Life lessons from spitting … if you’re someone who actually reads my blog titles, you’re likely thinking, ” What in the world could she mean by that! ” Let me begin by saying that I am afraid I have not been the most conventional of mothers over the last (almost) 23 years that I’ve had the good fortune to mother my daughter Miranda.
Teaching my six-year old daughter how to spit might look like page from a ” Bad Mothers R Us ” book unless you consider as Paul Harvey used to say, ” … the rest of the story.”
Joining the army at eighteen opened my eyes to many things. Despite having lived in different states on the east and west coasts of the US while growing up, I was shockingly naive to the differences in cultures and habits in the mix of people I worked and served with in the military community.
As enlisted soldiers we all had our different reasons for swearing to protect and defend, some of which were very personal and not easily shared. I quickly became known for asking what some considered to be too many questions as I was always more interested in the part of the story that people were less likely to want to reveal. I knew my own reasons for joining were more complex than the snappy answer I would toss out when asked what made me want to become a soldier and I wanted to know their real motivation as well.
Adjusting to a world dominated by men and too much testosterone was difficult for me right from the beginning. Being the sixth female in a unit that had only recently begun to allow women a place in its ranks, I found myself challenged on a daily basis by the men in my platoon as to my worthiness and my ability to compete beside them as a soldier. When you are part of a team that might be called on to protect each other in battle, the expectations can become a bit more fiercely defined. Things you would not have considered important can be magnified and your performance evaluated in even the smallest areas.
Although I was good at many things in the military, some of my obvious deficiencies were cracks in the carefully constructed armor I tried to create in order to keep the jokes and disrespectful comments to a minimum. I did not want to be one of the boys, but neither did I want to be considered one of the girls. Being female in the military in the late 70s and early 80s was a burden for most of the women I knew who served then and one way to keep harassment at bay was to stand out only in the best ways.
While I excelled in most areas, my physical readiness was clearly a weakness. Lacking in the ability to run as far or as fast as I should have during our morning PT runs, I was usually at the back of the platoon and frequently would end up by the side of the road with a tubby guy who never could complete a run without falling out of formation either.
After taking a lot of grief for my ” wussiness,” I set a goal to get past the barriers that were mostly in my head when it came to running and within six months went from struggling over morning runs with my unit to completing my first marathon, a race of 26 miles that taught me that I really could do what I had once considered impossible.
What I did not do well during all of my training runs was something that embarrassed me despite my achievements as I piled on the miles leading up to my big race. What special skill did I lack you say … you know what’s coming here don’t you? I was miserable at spitting. I’m sure many of you are thinking … spitting, really Elizabeth!
That said, I need to paint a picture for you. Imagine you are running in formation moving along at a fast clip, you are singing whatever awful cadence is being sung by the folks you are running with and you are hanging tough, not falling to the back, but right there with the men who’ve previously made fun of your weakness. So you’re singing and running and looking strong and suddenly, a bug flies inside your mouth hitting the back of your throat so hard you cough instinctively and move to spit it out.
Having been taught that spitting is nasty and ill-mannered, you are totally lacking in practice so you end up spitting so poorly that you either spit in a way that it slides down your own chin or worse, you spit directly on the guy running next to you.
In one motion you undo months of hard-earned respect in less time then it takes to clear your throat. Suddenly, all the things you were taught that ” ladies do not do ” begins to look more like holes in your education rather than lessons for living in the real world.
In an ideal world, women wouldn’t have to be one of the boys to be valued nor would we need to be perfect ” ladies ” to be respected. In an ideal world we could be ourselves and spit when necessary instead of swallowing that bug or choking back something we really wanted to say.
Growing up as I did set my feet on a less conventional path, but I recognized fairly early the balance needed to live within the rules of polite society and how and when to break those same rules.
In the photograph above you can see a mother and daughter acting silly putting on our best monster faces for the camera. We had just finished our lesson in spitting … a sort of how to, where to, and where not to spit primer that was really more of life lesson than she could have known at six.
I remember explaining to her that spitting was a skill that required a mix of precision, timing, and discretion and thought then as I do now that some of the best things we can teach our children are the lessons that deal with self-care rather than group acceptance. I mean after all if the guy next you wouldn’t swallow the bug, why should you?