My childhood was filled with heroic female figures. I never had to look for them in movies, I had a mother, a grandmother, several aunts and teachers I could admire. I figured that today I’d write about them, since once again International Women’s Day has come and gone without me doing a post…And yet they deserve one, or more.
My mother is one of the most beautiful women in America, an accomplished actress, a great teacher, a cook, and an early childhood expert. Even when I’m mad at her, I ask her all my questions. She’s in the background of all my childhood memories—the sounds of cooking in the kitchen, a sewing machine humming in a corner, the spritz of hairspray, the running of a vacuum cleaner, the voice from the drivers’ seat. She was always there, out of sight, but not out of earshot. And she seemed to know how to do everything.
My grandmother was a celebrated beauty in that 50s movie star way, who knew what matched this or that or what to wear to this thing or that thing, who listened to my plans and listened to me sing and always had good advice to offer. Her house was always immaculately decorated, a different theme in every room, and her clothes looked beautiful and smelled beautiful.
I think of my mom’s mom and I picture something beautiful—the whole atmosphere in which she moves, and I can see and feel and smell the fabric of her clothes and the bedspreads in her house, the peacock feathers in the vase, the towels and blankets and carpets a visiting princess would appreciate. But my mom once told me this, and I think about it on International Women’s Day—“I have no complaints about the way I was raised. My daddy was strong and he loved me, my mama was smart and she taught me.”
And it’s that “smart” that we’re all looking for, all the time. Because beauty exists where women exist, I think, just as part of their atmosphere, and there are as many kinds of beauty as there are women and girls. But it’s that “smart” that I think we’re all looking for, all the time. And the reason for that, I think, is that women have to think of everything.
I’m not saying that men are stupid—far from it. I hate male-bashing, even in innocent-sounding ways. My father and grandfather and husband deserve their own post. My husband takes on the majority of household issues and pays most of our bills, plus he stayed up at night with our baby just as much as I did. No, I’m saying that something in the nature of womankind makes us feel like we HAVE to think of everything. We have to control all the angles of our situation. We can’t let our guard down. And we’re never satisfied.
Last week I had this stomach virus and didn’t leave my room for like 24 hours. In that time, I read half of the Ibsen play A Doll’s House, plowed my way through an entire depressing novel by Edith Wharton, and watched The Secret of NIMH in preparation for this lesson I was gonna give about the history of animation (it was awesome, by the way, although that movie is not one of my favorites). And I came away with this thought: women are not gonna be able to get what they want from this world. It’s just not possible. Be we human or animated female mice…it can’t happen.
Oh, sure, many of us have great lives, free of abuse and pain, with stellar husbands and loving dads, with moms who gave us great life lessons and jobs that help pay the bills and challenge us. But somehow it’s not enough to feel like you’ve done ALL YOU CAN. There’s always this feeling that the person I’m supposed to be and the person I am have narrowly evaded each other.
Of course, advertisers know this, and that’s why I say that most commercial depictions of womanhood are designed to sell you something. Give your children this and they’ll appreciate you…apply this to your face and your REAL beauty will shine through…dress yourself in this and your husband will blah blah blah…work here and make a difference…join this group and be powerful in a way you weren’t before… I don’t know, after awhile you kinda burn out. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been shopping in a while—it’s too depressing.
You don’t want to be plain, because then you aren’t living up to your potential and you’ll be ignored. But you don’t wanna be TOO pretty, or other women are intimidated by you and men treat you this way or that way. You want to be independent, but not too independent or people freak out. You want to compete with men, but not so much that they hate you. You want to be a mother, but you don’t want to be JUST a mother. You want to be the BEST mother, but also the best wife and best at your job. You can’t chase money, but you need to be able to use your talents to make money or your kids won’t respect you. And you NEED to be respected.
I don’t have an answer to the siren song of all these messages—you can try not to hear them, but they’ll get through. The world is full of women just doing their freaking best. And standing around all our lives are the women we know and the women we grew up with…both in real life and in books, the ones we want to be and the ones we DON’T. This includes biblical figures…Rachel and Leah and Ruth and Esther and Mary.
Anyways, I’m far from being an expert on how to be the best wife or mom or girl, I don’t know how to have it all. But just this last week I’ll tell you a few things that happened to me…
I spoke to two women at work about problems I’m having with Andrew, and each of them nodded and listened and told me different things. One told me that this is an issue of perseverance, and pointed me to Hebrews 11. I could feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to listen to her, and I read half the book of Hebrews on my lunch break…twice that day I told her thank you, that she had helped me, though I know she didn’t say anything special, God just put her in the right place to hear my immature complaints. Another one, a mother and grandmother, told me “you’re doing a great job.” And just hearing that was like medicine. She then mentally flipped through stories of her grown children and what she’d done in similar circumstances. The generational wisdom. It reminded me, I’m not the first person to walk this road, and that too was from God.
I watched moms come and pick up their children from school—doctors and professors and businesswomen, driving all kinds of cars, some walking with infants clinging to them, all of them gorgeous in different ways, all of them thinking of everything…they knew what their spring break plans were, they knew what to say to teachers and to children and to other moms, they knew how to compliment and encourage other women and girls, they knew everything they needed to know. I said goodbye to all my fellow teachers—young single women with plans to relax and read, mothers and grandmothers anxious to take their kids on adventures or just spend time face to face with them, professionals who close up a quarter and retreat from their work, though they’ll still think about it—we’re always thinking about the place we aren’t. The truth is, women, real women, DO think of everything, and they can teach us…God has put that in them.
So whether you’re a girl or a dude, take a moment to thank the women in your life for all the things they’ve done and thought of, for your sake. And know that it wasn’t easy, whatever it was. They just made it look easy.
Thanks, team 🙂