I love the Dayquil commercials that feature moms and dads reluctantly asking their children for a sick day knowing that moms and dads never really get to rest. It is a given of existence that we must eventually accept certain responsibilities as we become adults. I assumed the caretaker role early in life. When my father died I was only eight but still old enough to realize just how difficult it was going to be for my mother to be a single parent. I quietly did my best to lift some of her burdens from her shoulders. I quickly learned how to be mature when I really wanted to be wild and crazy. I forced my personality to change so that my mother might have one less thing about which to worry. As the eldest child and a woman I honed the skills that would define me at a much earlier age than I might otherwise have done.
I learned how to be a woman in an era of great change. My female role models would become outdated even before I was an adult. The women whom I knew were from a time that was rapidly becoming old fashioned but I learned much from them. They built their worlds around their husbands and their children, often sacrificing their own desires for the good of the family. They arose early each morning to begin their endless chores. Their homes were orderly and well run. They kept to rigorous schedules for cleaning, cooking, and watching over their babies. Perhaps some of them felt trapped but I honestly never saw any of that. The ladies that I knew were quite content to do the jobs that they associated with being successful women.
Just as I entered high school the feminine revolution began. Women broke down barriers and destroyed stereotypes. They insisted on leaving their homes to pursue educations and careers. They fought to be accepted into arenas traditionally reserved for men. Universities that had once barred them from entry opened their doors to them. They often struggled to redefine their roles in ways that allowed them to find physical and emotional balance in their lives.
I was one of those caught up in the excitement of change. I had no examples to follow. I was learning how to have a satisfying career and be a good wife and mother at one and the same time. I often lost my focus and became overwhelmed. I watched over my home just as I had seen my elders do and soon enough found that it was impossible to seek perfection and still be a reliable employee as well as a loving mother. There were many times when I felt as though I was failing miserably at everything that I attempted to do. It might have been easier had I chosen a more lucrative occupation than teaching. Friends who made two and three times the money that I did offset their work time with maids and babysitters. They enjoyed more free time than I was ever able to find. I took heart from long discussions with my fellow educators for they too were attempting to do what seemed impossible. Together we shared ideas for keeping all of our worlds from descending into chaos. I eventually learned how to stay upright on a proverbial unicycle while juggling a hundred balls in the air.
My hope is that I did not neglect my husband and my children too badly while I was attempting to be the Mother Teresa of teaching. We women tend to be guilt ridden no matter how hard we try to forgive ourselves. We lie awake in the still of night wondering if we have committed some slight that will forever affect our loved ones. In my own case, there was also the very complex responsibility of caring for my mother whenever she became seriously ill and watching her for signs of mental disturbance when she was well. I didn’t always hold it together as rationally as I wanted. My emotions often got the best of me. Typically I held them in check publicly and let them range free at home meaning that my family often endured the worst of my personality.
Being a woman has always been a daunting task but so is being a man. Regardless of how far we have evolved as a society we still carry certain expectations in our minds. among them is the thought that our men must be strong and ultimately responsible for providing security and safety. We can talk all we want about equality of the sexes but in the end we still categorize men and women differently, perhaps because we are in fact made quite differently from the moment of our births. In our hew and cry about wars on women and so forth we too often forget just how much pressure the men in our society also endure. I suspect that this is a very confusing time for young men whose roles are changing and evolving just as they have for women.
We are essentially all striving to be our best selves. That is not always so easy. The Bible and literature are filled with stories of humans exhibiting both the good and the bad traits of our species. The times and situations may change but ultimately we face many of the same trials and tribulations. It is in our natures to want to be loved and to share our own love. We essentially want to feel comfortable in our own skins while also helping those who are in our sphere of influence to find themselves as well. We are all doing the best we know how in this fast and crazy world that seems to reinvent itself over and over again. It can be confusing indeed.
I have had to be a high energy person to accomplish all of the demands that I have placed on myself. As I grow older and I realize that I no longer possess the same level of endurance that I once had I feel a bit sad. I have defined myself as a whirlwind and now time and nature are asking me to step back a bit and to allow the newer generation to assume many of the roles that I have experienced. Once again I am in a learning process. I must find ways to be gentle and forgiving to myself as I slow down. It is not easy.
One of the things that I loved most about my grandfather, William Little, was that he adapted and reinvented himself over and over again. I doubt that he would have made it for one hundred eight years had he fought to stay the same. He did whatever he needed to do in each of the eras of his lifetime and understood when it was time to change. He spent the last two decades of his life as a kind of prophet of wisdom. He was content to lounge in his chair reading about great people and their ideas. He loved sharing his thoughts with those of us who visited him. He possessed an optimism that came from noting that change is inevitable and that the world always finds a way of righting itself. He had seen depressions and wars as well as inventions and positive social changes. He insisted that the good old days are in the present, not the past.
We’ve had an intense year in 2015. It has been called both the Year of the Woman and a time of War on Women. As a someone who has witnessed times of great upheaval I can honestly say that this is simply one of those moments when we are experiencing an adjustment. As always we have to learn how to deal with new realities and that is sometimes painful. Luckily we generally have the ability to right ourselves as we make both advances and mistakes. For everything there is a season. We as a society will figure things out. We always do.