In this generation of #MeToo, I’m watching all the quincineara preparations of the young ladies around me (similar to the debutante ball my Nana tried to get me to desire and agree to have, just before I graduated high school), and it’s just exhausting.
I am well beyond the age of getting married and having kids, but I’m at the other end of the age scale where an unmarried older woman has no one obliged to take care of her thru means or family or birth, so the focus on a woman’s day as a married princess or object of desire is beating me down and exhausting my psyche.
My decision was made long ago, in terms of hope, my reality, and knowledge of what I would and would NOT tacitly agree to endure, in order to “hope” for security in my old age.
I say “hope” for security, because the reality that I’ve experienced is that the woman is sold a bill of goods about her value as an untainted virgin, and her family rushes her into marriage (either approving or disapproving of the male) in the hope that any pregnancies happen within the confines of marriage, so that the grand children are someone else’s responsibility to raise.
For all intents and purposes, they bless the union hoping 2 unfinished but physically mature children will grow old together, learning to cleave to each other, despite life’s storms.
The family hopes for prosperity and joy for the young couple, and they pile on the pressure (with Mother Nature’s full backing and manipulation of the hormones) to hurry up and add kids into the mix. All while raising the next generation of girls to desire a fantasy as they mature,
While I have no hands-on experience of the debutante ball or quincineara party, having chosen a solo path for myself, I do have opinions on the outcome. But, there’s no surprise in that, is there ?!???!
We are programmed at a young age to think of things life and our corner of the village or society “owes” us. Birthday parties. Christmas presents. Weddings. Showers (bridal, birth, new home, etc.). We are taught (at least in my culture) that life events are a series of routines and obligations. That you show up for someone, and they show up for someone, and then a combination of friends and family show up for you, “when it’s your turn”.
(See the people peeking out of the shack in the background? That may be her reality for living conditions once the sweet 16 ceremony announcing her availability for marriage and motherhood is over).
For some of us, the rules have changed or evolved when we weren’t looking, and we never get “our turn”. In my case, it was embracing Women’s Lib as a way to have it all and be beholden to none. After all, I reasoned, my Mom did everything right and still ended up working all hours of the day and night (with the help of her wonderful girlfriends) to keep a roof over our heads, and the plumbing working, and the bills paid. Mom broke the cycle of silence by opting for divorce vs. accepting disrespect and abuse from her spouse, and it was her choice to walk away from the insanity of her marriage that was the saving of her and all of our lives.
In my case, the passing of my Mom and Brother informed me over time that my choice to move away from my family, to break with tradition, has left me without a home port. I became an adult orphan when I moved 3,000 miles away from my home port, and I never knew it because I made a conscious choice to build a husband and child-free life, and I moved into a youth-oriented area full of single people who appeared to have made similar choices. Plus, my ability to hide from my family’s censure or expectations (if ever necessary) was strengthened by weekly or as necessary phone calls between myself and family and friends, so the bonds stood firm.
It is only when the fabric of our support circle is ripped through the passing of another that we realize how truly connected we were to each other, and how important it is to mend the fabric of our bonds to ensure continuity. It is only when we see who among our family or childhood friends refuse to meet us half way in rebuilding a bond that we realize what we’ve lost with the passing of a matriarch or sibling.
So, we build again and we hope again, and time passes. Now, we are the older, single person in a space that appears to only value youth and malleability.
Married friends launch their kids into the world, building the next generation, and the topic of Sweet 16’s, Debutante Balls, or Quincinearas become important to the next generation of Grannies and Nanas and Moms, who see the changes in the world and want to pass on “protection” to the next generation of women by ensuring the girls go down a path of set expectations for “princesses” or “queens” about how a ‘real’ woman lives, the matriarchal center of her family through the ages.
As I get ready to welcome a long term guest into my home, a women with an ex husband, grown children, and few places to turn, I wonder at that mythical young woman making her quincineara.
She’s surrounded by family, friends, momentary party excitement, and a “village” trying to direct her choices. Trying to ensure that she is married young, before she knows who she is and what she wants from life. Trying to ensure that she gets pregnant quickly to continue her species, as well as plant the seeds with those much hoped for children for anticipating that they, in turn, will be the extra hands of caring and support that her parents and grandparents may need as the circle of life continues and those hoped-for babies grow to adulthood, and pick up the mantle of caregiving aspirations.
I, meanwhile, deal every day with how best to retain my independence, afford to age in place, and stay as healthy as I can despite my medical issues. Child free, and without anyone emotionally and biologically programmed to care for me as my body continues to age and my birth defects continue to evolve and plague me.
As I visit “F”, who is coping with dementia, and try and share companionship and adventures, I reflect on her 3 marriages, divorces, and childless state.
As I visit “F”, whose affairs are supposed to be monitored long distance, from Canada, while her mind and personality slowly slips away, I wonder at all the thousands of choices that had to fail to bear fruit for her to be here, at this moment in time, independence gone, and depending on the kindness of strangers as caregivers in her assisted living facility.
I am thankful “F” made good choices that lucked out to her having financial independence until her money runs out (which will hopefully not happen until after her mind is fully gone), and I’m grateful that she has some connections to family in Canada who will handle her affairs to the best of their ability, even though they won’t get on a plane or drive down from Canada to see for themselves that she’s doing ok.
Meanwhile, I’m also opening my home to “CM” who did everything society and her family expected, but..
– who ended up divorced and raising her kids solo
– who had a husband who refused to pay child support
– who now has grown children struggling to build their own lives
– who is now 64, never really worked (beyond raising kids), struggling financially, and
– who has been couch surfing since at least 2009, trying to survive.
”CM”, if the Park managers agree, will move in with me as we try and get her back on her feet, financially, by helping her qualify for subsidized housing so that her broken and no-longer-able-to-work body can have a place to call her own in order to age in place.
At some point, if she cannot get the help she needs any other way, we may have to force her into a woman’s shelter to allow her to jump the line for necessary housing assistance. “CM” was supposed to get on various waiting lists way back in 2009, but I suspect that pride and hiding from her reality stopped her from following thru on those recommendations to get what she needed. At any rate, I’ve agreed to give her 6 months or so in my spare room at Old People’s “Camp”, and we’ll see what’s possible for helping her avoid homelessness.
She’s a far cry from the unknown road ahead for that quincineara girl, but in the belief that it truly takes a village to help each other get thru each stage of their lives, I’ll try my best to help her get on her feet and stay independent for as long as possible.
It what the village is supposed to do, when one of their own needs help.