Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Part 2: Love Letter to My Parents, on Their Fortieth Wedding Anniversary

Because Roommate and I have been exploring this subject for a while, on and off, in our mid-evening talks: "Our parents succeeded brilliantly in raising us. WHY? Our parents are not similar in their lifestyles or methods, and yet, you and I turned out very similarly. If it's not about the small details, then what is it about?"

I mean, we don't necessarily take after our (very different) parents, either of us, and so I think both of us occasionally worry that our respective parents think they did a poor job of raising us. Or that maybe they wish we had turned out differently. Or that we were more...normal, maybe. Less likely to really stand out in a crowd. Softer. Less sharp tongued. Less apt to have lives that we can't really even talk about in mixed company. More apt to spend time with family. Especially because we are both girls; this kind of "I can act normal, but I could also make you REALLY uncomfortable" is not perhaps what every parents dreams of in a daughter.

And yet. As I recently exclaimed to Roommate, the other night: "I mean, both of us are rather intelligent, rather talented, rather sane, not unsuccessful, or addicts, or even alcoholics (debatable) or divorced, or lovesick retards, married to someone who's all wrong for us and barely has a job, etc..." and here she interrupted me: "We beat the spread."

Yes. We beat the spread.

It's important to note here that I've never once thought that my parents just "got lucky" with the way I turned out. They WORKED at it. They always had the best of intentions; they are loving parents. But so many other parents had good intentions and were loving and kind and caring, and yet the product of their efforts didn't turn out the way they intended. Their children didn't beat the spread. Why?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Love Letter to My Parents, on Their Fortieth Wedding Anniversary

*This will be in many, many parts. MANY parts. Hi, Mom and Dad! I love you.*

To be clear, my parents' fortieth wedding anniversary was in fact two weeks ago (when I STARTED this incredibly long piece, anyway, and now it's been a month and a half) and in fact I'm still not even sure of the correct DAY.

Yes. Me, their only child, I don't know the day they were married and the ONLY thing I know is that I am two weeks late at least, because that is the kind of caring, thoughtful, and involved only child that I am.


In my defense, it is all THEIR fault because they got married on a holiday (Memorial Day) that shifts days every year, and who can be expected to remember that?

Anyway, on this, their fortieth wedding anniversary, it occured to me to say a few words about how they are the best parents any girl could ever wish for, and because I have two engineering degrees, I won't expect you to just believe it; I will also use two references for proof: Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling.

Tina Fey, as you may know, has just come out with a book, Bossypants, and Mindy Kaling's book will appear in October. And so I have been reading Tina Fey's, and it is of course AMAZING, and reminded me how much I also appreciated Alisha Tyler's "Swerve", a few years ago, speaking of funny, mouthy, women.

These two women (and also Ms. Tyler) are two of the most brillliantly funny writers to hit comedy in the past twenty years, and it's only a SLIGHT bit of a thing that they are, in fact women.

They haven't succeeded because they have made big protests on the lawn of the SNL headquarters. They have succeeded because they were so funny, and so good, and so DETERMINED, and--here's the kicker--not determined in the kind of way that makes you stage protests on the lawn of SNL HQ but rather the kind of determined that only happens because you're too confident and stubborn to do anything else. It's naievete masquerading as stubbornness, really. You don't know how hard it's going to be, but all you know is that you're confident and that you don't know how to do anything else and you have a healthy sense of humor. A REALLY healthy sense of humor.

From Bossypants: "In 1995, each cast at The Second City [Improv touring show] was made up of four men and two women. When it was suggested that they switch one of the companies to three men and three women, the producers and directors had the same panicked reaction. "You can't do that. There won't be enough parts to go around There won't be enough for the girls." This made no sense to me, probably because I speak English and have never had a head injury. We weren't doing Death of a Salesman. We were making up the show ourselves. How could there not be enough parts? WE'RE MAKING UP THE SHOW!"

And then there's me: I had been at B about six months when I met several other people my own age, which was great, and one day I was visiting one of these gentlemen at his desk, and he introduced me to his coworker, who chatted with me for a brief second before saying, "So, how long have you been here?"

I answered. And he said, "Ah. Okay. I'll shorten your learning process right now: Women who succeed at B are either a) ugly but smart women who keep their heads down and act like men, or b) pretty and dumb women who do exactly what they're told to do."

It was the kind of thing that leaves you speechless, and let me add here that I am rarely speechless.

I wish now I'd had the wherewithal, the CHUTZPAH, to answer him, something snappy like, "Oh yeah? So which one will I be?" But it's possibly a good thing that I didn't because then I might be living up to that today, if I had been told at that formative time what, exactly, to be.

And yet I didn't let that stop me, of course, and now I think I'm actually higher than he is, on the engineering promotional ladder. Not that I've noticed that or anything.

About the same time one of my friends on a different program in the company got told by a man she worked with that her kneepads (for crawling around on the inside of a plane) would come in handy at her performance review with her boss.

For the record, it is comments like that that are why women don't stay in engineering. Or leadership roles. Why they quit before they make partner. Comments like that will sink into your head and keep you up at night, and they will poke at your psyche and your confidence over and over again until they're full of holes and you're going back to school to become a nurse...if you let them.

What allows you to keep going after comments like that? Why did I stick around engineering? Why did Tina Fey and Alisha Tyler and Mindy Kaling keep going in spite of the people around them?

Because your parents raised you to have more confidence and kickass-ness than that, and so you keep going. But how did your parents actually do that? Confidence isn't a pill you can give; it's not a one-day seminar. Strength, and courage, aren't carried in your genes. They're instilled in you by whoever raised you, and the people around you. And so, having suddenly realized that they have been rather successful (in spite of comments like the above) Ms. Fey, and Ms. Kaling, and also Ms. Tyler, have written books, part memoir, part instruction guide for life, with some comments on how to raise your own version of a really kickass daughter, and it turns out that there are some very strong patterns.

Very, very strong. And it also happens that my life fits into this pattern. As I was reading, I kept thinking..."That could be ME!"

How? I'm happy you asked! This love letter to my parents will continue in the next episode. Please stay tuned.