And then there’s my husband’s Chinese-American family. Near the end of October, Andy said, “So we haven’t seen my parents in a while.”
“Yes,” I agreed, smiling. And then stopped smiling. “Wait. Are you saying to want to go see them? Before your brother’s wedding next summer?” (Yes, Denny was finally getting married! But that’s another post.)
In my childhood house of a thousand siblings, there was only one day more exciting than Christmas.
On my birthday, I got to sit at the head of the breakfast table and preside over a plate of powdered doughnuts with candles. Powdered doughnuts might not seem very exciting compared to the Krispy Kremes and Voodoo doughnut delicacies of today, but back then they were a huge treat. Especially to a kid in a big family on a budget. Continue reading West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)