“Hey! How’s Eli feeling?”
“Much better! It turns out his tummy was just too full, but I couldn’t risk leaving him in case it was something more serious, so I’m sorry I wasn’t at rehearsal, but-“
“Jess, I wasn’t judging you.”
No. No, he wasn’t. My director genuinely cares about my tiny son, and wanted to know if the tyke was ok. So why was I preparing to defend myself before the question was even out of his mouth? Andrew has never questioned any of us when we have to be late, or absent for personal reasons. So why was I afraid of being cut down to size for doing what I needed to for my son?
The answer is complicated, and doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Andrew (who totally rocks, and has never once made me feel like I’m on trial). And I have a sinking feeling that I’m not alone in this particular battle.
Courtesy of an abusive situation in my past with a teacher who WAY overstepped the bounds of a professional student/teacher relationship, I am afraid of male authority figures. No, I was never physically hurt in any way, but I wasn’t allowed to say “no”. I had to ask his permission before making any decision (related to my studies, or no), as I was clearly not capable of deciding for myself. It was perfectly ok to intellectually demean me. In fact, if I fought back, and defended my intelligence I was chastised. It was easier to just smile, laugh it off, grow a thicker skin, and pretend that I was merely upset that my hair wasn’t cooperating. I was never right, because that implied that he could be wrong. My every action was subject to speculation on how I could have been better. It was a special kind of hell.
Disclaimer: This individual is a WONDERFUL teacher, and a compassionate human being. Reparations have been made, forgiveness is a choice I make every day, and he and I are on our way towards healing. That doesn’t mean that everything is hunky dory now. There are hidden scars that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life.
As a grown adult, I still feel that I need permission from an authority figure in order to act outside of the usual routine. I carefully rehearse cover stories if I don’t deem my reasons “good enough”. I practice hiding tears behind a smile. I wait nervously to condescended upon, and made to feel like a helpless little girl, who has not been the compliant little angel she’s been taught to be. Without thinking about it, I assume that others know better than I do what is best for me (and my son), because I wasn’t allowed to determine that for myself. Apologies are a reflex for me before I even stop to consider whether or not I’m in the wrong. More often than not, I’m not, and am trying to placate someone before they have the chance to demean me.
I THOUGHT I had grown beyond the false smiles, and hiding, and the frantic “ImsorryImsorryImsorry” chant, behind which hid the silent chorus of “please don’t hurt me”. Apparently, I was wrong.
I want better than that for myself. I want better than that for the men in my life who have never done anything wrong, who ask innocent questions because they care about me. I certainly want better for my son. He’s watching me, you see. And I get to choose whether he has a mom who isn’t afraid to hold her head high, and do what needs to be done, or one who hides behind unnecessary apologies. I don’t want for him to see my fear, and learn that that’s the way a woman is supposed to be. I want more for him than that.
So what does that mean? That means that I get to learn to look my past in the face, and without apologizing to it, inform it that it no longer defines me. It means that I have to watch what I say, for reasons other than self defense. It means that I get to choose to be more than a helpless little girl, who needs someone to hide behind. Because I’m NOT, and I DON’T.
I am his mother, and I am me. That’s all I need to be. And that’s enough.