Toxicity

If you’re a regular reader, you know I take issue with gender roles and the patriarchy and all that jazz.  I have written before about how such things harm men as much as women, but I haven’t delved into the specifics.  Today, I’m going to touch on one.

Mark and I were having a discussion.  It started with a tweet I saw not too long ago in which a woman (@emrazz) wrote that “men care deeply about what other men think of them”   This struck me as interesting, since just the evening before I had witnessed a man have a full-on meltdown over the idea that another dude might think he was gay.  I brought this up to Hubs and he commented that this was a very specific issue; straight men do not want other men to think they’re gay.  I took this to a friend who confirmed that yes, dudes do care more about what other guys think, they just don’t let on that much.  They kind of transfer it over to what women think of them, because that’s the comfort zone, but men’s opinions matter, too.

So, I posed the question…what are some totally human being things that you have done that someone called you gay for?  The results are gross.

First of all, there’s the obvious life skills:  Cooking.  Cleaning.  Grooming.  Things that any living, breathing human creature needs to know to survive.  Then there’s the hobbies: gardening, sewing, interior design.  All totally non-gendered stuff that has nothing to do with sexuality and yet…here I am writing this blog.

We then arrive at the emotional elements: saying “I love you” to another dude.  Hugging a relative (more on that later.) Having a “bromance,” or even a best friend.  Admiring anything physical about another man.

Then there’s the flat-out ridiculous: your wrist going limp at any point, even if it’s just comfortable like that.  Wearing a tux on your wedding day (I really wish I was joking.)  READING.

I know at least one man who has been called gay or “f–” for everything I have listed.  And there’s still lots more.

Now one subject brought up that he’s gotten more crap from women than men, actually.  Which, makes me real mad at my sisters….do better, ladies.  However, it is MEN who do things like think its gay to NOT be homophobic.  I mean, Hubs has been called a “f–” just for being an ally…just for refusing to participate in the hate.  CMON, guys…why the hell do you care so much?

I still maintain that homophobia in men is simply their fear of homosexuality in themselves.  Whether or not they are really gay, they are scared to be gay.  And why wouldn’t they be?  Look at what they have cultivated for each other.  I mean…y’all can’t read a book without an insult being hurled your way, apparently.  You have a faction that will beat the crap out of you if you’re gay.  You’ve seen trans people get murdered and gay men die from AIDS and all the ostracization…so no, you wouldn’t want to be gay, would you?

And you certainly don’t want anyone to think that either.

Now, I had a friend in high school who thought I was a lesbian for a while.  This was because I did not care then and I do not care now about a lot of things that other girl’s I know used to care about.  I mean, I liked boys and I had tons of crushes, but I didn’t care as much for makeup and clothing and things like that the way they did.  She used to tease me often about my supposed lesbianism.  She just didn’t get that I wasn’t subscribing to gender roles, because it was 2000 and that was still a taboo topic for which I had no words.  But none of it bothered me, for two reasons:  1. I honestly did not care if the women I knew thought I was gay, because 2. I knew I wasn’t, and that was enough.  So why is it not enough for most men I know?

Likely, and this is my hypothesis, it’s because they are not allowed to openly express themselves in the same way women can.  Society does not look kindly on a crying man, unless he’s at a funeral.

Speaking of…a few years ago we were at a BBQ at my brother-in-law’s and Mark went and greeted his step-brother with a hug, for which he was promptly called a “f–” and then was smacked on the ass.  He walked away, angry and humiliated, vowing not to hug any of his brothers ever again.  Cut to their father’s funeral, where his other two step-brothers welcomed him with open arms, literally.  He hugged them and felt better, but then angry…why is it only in mourning that he gets to be sad?  Why is it only in death that men can show love to each other?

If you guessed the patriarchy…you are, as always, correct.

My husband has gender roles ingrained in him that he is still trying to unlearn, because homie (me) don’t play that.  We keep things as equal as possible, and yes, sometimes we have a spat about who is in charge of which household chore, but for the most part we resolve everything with equality in mind.  It saddens me to think there are men out there who would literally call my husband “gay” for actually giving a crap about his home. 

It boggles the mind.  Really.

Anyways, to all my male readers out there, please…try to RELAX.  Try not to care what the dude next door thinks of you, because I’ve been paying close attention to the men in my life for the past month so I could write this, and ohmygod, it has been exhausting watching you suffer by holding yourselves back.  Just relax, and be who you are, and stop worrying about what Joe Schmoe thinks of you.  Cook a fabulous meal.  Dress up to make yourself feel good.  Learn how to knit.  And for god’s sake, stop caring about what other people are doing in their flippin’ bedrooms.  Because some dudes may think you’re a super-straight-tough-guy, but most of us think you look like an idiot.

The Winds of Change

Yesterday, I went for my first appointment to be cleared for surgery.  They took some blood (no small task with my invisible veins,) gave me an EKG, and then a chest x-ray.  Then, this morning, they called to tell me I have to come back in because they didn’t get enough blood.  Shocking, I tell you.

Next up is my Covid test in about a week and a half, followed by a check-in with my primary physician to make sure I’m good to go the day before.  Then, April 29th, the big day!  Followed by a month of recovery that will surely drive me crazy…but hasn’t my gastroparesis been driving me crazy all this time, anyway?

Then, the great change…the one I hope for: that I will be able to eat something that I want to eat without fear of losing it later on.  It seems so small and simple, unless you are living with gastric issues.  Then, it is a challenge; a hill you climb several times a day.  So, what seems like a small change to some is a very big one to me.

Change is in the air.  I have written about how stagnant I have felt during the winter and how that feeling is now melting away, and I am glad to see it go. I am noticing change in other people in my life as well.  Like my sister moving into her first apartment, or Sahar adopting a dog, or Mark having a job interview.  I have one friend, Carey, who has, in the past year, completely changed her life around, despite massive roadblocks thrown in her way.  I think about who she was a year ago and who she is now and I am awed by her strength.  I think to myself, I can’t be that strong. 

But I’m wrong.

I know I can be that strong because I have been before.  I have been physically torn apart, ravaged by the side effects of diabetes, which I have had now for over two decades.  I have been emotionally crippled by childhood and young adult traumas that still bite at my feet.  I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

As a child, I feared change.  I remember the first big change in my life, and that was the morning we moved from our home in Buffalo to one in Kenmore.  I like the idea of the new house, and particularly that it had a pool in the yard, but I had just started making friends and getting old enough to explore the neighborhood (or so I thought.  Truth is, Gramma made the decision to move shortly after a gang shootout on the baseball diamond across the street.)  I was very sad that morning, and did not want to say goodbye to my house or my new friends.  I tried to focus on the good things though, like the pool…even though it was only December.

When I got older, change got even harder.  In high school, there was a brief scare during which my father thought he might have to take a job in Rochester, which would pull me out of my school, which would have been unacceptable.  I raged against this for what seems like weeks until finally it was decided that no, we weren’t going anywhere.  I feared the idea of new territory, of a new city, and of a new school, especially.  I felt it again when I went to college.  And then, pretty much regularly ever since.

You can’t escape change; nothing lasts forever.

But you can be strong.  You can be a warrior, like my friends…like the one who saw what she wanted and went out and got it and changed her life.  You can make a decision in the middle of the night to drive to Missouri to pick up your new pup. You can call back that hiring agency and set up an interview. You can move into your friends apartment and out of your parent’s back room.

What can I do?  I can give up my time and my blood and get all my scary testing done so that I can get my scary surgery done for my scary disorder.  Then maybe, things will change, and it won’t all be so scary anymore.

Just gotta be strong.

The Scariest Day

K likes to ask very thought-provoking questions of me on occasion.  Usually, they are head scratchers…what was your best day?  What music influences you? What’s your favorite memory from high school?  What are you most proud of?  I don’t know where she gets them, but it seems like she has a new one every weekend.  This week was “What was your scariest day?”

I don’t know what she was expecting, but “the day I took you guys to the squishy playground” was not it.

The “squishy playground,” as the kids have always called it, is situated in Buffalo Harbor State Park, about five minutes from my house.  They call it such because instead of woodchips or gravels, the playground floor is a squishy material that cushions falls.  One would assume this would provide an added level of safety and comfort for the worrisome parent.  One would be wrong.

It so happened, one day, that Mark had to work on a Saturday when we had the kids.  He tries not to pick up such hours, but it was mandatory, so he went in and I was alone with the kiddos.  M wanted to go to the park.  All the others chimed in, begging for me to take them.

What they did not realize is that I had never taken them anywhere before, alone.  Mark was always there, often also boosted by my parents or aunts or sister.  I figured there would be no harm…after all, it is the squishy playground.  So, I loaded them into the car and off we went.

When we got there, I perched on a bench with a book and let them do their thing.  All was well until I hear someone call my name and find M atop a climbing structure that had to be 15 feet off the ground.  That was the first instance of panic.  He was so proud of himself, and I smiled and gave him a thumbs up, but inside I was screaming.  “GET DOWN.  GET THE FUCK DOWN.”  He did, safely, and I told him he did a good job even though I wanted to throttle him for scaring me like that. 

E says “let’s go for a walk.”  There’s a path that goes along the water, for walking and biking and such, so I figure there’s nothing wrong with a little stroll and let her lead the way.  Again, all was well until I hear “Brig!  Look!” and turn to find L climbing on the rock wall that separated the path and the lake.  Naturally, the other three kids scramble to join him.  Again, I smile and give a thumbs up, but inside…”OMGOMGOMG…the girls can’t swim.  It’s too deep.  There’s no way out.  I’m going to have to jump in.  What if they crack their head on a rock?  Should I take my shoes off?  Should I yell at them to get off the rocks?  They’re having fun…I don’t want to be the evil stepmother. OMGOMGOMG someone’s going to die…”

There was a big hill across from the rocks, so I remembered the old childcare trick of redirection, and suggested that it would be fun to roll down.  All four kids agreed, and raced to the top of the hill.  They rolled a few times.  I smiled and thumbs upped and secretly prayed no one would snap a bone on the descent.  But at least they were no longer by the water.

Afterwards, we went back to the car so we could go pick up Mark.  I thought to myself that I had survived the scary day, where I was on edge the whole time while they were having a ball.  Then, E.  “I’m itchy.”  The darling girl is always pointing out anything that bothers her, from a miniscule paper cut to a big bruise, so I shrugged it off at first.  Then, K agrees.  Then L.  Then M.

By the time we get home they have rashes.  My best guess is that they recently sprayed that hill with pesticide.  I made all the kids shower, freaking out because I broke my one rule “You will be returned to your mother in the condition in which you were delivered.”

When I told K this story, she didn’t find it particularly scary.  Well, you’re not a parent, kid.  Worse, you’re not a step-parent, which brings with it a whole host of possible faux pas.  It’s like walking a minefield, at least it was in the early days.  Now, I’m a little more attune at seeing the traps.  But then, I was terrified.  The only time I had been alone with the kids at that point was in the safety of our house.  Taking them out into the world was a whole other ordeal.  I started to wonder if birth parents feel the same, constantly worried about worst case scenarios befalling their children.  Nope, not for me…another nail in the coffin of reproduction, as far as I’m concerned. 

It’s a few years later and I have spent time outside the house with all the kiddos, and I don’t worry like I did that day.  But to say I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the whole time is a lie.  I was terrified.

So no, K, I don’t have a scary ghost story, or some terrifying trauma that I can call my scariest day.  Just a day at the park with my kiddos, that I was certain would end with a trip to the ER.  It didn’t, and I was grateful, but that fear remained.  I think a lot of step-parents share these fears.  It wasn’t like it is when I nanny…I do not fear the loss of children who don’t belong to me in the way I do the kiddos.  That’s not to say I haven’t had some scary moments with other people’s kids…I certainly have.  I just seem to know how to deal with them, on instinct.  Like a job, because it is one.  But your own children are different.  Would I jump in front of a car to save a charge?  Yes.  But would I beat the shit out of the driver after, should I still be able to walk?  No.  That’s just for my kiddos.

Anyway, I love them.  They have terrified me on occasion, but I love them so much that this terror is a result of that.  K and her questions intrigue me, but this particular one really gave me an almost visceral flashback.  I really don’t think I can illustrate to you the sheer terror and worry I felt that day.  You’re just going to have to take my word for it.

The Scariest Day

Firecracker

As a child, I loved the 4th of July.  We lived across the street from a park, and they always had a big carnival and parades and fireworks.  My parents would throw a party and invite everyone we knew.  Then, we moved.

No more parties.

When I was twelve, I went to my friends beach cottage for the 4th, and her cousin threw a firecracker into the bonfire I was sitting beside.  It landed on my leg, not in the embers, and exploded.  I don’t remember much, but I remember seeing the blood, and not being able to hear anything-my friend’s mother ran over to me, screaming at her cousin, but I heard none of it, just a ringing in my ears.

Ever since, I have hated fireworks, ranging from the ones people set off themselves to the big fireworks displays at local parks and such.

Anyway, now, we celebrate the 4th at Kevin’s house.  For the new reader, Kevin is like my brother.  We grew up together, as our mothers are close friends.  Going to his house makes sense to me, bemuse Kev and I have almost always spent the 4th together.  He was at my side during all those parade and parties, and now it’s 30 years later and we still make a thing of it.  He broke his foot the other day, so I was in full mom-mode about his hopping around and trying to do everything himself…typically stubborn dude.  The only time he asked for help was when it was time to cook, and he ended up hobbling around me while I made burgers anyway. 

When it got dark, the fireworks started.  Every house was setting them off, likely because there were no big displays this year.  I am grateful that I went out to Kev’s though, because apparently South Buffalo was like downtown Baghdad.  I would not have enjoyed being home during that.  Instead, we sat in Kev’s yard and watched as the neighbors put on better displays then I have seen at the parks.

We had a few ground fireworks.  Personally, I do not understand why these are legal in NY but aerials are not.  Yes, a bigger boom when you shoot them into the sky, but if you follow directions and think safe then what’s the problem?  It’s the little fountains and firecrackers that I don’t care for.  Tiny things you light and throw…no thank you.  Little ladybugs that spin and tiny tanks that shoot pellets.  Ugh, I hate them…so many dangers.

Anyway, Hubs threw a pack of crackers into the bonfire I was standing next to and I freaked out.  The one thing I asked him not to do…the ONE THING.  But that was nothing compared to the little fountain they lit that exploded in a finale at the end, which no one expected.  That one made me run away, and folks, I don’t run.

Mostly, though, it was ok.

Kev was certain that I would overcome my fear of fireworks, and I suppose I did…or if not overcame, then certainly managed to control.  Which is a nice feeling. Any time I am in control of myself is a good time.  I was concerned about going to his house because I knew these fireworks I hate would be everywhere, from the sparklers and novelties Kevin had to the big booms in the sky. Honestly, I think I would have done far worse if I stayed home though…morning after reports were dismal.  Paper and debris from fireworks littered my garden.  The smell of sulfur lingered in the air.  News reports tell me there were thousands of complaints. 

I tired not to focus on the fireworks.  I focused on Hubs, who loves the 4th of July, and mostly Kev, my broken-footed friend whom I have spent so many Independence days with.  Friends trumps fireworks, any day of the week…not just the 4th of July.