Real?

realman

There’s a picture going around on social media right now of an attractive young couple walking together on a city sidewalk. The man is dressed in long pants, t-shirt, and warm jacket. The woman wears stilettos and a sleeveless, lightweight dress with a high slit up one thigh. She is obviously cold and miserable, but he seems happy and comfortable.

The caption says “Any real man will spot the problem in this picture.”

Okay. I’m not a man, but I like to think I’m somewhat real. On good days, anyway. I looked at the picture and saw the problem right away: The woman is an idiot who has no idea how to dress appropriately for the weather.

As I read the comments below the picture, however, I realized that this was not the answer they were looking for. Almost every person answered that the man should have given his coat to the woman.

Folks, I think I just figured out why I’m still single.

As several people suggested, we don’t know what took place before the picture was snapped. Perhaps she forgot her coat. Perhaps the weather changed after she left the house. If we’re looking at real-life possibilities, it’s also possible that the man told her they were going out somewhere nice for dinner but his idea of “nice” turned out to be hot dogs and beer at a hockey game. We don’t know.

What I do know is that my sisters and I were raised by a single mom and our father’s four unmarried sisters. There were few men in our lives, “real” or not. If we dressed stupidly, there were no men around to gallantly offer us their coats. We shivered, complained a lot, and remembered to wear a coat the next time out.

Well, that’s what my sisters did. My learning curve has always been more of a straight line, so I don’t have a great track record or learning from my mistakes.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand why any man, “real” or not, should be expected to freeze his biscuits because he had to give his coat to a woman who was just too stupid to wear one of her own. Sure, a true gentleman might offer her his coat, but I don’t believe he should be required to do so simply because of his gender.

I guess I’m just too logical on things like this. I was married for almost eighteen years, and my ex-husband is still a really good guy. So let’s say, just for snicks, that it was him and me walking down the street in that picture. First, he would have been laughing at me for trying to stumble along in stilettos, so let’s not even discuss the shoes.

But if I were all hunched over and shivering like that, I like to think he’s the kind of guy who would offer me his coat. He’d make fun of me first, but he’d offer. And you know what? I’d say no.  Not out of pride or stubbornness, but because I cared about him enough to not want to see him suffer. I wouldn’t want to be nice and warm and toasty while someone I love is cold and miserable.

Good heavens, I think I just realized I might be a man.

I like it when a man treats me like a lady. I like it when he opens a door for me or pulls out my chair for me. I love it when he offers to carry my bags for me if they are too heavy. And yes, I’d be thrilled if he offered me his coat on a cold and blustery day when I was too dumb to wear my own jacket.

But I don’t expect a man to do any of those things. It’s not any man’s job or responsibility to do so.

I don’t think that makes me a  militant feminist or whatever. I think it makes me a grown-up.

I have two sons and a daughter. I have tried to teach my sons to treat women with respect as equals, not as fragile little flowers. I hope my boys would both offer their coat or open the door or hold out the chair, but not because they think a woman can’t do any of those things for herself. I hope they do it because they are kind young men who treat all other human beings with respect and dignity.

Of course, these are the same boys who laugh at their own farts, so I have my concerns.

My daughter, on the other hand, has been taught to do all those things for herself as well as for anyone whomight need help, male or female. If a man offers her his coat or opens the door, she’s been taught to say “thank you” rather than simply accept it as her due simply because of her gender.

She, of course, laughs at her own belches, so I have some concerns there as well.

So if you see me walking down the street some winter day in a sleeveless, lightweight dress and I look cold and miserable, please don’t assume that some cad didn’t give me his coat. Assume that I’m a dummy who forgot to watch the weather report.

And then, if you feel like it, go ahead and offer me your coat. I’ll probably say no.

Unless it’s my size and dark purple. I’ve always wanted a purple coat.

 

Tea

Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

For Christmas this year, my mother-in-law gave me, among other gifts, a necklace. It is a small silver teapot with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt engraved on the back: “Women are like teabags; you never know how strong they are until they’re put in hot water.”

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Best gift, ever.

I first heard the quote after I was hurt in a car accident. During those first months, I spent many hours every day on Facebook, soaking up words of encouragement from my friends. One of them posted it on my page and since then, I have leaned on those words whenever I am feeling defeated.

I have never really thought of myself as being a very strong person, especially since I grew up surrounded by women who were all so much stronger than I could ever hope to be. My mother, who raised three children alone with little or no child support – in the 1970’s, it wasn’t easy to pursue a deadbeat dad across state lines. My Aunt Noni, who went against her father’s archaic beliefs to finish school and owned her own business at a time when single women just didn’t do that. Aunt Marian, who walked around with a non-union fracture in her leg for twelve years. My own sisters, who both went on to much larger successes in life than I ever achieved.

I felt that my own floundering process through life had shown anything but strength. I saw myself as someone who just got carried along by the current. Until June 21, 2011.

When the tree landed on my van, it crushed the roof in against the top of my head and left a deep gash in my scalp. It shattered my neck in two places and left hairline fractures up and down my spine. The impact blew out the windows and drove glass shards into my skin. The tree then plunged through the windshield and landed on my chest, pinning me in the vehicle; it was so massive that it spanned from just below my chin to my thighs, and the only thing I could move was my right hand.

But it did worse than that. It hurt my kids.

I will never forget my son’s wordless howls of terror or my daughter wailing “Oh, God! Mommy!” from behind me. The feeling of the pelting rain slapping me in the face while thunder and lightning battled overhead and the wind rocked my vehicle with violent gusts. I believed we were in the path of a tornado.

I think I understood even then just how badly I was hurt, even though I didn’t acknowledge it to myself or to the kids. It was necessity rather than personal strength that kept me calm. When a young man stopped and pulled the kids out of the wreckage, I begged him to put them in his own vehicle and get them to safety – to a hospital, to a storm cellar, to anywhere away from danger. I remember looking into his eyes and telling him, “the most important thing in my life is my kids. Please, leave me here.”

When the EMS workers arrived, no one would tell me where my kids were. During the entire 40-minute extrication my only thought was that I couldn’t let them hear me screaming or crying if they were still on scene. So I made jokes with the fire chief and to the policeman who climbed in and stabilized my head. I bit my lip when the tree shifted or when the Jaws moved crushed metal to a new position. When nothing else worked, I sang silly songs under my breath to keep from making any sound that my children might hear.

I wasn’t being strong. I was just being a mom.

I needed strength in the months after that, when I had to learn to accept help from others. When I had to understand that there were limits to my recovery. When I ached to lift my youngest child or play with him on the floor, and when I had to push myself through physical therapy and constant, soul-sucking pain.

Eleanor Roosevelt was right: we are stronger than we know, each of us in different ways. There are women in my life who have dealt with the loss of a child or husband; one friend is losing her vision because of her Diabetes while another struggles every day with blinding migraines. One dear, strong lady who always managed to lift my spirits with a kind word on my darkest days despite her own battle with breast cancer . . . well, Kristy lost her battle last September and left behind a daughter who is just as strong, just as kind, just as beautiful

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I wear my necklace every day to remind myself that I can be strong, because I am a woman and that’s what we do.