Tag Archives: family

When everything changed: My mom the reluctant feminist

When Everything ChangedThis Christmas I gave my mom the best re-gift ever. A couple of years ago, Smarty Pants had bought me When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins.

The book details the struggle for women’s rights and how courageously individual women fought against laws they knew were wrong. It’s incredibly inspiring, especially for someone of my generation (I was born in 1979) because the changes my mother’s and grandmothers’ generations carved out meant that I could take so many freedoms and aspirations for granted.

I gave the book to my mom because she’d seen Smarty Pants give it to me and she’d briefly stolen it from me to read the first chapter. I stole it back and said she could have it when I was done.

Barbara Billingsley

Image via Wikipedia

Mom was born in 1954. She grew up on I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver. June Cleaver was her childhood heroine, and Mom dreamed of a future wearing beautiful clothes and putting on her pearls to vacuum the house while her husband and two children were at school.

She got the two children. And some of the vacuuming (though Dad does at least half of the housework himself, something that must’ve seemed bizarre to Mom when they first got married).

Mom once told me her parents didn’t encourage her to think about having a career. My grandmother believed (and still believes) wholeheartedly in thick foundation and heavy skin creams. When I was a teenager, Nonny admonished me: “Honey, you have to wear eye makeup. Boys won’t like you if you don’t wear eye makeup. And quit wearing those boy-cut jeans. They make you look like you have a ding-dong.”

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The sexiest trait a man can have

When Smarty Pants and I were living in Prague, we got caught in sudden summer thunderstorm during a picnic. We had only a few seconds’ warning before the clouds rolled in and torrential, frigid rain pounded down on us.

We threw our food back in the basket and ran for the closest cover: a copse of trees. Soaked through, we hugged each other and shivered, waiting until the rain passed. I felt Smarty Pants trying to tug the back of my pants down, something I thought was odd since we were outside, it was broad daylight, and he’s a pretty reserved Brit when it comes to public displays of affection.

Then I realized I also felt Smarty Pants’ hands on my upper back. Two hands.

He wasn’t the one pulling my pants down.

I jerked out of his arms in time to see a tiny animal, like a rat, drop from where it had clung to my wasitband. “Frickin’ hell! A rat! A giant, nasty rat!” Continue reading

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Grandpa’s Christmas atlas: Why bookshops and print books still matter

Last night (December 23rd) around 8pm, my grandma called me with a special Christmas request.

“Will you do me a favor, sissy? Will you buy Grandpa a new atlas and wrap it up and put it under the tree, from Grandma?”

Grandpa

Grandpa, mid-story, on 4th of July (hence the beads)

It seemed like a pretty random request. She’s never asked me to buy anything on her behalf, but I know that this is the first year she’s struggled to get out of the house. Pain from a few injuries and arthritis has kept her home more and more. Grandpa, too, has had a tough year. When I flew home a week ago, he looked much more frail than he had in July, when we celebrated his 90th birthday. Like the indestructible man he’s always seemed to be, he hasn’t let that stop him from working construction with my dad.

Feeling honored to have such a task – especially one where I could spend time flipping through map books – I quickly agreed and asked what kind of atlas she wanted to give him.

“It don’t matter. I just want it to be a new one. Every time you kids travel somewhere, he looks it up in his old atlas that he inherited from Grandpa Latham in the 70s. Now you’ve moved to Holland, he can’t find the town where your livin’ or the one where you’re workin’, and he’s flustrated.”

She told me, “You’re the only one I know who goes to bookshops. I don’t know nothin’ about them, so I wanted to ask you to do this for me.”

So last night my husband and I drove to the nearest bookstore and spent time looking at their atlases until we found one that had our new hometown in it as well as large-enough print that Grandpa could read it.

I started writing this post this morning, and I was going to make it about why brick-and-mortar bookshops and print books still matter: because with only one day until Christmas, I would’ve struggled to get an atlas delivered in time. And the one I would’ve chosen from the brief browse I had online before going shopping ended up not having the town where I work in it.

But this morning, as I paused in my writing to wrap gifts, we got a message. Grandma left it on dad’s cell phone early this morning, but he only noticed he had a message four hours later. Grandpa is sick, and Grandma had to rush him to the doctor at 6.45am.

We can’t get hold of her. We don’t know what “sick” means, and we’re clinging to hope because she said “doctor”, not “hospital”. My cousin Will lives with them, and he said everyone was fine when he left for work at 6, so whatever it was must have come on suddenly.

When we got the message, I was in the middle of wrapping the gift I’d bought Grandpa: a tin train full of candies, since he has a sweet tooth. The last present I had to wrap was the atlas.

Wrapping it up, and writing “To Grandpa, With love from Grandma” on the tag made my eyes swell up and my throat scratchy. My grandpa is one of Earth’s finest men, and I don’t need an atlas to tell me that.

So we wait to hear. In the meantime, Grandpa’s atlas is wrapped, sitting under the tree, with love from Grandma.

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