The Lion Queen

I spend a good deal of time watching women hack through the jungle of self-doubt with a dull, rusty machete.

Scratch that. With a pair of cuticle trimmers.

I’d like to say it’s difficult trying to figure out why so many unbelievably smart, successful, frankly kick-ass women have trouble valuing their self-worth, except it’s not, because at times I am one of those women. You see, I’m not just talking out of my increasingly expanding ass when I say that women, on the whole, have a confidence problem.

There’s a saying going around at the moment which resonates with a lot of women I know.

Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.

On the surface the statement is a flippant way of looking at the way society is set up to benefit and glorify the accomplishments of  men, (many of whom absolutely deserve the accolades). But dig a little deeper and you’ll get to the self-deprecating heart of the matter. Female confidence is a tricky tight rope to walk. Too meek? You get walked all over. Too strong? You’re a bitch in heels. Speak up? You’re called shrill, loud, overbearing. Don’t speak up? Well, no wonder you don’t get that raise. What’s seen as confidence in men often comes across as entitlement in women. What comes across as assertiveness and leadership among males is perceived as aggressiveness and ball-busting in women.

If women have to constantly recalibrate the poles they use for balance, to find some Goldilocks just right version of confidence, is it any wonder we fall flat on our faces a lot of the time?

But surely we get a little bounce back from a safety net of other women underneath us, right? Oh, honey…no. Plenty of times other women are more than happy to watch you fall flat on your face. Whether this is simply human nature, decades of conditioning, or a combination of a thousand other factors is up for debate.

I write nearly every day of my life. I have a successful blog. I’m published. I’ve won contests, been nominated for Pushcart Prize, been paid for my work, completed a novel….and yet when someone asked me to tutor their child in writing, I balked.

Surely I’m not qualified! (Yes, I actually said those words.)

When do you become enough of a writer to qualify guiding others in the writing process? When do you become good, better, best enough to do anything? Is there a magic formula to feeling qualified enough? If so there seem to be a lot of magic formulas kept under lock and key and away from the manicured hands of women.

I have a witty, whip-smart friend in the UK who is a lawyer. Another who is a doctor. And this summer I  listened to both of them tell me how unqualified they felt as they returned to positions they’ve been educated and trained for, positions they’ve held before. Sometimes while pregnant, managing a household, morning sickness and a toddler who refuses to pee anywhere but the corner.

Ah, women. I love ’em, but man! Even when we are good at what we do, hell even when we are great at what we do, we doubt ourselves. Forget locusts, if women suffer any kind of plague, it is the plague of second-guessing their worth. We under-value our contribution. We give our work and time away for free. We volunteer instead of assuming we should be paid. We politely inquire when we should expect. We’re happy when people recognize our talents, when they flatter us, and our bank accounts wither and die as our expertise is taken for granted, our time and effort devalued and expected to be given for free.

I’m not saying you should demand the PTA pay you for helping hang Halloween decorations. I’m saying we need to value our work because when all we do is volunteer? Our work ceases to have value.

Your grandmother was right. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? We can lip service volunteer work all we want, and we absolutely should all do it–from time to time–but when we give too much of the milk away for free, the cow develops low self-esteem, doubts herself, and undermines her worth. And as loathe as I am to compare women to cows, when the metaphor moos….

But more than monetary payment is what happens when your work ceases to be valued–internally and externally. You convince yourself  you’re not as good as, worth as much as, as qualified as. The chips on your shoulder get heavier over time. They weigh you down like a bra full of bricks until you can’t stand up straight, until you can’t walk with your head held high, until you start believing it yourself.

In my day-to-day life I meet and talk to countless women who doubt themselves, who disqualify themselves, who dismiss their qualifications as not enough.

I do it myself.

The men I meet? They rarely worry they’re unqualified. They assume a natural position of qualification that’s been inferred upon them since birth. Like Simba the Lion King cub, they wear the crown of accepted leader. Their position is accepted…and expected.

Sisters! Lean in, lift up, whatever it takes. Look into the mirror everyday and channel Al Franken’s Stuart Smally character: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh-darnit, people like me. Whatever you need to do.

Because some days Sarabi** isn’t good enough. Go out and demand a crown of your own.

 

**Sarabi is the name of Simba’s mother. I had to look it up. You see how ingrained this shit is? I didn’t even know the name of Simba’s mother!

 

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The Irrational Anger of an Expat Spouse

"Oh, no, no. I couldn't possibly have anything to say about it. Why, I'm just a spouse..."
“Oh, no, no. I couldn’t possibly have anything to say about it. Why, I’m just a spouse…”

I barked at my husband this morning.

More than once.

He didn’t do anything. He hadn’t said anything or implied anything. He was just reading his book.

Yet I was angry at him because he was there.

Sometimes as an expat spouse you find yourself in situations you have no control over. Most of the time your spouse has  zero control either, but that just shores up the irrational part of my title. You find yourself in a state of confusion and delay and while there are lots of states that are nice to visit (might I suggest Rhode Island, oft overlooked), confusion and delay is not a nice state to spend any time in.

So you blame your spouse.

They get the blame for no other reason than it’s their fault you are here. Or there. Or waiting to decide whether you are here. Or there.

It’s their stupid job, their stupid company, their stupid rules and regulations. If it weren’t for their stupidness you’d be cooking up vast pots of Goya black beans you bought at Target complaining about that guy in your neighborhood who has a Trump sign on their lawn.

But you’re not, because you’re somewhere else. Because of their stupid job.

I don’t know if I ever told you this, but my husband works for the World Heath Organization. You’d think we’d have the best medical care and coverage and insurance ever, right? You think we’d be getting MRIs and biopsies with the vitamins. But nope. We have suck ass health insurance. I get infuriated about it even thought’s not my husband’s fault. But when I get into irrational angry expat wife mode, it’s his fault because…well, we’re here because of his stupid job.

Don't make me call HR.
Don’t make me call HR.

(In irrational angry expat spouse mode, the benefits don’t get a look-see. Irrational, remember?)

A close friend confided that while she and her spouse were deciding between two job offers she was inclined to let her husband make the final decision, not because she didn’t care, but so that she could hold him responsible if it all went wrong.

She didn’t mean it of course, and the decision was made by both of them. But still…

I get it.

His stupid job. Hers. Yours. Whatever. It’s his/her/their fault you are here. Or there. Or somewhere in between.

As an expat spouse you get very little say in the way things work. You might have equal say at your own dinner table, in the ultimate decision that takes your family from country to country, but you get no say in things like what health insurance plan is offered or how the pension scheme is set up or how they deal with moving families.

And sometimes the lack of control over even the little things, let alone the big ones, makes you feel cornered. And since most of us can’t actively lash out at the companies our spouses work for, we lash out at the next best thing.

Our spouse.

Expats spouses aren’t the only ones who feel cornered. But those feelings are amplified when your spouse’s regular old stupid job becomes a stupid job in another country.

I’ve talked to expats who were expected to pick up and move within weeks. Can I explain to you the stress of having to pack up a family and move them to another country, to find schools, a place to live, supermarkets, doctors, dentists, hairdressers, babysitters and a liquor store with a good wine selection in a place there’s a good chance you’ve never even been before? A place without cheese doodles, even?

People do it. That doesn’t mean it they don’t want to brain the head of recruitment at their spouse’s company while they’re doing it. (And since they can’t get close enough to the HR guy, their spouse makes a handy understudy)

a-harvard-psychologists-advice-on-how-to-argue-when-you-know-youre-rightI’ve talked to expats who have been forced to live in different countries because companies don’t take into account the difficulty or consequences of moving school children mid-year. Or in their last year of high school. Or the fact there may not be openings. Or housing. Why? Because they don’t care or they expect the employee to figure it out, or think throwing money at the problem will fix it. Or they just suck ass.

 

I haven’t met many (if any) expats who felt their spouse’s employer did anything to help them or their family adjust to the general trauma of moving. In fact, there is a whole cottage industry of companies who, for a fee, will help you settle into your new home, school, country, etc.

(p.s. HR guy, that nice fruit basket doesn’t really cover the trauma of packing up and moving three kids and a dog across continental borders, but thanks, I guess.)

You know what most companies who hire expats do? Suck. Ass.

Like our health insurance.

Come to think of it, most of these things are pretty rational things to get angry about. But not at my spouse.

Irrational angry expat spouse mode isn’t fair and it’s not even productive. But it’s real. And it happens.

Don’t worry too much about my husband. He went back to reading this book. And I still brought him coffee, so he knew it was ok. Only rational angry expat spouse would deny him coffee. And she’s a bitch.

 

This Woman’s Work

1941 Conference on Day CareWhen my first son was a baby, just learning to goo and gaa and blow little baby raspberries, he would look at me all goo-goo eyed and say:

“Dada”

“Mama” I would say to him, making sure to enunciate.

“Maaa-Maaaa”.

He would bobble his giant baby head and smile and say, yet again, “Dada”.

I’d been a mother for less than a year and already I could see how this parenting gig was going to turn out.

There are all sorts of ways you get shafted when you’re a mother. You sacrifice–sleep, a career, bladder control, sleep—but it’s never enough. You make a fool out of yourself on a regular basis. You wear your ass numb watching recitals and football matches. You routinely put back the expensive stilettos in favor of guitar lessons. You forgo sick days and vacation days and you work all the hours that God sends. And in the end? In the end, if you’ve done your job right…they leave.

It’s like doing all the research and grunt work on an 18 year project just to have someone else take all the credit when it actually works.

It seems cruel and unusual that right around the time you should actually start to reap the benefits of all those sacrifices–all the canceled plans, the dreams on lay-a-way, the stiletto free shoe cupboard–your children are ready to move on. Just when you should be able to sit back and enjoy a conversation with the intelligent, respectful human being you worked so hard to shape and mold, they up and leave, bestowing their lovely manners upon the rest of the world.

image_Keble_wide

The whole point of parenting is to raise a functioning human being. One who is able to step out into the world unafraid and live the life of their choosing. One who is able to wipe his own backside and make her own decisions and screw up and love and dance his way across the spectrum of emotions we call life. If those little beings, the ones who looked you square in the eye and called you Dada when you were really Mama can eventually do all that, it means you done good.

It means you did your job.

Still, seems like a kick in the pants, doesn’t it? By the time you’ve caught up on enough sleep and sex and shoes to really enjoy their company without having to worry about their table manners or whether they’re eating enough protein, they’re not around to anymore.

Doing your job means setting them free for the rest of the world to enjoy. What kind of suck-ass job is that?

That would be parenting.

My oldest son is ten going on eleven and already I feel like I never see him anymore. I know it’s only going to get worse. It seems like only yesterday I was trying to get him to say Mama. As he steps further away, with more confidence in his gait, with surety in his step, I know in my heart that even if I’m not Mama  anymore, on some level, I’ll always be Mom. I know I’m doing what I am supposed to do, what I signed up for. I know I’m just doing my job.

This woman’s work.