Thursday, June 21, 2012

Power Tools

Weekend warriors grab your palm sander!
 I get a thrill out of using power tools.  It seems cliché, but it’s only been in the last ten years or so that women have really embraced getting involved with the more “heavy” home improvement projects and my age group was at the tip of this wave.  It’s not the tool so much as the power it implies.

With women regularly seen in the military, sports, as anchorwomen, doctors and lawyers, we forget that this has all happened in recent history, within two generations.  Although the Women’s Liberation movement was in the 60s, my mother and the mothers of my friends rarely had a career before they got married and less so afterwards.  Despite this, our mothers were the first generation to experience divorce with increasing regularity.  If they themselves weren’t suddenly single, they certainly knew people who were.

While divorcees were pushed into low paying jobs and working long hours, our mothers sought to arm us with education, skills and the confidence to stand on our own, carve our place in the world and survive, or better yet, thrive without needing a man.  The thing is, they weren’t entirely sure how to do it. 

I remember a light in one of the ceiling fixtures blowing out and my mom sucking her teeth and saying, “Daddy will have to fix that when he comes home.”

I’m not sure if my father had to do it because changing a light bulb was considered a man’s job, because of my mom’s diminutive height (she is only five feet even), or because of the inconvenience of having to go into the garage to lug the ladder into the house.  Still, it angered me that we’d have to wait helpless in dimness for someone to do something that couldn’t possibly be more difficult than changing a light bulb in a lamp. 

So, I did it.

Not a huge feat, but I felt a small sense of victory while ignoring my mom’s cries to not electrocute myself.

Another time my mother returned from coffee with another mother.  My mother’s eyes were bright, “Mrs. S showed me her garage.  There were all kinds of big saws and tools.  I told her, ‘You’re lucky to have such a handy husband.’  Do you know what she said to me?”

My sister and I shook our heads.

“She said, ‘Those are my tools.’”  A smile of admiration and wonder spread across my mother’s face.

She told us how Mrs. S built a doll house to Barbie scale and furnished, painted, and tiled it as well.  And then she worked on her own house.

My mother was in awe.

Entry into the “boy’s world” was seen as the key to independence and security.  Almost all the girls joined a soccer team.  We didn’t all stay, but we got a taste of a contact sport.  Unfortunately for me, most of the contact was with the ball to my face.  “Tom Boy,” a formerly derogatory term for lesbians, suddenly became a badge of honor. Girls started playing all variety of sports, excelling in math and science, and swearing like sailors.  They took auto and wood shop classes.

One of my closest friends is the boy I grew up with from across the street.  Together we learned how to build a tree house, a go cart, and an aviary.  I learned the names and how to use a variety of tools, and because my friend’s father was an engineer, he was able to explain the whys and wherefores of how things worked and ought to be built.

And then one day, my mom saw me using a jig saw.

There was a mix of pride and horror in her face.  “Stop that!  You’ll cut off a finger!”

“I’ll have nine more,” I argued in snarky adolescence.

“You can’t be a pianist and brain surgeon with only nine fingers,” my mother retorted.

To which my friend, despite his best efforts at suppression, snickered and started to laugh uncontrollably.

I know the laughter was meant for my mother’s ridiculous fantasy of my future, but in it I also heard the soft click of a door closing between the male and female world.

I think that independence frightened some of our mothers.  To quote Rocky Horror, “we tasted blood and wanted more, more, more.”  While they wanted us to have prosperous careers as doctors, lawyers, or computer programmers, they didn’t expect us to question other female stereotypes. 

The past had Nora Helmer, Marlo Thomas, Mary Tyler Moore, and Golda Meier.  The 80s kicked ass. We were Madonna and Annie Lennox, Ellen Rip1ey and Sarah Connor, women who had guns and “guns.” Connie Chung and Tricia Toyota became anchor women.  Bitch was a compliment and never paired with “my.”

We weren’t afraid to live on our own or travel alone to foreign lands.  We moved to different cities, states, or even countries not to follow someone, but because we wanted to explore something different.

The finished project.
While starting my own business, I felt frazzled and insecure.  I figured part of it was due to the disarray of my “office.”  I decided to put in built in bookshelves and cabinets to help organize the chaos.

“We can’t afford to hire anyone,” my husband reminded me.

“I’ll do it,” I said.

I am woman.  Hear me drill.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good-bye, Kitty

The cat's away. What shall we play?
Let me first make clear that I love my husband. He’s witty, intelligent, and easy on the eyes.  He helps with housework, tolerates and, at times even encourages, my idiosyncrasies, and loves the dogs.  He is excellent company and a wonderful companion.

Still ….

When familial or work duty calls for him to be out of town, I feel a slight thrill.  While the cat’s away, the mouse shall play.  The house will be mine.  All mine.  Mwahaha.

Like an adolescent who discovers her parents are leaving her behind on a long weekend, I start crafting devious ideas.  Grand Plans.  It’s not like I’m planning a raid on the liquor cabinet or advertising “Party at My Place!” on Facebook … although I suppose in a middle-aged way, I am.  I have visions of inviting my girlfriends over for a slumber party where we revel in martinis, cheesecake, and period piece movies with men in boots and breeches and the next morning we’ll go out for brunch or stuff our faces with Entemann’s cheese-filled coffee cake.  Woohoo.

Yes, I dream big.

But that’s not quite how it pans out.

First off, it’s just too much work. I’d have to clean the house twice (once before the guests and again afterwards).  And where would everyone sleep?  My friends are beyond the sleeping bag on the floor days, not to mention the almost impossible to remove film of dog hair and questionable stains on the living room carpet.  There is the couch and the bed, but is it appropriate to ask friends to double up?  Then there’s the matter of which t.v. to use.  My office is too small with very little seating and my husband’s office, with its full-sized couch, has the t.v. awkwardly placed for group viewing.  I suppose we could all gather on the bed upstairs, although that’s a little too Valley of the Dolls for me.

So, party of one it is. 

I plan a menu of all the foods I love but my husband dislikes: smoked salmon, dressed up ramen noodles, arugula.  I intend to get a slice of cheesecake for dessert, but I usually wind up with white cake. I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the frosting, although I’m not particularly fond of frosting.  It’s probably the vibrant colors.  Sometimes, I’ll get Mango Lemonade to mix with vodka for pre-dinner cocktails but I usually forget about it until long after dinner, and by then it’s too late for an aperitif.

I can’t remember how to get the dvd player to work on my husband’s office, and the one time that I did, I couldn’t remember the code to get into the Amazon Prime streaming account.  That leaves watching one of the boots and breeches dvds that I own or checking out the free movies On Demand.  

Sadly, even those plans fall through.

I usually wind up on my computer, writing and taking occasional jaunts onto YouTube to find obscure 80s music videos, to which I dance and sing loudly, which scares one dog but encourages the other to join in the fun. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a movie that’s been broken up into ten fifteen minute sections, which is becoming a rarity since YouTube has been cracking down on copyright violations.

I usually clean the house, playing swing music or musicals on the stereo, which is silly since I can’t hear it over the whine of the vacuum cleaner or when I leave the living room.  But it’s being able to do so that counts.  I’ll do “major laundry” which means I’ll throw the slip covers into the wash.

Truth be told, I don’t do anything that differently from when my husband is home.  But there’s a definite luxury in not having to ask what someone else wants to have for dinner, working on my own schedule, and not bothering to tone down my more annoying habits.  I leave the bathroom door open when I’m using it, which is important since the dogs feel compelled to check-in on me, something they don’t do when my husband is home.  Maybe that’s how they interpret my husband’s request that they “take care of the mommy.”  If so, I have very responsible dogs who take their job seriously.

Of course, there are times when I leave town and my husband will be left alone.

“What are you going to do while I’m away?” I’ll ask.

He frowns and shrugs.  “Enjoy a little peace and quiet,” he says with a wry smile.

“Don’t you want to hang out with your friends?”

“Sounds good,” he admits.  “Maybe I’ll catch a disaster film on t.v. … Nah, I’ll probably just sleep.”

I’m pretty sure he will.

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The Cranky Cow by Kou K. Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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