I went back home recently. To Poland.
It was time.
I felt like I needed a break from work and home stuff and I kind of wanted to go on my own, but, at the same time, I knew I would go crazy without seeing the kids for a week. (Also, financially, things have not been that great and 4 airplane tickets to Warsaw were not exactly in our budget.)
So… I came up with the brilliant idea of a mother-daughter trip. Yay, me!
I loved it.
I loved being with Maya. (If you have a baby or a toddler and you think going places is just the worst thing ever, hang in there! It gets better.) When we boarded our plane, Maya saw the screen in front of her seat and gave me this halfway hopeful, halfway mischievous look as if saying can I just watch TV the WHOLE time? I smiled and nodded, knock yourself out, love.
But she didn’t just watch TV. Well, she mostly did but, we also had some quality time.
I loved being with her, amazed as she was at everything new before her.
In Poland, we saw a bunch of my old friends and my family. And boy, did I miss it!
I came back with a feeling of being… full. Whole might be a better word. I filled in on human interaction and a sense of belonging. On not feeling odd for a change.
And I was so glad that my daughter was there to witness that.
One of my friends asked me if Poland seems changed to me. Without thinking much about it, I blurted out that WOMEN here are amazing. It was a strange thing to say, but also precisely how I felt.
I SO miss being in a community of women. Especially now, that I have kids.
In the 12 years I have lived in the US, I have not met one American-born woman that I became close friends with. Sure, I met many people who are nice. People in the US are generally nice. And fine. But, for some reason, I have never established a connection.
I often feel like it’s me, my fault. I am socially awkward and hopeless at making small talk. Half of the time I have no idea what people are talking about as many cultural and social references are incomprehensible to me. Of course, I didn’t grow up here and I don’t watch TV. That’s part of the problem.
The other part is that I hardly ever feel seen or heard. This might be my self-centeredness talking. But I typically don’t feel like that when talking to women from other cultures and I have heard of similar experiences from my non-American women friends, so it feels like something is up with that.
Recently, Maya was invited to a friend’s birthday party. The family is Ethiopian. It was very different from other birthday parties we go to. I loved being in their home. We came in and immediately felt welcome. The mom gently guided us in and invited us to eat and drink. It’s not that she catered to us constantly, she left us to entertain other guests. Of whom there were many. It was the general sense of being noticed and belonging to this community of people celebrating the darling little boy. Later, the mom asked if we had enough to eat, and, without waiting for my answer, she took my plate and saying you have got to try this, she put a scoop of an Ethiopian lentil dish on my plate. And this just melted my heart.
There was this interchanging group of women congregating in the kitchen and whenever I walked in, the conversation didn’t stop awkwardly. The conversation continued, but whoever passed through was acknowledged by a look and a smile or a question if anything is needed. This, to me, felt like home.
I love women congregating in kitchens. I love women being attentive and open and generous and loving. It reminds me of mom and my aunts and home and I miss it terribly. And it breaks my heart that I am not able to recreate this for my kids.
When I lived in Poland, there were many things that I didn’t like. The ruling patriarchy and the church were huge factors. I didn’t fit in the constrains of that culture. I just wanted to do my thing but I knew that unless I conform, find a boyfriend, wear a pretty dress to church on Sunday, and keep my opinions to myself, I will always be ostracized by the general culture. Most women, like my mom, just went with the flow. Mom was not a rebel. Neither were the other women I grew up around. They were not going to change the status quo.
But among themselves, they were real people. And I miss real relationships with real people with feelings who let you feel things, too.
And I am not writing this to pass judgement or bash anybody, but the US has been such a lonely place for me. It is so hard to put a finger on this problem that I have. Because people here seem FINE. Perfectly nice and FINE. Just sort of separated by some invisible walls that I cannot break through.
When I hang out with our American friends, I feel like I often have to pretend, curb my selfness a little. And it might be a projection, but I feel like everyone is pretending. I learned very quickly to not ask any questions that might be too personal, to direct. I learned not to share anything about myself that’s too personal, either. I learned that emotions need to be held on a very short leash. You cannot seem too enthusiastic or too sad. You need to be cool. Otherwise, you will be received with silence or raised eyebrows. I also learned to not expect that that person you chatted with for a while will remember you next Monday.
I have been thinking a lot about this. And my one theory is that these modern women, in the process of asserting themselves and fighting for their rights, threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
I hope that I will not be misunderstood. I am and have always been for equal rights. For everyone. And I like that this culture is trying to get rid of open sexism and misogyny. It’s a long road, but still, it’s better here than in many other places. Women fought and continue to fight for their rights here and that is a good thing.
But I also feel that in that fight, many women are losing something that’s real and precious and at the same time very powerful. Paradoxically, in this feminist fight, we might be losing our femininity (and I don’t mean femininity as prettiness).
I feel like in trying to prove our equality with men, we started acting like men. We muffled our intuition, suppressed the emotions, and severed ties with our sisters. To me, femininity is warm, inclusive, communal, generous, nurturing, intuitive, and empathetic. And being able to use these qualities to raise children and build comminities is powerful.
Instead, I feel like we became distant, self-reliant, competitive, and suspicious of other women. We lost the sense of sisterhood. We became cool. And also separated from each other and hurting and wanting to scream our lungs out to be seen by and connect with other human beings. Maybe that’s just me.
I pray that one day, I will be able to reach out to someone here, in this place I now call home, and break through, and connect like I did with those women I visited in Poland.