Having Children Chapter 1: Wedding Gift, p. 9 (469 words)
She’d been in Italy a year before meeting Enzo, who intrigued her as soon as she saw him because his look was more casual American than polished Italian. He was working on an advanced degree and supported himself making leather goods. Sylvie made him teach her how. Soon she was showing him how to streamline his operation by making reusable patterns. In a matter of weeks they were spending most of their time together. She luxuriated in his company when they were together and longed for him when they weren’t. To her, their synergy and her intense feelings spelled love.
She was cutting a pattern and he was attaching a cowhide strap when he blurted out that he wanted to have a family someday.
“You’re the first man I’ve known who said he wanted children,” she replied.
Truly, she’d never discussed children with a man. But last year in Mantua, she saw her 28-year-old friend Patrizia panic about her waning fertility as her male friends said by age twenty-three a woman was too old for marriage. Such pressure troubled Sylvie too, although she wasn’t raised to be a woman who dreamed of motherhood but rather one to finish college and have a career. In fact, her mom had never exposed her to newborns, and children misbehaving in public always
prompted Mom to mutter, “Lousy little kids.” Whenever Sylvie had asked Mom why she’d had children when they clearly annoyed her, she replied, “Society expects it.”
Now Sylvie told Enzo, “I’m not ready to have children,
if I ever do.”…she wasn’t raised to be a woman who dreamed of motherhood but rather one to finish
college and have a career. In fact, her mom had never exposed her to newborns, and children misbehaving in public always prompted Mom to mutter, “Lousy little kids.” Whenever
Sylvie had asked Mom why she’d had children when they clearly annoyed her, she replied, “Society expects it.”
Now Sylvie told Enzo, “I’m not ready to have children, if I ever do.”
“Ready?” Enzo said. “Capitalist hogwash! Children enrich life—they are life! You just need some extra food and clothes and you pack him up and bring him along. Think what fun with a little baby playing around!” He pulled her close and gazed into her eyes, reminding her
how long she’d yearned to escape suburban artifice and plunge into life’s core, to feel its pulse, to be more in her body. She’d experienced such exuberance in Italy where parents included children in ways unthinkable in Sylvie’s suburban American world. Children were often seen eating at restaurants late into the evening, attending adult parties, listening in on their parents’ conversations, so she was starting to see them as life-affirming rather than an obstacle to her career plans. She enjoyed discovering these cultural differences with Enzo.
Stereotypes Chapter 2: Honeymoon, pp. 15-16 (606 words)
Enzo took the wheel when he was up and drove all morning, saying he’d never seen such empty spaces. When the map told them they were near the Wildrose Reservation, he pulled over at the sight of a hitch-hiking man with long black hair and a deadpan face who ambled to the car and climbed in, reeking of alcohol. “I want to talk to Indians. The real Americans,” Enzo said.
The man didn’t reply, but as they approached a crossroad with no signs, trees, buildings or anything that distinguished it, the man gripped the doorknob and said, “I’ll get out here.”
Enzo pulled over. “Is this the reservation?” The man released the doorknob. “OK, you keep going. You go talk to Strong Hawk. Very, very wise man.” Then he ducked out of the car and walked backward, bobbing at them before turning down the crossroad.
Enzo said, “I heard Indians are alcoholics. I hope we find a sober one.”
“Do you realize how many stereotypes you have? You also say the Indians are an oppressed proletariat ready to rise up.”
Enzo said, “That’s social science, not a personal stereotype.”
“Not everyone is Italian, you know. Or even European.”
At an intersection where a small sign indicated Wildrose Reservation, Enzo turned onto a two-lane road of bumpy, cracked asphalt. Along both sides lay rusting cars, some with flat tires, others at such odd angles Sylvie couldn’t figure how they’d ended up that way. She’d been right in wanting to leave the States, she thought. This place proved its violent nature, its enduring abasement of those most vulnerable.
Enzo observed, “Don’t they have mechanics out here?”
“Please stop it,” she said.
They drove through barren snow-dusted plains dotted with naked trees until reaching a row of angled parking spaces. Unpainted clapboard buildings—two tourist shops and the post office—comprised the town. Enzo kept the engine running to stay warm while Sylvie entered
the larger store called, with little imagination and a nod to tourists, “The Trading Post.” Tables were laden with necklaces and bracelets of Venetian glass beads, an array of turkey feathers dyed in gaudy colors, silver jewelry and Wildrose souvenir key chains and ashtrays. She visited the
other store and found shelves of books and spinning metal racks of postcards presided over by a white man in a plaid shirt and bolo tie sitting on a stool behind a counter. She picked up two postcards and a few books about Lakota history and took them to the counter. Through the window she saw Enzo standing by the car smoking.
“That’s a good book, but here’s some better ones.”
The owner-proprietor-cashier walked her to the bookcases and pulled out one on the Lakota and Cheyenne. Sylvie wondered how he was allowed to operate a store
on the reservation.
“Have you heard of Strong Hawk?” she asked.
“Of course,” he answered. “James Strong Hawk.”
“How can I find him?”
“Funny, that guy’s becoming famous. Stay on this road, go ‘round the first curve, cross the bridge, then go about ten miles to another big curve. There’s a sign in front of his house with his name on it.”
She carried her purchases to the car. “Why didn’t you come inside?”
Enzo shrugged. “Wanted a smoke.”
They followed the directions until there at a curve where the road turned sharply left stood two small houses, a modular house and another house pieced together with found objects like an art installation—wooden crates, car windows, sheets of corrugated metal, tree trunks holding up the roof, even a pair of antlers. A sign between the houses read, “Strong Hawk’s Paradise.”
Old Wives Tales Chapter 4: Rules, p. 38 (495 words)
The next morning, Sylvie went to return Olga’s milk pail. She breathed in the scent of tilled earth arising from the hot fields as she walked along the cobblestones that lay like rows of solid bubbles even after centuries of hooves and feet had worked to flatten them. Coming through a dark passageway, she entered the bright piazza and tripped on a cobblestone’s humped back and the pail flew from her outstretched hands as she stumbled. Olga and Griselda were perched on a ledge, the tiny vines of their calico aprons extending up from the stones. Relieved she didn’t land on her belly, they heaved a loud sigh as from a single breast, then laughed.
“We always fell down, too,” said Griselda.
“When I was pregnant, I fell down a whole flight of stairs,” said Olga.
“Maybe by the time I’m used to all this weight, the baby will be born,” Sylvie said, leaning sideways to pick up the pail.
“Yes, and you’ll be carrying the little one in your arms instead,” said Olga.
Sylvie was about to sit when Griselda gasped so loudly that Sylvie jumped up, expecting to find a snake slithering behind her.
“No! You might lose the baby if you sit on that cold stone!”
Sylvie’s heart pounded. “I could’ve lost it from fright just now!” Olga folded up her sweater to make a cushion for her.
“Just beware of the extremes,” said Griselda. “Hot and cold.”
Sylvie wanted to rebel against all these restrictions but, without facts to counter them, didn’t dare. Besides, she admired Griselda and Olga. They’d never sit in Café Miraggio and discuss whether the economy balanced on women’s backs. But who in Café Miraggio could do what they did, bring forth life out of soil, prune grapevines and tie their branches to trellises, gather wood into bundles and sling them over their shoulders, scramble up the hill and out of sight on spring days when porcini were growing in their secret places, move quick and sure, like rabbits darting home? When Sylvie was eight, Mom handed her a seed packet bearing pictures of bright blue morning glories, suggesting she plant them by the arbor. Smiling, Mom said, “Read the instructions.” Sylvie took the seeds outside, poked holes in the soil with her finger and dropped them in, not knowing she’d planted them too deep, and quietly despaired when they never surfaced. She never mentioned it and Mom forgot about it. And when she planted seeds in the garden Olga gave her, she regarded the seedlings with awe, as if she’d performed a miracle. But no, it’s the spirit of life pushing through the earth as the spirit of life was in her belly. Where Mom struggled underneath male definitions, these women, growing out of their village stone, knew how their femaleness fit not just on the planet but in society. It was as if they included her in their water line.
Consciousness Raising Chapter -- Real Women, p.118 (799 words)
Sylvie had called the number in The Phoenix classified ad and a woman gave her the address, so on Tuesday evening she hitchhiked there because it was faster than the subway. After days of not seeing Saul, she managed to conjure only a hazy image of him.
Lyn answered the door wearing faded Levi’s and a men’s embroidered Guayabera shirt. She led the way upstairs where women sat in a circle on metal folding chairs or floor pillows. Sylvie nodded hello and sat beside Lyn who said, “Last time, Jean, you were talking about the rape. I’m wondering how far you want to go with this?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t want my husband to find out. He’d never believe me.”
“Are you kidding? If I told mine a story like that, he’d beat the crap out of me,” said a woman married to a cop, flicking ashes into a blue jar lid.
“But Jean,” Lyn continued, “besides your husband believing you seduced your rapist, what about your feelings?”
Jean paused then said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to talk about it now.”
Lyn nodded. “What we as a group can do is give sisterhood, and that should be a comfort. But we also have to keep raising our own consciousness and that of our brothers. This is all about learning. Most women spend their time talking about their clothes, hair, makeup and boyfriends. Wouldn’t that tend to make us feel intellectually inferior? Aren’t the ads geared toward making us think we must be attractive because our life job is to get a man? Why shouldn’t men spend all their time becoming enticing? For that matter, why should anybody?”
Some women shifted in their seats. “That’s easy for you to say in your ivory-tower world, Lyn. But we’re out there with real men,” said the woman in make-up.
“Oh yeah? What’s a real man?” said Lyn. “If we knew what men thought they should be, we could support them. But if a man doesn’t know who he is, how can we help him from remaining a child?”
“Are we supposed to know?” said Make-up Woman.
A woman who Sylvie figured to be about twenty-five spoke up. “Since you’ve mentioned children . . . .”
They all laughed.
“. . . I’ve been losing my mind. I used to be an artist, but now I’m a mom.”
“That’s an old theme,” Lyn said. “When you have family responsibilities, it’s tough to reconcile that with your urge to make art.”
“Lyn, this is one time I’m going to disagree with you. My mind is totally involved when I make art. It’s not an urge.”
“Point taken,” said Lyn.
A braless woman with pendulous breasts beneath her peasant blouse said, “We let men be assertive because we’re sorry for them. They can’t have babies. Creating and developing human lives is the most important work of art anyone can do.”
“Barb, I’m glad you said that,” said Lyn. “Women have always been subjugated because they have the babies. Because of that role they don’t shine out in the history books.”
Barb continued, “But if we proved we could do the same as men, if not better, where would that leave them?”
“Why should I care?” said Artist Mom. stayed home and raised children while we were out politicking or painting, they’d all become impotent. Or do you think we’d eventually become aggressive enough?”
“That’s absurd,” said Jean. “Women attacking and raping helpless men, like dirt attacking a shovel to make a hole in it.”
“Listen to yourselves, sisters! That’s a trap,” said Lyn. “It’s what Marx called ‘wearing your chains willingly.’ We are our own oppressors.”
The murmuring stopped. Everyone gaped at Lyn inanticipation.
“I want men to understand women and treat us fairly,” Sylvie said. “I remember when my brother asked me—maybe I was thirteen—whether I thought of myself first as a person or as a girl. And I said, as a person and he said he thought of himself first as a boy.”
Lyn said, “Because he recognized the power boys had.”
“I mean,” Sylvie continued, “I always thought of myself as a human with a mind, and then a body.”
“You’re lucky if you didn’t internalize those messages that said otherwise,” said Make-up Woman.
“Yeah,” said Artist Mom, “like girls can’t roughhouse, play sports, get dirty, be loud . . . .”
“I always thought of boys as just so sad,” said Mrs. Cop.
“Me too! They didn’t have friendships like we have.
They always seemed so burdened,” said Barb.
“It’s those cocks they have to carry around,” said Artist Mom. Laughter swept around the circle.
Lyn said, “Who here has a son?”
A few hands went up.
“We have a responsibility to raise our sons differently.”