International Women's Day: Mustache March

Bryon and I are usually simpatico on nearly everything – well, except when it comes to budgeting. For example, my neighbor, who is PCS’ing (for those non-military types, that means moving); came in today and asked me, “do you throw out your plungers when you move?” This seems like a ridiculous question, as most people move ten miles down the road; and therefore, throw their plungers in a baggie in the backseat of their Hyundai. But, us military types, we pack ‘em up, gross germies included, and unpack ‘em months later, when the crates arrive, and then plunk ‘em back down next to a new toilet, in a new state. Can you imagine how many germs have multiplied in that time, in those dark, dank, moist, hot moving crates?

Her argument was simple: the minor cost of replacing a plunger is worth the waste of throwing a way a perfectly good plunger every few years. Given thought, I realized that in the twelve years of marriage to my dear husband, I think we’ve celebrated all of those anniversaries with the same plunger. Not literally; I mean, we haven’t sat across a candle-lit table with one another and our plunger. However, we’ve never replaced a plunger.

That means that, yes, we move our plunger. Alas, we disagree, fundamentally on budgeting, and on how, and when to spend money. This is not news. I buy boots. I buy clothes. I buy home goods. I buy anything shiny that catches my eye. I’m like a crow, or a toddler. And damn it, if given the choice, I’d buy a new plunger every time we moved. Hell, I’d buy a new one every time we used it, if I could rationalize it to Bryon; or, if living with Bryon didn’t necessitate its constant use! I’d just never considered it as a life issue. From now on, I will.

Why the preamble? Because I’m not capable of talking without babbling. But also, because he’s a commander, now. This means that he has the responsibility to uphold all the tenants of leadership that the Air Force shovels so far down your throat that your feet turn AF blue. The jargon about mentorship, teamwork and service can’t just be jargon anymore, not to him. I’ve seen him, on weekends, creating Power Points about these very topics, the sorts of things that would’ve made Lieutenant-me, and Captain-him (who we were when we met), roll our collective eyes at commanders’ calls. Poor Bryon. He knows it’s Kool-Aid; but not only does he have to drink it, he’s got stained spoons from making and serving it. At least it’s tasty.

But, this whole leadership thing has led to the first major rift in our marriage: Mustache March.

If you are in the military, or a spouse, you know what I am talking about. It means the men, join together, and grow facial hair, like a bunch of idiots. Its origins are murky and the stuff of legend, like the chupucabra. Some will make vague references to it having to do with March Madness. Those with a misplaced sense of dignity will claim that it’s done to raise awareness for men’s’ health issues, such as the oft ignored, or easily missed, symptoms of prostate cancer. If you google it, apparently, Wikipedia claims it is pays homage to some renegade pilot who grew a mustache to flout facial hair regulations, by growing a handlebar mustache: Robin Olds.

In reality, Mustache March is an excuse to remind everyone, including a man’s caveman brain, that he has enough testosterone to grow facial hair. It’s also a chance to bond, in a chest pounding way, with your fellow cavemen, about who looks like the bigger asshole with said facial hair. Who was able to pull off the closest Selleck mustache? And, who looks like they grew the kind of mustache that makes him look like he has to stay 500 yards away from a school?

Har. Har. Isn’t this fun?

Wait. Remember those gals with the vaginas and breasts that can’t grow mustaches? You love those parts when you get to play with them, but you whine about them when we use them to point out how they interfere with your fun. Isn’t that a pain in the ass? It’s also easy to play the, “ugh, there’s always something to complain about,” card; or, the “why mess with tradition?” card. Well, perhaps it’s important to raise our voices when there’s something wrong, even if it makes you uncomfortable, and even if it means it challenges the way that something has always been done. Just because something is tradition, doesn’t make it right.

It’s so convenient to say that they claimed that they wanted the unit to participate in Mustache March this year, that it would be fun! That it would even be such a team bonding experience. Of course, they say that. Who wants to be the spoil-sport? But, here’s the problem with that: if the entire team can’t play, it’s not a team building event, is it? It’s like playing Marco Polo with a deaf guy. Plus, women in the military have been conditioned to play nice with the boys, not to rock the boat. We’ve been conditioned that we are supposed to like the boys’ games, and that we play too, or we won’t be allowed to play at all. It’s why we do things like laugh at the non-stop sexual innuendo jokes from pilots, pretending that they are not the humor of twelve-year-olds. We play so we can be allowed to be in the professional circle.

Sure, she may like seeing you guys looking like assholes with your ridiculously ugly mustaches; because face it, less than 1% of the population pulls one off successfully. However, it doesn’t bond you as a team. In fact, it’s directly exclusionary on premise alone. If the only way she’s included is to be amused from the outside, how is it inclusionary? Plus, even if the goal is lofty, men’s’ health awareness, where is the equivalent team-building event for women. Or, if it’s to pay homage to a rule against facial hair, it’s even more exclusionary. Unless we include particularly hairy women who wax, intentionally, of course; but, that’s another ball of wax.

Which brings us back to why my husband and I are at odds, this month. He’s doing Mustache March with his unit. It infuriates me. We’ve had conversations about Mustache March for years. Every year we’ve been in the Air Force, in fact. I saw it on active duty. I’ve seen it as a spouse. I have always said it’s ridiculous, exclusionary, and an example of trickle-down sexism that should be shunned from the top and made an example of as institutionalized sexism. He’s agreed. I’ve said that, if I were Chief of Staff of the Air Force, I’d ban it. It’s that important to me to make women feel included as part of the Air Force.

Now that he’s in a leadership position, he’s got a mustache, and he’s playing. I’m disappointed. He says the women wanted to play. I know he’s torn, because I know his principles, and his gut says that it’s wrong; but I know he wants to make his team happy. Or, he wants to do what he thinks makes his team happy. But, institutionalized sexism comes from the top down; without the Chief of Staff making the call, it’s incumbent on lower level leadership to do the right thing. Small changes make big changes.

In conversations, he admitted he didn’t even know what the history of Mustache March was. I knew more than he did. Ugh. Annoyed. Why is he doing this, again? Principles, man! Principles! Stand up. Even when it’s hard. I feel like what’s right is right, regardless of situation; but I’m a hard-ass loudmouth, who, thank god, got out of the military before it kicked me out for being insubordinate.

I told him that it was International Women’s Day, this week; and I asked him what he did to remind his unit, or to celebrate, with his ridiculous mustache that infuriates me every time I look at it. He said he didn’t do anything. So, I told him I still don’t like his mustache, and that I had the perfect way to celebrate. He said to post away.

I think that by the time this Mustache March is over with, he will be tired of hearing my lectures about how equality is not the same as fair, and that his position afforded him the ability to affect change, and he missed it. He will also get tired of wearing the Wonder Woman Band-Aids that I ordered for him to wear while at home. It’s not just that it’s ugly, it’s ugly on the inside. I can’t stand looking at the damn thing for the rest of the month. Thank goodness he’s TDY a lot this month…something I don’t generally say!

So, happy International Women’s Day.

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Screw Mean Girls - I've Got Another Brain Surgery to Worry About!

I had no idea how important my last few posts would be. I take that back; I had no idea how important they would be to the few people that viewed them nearly 100 times. It’s strange how important you can be to someone, how much you can impact them in one context, but matter so little to them in another. It makes me imagine my “fans” opening my page again and again, making their poor husbands read it, or reading passages aloud, shouting, “can you believe she said THAT!” Poor hubby mumbles, “yes dear, she’s a monster.”

Meanwhile, the amount of angst I’ve spent on this whole thing has been about the equivalent to how bad I feel when I kill a centipede. I hate centipedes. Oddly, I'll rescue every other type of bug, and shoo it outside. I'm a softie for every living thing, except centipedes. Nothing should have that many legs! Nothing!

Don’t get me wrong, I shed my tears over a year ago. I was hurt by mean girls. I had my “why don’t they like me anymore?” moments; and I had my “what did I do?” and I had my “how can they abandon me like this?” times. But that was over long ago. I pretty much had my tear-fest long before my first surgery. It was the last time I saw any of these people, and realized I was “out.”

And here’s why I feel this way: I’m fucking sick! Yesterday, I was reminded of this in a big way. I got word that I am, indeed, facing a second brain surgery, probably before sinus surgery. So, all of this petty bullshit is just that. It’s petty, ridiculous bullshit, which was my point all along. Girls decide they hate you for whatever insane reason they make up in their minds, and they don’t offer their support when your family is literally in the depths of hell. But, they pretend they are smiling and waving. It’s insane. And, it’s a special kind of nonsense that I refuse to allow near my life anymore.

Full on pain, yesterday. I slept for over 18 hours of the 24 yesterday. How did I do this, with a husband out of town for work? People. Kind people. A neighbor played with my son. A different neighbor picked him up from school. Someone else came and helped me with my medication. Kindness. This is what sickness looks like; and it's what kindness looks like. I have been in a bad pain cycle for a few weeks and haven't been able to break out of it. The only thing that helps is pure, unbroken sleep. So, I slept. And slept. And slept some more. Like the pretty ice pack on my head?

Full on pain, yesterday. I slept for over 18 hours of the 24 yesterday. How did I do this, with a husband out of town for work? People. Kind people. A neighbor played with my son. A different neighbor picked him up from school. Someone else came and helped me with my medication. Kindness. This is what sickness looks like; and it's what kindness looks like. I have been in a bad pain cycle for a few weeks and haven't been able to break out of it. The only thing that helps is pure, unbroken sleep. So, I slept. And slept. And slept some more. Like the pretty ice pack on my head?

The news of my next brain surgery has put things in perspective, yet again. It’s why I have no patience for silly girl nonsense, and why it doesn’t matter. My battle isn’t with them, or with any mean girls. My battle is with my own body.

My body is constantly fighting against me. It’s constantly trying to tear me apart. It’s constantly trying to see if it can tear my family apart. My battle is trying to keep my family whole, amidst the storm that is both chronic illness, and brain injury; it’s a storm that wants, so badly, to tear us, and me, apart.

This illness wants, so badly, to force me to miss my son’s school performances. It wants me to lay on the couch, and not be able to play Lego. It wants me to be too weak to engage when he needs correcting, forcing Daddy to be the only disciplinarian and me to be his only source of comfort. It wants me to be too sick to ask my son how his day was, so he feels closer to the neighbor who drives him to school. And, it wants me to be too sick from pain meds to stay awake to hear the answer, when I’m strong enough to ask.

This illness wants me to be too sick to cook dinner more than once a month, leaving my supportive husband to add it to his list of amazing ways he cares for me, without complaint. It wants me to be too sick to shower alone, forcing my husband to not only be my lover and partner, but also my nursemaid, a role he didn’t sign up for. It begs to burden our marriage with far more sickness than health. It threatens our partnership, every day, and forces us to choose to be closer, or to be pushed apart.

So, when I get dealt another blow, knowing that a titanium plate in my head will come with more ICU time, with screws in my skull, and with more of everything awful, all this nonsense about mean girls just reminds me that it’s just that: nonsense. It melts like a snowflake from the first snow, landing on the highway: impotent and meaningless. If some nasty girls choose to be awful to me, and choose to pass the blame buck, choose not to self-reflect, that’s on them. It’s not about me anyway; it’s about them.

I have bigger and more important problems than a few mean girls who got upset about being called out on their behavior. And more importantly than that, I have bigger and more important people in my life than those who are small. I have people whose hearts are larger than life. Those are the people who I will lean on again. Those are the people I will talk about and share about. Those are the people I will see at the hospital, whose words of comfort will carry me on nights filled with pain and illness. Those are the people my son will lean on when he’s afraid his mother will die.

My reason to fight. This is the best I'd felt all day. I got out of bed when he came home from school. We sat together for a few minutes before dinner, and we cuddled on the couch. He told me about how excited he was to get further in his Wii game (a special treat to get to play during the week, but Mama is sick). And, we re-heated a meal that hubby prepped in advance for us. But, I have to keep my head, essentially, frozen, so I have to wear an ice pack, wrapped around my head 24-7, so I can even THINK of moving from bed. Why? Because my brain is swollen. Yes, swollen. I take steroids all the time too, to keep it from swelling too much. But, this is what matters, not some petty nonsense. If it makes silly girls feel better to hate someone whose life consists of this, then more power to them. I hope they enjoy hating me if it gives them a weird version of power.

My reason to fight. This is the best I'd felt all day. I got out of bed when he came home from school. We sat together for a few minutes before dinner, and we cuddled on the couch. He told me about how excited he was to get further in his Wii game (a special treat to get to play during the week, but Mama is sick). And, we re-heated a meal that hubby prepped in advance for us. But, I have to keep my head, essentially, frozen, so I have to wear an ice pack, wrapped around my head 24-7, so I can even THINK of moving from bed. Why? Because my brain is swollen. Yes, swollen. I take steroids all the time too, to keep it from swelling too much. But, this is what matters, not some petty nonsense. If it makes silly girls feel better to hate someone whose life consists of this, then more power to them. I hope they enjoy hating me if it gives them a weird version of power.

Yes, don’t forget that there’s a child here, a child who was (and is) afraid his mother wouldn’t (won't) come home from the hospital. Actually, his biggest fear was that they would cut out the part of my brain that remembered to love him. Imagine, for a second, your child saying these words to you. So, small people whose biggest concern is that they can’t recognize that they are rotten, I’ve got no time for that; I’ve got a baby who I have to comfort.  

Cruelty may hurt, but love and kindness carries. And, I argue, that kindness and kind people are far more prevalent. I see it every day; I only saw cruelty twice. That’s proof enough for me that kindness is the most powerful force in the world, and I continue to believe in it. Furthermore, I believe in it so strongly, that I don't doubt for a moment that, one day, mean girls will one day be kind girls. And when they are, I'll be right here.

This is so cute and so accurate, let's pretend that the person who created it didn't use the wrong "your." It should be "you're." There...I feel better :)

Women are Terrible

I’m not sure I’m done stewing over what I wrote about yesterday. See, I was done hurting over the lost friendships. Mostly because they were lost to me close to a year ago, and I’ve got no room for women who are close to forty, that behave like they are in seventh grade, in my life. I wrote these girls (to call them women insults the name of women) off the minute I saw eye-rolling behind my back, every time I spoke. At all. No matter what I said. Literally. Being really, really sick has a way of forcing perspective like that.

I’m not stewing over them; I’m stewing over the situation as an example of a larger problem: women. It’s the reaction that their (apparent) sudden stumbling upon my blog stirred up in them. And, it’s not even their specific reaction; it’s bigger than that. To say that I care what a couple of ill-tempered housewives think of me is really quite silly. I could not care less. Truly. It’d be silly, and grossly inaccurate to imagine that I’ve wasted a single second thinking of individuals in particular.

“Just because I don’t comment on everything that is going on in your life doesn’t mean that I didn’t see, don’t care or that I didn’t pray for you because I didn’t scream it from the roof tops and look for praise doing so.”

Many people who support do so quietly, without praise. Many meals came quietly. Many flowers, many cards, many notes, many rides, many bits of help, many words of encouragement. But, it’s telling that the first word my family heard from this family was this negative, public Facebook post. And, furthermore, that it attempts to deflect and diminish what others have done; others’ actions must mean less because anything done publicly was obviously, simply looking for praise. If the first thing someone says is something nasty (especially publicly), it’s hard to believe that they’ve been piously praying for me, and supporting me, for almost a year. I thought, instead, about all the others that this reaction attempted to diminish with deflection of responsibility. I thought about the, literally, hundreds of people who have supported me, both publicly, and mostly quietly.

I thought of every wonderful thing I've seen since I've been sick, and how concern and care does count, and how it would probably bum everyone, who's done something for me, out to think that some small-minded person dared to express that they did anything for me, merely for praise. So, for every individual who helped me, who cared for me: thank you. Again. I still stare at my cards on tough days. I still look at my handmade gifts. I still hold to kind words. How dare someone, in hopes of pushing blame from themselves, try to diminish someone else's good deeds. That's the lowest behavior I've seen, pretty much ever.

Like I said in my original post about prayer, and why I appreciate it, I think that when something like this happens, it’s so much easier, and more accurate, to look instead at what’s wrong with women. It’s much easier to believe that women are terrible. We certainly can be.

Examples like this are what make me think of the larger scheme. I think about women, in general. Why do we behave this way to one another? We talk a big game about how we support one another, how we care about the advancement of women, how we want to be friends, how we care; but, then the minute a woman in our social circle is somehow different than one of us, we roll our eyes, we whisper, we shun. Then, when we are challenged, we lash out like this; we pretend we are blameless; it must be the other person’s fault. Why?

This creates a vicious cycle, which the shunned woman self-perpetuates, and becomes the nasty things that she’s named behind her back. She thinks, “why don’t they like me anymore? I was fine six months ago? What’s changed?” For me, I wondered if it was because I went and got my master’s. Was it because I got a great job? Was it because we decided to send our kid to a different school than their children. So, I became too smart and tried to act dumb, or never talk about school, books, reading, or anything that indicated I had any education at all. In essence, I shut off my entire personality. I tried to pretend we didn’t make more money from my job; in fact, I never talked about one of the biggest aspects of my life, my students, or the joy my job gave me. I also tried to never talk about sending my son to private school, even though we did it because he has special needs, not because we were rich or fancy.

So, I became a stifled robot, afraid to reveal anything about myself, because I was afraid this is why I wasn’t liked anymore. This is what women do. I was encouraged, out of fear, to pretend I was someone I wasn’t, so I’d fit back in. This, my friends, is not women supporting women. This is not friendship. This is tyranny. This is horrible. This is shameful. And, I’ll never let it happen again.

It didn’t matter, because, bam! I was a snob. I was painted as better than them, in their minds. Everything I did, said and talked about, because it was part of my life, my experience, fit the narrative that had been created by catty women who had framed my story. If I had too much homework, and felt stressed, a natural complaint for a student, and hoped to be understood by her girlfriends, it became, “she thinks she’s so much better than us because she’s at school.” A gripe session about budget, where I chimed in about how we are similarly strapped because of our son’s school bills became “what a snob, with her kid in private school.” I was trapped in a box that I didn’t know was built around me.

It isn’t just me. It happens all the time. I’ve seen friends with legitimate businesses lose friends, for no real reason. The unspoken reason is that women can’t stand it when other women are successful at forging their own paths. I have heard women gripe about other women with booming businesses, that they built from the ground up, claiming they had to “hide” them from their Facebook feed, because it’s so annoying to see how hard they work, or that they just couldn’t stand to see all the posts from their business page. These are women who have forged into advertising, partnerships with other local businesses, radio, and more; but instead of support and encouragement, I hear my fellow women say it’s “annoying.”

However, we’re tolerant of success at shilling other people’s bullshit products; in fact, we embrace it. Hooray! I’ve made Flower Petal status selling stuffed lampshades, or sparkly water bottles (or whatever crappy product: cookie sheets, makeup, bags, candles, even lingerie!) for this amazing company; do you want to be part of my “team,” so I can go on a retreat where we hug it out and celebrate one another’s success (but really, it’s just blowing glitter up one another’s asses? But, the minute one of us creates something unique, develops our own path, or does something legitimately successful that doesn’t rest on someone else’s laurels or ideas, we not only shun them, as women, we find reasons to tear them down.

We can’t stand it when someone steps outside the standard norm. It seems like there’s a pattern: housewife is okay, but only if you have children. If you can’t have children, then that’s tolerated, but if you choose not to have children, you are shunned. In fact the next question is: did you consider adoption? If you are a businesswoman, or work outside the home, you are flat out, not accepted by the housewives and mothers. They wave and smile, and do the “pretend” acceptance thing that the popular girls in high school did; remember that thing that made you feel like shit because you knew they actually hated you, but they smiled anyway? Yeah, that. Working moms love everyone and are grateful to find anyone who accepts them.

We think we have friends, so we confide. We share. We talk. Then, one day, it changes, and you don’t know why. Everything you once shared is now ammunition to be used against you. You become someone you weren’t and aren’t, in the eyes of people you thought were your friends. And everything you say and do fits into a narrative that you didn’t create. You lose everything you thought you had, and your support system disappears. Eye rolls replace hugs. Whispers replace phone calls. Excuses replace invitations.

How did I know this happened to me? Well, for example, I was never asked to watch anyone’s children, despite repeated offers. I wonder why? Was there fear that someone’s daughter might get the crazy idea that she could go to, gasp, college? Was there fear that just by being near me, she might get the idea that she could, oh no, go to work?! Did people think that the minute they pulled out of the driveway, I was going to put on a Gloria Steinem documentary and start teaching her all about second wave feminism? Cue the dramatic music. Or, do you think it’s possible that I’d plunk her in front of Bubble Guppies and give her Goldfish crackers, just like you’d asked me to? I mean, honestly.

Is everyone this way? Is every mom that I’ve met this way? Is every stay-at-home mom terrible? Is every working mom this way? Of course not! But, I think that women being terrible to one another is the single most important thing holding us back from advancing to equality. We are the only thing holding ourselves back. We hurt ourselves with this kind of nonsense.

We say things behind screens, like the quote above that we’d never say to one another, in person. I am pretty sure of this because it was so passive-aggressive. If you aren’t proud of what you say, if you can’t stand behind it, don’t say it, especially publicly. Well, not me. Hop on a plane, come sit in my living room. I have no tolerance for bullshit, or for nasty women. Support one another or get the fuck out of my way, because I’m going places.

Sick, nor not, I’m not done yet. My star is still rising, and I’m not done changing the world. Part of that means riding myself of people who waste my time, and surrounding myself with women who are worthy of the title. Getting sick means that I have to weed down to what matters. Women who suck, they don’t matter, and I’ll waste no more time on them. They are easy to spot. If you've got a fake smile and a wave, and then you turn around and gossip about the woman who just walked away, I’m done with you. I don't care if her yoga pants were from Target and not from Lucy, and they were covered in dog hair. Bullshit comments, I'm done with you. Specific help and assistance when I need you, bring it on! And, I’ll bend over backward to help you, in any way that I can. We are all in this together, so let’s act like it.

Support means actually caring about one another's goals. It means helping when times are tough. It means listening. It means caring. It means giving a rat's ass. It means that when your girlfriend takes a step outside her comfort zone, you hold her hand and help; it means you are there, not to watch her fall, so you can laugh, saving up ammo to share with your favorite gossip-partner, but to hep guide her. Let's learn to be women, instead of catty girls.

In encourage all women to look around themselves, and within themselves. Are you supporting other women in your lives? Truly supporting them? When is the last time you bad-mouthed another woman, for a legitimate reason, to another woman? Was it legitimate, or did you fabricate it, because you just plain didn’t like her, and it snow-balled? When's the last time you rolled your eyes at another woman so she "almost" caught you? When was the last time you didn't include another woman in your social circle? Why did you leave her out? Be honest with yourself. Is it something you can't put your finger on, or because she never orders from your Pampered Chef catalog. When's the last time you had a conversation with your best friend that didn't center on that one woman you love to talk about?

In other words, when is the last time you acted like a woman, instead of like a girl? The sad part is some of us are raising daughters. We are telling them to grow up to be women. We are telling them to be kind and gentle, but also fierce and strong; but, they hear these conversations. The see this behavior. Women, be women. Show your daughters how to be women.