Last week we were at my parents’ for Mother’s Day when my mom mentioned that she would have loved to have been a landscape architect. She’s mentioned this before, but she sounded sadder than usual this time. She also would have liked to be a meteorologist or a construction worker. However, she had a very strict mom who believed women could only be stay-at-home moms, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. My mom became a (kickass) stay-at-home mom, and later a secretary and then a cashier at a department store. She also has a front yard that strangers stop to admire, and she’s done every bit of planning and planting herself.
Mom always told me and my sisters that we could be anything we wanted to be. As I’ve written before, despite what Mom said, I never felt like I could be anything I wanted to be. But why? Even after I had a degree in my chosen field I had little confidence. Why?
Mother’s Day evening, back at home, for some reason I was thinking about some of the other messages I’d grown up hearing about women. We didn’t go to church except for a very short time when I was young, but American culture is steeped in church messages, and two things I remember knowing about being a girl were 1) I was only created because men needed companions (and I was supposed to feel proud of this), and 2) women were supposed to obey their husbands, while husbands were supposed to love their wives.
Suddenly I became furious with Paul, the unmarried author of the verses about wives submitting to their husbands. And I became furious with myself. My husband was not even a Christian when we married, and I put the burden of obedience on myself. My husband had no idea I was doing this to myself. I started attending a lovely little church where people would give you the shirt off their back and older, married women told me that I could tell my husband my opinions but he got to make the decision in the end. Some of these women had stayed with abusive husbands, so who was I to complain about letting my nonviolent husband make all the decisions?
Submitting to your husband is a concept of concretes. You either do what your husband says or you don’t. And I did, from spending money right down to the direction of the toilet paper roll. Loving your wife, however, is abstract and vague. Realizing this was really what made me furious with Paul. Husbands can say they love their wives, and that’s that. Show some love here and there, and voila. Wives submit day in, day out. Minute in, minute out. At one point I remember reading Proverbs 31:16 about the perfect wife who considers a field and buys it with her earnings. This wife seemed to have significant authority, but maybe it was easier for me not to contemplate too much.
Around the time our daughter was born, my husband started attending church with me. I was thrilled when he was baptized. I’m still thrilled he was baptized. But even though we were attending the same church, he says now that he’d had no idea that I was learning at my women’s groups that he got to make all the decisions. I’m sure he has no idea how many things I would have liked to have been different.
When I fell asleep after Mother’s Day, I had a dream. In the dream, I had some raw steaks. I wanted to put the steaks outside on a wooden table (or fencepost?) but I didn’t want the white bear to get them. I put the steaks out and kept an eye on them. Almost immediately, though, here came the white bear. (At this point in the dream my inner editor said “polar bears don’t live down here” and my subconscious mind said “shut up, it’s a symbol.”) The bear got one of the steaks, and I put out some more steaks and kept a closer eye on them. This time when I saw the bear I ran and grabbed the steaks before the bear could get to them.
When I awoke, I knew that the raw steaks represented my raw emotions. But what about the polar bear? Not sure I’d believe what I read there, I went to dreammoods.com, a site I’ve enjoyed before. According to them, seeing a polar bear in your dream means a reawakening. I don’t know who decides these things, but I knew it made sense even before I made sense of it. Incidentally, raw emotion was one of the things they said raw meat symbolized.
I thought about my raw emotions. Do I want to leave my raw emotions out for all to see? Yes. I’ve been telling friends far more about my personal life than I ever did before. Lately I find I’m desperate to share my feelings. But what about the polar bear? In the dream I was afraid that the polar bear would get the steaks. Am I afraid that if I leave my emotions outside for all to see, it will lead to a reawakening?
I had to answer “yes” again.
And it hurt. Reawakening necessitates change. Change is scary.
Yesterday my friend posted on Instagram “Even on my worst day I’m deserving of hell.” This was one of the many moments recently that it was obvious how much I’ve already begun a reawakening and changed in the last year. My friend’s post was the kind of thing I used to think. But when I saw it on Instagram I said to myself “No! There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. I don’t want my religion to be about how terrible I am anymore. I don’t want my daughter to hate herself the way I’ve always hated myself.”
Thank God, when I told my daughter the other day that I’d been taught by other women that I could tell Daddy my opinions but he got to make the decisions, she said, “That doesn’t sound very fair!”
Every generation gets a little closer. My mom told us we could be anything we wanted even though she was told no such thing. My daughter might actually do it.
Come, polar bear of reawakening. Come back to my dreams, and I won’t be afraid of you this time.