I have this early memory that is like an important passage in a good book. Each time I go back to it, it reveals more. Different details become exposed and heightened in a way that calls out, "How was that missed before?" I was a young child in the 60's. Too young to have passionate feelings about the sexual revolution, women's lib movement, the Vietnam War, or even Woodstock. And yet, somehow, there was certainly some infiltration into my development and journey. Likewise, my youngest son was in kindergarten when the twin towers went down. My sense of loss was staggering, for him it's historical, but not quite personal and yet it has changed the climate of his generation in a multitude of ways that will forever alter their collective experience. In addition to the generalized pain, I have the distinct, and personal memory of seeing the twin towers being planned and built. I watched the cranes, emerge atop. I recall being disheartened that the Empire State Building, in full view from the street I grew up on in Queens, would no longer be the tallest. I felt it's pain. It beckoned to me each day on my way home from school, as I played on the sidewalk, or sat on the stoop. The twin towers seemed stark, clinical almost, lacking in heart and soul. I was a bit cynical and curmudgeonly even then, or a romantic with fine appreciation for architecture. Yet when they were attacked, I felt a larger, visceral pain. My son came home from first grade unknowing, excited about friends, or a project, or the brilliant, beautiful, blue sky of that day.
The early memory I refer to is about being independent. All children want to do “it” themselves at some point. “I can do it, myself!” Turn the light off, on, off, on again because they can, and a short time earlier they could not, yet. Go potty, sleep in their own bed, pick out their own clothes. Independence is one of those stages in early childhood that is a boon and a burden, both. Sometimes those pesky little tikes just really can't quite do it yet, or doing it themselves takes approximately the equivalent of whatever the mathematic percentage of 3 years times x amount of children removed from your livelihood is. (Note to self: Efficiency expertise data would be useful here.)
Anywho... The memory. The sixties. Women's Lib movement. Childhood independence. I was a sparky little thing. Sass and attitude. Spirited and determined. I recall with great clarity a situation that occurred when I was around four years old. My father's friend, Mr. Finkle, was attempting to help me put on my coat,"Allow me." Oh the nerve, the injustice, the long, hard, history of women everywhere.....No, not really, the strong desire for a young child to be independent. Mr. Finkle was put off, but charmingly. He made a big to-do. “Oh, a feminist!” he proclaimed. “Oh, she doesn't need any help”. “A women's libber”, “You have a real live wire here and she doesn't need any help!” He snarked. I remember my father rolling his eyes in jest. I put that coat on and good! I can even remember my body and posturing. I was not going to need or take any help, damn it!
The memory is somewhat disjointed and interconnected at the same time. I felt a sense of pride in not needing help, but I was also aware a larger message or meaning was being communicated. My pride was also the bane of accepting help, it has infiltrated my being. I did not realize at the time that this was a courtesy, and also a way to treat me as a woman, not a child, perhaps one in the same? It was also a way to demonstrate chivalry. It was not meant to scourge or condescend. It was a politeness bestowed upon me, and women, not a way to keep the girl-child down. But damn it all, I expressed with authority, as I turned abruptly, “ I can put my own coat on!” I can even remember a slight scowl and pulling away, more than likely a foot stomping.
Here I am, forty some odd years later. I am still unclear what I want to do myself versus what would feel really nice if some man-folk did it for me or with me. Would I still feel independent and worthwhile if someone helped? What are the rules here? The double standards and confusing messages few of us can decipher are in need of a little, ahem, assistance, or help. Opening a door for me feels nice, thoughtful. I generally don't wait for this to occur, though. I move around with speed and determination. Does that interfere with the rules? How will I ever learn them? Do I value them or even recognize them? Do I want help? Will it imply that I need help, that I can't do it myself? I suppose all of the above. I do need help, sometimes. I also like to help. Courtesies, kind gestures, opportunities for self and others to help, avail. I may just slow down a bit and participate, in the moment. I may wait for someone to help me put my coat on. I might even like it, damn it. I might slow down enough to feel it and accept it.