Holding down, climbing up

There is a picture of me at about age five. I am smiling in the sunshine with my straight-cut bangs and Dorothy Hamill bowl-shaped hairdo. I was really cute. Had a great big grin. Wore brown saddle shoes that made click-clack sounds on the sidewalk. I was, as my Aunt Lee often described me, “Happy.”

And then, as I got a little older, that giant smile began to fade. Seriousness and shyness set in from living in a household that was too dry for my watering requirements. I guess you could say, I spent my childhood in the wrong climate, and eventually, I wilted. My soil hardened.

That was a long, long time ago. We’re talking mid to late 70’s. (Which means I am going on 44, if you are wondering.)

But that image has remained with me, a bookmark to the “before” period in my life. Before my father’s stern, militant reign over our household took its toll on me. I could only hear “stop crying” after a bike spill or “look it up” when I didn’t know something, so many times. I maxed out on the number of days I could withstand my dad’s utter disdain for the females in his household. I stopped being able to smile through the harsh looks and the cold shoulders. Finally, eventually, I started fading into the background of my own life. I began trying not to be noticed because being noticed so often meant feeling shame.

Fortunately, time moves on, and that crumpled flower of a girl re-bloomed into something grander, something more impenetrable. A steel magnolia comes to mind, but that seems a little silly, I know. However, despite the passage of time and the strength regained, here we are. The divide between Father and Daughter, Men and Women, Us and Them couldn’t be stronger.

The wound that I thought was healing has been reopened. We’ve elected Trump as President, and I can’t help but feel Daddy has put us in our place again. We were wrong to stretch our wings, to leave the nest (and for a more eco-friendly tree house! How could we?) We thought we could kiss those women and still be loved. That we could run that board room without fear of being felt up in the copy room. We thought so many things, didn’t we? And here we are.

I kind of feel like the bigger kid looking at the Kansas cornfield smile on my five-year-old self’s face, going “Wha?” That was me? That was us? We were….carefree, thinking that slugs and ladybugs could live in the same small Mason jar just fine – assuming everyone had enough air holes and grass.

The good news is, I grew out of Daddy’s shadow once. It took a long time, it’s true. But the thing about climbing is, that eventually you get high enough to feel the sun again. Eventually, you find the glacier has melted just enough for you to take an afternoon swim.

You find you’ve built stamina, and that the enormous summit you had to reach wasn’t so high after all. It just took one foot in front of the other. In front of the other. Head down. Boots strapped tight. Until you were miles and miles above the men who held you down.

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It took me a long while to consider the title for this blog. I wanted something that defined me both as a person and a writer. A name that would also perhaps speak to a particular audience. Why “The Astronaut Wife?” Since my early days of blogging, I have leaned toward more of a confessional style of writing, to some degree. I write as much truth as I can muster at each phase of life. In addition, I also come from a conservative Southern family, and I have grown very far from those roots. You could say I have rocketed to the moon in terms of my upbringing. I have rocketed away from debilitating family dynamics, from worldviews that held me beneath a rock. In my thirties, and now my early to mid-forties, I have learned to live more comfortably with both sides of the moon and write just as much about the raw, dark places as the light ones. Don’t quote me on that, though. It’s quite likely I will lean more heavily toward one or the other depending on which way the wind is blowing. Then, we get to the wife part, and quite frankly, this is where the feminist in me bucked and brayed. Identifying myself as “wife” has felt simply stymieing, particularly since becoming a mother six and a half years ago. But if the truth is going to be told, being a wife to my particular husband has altered my entire shape and has given voice to much of the inner deep. So in fact, becoming a wife was the singular most life-changing moment for me in my journey to the moon and back. Fellow travelers, you can feel safe and comfortable here. What matters more than what you might “get” about me is what you might take for yourself.

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