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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The American Male

Living in other cultures gives you insight that you may not have otherwise gained. I lived in Japan for three years and now live in a Muslim Gulf state. Those being opposite sides of the spectrum for a lot of reasons, it gives one pause about nature, nurture, and societies impact on humans. I am also, obviously, born and bred in the states. Not just the states, but mid-West suburbia at it's simplest. I am from neither poverty or privilege, my surroundings neither rural or urban,and not shaped by any substantial tragedy or triumph.I am in every sense, the average American girl.

I think I am blessed to have the opportunity to observe, immerse, learn, reject and compare aspects of the three cultures. One thing that stands out the most to me is the men. Not due to the obvious physical differences, but the basic cultural differences that I have observed first hand. As with anything, there are exceptions and variations, I don't debate this. However, I find that I look at the American male with a sense of pride in comparison.

I remember making much use of the public transportation system in Japan, which is a cultural experience in and of itself. The train is people watching at its finest. The handicapped seats were used by anyone until they saw need to remove themselves for the intended parties. Included in the "handicapped" category were elderly, pregnant women, and women with small babies. Other than that, the women were on there own. A Japanese man simply would not give his seat up for a woman. They aren't rude, very polite in fact. They just don't have the same code of chivalry that our ancestors beat into us hundreds of years ago. The women were so obviously flustered when my husband would get up and insist she take his seat, they were almost giddy. I will never forget the first time my pre-teen son did the same, and my heart just swelled with pride. He didn't have to be told to do it. He just knew that it was wrong to make a 4 ft 11 woman stand, struggling to reach the bars to brace herself on the moving train, while he sat comfortably in the seat. The woman was so confused when he got up, held the bar, and motioned for her to take his seat. Confusion gave way to understanding and gratitude. Again, almost giddy. The blonde hair and green/blue eyes never hurt when it came to the student aged girls.You could tell he fascinated them even as a young boy. I think taking his place next to his dad, standing there like a gentleman who had just given up his seat for a lady, it was a milestone for him. No longer a child, but a man with free will about how he would conduct himself in the world So, although I loved Japan and it's people, score one for the good old fashioned American gentleman.

Now that I am in Bahrain, I gain new perspective on the matter. Arabic men just look at women differently. We know all the cultural differences, to varying degrees, with how the women are viewed,the concealing clothing being the most obvious. It has been interesting to watch the public scenes in Bahrain, however, and see the interactions between the men and women. Physical affection between a man and woman at all is rare. Occasionally you will see hand holding, but not often. Absolutely no kissing or hanging on each other. The men, however, hold hands with other men, hug them, and even give a quick peck on the cheek. They sit closely, eat and drink together. The women hang out with other women. They don't even seem to kiss their children in public. I get odd stares, not ugly stares, just curious ones, when I kiss my children in public or tickle the baby with raspberries. You will see men kissing toddlers on occasion, but not women.

It is interesting to watch. Touch is more a part of our society. It is okay to put your hand on a male friends arm or hold hands with your man. American men are just a different breed. Raised to believe that enjoying his wife is his right and hers, that her beauty isn't something to be hidden, and that to protect her his duty. Now don't get confused. I find people pawing each other and making out in public both inappropriate and disgusting. There are boundaries, and some people don't have any. However, I find something primitively comforting about the way men, mine in particular, shift their body language while in public with their women. Just a hand on the small of her back or on her shoulder as they move through a crowd, or putting himself between her and the crowd on a train or bus, or situating himself to where he can see the entrances of a restaurant. Maybe this is a military male thing or maybe it is an American male thing or maybe it is just that in some branches of evolution it is ground into their DNA. Maybe those bloodlines from the time of Arthurian legends live on. All I know is that I prefer it. I consider myself tough, I really do. However, I like knowing that I am protected. I fear that even our culture is attempting to emasculate males in the pursuit of political correctness. There is a balance of course. If I am sick in bed, my husband will change diapers, do dishes, bring me water. Not just because he will certainly hang later if he doesn't, but part of protecting me is stepping in when I am sick. Balance in all things is good, but there is no mistaking that there's a both a grizzly and a teddy bear with in him, and that I am in good hands regardless.

Being around so many military and civilian alphas, you can up this all tenfold. Never have I seen a group of men scramble faster to open your door or carry a bag. Countless men I have encountered either on base, on military flights (even commercial actually) there's always some nice men that are helping me get my bag in the overhead while teetering a toddler on my hip. Helping me carry my car seat. I remember being 4 across on one flight, my husband not with me. We were in the middle on a huge international flight. Some nice chap was down on the end of our little row next to Brigid. She was just small enough to struggle with things like her seat belt and getting the top off her juice. I watched the guy. He saw how I struggled to care for all three and still try to sleep and eat. He would just say, "do you mind if I help her? I have kids at home, I know how it is". Another man helped me off the flight with the kids and the carseat. When I had to wait for my stroller on the tar mack, I told him he didn't have to wait. He said, "I know I don't have to, but I don't have to leave you either. I can wait, you look like you've got your hands full".  Then there was the snow storm of 2009, when the two men bunked up and gave me and my children their hotel suite. No room left in any hotel, no food left in the restaurants, no husband, and 4 kids a cat and a dog. We were stuck on the hwy for hours. When we got to the exit, the only exit due to the closed hwy, we were going to have to sleep in the car or go to the emergency shelter. I got out to pee at the Country Inn and Suites. These to men were walking around the parking lot taking in the scene. Their plan was to double up in their hotel and give the other room to someone who needed it. When they saw a woman with brood of kids, no man, and a Marine Corps sticker on the car, they knew they'd found the lucky recipient. They approached me in the lobby of the hotel after my niece cracked the window to talk to them. They asked if I was Stacey. They told me that it looked like I needed the room more than they did and told me their plan. I literally leapt on the men and started crying. "Thank you so much! I am trying to get home to my parents, husbands in Iraq....blubbler blubber sniff sniff whaaaaa!" They left strict orders with the girls at the desk (who were gleaming with smiles at the whole scene) that they were not to let me pay for the room. I didn't know this til I tried to pay later. When we went up to the room, there was a steak dinner from Outback, the Outback that had closed because the restaurants literally ran out of food. The staff was stuck too, and stayed open as long as they had something to serve, but no one had anything left. We were in the middle of a mountain pass and no one could go anywhere. I sat on the bed, called my mother, and cried. I cried for those two, sweet, beautiful men who would not even tell me their names. Who gave us one of their dinners. They just said to "tell your husband thank you". The thought of it now 2 1/2 years later still threatens to undue me.

I feel proud of the average American male, especially my American males. Not afraid to be tough, not afraid to be gentle, not feeling they have lost anything by extending gentlemanly courtesies toward a female. I think the saying "Chivalry is dead" is used by those who have failed to notice the little things. They have also failed to endear themselves to that certain type of male. So if it is chivalry that  you want and what you like, look around.  It isn't dead, and I am glad.

Never worked a day in her life...yeah.

Well, I have been silent a while. Soccer, multiple small medical issues, tutoring, protests, holidays, George's speech therapy, and a Biggest Winner challenge have been keeping momma busy. I have been hitting the gym and dieting, preparing for the next move, and knee deep in political unrest on the island. These three little one's keep me on the move continuously. In the midst of all this, while discussing the upcoming presidential campaign with my husband, I hear about Hilary Rosen. As many of you know, I am a stay at home mom. My mom was a stay at home mom, as was her mom, as was my sister. So you can imagine that I was struck speechless for about 2 seconds before my temper flared. For those of you who do not know what I am referring to, watch the link and then continue.


So, let me get this straight Hilary. If I don't bring in a paycheck, then I don't have to deal with concerns about my children's future, economic stability, feeding them, or educating them? If I don't pull in a paycheck and enroll my kids in day care with that paycheck, then I couldn't possibly keep informed about politics or the economy. I am out of touch and useless and should sit down and be quiet. Like my friend Michelle said on her blog: "If I don't work, then I don't count". Hilary Rosen is a democratic strategist and advisor to the President. When addressing Romney's comments about the economy and how he and his wife had discussed how significantly it weighs on the minds of American women, she dismissed his concern and his wife.They are out of touch and old fashioned.  Her comments that Ann Romney, who raised FIVE sons, survived breast cancer, and battles MS "never worked a day in her life" were so offensive, I am truly shocked she had the nerve to say it out loud. This is such an ignorant point of view, that I have hesitated to even write this blog. I really don't know where to start with such a stupid woman. Sadly, she isn't the only one. So, I guess I will start there.

I used to be a cop. We know this. It was a long time ago, and it was for 7 years. I liked it. I was never in it for the long haul. I knew this deep down. I knew I wanted babies. I knew that, although some women made it work, that I would not do both well. It wasn't the danger element. I was in a relatively safe suburb. It was the lifestyle. My coworkers put a tremendous amount of stress on me. Working with almost all men has it's advantages and disadvantages. The shift work was a big thing. The Police Dept. never closes. You work holidays, nights, overtime. Cops who are parents miss Christmas morning, school plays, hockey games, Sunday morning at church. It isn't the life I wanted once I had little ones at home.

I saw my sister having the other life. She worked as a social worker until she had her first child. Then she cut it down to part-time and had family pitch in with babysitting. Then she stopped her career all together when they could swing it financially. She had another baby. She stayed home cooking, cleaning,gardening, playing and teaching her kids. Kindermusik, playdates, the park for a swing, story time at the library. It was fabulous. Yes, those breast milk vomit stains on her shirt and peanut butter fingers on her TV were all fabulous, and I wanted it too.  It came with a price. I saw it first hand. What did she give up. you ask? Social workers don't make squat for pay, the money was not really missed. What she gave up was respect. The respect of self-righteous, working mother's. Not all, mind you. Many women admired her choice, and some envied her ability to stay home with her kids. Other's? Well, it never ceased to amaze me some of the brazen comments that were made to her. "What do you DO all day?" "I could never just stay at home and not work". Once during a continuing education seminar we were both attending, we went around and introduced ourselves, and said why we were taking the class. We all needed the credits to maintain our social worker licenses. That was the real answer. Colleen introduces herself and says that she was there for the CE credits to maintain her license, but that she had just had a baby and that she had left her job to stay home with her daughter.  Another woman stands up, introduces herself, and says "I have four children" pause, looks at my sister,"and I work" insert condescending sneer and chuckle. I seriously almost lept over that table and snatched a patch out of that woman's bad dye job. Colleen and I are Irish twins. My mom barely had her stitches out from Colleen before she was pregnant again with me. We are close, and messing with my sister in any way get's my dander up.  She slid that little dig in and pushed forward about her great career. Colleen shrugged it off, "I am used to it, that's her guilt talkin". It is true. If she was comfortable with herself and her choices, she wouldn't feel the need to diminish someone who made a different choice. Another person use to call her a "sit at home mom". You know....because she "sits" home and does nothing. Not "stays" home with the chosen purpose of raising her children outside of daycare. She sits...all day...yeah. Once she got the babes off to school, she began her writing career and pursuing her master's. Her book will be published in October. Pretty good use of all that sitting time.

 My sister and I know a lot of working mom's. We admire them.  It is hard doing both. Some people are great at doing both, but I come from a long line of stay at home mommies. It was the only choice I was comfortable with for me. I work hard to give my kids love, stability, an education, a nice home, a happy existence. I volunteer at the school. I help out at the church. I also take care of myself. I have to. I am on the front lines with this family, and they need me to be healthy and happy.  My husband supports this decision, not because he is old fashioned, but because he likes the security of having me home for the kids 24-7. I worked when my stepkids were little (but school-age.) Snow days were a panic, we sent our kids to school sick, we ate out a lot, we let a lot of school stuff slip through the cracks. It sucked. When I started having babies, it was not even a question.

Interestingly, I have not had the same experience in the military community that Colleen had to endure. I did have a new neighbor (my first tour as a Marine spouse) make a comment about some wife being another "freeloader". I raised my hand and said, "freeloader, right here". She kind of got embarrassed and we tactfully moved on. That is the only time in 11 years. There is a higher population of stay at home mom's in the military. More homeschooling, too. So, no one thinks twice if you aren't employed. The civilian world also seems to give me an unspoken pass from being called a lazy-slattern-sit-at-home because..."Oh, you're a military wife. That must be hard moving around." We are seen as taking one for the team and serving our country. We gut out deployments. A lot of people comment on how they "don't know how I do it. " It is nice getting that respect. I treasure it.

 I have known some stay at home dad's in the military community. You think the women have it bad? Try being the guy who stays home with the kids and takes the daughter to ballet while mom is deployed. Never truly fitting in with the mom's or the soldiers. They deserve equal respect for their choices. Nothing wrong with a breaking from tradition if everyone has  a job and they do it well. Those dad's work hard for their families and deserve a lot of respect.

 Non-military families who decide to be a single income household don't deserve to be looked down upon, either. The man must be old fashioned and the wife must be too much of a princess to work, right? She must be lazy or too uneducated to get a real job, right?  I can tell you that being a stay at home mother is work and stress and definitely not the glamorous life of a princess. Some days I would more likely compare myself to one of the old sea hags from children's stories.

Why do I blog about this? Hilary Rosen's comment was out of line. It is a slap in the face to mother's employed and not employed, because it insinuates that raising a family isn't work. It also insinuates that full time mom's don't have the life experience or depth to ponder world issues such as politics and the economy or women's issues. We all sit home eating oreos and watching Oprah and are completely out of touch with the real American woman's plight. Hilary Rosen is an over educated, elitist, loudmouth who should stick to her script. She is too ignorant to speak off the cuff, obviously, and she isn't sorry. She can keep her apology and go sit down.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Soap,Stitches, Jam, and IPADS

We have made our valentines the last few years. There are no good craft stores or supplies here in Bahrain. So, embarking on a new level of silliness. I want to try and make the Valentines from magazine clippings and mismatched supplies I have here. Been thinking a lot about waste and overindulgence recently. I read a book set during the Crimean War and one during WWII earlier in year. Something as simple as making more bandages out of old cloth to send to the troops, socks and hats knitted and sent to the troops to help against the frost bite. Food and petrol rationing and people growing Victory gardens for the war effort were happening in Europe and America. Re-using and repairing instead of buying everything new all the time. Can you imagine being a soldier (or the doctor or nurse treating the soldier) and knowing that all that was needed to make the difference was warm socks and a pile of clean bandages? Bandages made from old bed linen that were sent by countrymen back home were not unlike the used paperbacks and coffee and hot sauce we send our troops now. Just a lot more practical.

I worry about what our society is teaching our children, me included. What if they grow up in a world where they don't know how to do anything for themselves? My mom still makes lye soap. Not because she needs to, it is actually a big pain to do. She does it because her mother did, and if she doesn't keep doing it and teaching it, the tradition will die. When I was little she taught me how to wash clothes on a washboard with that soap. It also kills fleas and dries up poison ivy, but I digress. My Aunt makes her own jam after we gather the wild blackberries. We all pick, rags and scarves on our heads to keep the ticks out of our hair. Then we reap the rewards with jars of jam and a bubbling cobbler after dinner. I think resourcefulness is a gift we can give our children.

The economy weighs on my mind. How high will our debt go in America? Will the big giant come crashing down? Will fuel become so expensive we have to trim our lawn with toe nail clippers? I want my kids to know how to sew and hunt and cook and swing a hammer and grow food. That's not because I am a dooms-dayer, not really. More because doing simple things for yourself, knowing the basics, is something that could easily get lost in the age of technology and convenience. The kids are interested, if you ask. Mine like their Wii, but Clara wants to learn to shoot a bow. Brigid wants continue learning to ride a horse. They both like to sew and cook and make things. There was a day when no one had cars or even a bike, and riding a horse was a necessity if you were lucky enough to own one. Caring for that horse was, too. Knowing how to fish and swim and tie knots and put up jam were common knowledge. Sewing a button or hemming a skirt or patching britches were common place. Now we toss it out or take it to a tailor. Heck, even writing a good old fashioned hand written letter seems to be a dying skill.

I don't want my kids to be helpless. I also don't want them to be wasteful. I want them to learn to be resourceful and creative. I am as guilty as the next guy for being a slave to consumerism and technology. My new IMAC can attest to that. I just can't let that be all there is. I feel like I need to find a balance in order to be a good mom.