Monday, January 16, 2017

Voice

Tonight at dinner, my youngest son (age 12) asked, “Why do so many little girls want to be princesses?” I opened my mouth to answer, but my husband beat me to it. “Because Disney told them to,” he said.

He’s not wrong.

I can honestly and truly say I never dreamed of being a princess—with the notable exception being Princess Leia. I wasn’t even allowed to have a Barbie doll as a kid, because my mother thought it would send me the wrong message about women’s beauty standards. This was in the late 70s and early 80s, and she was in the minority when it came to this line of thinking.

She wasn’t wrong.

As a child, the types of women I looked up to in pop culture—Leia, Wonder Woman, Jo from the Facts of Life, Mary Tyler Moore—were not Hollywood’s typical distressed female characters in need of saving. I admired their sass and cleverness. I was in awe of their independence and self-confidence. I wanted to be half as cool as any one of them when I grew up.

Then I turned 12, and I no longer saw myself as equal to boys. Instead, I let their opinions about me define me. I became precoccupied with how to be the most unique conformist among my peers. I wanted to be my own person, but I had no idea how to do that and still be accepted--especially by boys. So, I assimilated. And for several years, I pushed aside that plucky little kid who wanted to change the world and instead looked toward a list of vapid Molly Ringwald characters for inspiration. I ditched individuality for a decidedly John Hughes-ish definition of success: be different but not too different, be strong but not too strong, win the cool boyfriend, and live happily ever after. 

It took a long time to unlearn that.

In the meantime, I invested an embarrassing amount of time and energy to dating—and even, at one point, marrying—self-proclaimed punk rock stars. I logged thousands of hours over many years sitting in on practices, listening to demos, and going to shows in crappy bars six hours away in blinding snowstorms. I spent many nights helping load equipment into bars on the lower east side, and I spent equally as many early mornings driving back to New Haven from those shows. I racked up a lot of great memories and even some good friendships from those years, but most of that was centered around the art that someone else was creating. As bad or as good as it may have been, none of it was actually mine.

And even though I was a stereotypical skater Betty of the music scene, I didn’t even get a song written for me. I mean—come on. In all the years I spent lugging stupid cymbals and amp heads around—from high school through my mid-20s—I didn’t get a single song. I would have even settled for a cover. But no. I guess I didn’t earn it. I did get some legendary mix tapes from some non-musician guys that I dated. They were the guys my mother actually liked, so of course I managed to sabotage those relationships. But the guys playing three-chord punk rock behind the mic? Nothing.

It wasn’t until I went out with a decidedly un-punk rock guy that I was finally serenaded. On a sunny and hot August day, during a lunchtime date in Edgerton Park, he hopped up on a temporary stage used by the Elm City Shakespeare Company during its annual run of summer performances. The park was quiet. There were only a few other people there enjoying the peace of the afternoon, and this guy was about to pierce all of that in a way that only he could.

I held my breath, not knowing what he was about to do. And then he began singing. It took a few lines for me to recognize the tune: Elvis Presley’s “The Wonder of You.” He sang it well, and he sang it straight to me with a huge smile on his face. He captivated the small group in the park and bowed for them at the end of his show. It was romantic and sweet. But at this point in our dating, I also recognized it as part of his well-worn shtick, along with the roses occasionally left on my windshield. His serenade formally inducted me into a large club of women for whom It Would Never Work with this guy. Now, on the rare occasion I hear that song, it makes me think of just one thing: the beginning of the end.

Today, I’m married to a non-musician who falls into the “makes awesome mix tapes” category. For years, he DJ’d local parties, and the boy knows his wax and rock. I don’t get serenaded, and I’m pretty sure at this point that I’ll never have a song written for me. But I’m okay with that; I’ll write a poem for myself and call it a day. 

This Saturday, millions of women will march arm-in-arm making their voices heard for the rights of all. What really thrills me is that so many young girls will bear witness to these events. What a glorious thing—for young girls to see women assert and validate themselves with their own voices. But I won’t be there. While I’d like to go, I’ve made the decision to stay home and see through my commitments as a mother this weekend. I will be providing food for 45 kids at my son’s fencing meet and cheering on the boys and girls who compete equally in their matches there. Then I will hop in the car and drive to my son’s hockey game, where I will support his team of 12 year old boys—and one 12 year old girl who is just as good as any boy on that team, and who is unafraid to show it.

It’s not rebellious. It’s not ground-breaking. It’s not monumental or historic. But it’s important. And me and my hockey mom voice will be there, cheering her on.

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