One of Those Women…the Human Kind

I’ve been doing the work that any novice blogger needs to do to develop a readership – reading other people’s blogs and commenting on those that interest or inspire me. I love good writing on any subject, but have been reading a lot of posts about women’s issues. Unfortunately, I keep running into blogs by both genders on exactly what’s wrong with women. I know this is a horse I will continue to beat (sorry, horse), but this notion that we are chronically a problem to solve makes me irritable.

I don’t know where all these manipulative/masochistic, overly fertile/infertile, cruel/doormat, and high-heeled/matronly alien women are living, but in all my travels, interactions and friendships, I’ve never met one. I’ve met a lot of emotionally challenged women AND men, just doing the best that they can do. Sometimes the best they know to do is be manipulative, cruel and make themselves 4″ taller, but I’d wager that they are statistical anomalies.

When I read blanket sexist, racist or simply hateful statements, I want evidence, which eventually boils down to a personal anecdote. The man who was dumped after SHE took all HIS money. The woman who never received a phone call from HIM after SHE got pregnant. The time he was walking in HIS neighborhood and THEY jumped him. Fear, sadness, anger, powerlessness – emotions all funneled into a blanket opinion covering entire populations of humans. Protective and warm. Isolating and ignorant.

I’ve always tried to look my prejudices in the face. Why do I have a chip on my shoulder about wealthy people? I felt looked down on as a poor kid and was bullied by some kids who happened to have EZ Bake Ovens and new bikes. As an adult, I can throw in some anti-consumerist, socialist and high brow rationalization for my prejudice, but if it weren’t shaped by a personal experience, I’d go a little lighter on the well-to-do.

Why do I resent and fear ignorant white people and not the scapegoat du jour, Muslims or young male African-Americans? I have a happy childhood friend story and she wasn’t white. I have a scary white person story and he left a lasting impression. Anecdotal, personal experience is what we build our opinions around and if we need the security of that opinion to comfort us, we’ll add layers of rationalization until it seems like truth.

What I see behind these hostile and sometimes frighteningly well-intentioned editorial posts, are untold stories. There was a moment in this person’s life that made them think that all of THOSE PEOPLE are a certain way. They’re either being dishonest or lack awareness about the origin of their antipathy. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to admit to your own prejudices, because once you say them out loud, they seem just a little crazy.

I like to believe that most of us aspire to be better human beings. Looking into the heart of one’s prejudices is Human 101. I’m not pretty that way. I have prejudices against the color pink, fraternities, male pinky rings, cauliflower, people who lick their fingers before turning the page of the book or counting back your change (okay, not a prejudice, just gross) and a hundred other biases that make me human. Each belief or preference carries a story and each one I have to challenge when it rears its crazy little head. Is it rational to apply it to all people in a particular group? Is it reasonable to take one story out of a million and make it a truism?

Unchallenged, our prejudices color our interactions and decisions. It’s hard to evaluate our beliefs in this cultural environment, where individuals gain attention by erratically spewing opinions online and through other media outlets. People holler about transparency for the government. Let’s start with some transparency for and of ourselves. That’s when the real dialogue can begin.

Volunteering Again: The Definition of My Insanity

On my fridge, I have a magnet with the picture of a housewife saying “Stop me before I volunteer again.”

A wise-ass friend mailed it to me after one particularly long gripe about how much I hated parent volunteer meetings. And every year I think this magnet is hysterically funny – after the fact. By the time I remember it, I’ve lost my marbles trying to do everything for everyone.

This is my oath before the start of every school year: “This year, I will focus on developing a business/career, getting home renovations done and getting in the best physical shape of my life.” Two months later, I’m cutting out Frankenstein heads for Halloween bingo at a school party, manically humming the Monster Mash.

My daughter’s school has a high percentage of reduced lunches (Read: economically challenged, overworked parents and understaffed classrooms). My guilt about working part-time from home means volunteer recruiters love me. I rarely say no. We’re made for each other.

So here I am again, chairing a fundraiser and preparing to organize classrooms of Halloween parties. I’m presenting art lessons in the spring, doing admin work in the classroom and chauffeuring field trips in between.  It doesn’t earn me a paycheck, provide me a network of career contacts or even give me much in the way of personal kudos. Multitasking is second nature. Saying “no” is apparently third or fourth.

Six years ago, Montessori daycare moved my two year old into a chaotic toddler room. The transition coincided with a time when my less-than-stellar people skills had gotten me into hot water at work. I talked it over with my husband and we decided to change our family plan. We wouldn’t carpool to our downtown jobs together anymore. He’d bus and I’d stay home with our daughter. We withdrew her from daycare. I resigned from my job.

For the first six months I wallowed. I cried a lot. I skipped showers on occasion. I got into fights with my husband about little things. I was frustrated and depressed, feeling like dead weight. And while people go on and on about the most important job in the world being a parent, most of us are more than the custodians of our progeny. I was watching bits and pieces of my identity disappear. I’d worked at one job or another since I was 10 – and full time employment since becoming an adult.

In a fortunate turn of events, my former employers asked for help transitioning between managers and eventually hired me part-time in my old job. This has allowed me to work from a home office, which I’ve been doing for the last five years. I’ve tried to turn this time into an opportunity to pursue writing, since that seems like such a solid long term career. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around a plan. In its absence, I say “yes” to whatever comes my way.

It isn’t that volunteering doesn’t have value, it’s just never been part of my values, since I was always working. It is really not in my skill set. Usually my goal is to not alienate people when I volunteer alongside them. That means no eye-rolling, swear words, snorting in contempt or using my drill sergeant voice to get things done. “Come on, you bunch of blabbering cupcakes, get a move on with the juice boxes!”

When I’m feeling soft and cuddly (usually for about 15 minutes on Tuesdays or during the full moon), I am glad that I have the time and luxury of being able to help at my daughter’s school. Eventually she’ll  pretend she doesn’t know me when I see her at school. Now, she’s delighted when I go on field trips and come to her classroom. Her classmates holler happy hellos to me in the hallways and her teachers are always appreciative. It’s the only performance review I get these days.

If balance is key to contentment, I haven’t found it yet. Perhaps I hope that if I juggle a job, volunteering, working out and writing, that somehow in the end, it will all even out. Until then, put me on the list. I’m sure I’m available.