International Women's Day
Spring forward. I love how optimistic that sounds. The command of it - spring forward. I love that the days will be lighter and brighter, and that flowers will soon be blooming. Today we are not only turning the clocks ahead, but also celebrating International Women’s Day with the rallying cry of “an equal world is an enabled world”.
I am one of the lucky ones. For twelve years I went to a school that celebrated girls, encouraged intellectual curiosity and personal authenticity. Somehow my schedule allowed for sports, dance, music, and part time jobs. All my life, I felt supported in my goals, and never felt like being a girl meant anything negative. I realize that this is unusual in the Latin culture. Both of my parents were/are from Puerto Rico, and when they were growing up men were the king. And though my sister and I joked that our brother was the prince, I realIze now, we were the princesses. My parents marriage was gender specific; my dad was definitely served hand and foot. He never cooked, cleaned or cleared a plate. He sat down and was catered to; he didn’t even need a tv remote because he had a wife and kids. Yet, my sister and I received a strongly feminist message from my father. He believed we were smart and capable. We were Lucena’s; we could do anything. I took that for granted. It was and is easy to forget the generations of women before me who didn’t have choices, and the women around the world who still are trapped.
My best friend’s mom, Ro, died at the end of September. I have written about this quite a bit as it is both a continuing sadness and food for thought; as always death and grief are the great teachers. Hidden amongst Ro’s things was a portfolio of designs. She had a dream of going to Art School for design and maybe painting. This never happened. Ro was raised in a traditional 1950’s family. Her father told her that educating a girl was a waste of money and she wasn’t smart enough anyway. She should work, find a man and get married; This was the message of her childhood; and Ro followed it to the letter.
By her mid-twenties Ro had three children, and a house in the suburbs. If there was ever a person who shouldn’t have had three step and stair kids it was Ro. Though she didn’t even realize it, she was angry, and looked for control in her life. An immaculate and beautifully appointed house was her way of expressing herself. Three offspring and a herd of neighborhood children do not an immaculate house make. But Ro was vigilant, her house was her art. Her gardens exquisite and Jeanine’s designed by Ro Barbie clothes were the envy of all the girls in the neighborhood. Everything was neat and perfect. Perfectionism has a great cost; contentment, peace and ease are all sacrificed. I think the early years in Jeanine’s household were tough for everyone, though as a child I only saw it from my friends point of view.
For Ro, the children mercifully and inevitably grew older. She had time to herself and became a voracious reader, and was a killer scrabble player. (I think she took the “not smart enough “to her grave, and spent her adult life trying to disprove it.) She started painting again. Alone in her basement, Ro became the artist she had always wanted to be. She never had a showing or sold a work, but she continued to create. When She died I was offered one of these paintings, and I gratefully accepted.
I chose a painting of a copper pitcher filled with tulips. Is it a masterpiece, probably not, but I see so much meaning in it. It is a typical bunch of tulips, except for one exception: a sky blue tulip standing tall among red, white and yellow tulips. In my family sky blue is called Liz blue, because I love that shade so much. When it is a gorgeous cloudless day, it is a Liz blue day; to see that single Liz blue flower spoke to me. I believe that single tulip is Rose Marie as a young girl. Colorful and different from the other flowers. I believe the blue tulip is the Rose she was inside, the Rose that was not allowed to bloom. In the painting, there is also a drooping white tulip. I see the Ro who gave up her artistic visions and replaced them with dreams of the perfect house and family. The painting is small, but to me, just right. . I put it in my kitchen where it matches my copper accents (we all have dreams of the perfect house). I see it every time I enter the house and it is a daily reminder to be true to myself.
And with this reminder came inspiration. A short solo for a young girl, dancing out the dreams of the blue tulip. It came to me just this week, and woke me up at 4 am Thursday morning, music and a dance sketched out in my dreams, demanding to be realized. I texted Lucia early morning to see if she wanted to learn it that night, get whatever rehearsal time we could, and perform it at our Congo performance next Sunday*. Always up for a challenge, Lucia learned a lovely minute and a half, and will dance as the blue tulip. I am rewriting the ending and letting the young girl break free.
A perfect dance for our performance where we dance for women and children in the Congo who need help and a chance to be reborn. A 90 second tribute for a day and month celebrating women.
There is still so much to be done. At the current rate, gender equality is still a century away. We need to be role models for girls and encourage individuality and ingenuity. We need to raise thoughtful and feminist men. We all need to spring ahead, and nurture the blue tulip that is inside of all of us. As for Rose Marie, she finally had her blue tulip moment. There was an estate sale in her immaculate and beautifully decorated home. And there, out of the basement, was one of her paintings for sale... it’s never too late for a dream to come true.