It’s been a while since my last post, and although a lot has happened since moving into the new house it’s mostly variations on a theme. It’s the same DIY theme that seems to be the vein of ore in my life. As I discussed in the last post I’ve had some great examples for how and why to thrive on self-reliance. Over the last year (and especially in the last few months), the thought has turned to “Why the hell don’t I have any role models for this?”
One long, enlightened weekend with Ms Annie in Minnie, we actually said at one point that we wished that as young girls we’d had examples of the independent women we’d grow into. How many examples did we have of women who were satisfied with themselves and their lives without it having to center around kids, or a relationship? The key to happiness is following your passion. Marriage and family can be important and fulfilling, but so can a career, hobbies, and friendship.
As an adult I’ve had more and more examples of women who are happily self-reliant, ambitious, and good people. As a kid, though, I couldn’t think of any major role models I had who fit this model. Certainly none of my aunts or other older immediate family members qualified. Even though my aunt went back to school to become a successful nurse and did all right after her divorce, a lot of unhealthy things followed. The next closest example was my cousin Teeny, who worked in a large city for a major corporation and was responsible enough to buy her own house and pay off her school debt. Unfortunately, she’s also a raging alcoholic.
So while my mom’s family would be best described as an episode of COPS set in backwoods Appalachia, she did end up having two female friends who were great role models for independence, ambition, and happiness. Despite having lots of strong female friends, most of these women were in abusive relationships, had drug/alcohol problems, couldn’t keep their work life together. (Is that a nice way to say it?) She did have other friends who didn’t have these issues, but I never knew them enough to tell you anything about them now. One woman was a lawyer, I guess she’s survived cancer now? Another one was a professor? Clearly you can tell the impact they had on my life.
That leaves us with her first best friend Steph, and her now best friend Sassy. (You’ll be happy to know that Sassy is the one who taught Lil Pirate and Lil Bro the proper uses of the word “fuck”.)
Steph is married, has kids my and my brother’s ages, and used to work with my mom. She’s intelligent, hard-working, responsible, and takes good care of her family. If a kid needed a positive influence for their work life, how to make decisions about money, difficult family situations, or life in general Steph was a good person to know. Nobody’s perfect, but she had a significant impact in our lives.
Sassy is around 7-10 years older than me, and she became besties with my mom when she went back to college. Lil Bro and I were still young and impressionable and Mom had a lot of friends who were young, intelligent, hard-working, and kind. As time went on people moved on to other cities for jobs, sunk into drugs or alcohol, or else just drifted away. There was a short time where Sassy had a boyfriend, but I distinctly remember her breaking up with him because he was an idiot. We never knew if Sassy was usually single because she has a disability, but it turns out that it really doesn’t matter.
She doesn’t have any high-powered job, she’ll never be a supermodel, and she’ll never have kids of her own. Sassy’s financially independent, takes care of her health problem, is a doting aunt to her nieces and nephews, and stands up for herself.
These are the only two women I knew who weren’t stuck in a relationship because it was abusive or they couldn’t support themselves, didn’t have drug or alcohol problems, had jobs they were good at and were leading to fulfilling careers, and supported their friends, family, and community. Maybe that’s a long list of requirements. It’s also a long list of unhappy trappings if it’s not what you want.
And that was it, until I was in my early 20s.
I know I’ll be a trailblazer, if that wasn’t how I was born then it’s an old habit now that will be hard to break. I’ve come to terms with the confusion and the difficulty figuring out what was important to me as a younger adult and I know I’m stronger for it. Resisting following the crowd was hard, because even though money, relationships, family were things I wanted, they weren’t what was right for me at the time. Thinking about future versions of Lil Pirates, I always wonder why the message can’t be “Follow your passion” instead of “School, Job, Marriage, Family”.
This isn’t an issue only for girls, either. Young boys grow up with these examples of what women will or should be, and if we don’t think to treat people as individuals on their own merits, we run into a very unhappy world.
Of course, that’s a lesson that is greater than gender.
Kids learn by bad examples, so this isn’t a lost cause if people aren’t perfect. But if people don’t have any accessible, real-life examples of being happy and successful doing something different, they might not realise they can be strong instead of sinking into following the crowd even if it makes them unhappy.