*Don’t cause trouble.
*Don’t confront adults.
*Ignore the bad stuff.
No, I don’t have a Me Too story. Thankfully. But I have several vivid memories of things I’d like to do over.
I remember a misunderstanding I had with an adult -- a man -- when I was about 10 or 11 years old. My girlfriend’s piano teacher was bragging to my friend's mother about his method for teaching music theory. I took lessons from a different teacher and he wanted to show her that HIS way was better. My girlfriend and I were seated next to each other at her piano.
He tapped me on the shoulder. “Key of F,” he said. “Is it a sharp or a flat key?”
“Sharp,” I said.
He threw his head back, raised his hands above his head and clapped sharply, then turned toward my girlfriend’s mother. “See?” he said.
I knew I was wrong even before he declared victory.
I misunderstood the question. I knew what an F sharp was on the piano, but I had never heard of an F flat. Hence my answer: “Sharp.”
Then I realized he was talking about key signatures.
I should have stood up immediately and said “I know the key of F has one flat. It’s B flat.” I should have played the F scale on that piano, right then and there in front of him.
I didn’t. I was polite. He was a grown-up. I was not supposed to correct or confront adults, even when they were wrong. This happened more than 60 years ago and I still remember the humiliation I felt -- not only for giving the wrong answer, but also for misunderstanding the question and then NOT standing up for myself and my teacher’s methods.
When I was in my 20s, I remember being shocked to hear acquaintances freely use the N word. Some of my friends occasionally spoke about people of different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds using derogatory, degrading terms. I should have spoken up and registered my disagreement. I should have protested, should have said, “The N word not only insults a whole group of people, it also insults me because you think I am willing to allow you to use it in conversations with me.”
But no. I was polite. I swallowed my shock. I pretended I didn’t hear it.
Of course these people continued to use degrading language about other groups of people in my presence. Nobody knew of my disgust. I wish I could go back and voice my complaint. Back then, I didn’t think my voice would be heard or that my opinion mattered.
When I was a young mother, I had an experience that still haunts me. I wish I could rewind the tape and replay this incident so I can at last stand up for myself and register my anger at an indignity aimed my way.
My husband was piloting our boat carefully into a slip at a port somewhere in the Great Lakes (I have forgotten the exact place.) I was on the bow, ready to toss a line to two men on the dock who were going to help us tie up for the night. My three children, who were probably 10, 8, and 3, were on the back deck of the boat.
These two men were being helpful. They were standing in front of me, on land, ready to catch the line when I tossed it.
They checked out my three beautiful daughters. The taller man turned to his companion. He jerked his head sideways and pointed his chin in my direction. He spoke in a stage whisper out of the side of his mouth.
“She looks like a good breeder,” he said, with a smarmy little smirk.
I heard him clearly. What did I do?
I am ashamed of this. It still embarrasses me. I wish I could go back in time, secure that boat, then march over to Mr. Smartass and confront him, face to face.
I would put my hands on my hips and look him in the eyes. “I heard that,” I would say. “I am not a horse. I am not a cocker spaniel -- although you might call me a bitch for talking to you like this.
“I am a woman. I am the mother of those children and I resent being objectified and referred to as if I were some kind of breeding stock.”
It’s not 1979 anymore. It’s 2019, and attitudes have changed. I hope Mr. Smartass’s attitude has changed.
I have changed, too. Ms. Polite doesn’t live here anymore. If this incident happened today, I would track him down and scold him.
My age – as well as the times – have something to do with this increase in my own self-worth and level of assertiveness. Now that I’m a mature woman (a.k.a. old lady) I am less polite, less kind, more troublesome and more confrontational.
Time is short. I can’t ignore bad stuff anymore.