A few minutes on the internet will provide a deluge of articles entitled, ‘An Open Letter to ____”.
I loved the idea at first.
After reading people’s open letters to rude customers, letter carriers with body odor, and parents of the screaming toddler at Applebee’s on June the 27th in Deluth, I’ve decided I’m tired of the open letter idea.
Therapeutically speaking, I get it. We can’t always communicate with the people who offend or hurt us. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought of an excellent comeback when the moment has long passed. The old woman who gave me parenting advice outside Victoria’s Secret got a sound verbal lashing from me, but only later in my car. In the moment, I was too stunned by her forward remarks to do anything but stare.
Sometimes it is necessary for our well-being to address the people and situations that have brought us harm. For example, I could write a few dozen open letters to ‘5th Grade Boys Who Tortured Me’ and ‘The Police Officer Who Told Me To Stop Dancing In the Public Fountain or He’d Call My Parents’.
These kinds of letters help us process our feelings and move forward.
These letters go unanswered. The best you can hope for is impacting someone wholly unconnected from the offending incident. Maybe someone will read it and decide not to ask a woman when her baby is due because they read your letter and now know that it isn’t an appropriate question to ask a stranger.
You can civilize people, one open letter at a time. It’s terribly noble to feel that the situation has been rectified when the most that occurs is enlightenment of the general population.
On a good day, I can be that noble. But in the dark jagged places of my heart, I want retribution.
As I read the open letters to People With High Sodium Intake and The Cafe Guy Who Takes the Plug-In Seat When All He Does Is Read the Newspaper, I realize how often I fail to reply in a way that feels authentic.
Civility is important and manners are necessary. However, hiding your feelings isn’t.
In the past year I’ve been taught by my many, many therapists that your feelings are your own. You don’t have to apologize for them. You can let someone know that you’re angry without crossing any boundaries. Your behavior is still yours to decide, despite your feelings.
I could have told the rude woman who told me I was parenting wrong that she had offended me and added to my stress. It would not have been kosher to slap her or make fun of her, or do any of the other things I later wanted to do. It would have been acceptable for me to tell her that I didn’t wish to speak with her, as she was a stranger and was crossing a personal line.
I think I’d be less likely to hold a grudge if I spoke up for myself. Looking back, I’m not as upset with the woman as I am myself. I didn’t react to her in a way that was consistent with who I am. I just stood there.
Let’s write fewer open letters and instead speak honestly in the moment when the need arises, shall we? Candor can go far in rehabilitating bad manners and it also keeps us from taking subtle social abuses.
For example, when I was pregnant with my first child, I hated to be touched on my stomach. A woman I worked with thought it was acceptable to rub my belly multiple times a day. Perhaps she thought I was a good luck troll. I seethed every time she reached out her hand. One day I’d had enough of it and when she touched my belly, I grabbed her left breast and didn’t let go. It’s one of my favorite stories about myself, but in retrospect it would have been better for us both if I had told her to stop the first time.
The problem, of course, is what to say when an awkward moment arises. The solution, naturally, is to think through all the irritating events that are likely to occur in our lifetime and have candid material at the ready.
And so, I present this field guide to my future self:
Navigating The Most Commonly Asked Questions to Mothers of Three Daughters
Wow, three girls? That’s a lot of hormones!
Yes, I suppose it is. You’re obviously a biochemist, why don’t you tell me how many more hormones are contained in my three female offspring than three of the male kind. What’s that? You don't know? I’ll walk away while you Google it. P.S. Blaming things on hormones is so Donald Trump.
Daddy better get a gun/You’ll have to fight off the boys with a stick.
This comment might be the most popular. It is hard to know if I should first attack the idea that boys will only be kept from my girls using physical violence, or the idea that Daddy would be the one to wield such weaponry.
Authentic responses could include: Oh no, we’re pacifists; If a boy needs to be physically restrained from bothering my daughter, I’ll be the one with a stick while Daddy gets the rope; Only boys raised by cavemen would treat a girl in this manner; and my personal favorite, my daughter can speak for her own life and body. I’m just her backup and cheering squad.
You should start saving now for their weddings!
You’re assuming someone will have them. What if they aren’t virtuous enough? What if I don’t teach them the way a wife should behave? What if they can’t cook? We just aren’t sure yet if our girls will have what it takes to catch a fellow’s eye. (Rolls eyes in most blatant sarcasm)
You do realize that’s an archaic tradition stemming from passing a woman from ownership to ownership, right? That’s when simply marrying a woman wasn’t enough. A man had to be enticed by the number of coins or sheep or acres of land that came with the deal. Throw a big enough party and the groom might forget he now has to feed and clothe the newly acquired baggage until she dies in childbirth.
Has some potential:
I’m saving for her education instead; I’ll encourage her to elope; I don’t know if my girls even want to get married.
Are you going to try for a boy/ Were you disappointed when the last wasn't a boy?
I cried SO MUCH when I realized I wouldn’t have a little lord of the castle. I was so depressed I had to take to my sick bed and was only roused when the doctor applied leeches. Again, what year is this? Once upon a rougher time, it was a woman’s responsibility to have a boy. They weren’t doing their part in life if they had only females or (gasp!) no children at all. I am sorry for the scores of women who went through life this way. But the world is no longer flat and a penis is not the only redeeming quality of a child.
I don’t want a fourth child if it was a boy, girl, or solid gold future POTUS with a cure for scrofula. The three children I have weren’t all in my plans, and I’ve still got my eye on the youngest. She might redeem herself by marrying into the ruling class, in which case I’ll retract that statement.
Daddy might want to move out someday when you’re all on the same cycle!
Daddy will be welcome, and indeed encouraged to do so. He can start that practice as soon as he wishes. I’m all for progress, but I think letting women sit in a tent (fitted with air conditioning) sounds like a little slice of heaven. No parenting, cooking, laundry or work for 5-7 days? Today that’s what we call stay-cation. Leave my chocolate outside the tent flap and send someone to paint my toes.
Do you get tired of the color pink?/ I guess you know all about princesses, huh?
I do get tired of the color pink because it is the primary hue available for shoes, bows, gymnastics attire, bathing suits, and training bras. Wait, also lunch boxes and pencil pouches and bedspreads. Don’t forget toothbrushes and Legos. We know about princesses because they're usually plastered on top of the pink backdrop. I don’t know much about Thomas the Train or Ninjago because those are only available in the ‘boy’ sections with the color blue.
I like princess stories and I like pink. I love them both, in fact. I also love green and superhero stories. I’m quite partial to yellow. I’m a sci-fi fan. Most humans fall in their own categories of likes and dislikes. For the child who wants to wear all pink, I say do it with joy and don’t let anybody give you crap about it. For the child who has varied interests, I say wear a princess dress one day and an Iron-Man costume the next. Let purple be your favorite color today and black tomorrow and mint green the next. Because life is super boring when you wear/do/eat/think what someone else wants, and not what you want. Power to the pink; power to the unpink.
Girls cause so much drama, how do you deal with it?
Emotionally unhealthy people and asshats cause drama. Want a number for a good therapist?
Don’t you want to pass on the (father’s) family name?
Again, old habits die hard. It was A Big Deal in Years Gone By to have a son and heir. I don’t ascribe to those traditions. I love family history. I love it. I’m interested in my ancestors and where they lived and how they survived and who they married and who their descendants are. I think it’s important. But I feel that way about the men and women. I don’t take a ‘women are superior’ stance and only look through the eyes of matriarchy. I don’t only look at photographs of my father’s father’s father’s father (and so on). I’m the product of many men and women who had many different names. I’d be proud to hyphenate as a Cagle-Scott-Jordan-McGuinness-Stanley-Cooper and claim much more of my heritage than my current Scott-Cagle hyphenation allows for. For sake of brevity I have to chose which name or names I use to identify myself to the rest of the world.
I want each of my children to use the surname that fits their personality and needs. Right now I’ve decided for them what that is. When they reach adulthood, they may change it. They might take a name from a partner or even from my above list of Family Surnames. (Except my daughter who will marry into the ruling class and must do as she is told.)
They might go by a single solitary name because life is short and being different is kind of fun. Maybe they’ll revise the practice of being known by your occupation or geographical location. One day I’ll be the proud parents of Moira Primatologist, Sabra Rain Paris, and Isla Basketball Coach-World’s Fastest-Runner-Fairy-California-Ireland-Disney-World.
*In conclusion, random person at the mall, I’d like to say thanks so much for stopping me to comment about my life choices. It’s good to know that my genes are still at the top of the DNA pile.
Now, isn’t it time for you to go home and cook a pot roast for your Overlord Husband?