A Womans Work.

The idea of being a feminist is not new to me.
I was destined to be one, or perhaps that was the most
shocking thing I could have become.
Having grown up in the South where everything was all
etiquette and lady like. Where my father lorded over my mom
as if she were property, an indentured servant of sorts,
destined to do his dirty, his emotional work,
his housework,
his all work.

Where my mom took it all on because she thought
that was what she was supposed to do,
to be successful, to be good, to be
I still can’t wrap my brain around it. How
she did so much. In a sense she did do
everything; except herself.
And when would there have been time,
for her needs?

I remember one day in kindergarten,
she forgot to pick me up from school.
All the kids came and went and there I sat with
Ms. Warfield, waiting. My mom was less than a mile away,
and yet somehow between all the endless things on her to do list
she forgot what time it was and that I was waiting.
How utterly human. How utterly understandable.
And yet to this day, 20 something years later, I remember that
look in her eyes when she arrived. That deep shame.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but how all too familiar it is now.

Somehow part of the female credo - guilt and shame.
And I think after all these years and all this progress,
how do those old stories still linger?
But they do. We all know them and carry,
our own treasure trove of inessential burden.

I remember announcing to my righteously patriarchal father
around my sophomore year in college that I was - in fact -
a Feminist…his worst nightmare.
At which point he responded by saying: “Well, I hope someday you find a strong
man who will put you in your place.”
That he actually said it is one thing.
That he believed it earnestly is another.
I would talk about the damage that did to my still forming frontal cortex,
but that would be giving him far too much power.

Building a career was easy in contrast to the idea
of building a family. Work required grit
and a certain kind of vulnerability,
but building a family required rewriting
all new scripts, which is only possible
once you’ve dealt with the old ones and those had all been
so carefully vaulted away.

It took me 34 years and nearly two decades of counseling
to build a relationship that wasn’t a
reflection of my pain.
My biggest dilemma has always
been housed in the paradoxes. In the rejection
of values and impossible standards
imposed on me by culture. And the little girl
somewhere inside who still wants to believe
in magic. That I can be soft and vulnerable, and
still stand steady in my power.

If success were an equation, I think
we women would always come up with a
remainder. And what if that isn’t such a bad thing?
In the inertia of work and life, there are these moments when
I’m back at the drawing board with the scripts —
the old ones and the new ones —
and something in between.
And I’m trying to determine —
what is that I truly want.
And I think - maybe - I’ve already found it.

Maybe it is this:
learning to live in the paradox
with ease, with grace.
Embracing my vulnerability,
as my strength.

-Micah Stover


PoetryJulia NusbaumComment