I was sitting on the small couch in North Hampton last April watching that film about Margaret Thatcher which is probably called Margaret Thatcher and it was really quite good, by the way. I was a week back from my annual route through Glen Echo down to Floyd and then back up the Blue Ridge Parkway with a stop at Peaks of Otter. That's always been a solo trip but that year sitting on that rock I posted a photograph of my purple feet (they're just trail shoes) and my boyfriend posted back the statement, next year. I let it in. This is only relevant in that I was still trying to be someone less than who I am for reasons that many women choose to be less than who they are or something else entirely.
In the film, Margaret is speaking with her husband and she says, "I cannot die washing up a teacup" and I am blasted backward so hard my head hits the wall. I don't recall if I cried or just had a bit of trouble breathing but I do know this was in my notes until last night when I took a final screen capture and then deleted it:
I kept that for nearly a year and looked at it fairly frequently as if there were some sort of danger I'd end up spending my life reduced to washing up teacups or the equivalent which is, let's be honest, a caretaker of one sort or another. Someone who is 'less than' the person or people who are being cared for.
That's harsh, isn't it? I mean, really, really harsh. It doesn't have to be but often times it turns out that way. The non caretaker traditionally builds a life of some sort or has some level of opportunity outside the home and the children are raised to believe they should or might while the caretaker makes a holy, and it is held as holy these days, sacrifice. It makes me think of the Handmaid's Tale which is the ultimate metaphor or warning I suppose. We aren't allowed to say these things though; we've come full circle in the women's movement and we're meant to celebrate them, but now we've got an entire nation with pockets of mothers who've found they're own versions of mother's little helpers. I am talking about the middle class which is a broad spectrum and I'm making observations without pussyfooting around it, the reason for which is that I clearly reacted out of fear that just such a thing might still happen to me, might be happening to me, may have already happened to me.
Listen, if you want to be a caretaker, by all means be a caretaker, the world needs caretakers, but for the love of God, be conscious in your choices. Be conscious in the prices you pay up front and in the long term because they can be epic and THEN make that choice. The argument that we cannot have it all is a fallacy. I won't even get into where that fallacy comes from but it's deadly. Having it all can look like so many things. There is no reason for a man or woman who is washing up teacups to have it end there. There is no reason for education to stop and the brain to numb. There is no reason for a fifty year old caretaker to find themselves suddenly alone and unable to care for themselves. There is no reason for a caretaker to be so bored they require recreational drugs, or otherwise.
So why did I keep that note for nearly a year? I suppose because I was terrified. I was losing myself in small increments and many of the choices I made came out of fear of loss. I was submissive in ways I couldn't really see but of course I'm still me which brings me back to the difference between me and Margaret Thatcher and why I finally deleted that note last night.
Here's the thing, there's just no way in hell I was ever going to end up washing up the teacups other than as an after thought. Never, not at any point in my life was that a trajectory. There were some long years during and immediately after my third marriage where I had to fight some pretty interesting expectations (took me a while to identify them as well) and at the end of my first marriage in 1995 I accused my husband of having the following expectations:
- 80k salary
- 105 lb body
- Pops out babies on demand (loop back to bullet 2)
- Instant on sex drive
- Cooks and cleans like his mother
- Completely obedient
I have to tell you, I didn't even attempt any of those bullets I wasn't interested in and I have no idea what exactly would constitute obedient since I'd stopped listening in 1991 after the birth of Lucia. I had no interest in washing up teacups. If I'd had any interest in washing up teacups I find it highly unlikely he would have married me. His expectations got the better of him further on down the road.
So of course, you know, I married a caretaker next who, if he had any, made zero requests at all. I marched off to storm the castle and was as happy as I've ever been. Not washing up any damn teacups and being exactly who I was (and am). Except that marriage was an unwise choice but that has very little to do with washing up or not washing up teacups. I was being reactionary and clearly not thinking things through. We all came out of that relatively unscathed and it's been a damn good thing he lives within shouting distance.
I don't know who said it first, for some reason I want to say my dad but that doesn't make a lot of sense (maybe we just talked about it) but there is a limited pool of appropriate (for me) men out there. Passive won't do it. If I don't know what you're thinking and you're just washing up teacups then we have a role reversal and I'm going to want to slice lengthwise. Overbearing - I've had three of these in three different flavors and the third nearly killed me; well, not directly, I nearly got myself dead trying to meet or exceed expectations in order to keep the relationship in one piece which is just stunning compared to the thirty year old who said, eff off, sweetheart, I am NOT doing any of that (except the parts I want to do) and now I'm out of here. See? No teacups. The one in the middle was astonishingly honest, an absolute nightmare and thankfully very short lived. Still. No teacups.
The bottom line is I'm a warrior. A plain speaking, not so much teacup washing, take it to the mat warrior. And here is the truth and this is just awful. For three years I have believed that was really bad. This is something I made up because the requirements or requests of me were gentleness (and I'm perfectly capable of gentle but it does not define me) and I needed to learn to communicate in a language which was completely foreign, which, by the way, was fine. What wasn't fine was what I made up about me. I made up that the super strong warrior parts were bad and the truth is, they are not. They are what my friend Kate calls the missing mojo and come Monday I'm going to be needing that back. For real. If I go in there using the new language I'm going to have my head handed to me. That language has a place and it isn't where I'm going. I have to pull the old language back out which is not harsh but it is strong. I realize I've been being binary. I get confused. I end up being afraid of teacups and doing things I ought not to do because I'm afraid I'm going to lose someone I love when in fact I lost them well over a year ago.
I'm persistent if nothing else.
So the difference between me and Margaret Thatcher, that's where we were going. Margaret Thatcher's trajectory was teacups but something interrupted that trajectory good and hard. It's not like she just made a hard left turn either; she made a hard left turn and hit one brick wall after another and that woman just kept going. The point is, she broke through her own gate, with children, with a husband and in the face of consistent adversity. Me? I was picked up like a little windup toy and set in motion. I wasn't even taught to wash the teacups properly. OK, that's not entirely true; we were all taught to wash the dishes we ate from but we were also taught that no one really wanted to do this task and it was relegated to the children because both working parents, in a 1970s stalemate flat out refused to do it. Therefore, washing teacups was something to be avoided like the plague as was any other domestic task until I figured out someone would pay me a ridiculous amount of money to do it.
Margaret Thatcher may not have seen a direct path to where she was going but she saw one clear step at a time. For the most part I saw absolutely nothing other than, go make money and gravitated toward professional careers which, for the most part fit natural talents and eventually developed skill sets.
I was a little windup warrior set on a path without a single teacup in sight until it was suggested that I be something I wasn't. I never stopped being who I am but it's very hard to try to fit yourself inside something which requires you to either slice off bits or distort yourself to a point where your circulation is cut off.
I really need to stop doing that.
But the teacups. Yes, those things. Never on the agenda.