Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Martyrdom of Burnt Toast

My birthday is on April 5th and each year my wonderful husband asks me what I would like for my birthday.   My response is usually, "Oh, I don't really need anything -  you and the kids are enough to make me happy."   "Okay," he'll respond, "But I would really like to get you something for your birthday, is there anything you want or need?"   "Really, you don't have to bother," I repeat making seem like I'm not worthy of some type of birthday present and the sad thing is - in a way I believe that's true.   Somehow asking for what I want is scary like I'm not being good and kind if I put my needs first.  It just seems selfish and I know it's bad to be self centered even on the one day of the year when you have permission to let the world revolve around you.   I guess I feel like I'll let God down if I actually speak up - like it's an act of unbridled greed.  Good people don't think of themselves ever - it's not heroic. What I don't realize is that I'm robbing Max of the chance to give me what I want rather then spending time guessing which just leaves him frustrated.   

I can't remember my mother openly declaring that she wanted anything for her birthdays or holidays when I was a kid.   She was the type that always took the last of everything - burnt toast if there wasn't anymore bread to crisp after her five kids had taken the "good" slices.   She'd rarely buy herself something new.  My dad would have me and my sisters (when we were old enough to hit the malls) get her clothes for Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries.   I understand that having to feed and educate five kids took time and resources, but even after the tough times had passed and they had the money to take trips to Greece and Europe, my mother would still sacrifice, still think of herself last, still not ask for what she wanted.   If she visited me and my grown up siblings, she's still ask permission to get the simplest things rather than just getting it - the whole mi casa es su casa (my house is your house) concept was lost on her.  It might have been a generational thing but after telling her frequently that it was okay to get a something to drink - it seemed to be less about being polite and more about giving yourself permission to get what you need. 

Why do women have such a hard time asking for what we want?   Is it that we'll be seen as aggressive or bitchy?  After all Cinderella got Prince Charming by being nice and taking all sorts of crap from her evil step sisters - the original mean girls who were, well - aggressive and bitchy.  So the message is that suffering is virtuous and eventually your goodness will be rewarded with a hot guy on a white horse who will save the day and will give you some sense of redemption.   Really?!  Unfortunately, that's the sort of Disney Princesses many of us grew up with.   Cinderella being nice to her evil stepsisters no matter what they did to her.  Snow White being abused by her wicked Stepmother and answering with a naivet√© that almost gets her killed.  Sleeping Beauty just sleeps for 2/3's of the movie while everyone else tries to save her - which really doesn't say empowered woman to me.  I used to explain to Amber when we would see those movies that it's not okay to have anyone treat you badly.   You have to be your own Fairy Godmother and make those opportunities happen for you on your own terms without having to worry about midnight changing everything back to rags.  It's okay to shatter that glass slipper if you can't use it to step forward.  That's why I love Drew Barrymore's - Ever After: A Cinderella Story.  This Cinderella actually cold cocks her evil step sister when she goes too far and she gets the Prince to fall in love with her brain, not just her looks. 

Thankfully, in the mid-1980's the Disney image of the helpless princess changed and brought us heroines who could fend for themselves like: Aerial in The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Jasmin in Aladdin, Titiana in The Frog Princess and Rapunzel inTangled.   Disney has even taken some of the fairy tale characters circa 1950's and earlier and made them more empowered in other cartoon continuations of the story.   But for many women, the damage had already been done.   We want to be good helpers - to put other's needs before our own - because it makes us feel valued - it makes us the go to gals - the ones who will save the day and give beyond a healthy line of demarkation.  Unfortunately modern day evil step people smell that need to be validated and pounce on it the minute they see it.   How many times have you helped out a coworker who had a sob story about not being able to make a deadline because it was everyone else's fault but theirs - after all updating their Twitter and Facebook status with silly YouTube videos isn't going to happen on it's own.   Or agreed to help out at an event a the local PTA or church because you're so good at it and no one else can figure it out.   When you are spread really thin and you want to say no, you're made to feel like you've let the team down even though the team leaves early to hit happy hour while you finish the report - because they know you will literally kill yourself to get it perfectly done.  Seriously, if you died at the copy machine that night, they'd step over your body to make sure that the package went out on time and then would call 911.  I once worked for someone who was a expert in this - he was rarely around to literally do the heavy lifting,  would leave events early to be home with his family, would play in every golf tournament in town for "networking purposes" and was rarely in the office on Fridays.   Yet, if you needed to look after your own personal needs, you weren't being a team player.  This sort of manipulation plays well with people who have delusions of being the hero who can pull victory out of the corporate jaws of defeat.   

So ladies, it's time to throw off  our self imposed shackles of duty and say something we're just not comfortable saying: "No, I'm sorry, but thanks for thinking of me," and leave it at that.   You don't need to explain to your PTA committee or the ladies of the church bazaar why you want your life back, you just need to have the courage to do it . Each time it gets easier so that you pick and choose the projects you want to do.  You can delegate for those work team projects so that the responsibility is on everyone's shoulders and make sure that they are giving progress reports at each staff meeting so you're not hung out to dry at the end.   It's going to feel weird, but in a good way.  You might actually have time to do the things you enjoy doing.  You won't be pissed all the time that you're doing everything for everyone else and not being appreciated.  It will feel good to no longer be the martyr at Our Lady of Perpetual Suffering.   One of my favorite quotes is "Well behaved women never made history."   Doing what everyone else wants you to do keeps you from finding your own path and the hero you need to be - to create the history you can be proud of.   And for God's sake, eat a piece of toast that's not burnt. 

There's a reason why when you fly, the flight attendants tell you that in the event the cabin loses pressure that you need to secure your own oxygen mask first before helping others.  You need to take care of yourself - it's a simple concept that makes sense and yet seems to elude so many of us.   You can't help make the world a better place if you are sick physically or mentally - so it's okay to treat yourself and ask for what you want.   Trust me, God will not be disappointed - in fact he/she will probably say "Thank me, she finally figured it out!"   I know it's not easy and it's a process that I'm working through myself.   But this year for Christmas, when my husband asked me what I wanted - I actually had an answer - "The Wii Just Dance 3 and I'm pretty sure it's on sale at Target," was my immediate reply.   It was that simple.  It was that easy.  He was happy to not have to guess again and I was happy because I really wanted that game.   So Max, for my birthday, I would like to get the Glee Karaoke and Glee Karaoke 2 for Wii.  You can find both on Amazon for less than what I paid for the kid's Glee Karaoke 3 at Christmas.   There - that was not so bad.  In fact, it felt down right heroic.  

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