I just got a text from my grandmother this morning that said “Of course I am not you and you are not as mouthy as me, but I would go right up the food chain and get things done.” And I instantly felt offended. Hmm….
The text was in response to a screen shot of an email I sent to her concerning a questionable professional occurrence. You see I am trying to be an educator (specifically at the community college level), which should not be a difficult thing to accomplish since I have taught adult students for three years now, but (*insert British accent) tis not a fortunate time to be an educator. Recently I have run into some issues in the job hunt. Without giving details, there is a strong possibility that I was strong armed out of a position by a rather bitter co-worker…and then lied to repeatedly by the director who continues to tell me there are not any positions available whilst sending out rapid fire emails to all the part-time instructors (of which I am good friends with a few) about desperately needing to fill classes. Now, I am not here to air out that particular set of dirty laundry, nor am I interested in burning more bridges than I apparently already have inadvertently, but this morning I was feeling a twinge of vulnerability and particular brand of betrayal, so I reached out to my grandmother…who then chose at that moment to comment on my apparent inability to get things done because I am not “mouthy” enough.
Now, I love my grandmother. She has given me a lot in this life and has supported me a great deal. I consider myself a strong woman mostly because I was raised by other strong women and wonderful men (my grandfather) who were also strong enough to love the crazy band of women that was/is my family. I am grateful for all this, especially after losing my mom 5 years ago and having to lean into the rest of my family for support. Again, I love my grandmother, but we do have a…complex relationship.
This is not the first time that my grandmother has given underhanded comments. The time before this morning was last week when I sent her a video of Washington Ballet’s principles walking through their most difficult moves. I shared it out of a sense of awe. Having grown up dancing and still enjoying a semi-professional career as an adult dancer/company director, I wanted to share my continued wonder at dance with my grandmother. The conversation went as follows:
Grandmother (GM): *after viewing the video* Cool stuff, can you do all those jumps, twists, and turns??????
Me: I used to be able to lol!
GM: ……..and now????????????
Me: There is a reason dancers retire in their twenties. Besides, I also took time off and didn’t keep training the way I should have to keep it all.
GM: Oh. I guess you have gone beyond your prime in the area of ballet.
Me: *criket criket*
The excessive use of the question mark not withstanding, this is only one example of a standard conversation between my grandmother and me. This one in particular is ironic because growing up I had always had aspirations of varying degrees of seriousness of being a professional ballet dancer. This was a goal that my grandmother, ever the “practical” one, was never fond of and even went out of her way to discourage. Her most notorious dream sabotage came when I was 14. Having auditioned for and being accepted into the VERY prestigious Joffery Ballet Summer School, I was going to be studying ballet with real masters for two months in New York City! I was beyond ecstatic. Ballet had been my life and I was incredibly serious about pursuing it at the time. I worked my ass off for nearly a year fundraising and was able to pay for my plane ticket and one month of rent and tuition only to have my grandmother tell me 2 weeks before I was supposed to leave that I couldn’t go at all. (NOTE: It was very much still an option to send me for the month WE HAD ALREADY PAID FOR and then bring me home early, but nope. I wasn’t allowed to go at all. Dreams…meet sledge hammer.) I am still not sure as to why that was, but I do know that we ended up eating thousands of dollars I had earned/gotten from family and I stayed home in PokeVille USA not dancing at all and picking up the dangerous habit of sneaking my mom’s diet pills behind her back. (I was a rather moody teenager.) So to hear my grandmother basically tell me that I am washed up when it comes to ballet made me wonder if she was gloating or power tripping or sliding in some sort of “I told you so.” No matter the intention, that comment really pissed me off. But, hey, that is something I am used to feeling around my grandmother.
I have always been the black sheep of the family. I danced instead of played softball. I read books at sporting events when my family dragged me to them. I am more liberally minded than my family, but not nearly as far left as she likes to think. (I have given up trying to explain to her that I am not a bipartisan nor subscribe to any political party.) I suffer from that incurable plague of wanderlust and give into my travel bug much too often for my homebody grandmother’s taste. (I have seriously considered slipping her a Valium every time I get on a plane…which is somewhere between once or twice every two years.) I have always been the wild child whose stubbornness and demand to have control over my own life stands at odds with my grandmother who is EXACTLY THE SAME. All the things that usually tick her off about me and vice versa are things that I ironically picked up from her, which brings us back to the comment she made this morning about my not being “mouthy” enough.
The thing is, I know I can be mouthy. I grew up one of the most volatile humans on the planet. I remember constantly feeling the extremities of every emotion I ever had all through my teen years and early twenties. I was never just annoyed, I was exasperated. I was never just bummed out, I was in the pits of sorrow. I was never just content, I was experiencing the happiest moment of my life EVER. I was never just upset, I was PISSED OFF AND I WOULD CUT YOU! I swung between extremes and usually spent my time shouting and balling my eyes out in rage, euphoria, or depression. And then a series of events that included losing my mom, calling off a would be engagement, and flying to the other side of the world made me grow up some. I don’t want to be that volatile human who can’t control her emotions anymore. I don’t want my life to be one constant battle ground. Yes things are unfair and yes I need to confront them, but I would like to think that I am learning to fight my battles smarter and choosing to not be at warp speed all the time. I suppose that translates into “spineless” in my grandmother’s eyes.
Which brings me to this: I am not sure how I feel about the idea of “mouthy bitch” becoming conflated with “strong woman.” Why do I have to constantly be in bitch mode to be taken seriously even by my own family? Why does my grandmother take advantage of every chance she gets to slip in comments like “You are just not as bitchy as your mom,” or “You need to be more like the rest of the family and get mad,” or any other version of “You’re not strong in the same way as the rest of us, so you should work on that?” Psh. Mouthy. What does that even mean? That I am not angry all the time? That I don’t lash out in anger every chance I get? That I shouldn’t be proud of how chill I actually have stayed considering the shit-tastic year and half I just had? (More on different portions of my “Year of Hell” to follow in a later series.) Pfftt…WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME??
*sigh* The fact is that I really want her approval. As lame and cliche as that sounds, that is the crux of the issue and why I get so upset every time this comes up even though it has been like this my whole life. It is maddening when my grandmother also likes to tell me that I let myself “get emotionally high-jacked” (some term she discovered a few years ago in a book she read, which to its credit is probably a very applicable concept, but it feels like acid coming from her at times). Apparently I allow myself to be swept away on the tides of extreme emotion and do not think logically (which was true for years and occasionally has merit still), yet when I do quell my anger/sadness/annoyance/etc at some sort of injustice or issue and try to think rationally, I am not being the bitch that I was apparently raised to be? (Example from this morning: considering the fact that I already have a teaching position at a sister institution of the community college in question, my trying to fight for the position I am [unfairly] being overlooked for just to turn around and say “JK fools, I have a job!” would be the epitome of asshole and unnecessary and unprofessional…but let’s not focus on that part.) This whole back and forth between my grandmother and I (not to mention the EXTREME sexism that falls out her mouth more and more recently–seriously, try talking to her about female sportscasters) as been a large contributor to the thoughts I have been generating on femininity, feminism, and a general sense of cultural gender-ed-ness that will most likely be making up a large amount of my entries for a while. Perhaps this is all fueled by my overly emotional state of feeling rejected and undermined by a strong woman who is extremely close to me, but I like to think this is my particular brand of bitchiness that allows me to work through some shit with honesty and intellect….like my mother taught me to do!