Thanks, Grandma

So, my parents have the youngest nephew again, for a while, as usual. I got a plaintive call on Sunday night from my dad asking me to drive up there for Easter to go to church with them and watch the kid.

It’s hard, nearly impossible, for me to tell my dad “no” when he asks me for a favor. That’s why I have the dog–who was a failed attempt by my brother and sister-in-law to prove to the world how bad-ass they are (though how one can be bad-ass when one lives with a minister, who knows?) and The Butcher–who once fucked up in life so bad that the return to my parents’ house of the recalcitrant brother would have meant an automatic return to jail for the Butcher had he stayed at my parents’ as well.

I was telling the Professor the other day about this shocking realization I had while walking the dog: I’m not a feminist in spite of my patriarchal bullshit upbringing; I’m a feminist because of it.

Oh how I loved to tell the story of my grandma’s basement when I was a young feminist, about how we’d all go down there to play and the girls would emulate Grandma A. and play “office” at the big desks down there while the boys all sat around and drank Faygo and played pool. This, I’d say, is where I got the idea that women made their own money and bought their own things and took care of their own selves.

But the other day, I realized, the reason my grandma worked, even while she had five young kids at home, is that, in my family, the patriarchal bullshit line isn’t that women are delicate flowers who must be carefully protected from the outside world, but that women take care of men. Period. Women cook and clean and raise the children and even hold outside jobs. They do whatever they must to take care of the men.

Men in my family, then, have a lot of free time to do things that we don’t think of as typical patriarchal nonsense, like play with their kids. My dad spent a lot of time with us when we were younger. When we got sick at school, he’d come and get us and we’d go sleep on the couch in his office while he worked. Sometimes, we’d ditch school and go to the zoo with him. My dad was always there for us.

Even now, he’s always there for us. That’s why he has the littlest nephew. That’s why he’s constantly driving down here to make sure the Butcher has enough money or self-esteem or whatever. I mean, if I ever got lost in the woods in the middle of Belize, my dad would be camped out in a hotel there until they dragged out my carcass living or dead.

But he can do all this stuff because my mom works.

So, this realization, that being a feminist and wanting to take care of myself and provide for myself and not have to be dependent on anyone else for my own security, is not the act of rebellion and awakening I thought it was when I was twenty, but just the logical outgrowth of the kind of roll I was brought up to assume and having a brain.

So, I’ve got the “take care of myself” part down well. I have not overcome the “take care of everyone else” part yet. But I’m trying, slowly, to learn how to say no. After I learn how to say no, I will practice learning how to say no without feeling soul-crushing guilt. But, first, just saying no.

So, my dad asked me to drive twelve hours over the course of two days to attend services for a religion I don’t have any more in order to babysit for a kid who has two parents who are not dead and not me.

I said no.

It about did me in, but I said no. No explanation, no excuses, just no.

He didn’t hear me. I mean, he heard me, but it was incomprehensible to him that I’d say “no” to such a little thing, so he said we’d talk about it later. But I said no anyway.

And now, I learn, that my Grandma D. is going to their house for Easter and the littlest nephew, her great-grandson, will sit with her, so my services will not be needed.

That makes me very happy.