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This week's story submitted by Jama Smith from Fort Wayne Indiana. Jama is a working mother of 5 and a freelance writer.
My husband rides a bike like a girl.
I can happily announce this, and although I should have checked with him on the wording before making such a proclamation, I think he would agree with me on it.
I hope he will agree with me on it.
Before I launch this one, my usual "blog disclaimer" is necessary to ensure I don't receive the normal, "But not ALL of us...." emails.
Who am I kidding, I'm going to get them anyway. Which, thanks to the scrambling my brain has been through after five kids, leads me to a completely different tangent.
Yes, I am aware, like with every blog, that NOT ALL of whom I'm speaking of are applicable.
Not ALL camping enthusiasts are judgmental, condescending nature freaks who insist on converting the masses to their sick, outdoor fetishes like a twisted organic cult. (But I stand by my opinion that if you begin to find wildlife sexually appealing, you're venturing down a moonless path.)
Not ALL mothers who defend their right to stay at home are judging me for working a full time job while raising my children. (But I must take this moment to remind you that if you say things like, "Well, I just believe in putting my family before my own career choices..." in your argument, you're being a jerk-face.)
Not ALL mothers of multiples have crying fits, anxiety break downs, grown woman temper tantrums, wine binges, and solitary rocking in a corner on a monthly basis. (In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who handles it so poorly.)
Thus begins this disclaimer: NOT ALL MEN....
Having started my career in an industry dominated by men, I was maybe one of two females. And always the youngest. As such, I had a tremendous opportunity to see how men mentored, trained, and co-existed in an environment while dealing with the opposite sex. Eventually, I left this area of the work force and found an environment ridiculously pink and feminine in a fabulous retail chain (Yes, NOT ALL WOMEN are overly feminine or like pink, have to like pink to be feminine, I know.) Which gave me an amazing comparison to being surrounded by women and the vast differences in how they work together verses their male counterparts.
This long winded and insanely wrong-turned explanation leads me back to the beginning statement: My husband rides a bike like a girl. No doubt.
A few months ago, my husband purchased me a bike as the warmer weather set in. I had been moaning about how I needed to find a workout that didn't take me from the kids for too long but still delivered some results, and I had to like it enough to not want to set myself on fire when an upcoming workout came to mind. Bike riding it was. Strapping a trailer for the little ones to ride, then bringing the older kids riding behind was perfect for our family.
When I say "perfect", I mean I struggled with it but had no excuse to give up. It was everything I had asked for...but it was still a workout, and my thighs protested loudly with every pedal. Working my way up from one mile, two miles, steep hills, through traffic filled streets or thick mud, a few more miles...it's definitely an endurance builder. My husband was right beside me, biking it like a woman. Here's how:
1. Women Identify the Struggle.
As we were riding up "Bitch-Ass Hill" the other day (That's the land-given name for it, really.) my calves were in a particularly grumpy mood, and not at all cooperating with the 100 pounds of child and trailer I lugged behind me. And somehow I think that hill had gained a few feet of incline with the rainfall...I'm sure of it. I was gargling my heart half way up and my husband said from behind me, "You're doing good, doing good. You're almost there....almost done..." and immediately after I finally got to the top, he hailed me with, "Way to go, baby! That hill's a killer but I think you're even getting faster at getting up it."
From my experience with male co-workers in positions of authority, the number one objective of any effort is to just GET IT DONE. Doesn't matter how. Doesn't matter at what lengths it took, what sacrifices were made, what grueling leg work had to be done to get there. Just that the job was finished. And in some respects, that makes a very effective leader who looks at the simple, unemotional bottom line.
Whereas when I worked with women, I found them as equally vested in the involvement of what it took to get to the end of the line. What made it hard? Did it improve you or damage you? And most importantly, the encouragement throughout the process to validate that you're struggling but you're supported. Not everyone likes or needs this. But I do. And my husband knows it.
2. Women Identify the Success
So my husband and I alternate between who has the kids to pull along behind them. The last time we went our usual distance, and when we got home I remarked about how that uphill boardwalk was intense. He agreed and added, "You did awesome, though. You didn't even break stride."
I DID do awesome, but that's not what the part that I found interesting. What I found most interesting about this was that he had done the EXACT same thing a few days before when it was his turn to haul the twins. He had every right to say, "Um, yeah....remember a few days ago? That sucked for me too."
In fact, most of the time in working with men in large corporate settings, I found that any issues I had would be most likely met with "Yeah, I did that. And I did it better. And, might I add, faster." or "You found that hard?? I hate to see how you weather the next year!"
Mind you, they don't mean any offense. It's their way of telling each other they can do more, better, faster, stronger. In a way of challenging each other to be the best, maybe. Even an encouraging "You can do it!!" with a huge splash of machismo.
Whereas females I worked with were much more likely to take that path of, "Oh, that was tough, wasn't it? I had that project last year and I barely survived it." Even when I under performed, fellow co-workers gave me the benefit of the doubt. "Well, yeah, we had a higher volume. But you're average dollar is up, isn't it? See, that shows a greater investment per customer and that's a great thing to build on."
You can see it as sugar-coating, or empathizing. Either way, I need it. And my husband knows it.
3. Women Understand Silence.
Then came the day when my bike was jacked up. Something happened with my gears and a few miles into the ride, they stuck in the highest most anguish-filled resistant state imaginable. I couldn't make it to the end, had to turn around and head those awful, stretched out miles back home, pulling the girls in a condition that made every second feel like pure torture thanks to the unyielding chain.
I was panting, straining, pushing against the pedals with all of my might to get enough motion going to create a movement. But that wasn't the worst part. The worst was the humiliation of people who passed me; I imagined that since they didn't know the situation, they merely saw a fattie mom who was so weak she couldn't muster enough energy to pull her kids on a bike down a flat path. Tears started to well up in my eyes. That wasn't me! It wasn't my fault! I WAS strong, physically stronger than I had ever been, but this was impossible! I wanted people to KNOW what was happening...but I just put my head down and pushed until I got home. Once there, I had a meltdown in the kitchen, sobbing and shaking as I conveyed what had happened to my husband.
"Hey, it's okay," he soothed. "Look, it's not worth getting this upset about. I can go out right now and fix your gears."
I screamed back, "It's not about THAT!!!!" And he clammed up.
He understands, unlike a lot of men, that when females have a problem, we're not always looking for a solution. In the cases of many men I know, it's in their nature to be a fixer, a supplier. A problem solver who can help us through things; that when we bring them something broken, it's in their nature to want to patch it up. Is that a bad thing? No, not at all. Things need fixed sometimes.
In this case, I didn't want a fix because the bike wasn't what was most broken at the moment. My self-esteem was broken; my sense of worth. I felt weak and judged. I couldn't express to others that what they were seeing wasn't actually what has happening under the surface. But I was helpless against it. I was hurting, and I just wanted someone to feel it with me. That's all. Just sit with me and feel what I felt.
My husband knew that. And most women do too; they understand that silence is not only necessary to healing, it's essential to one's growth to administer to another person. So instead of giving me explanations for how I shouldn't feel that way, how the situation would be remedied, how it wouldn't happen in the future...he just listened. I ranted, cried, blamed him a little for messing with the brakes in the first place, apologized, sighed and finally stopped. When I was done, he quietly grabbed his tool box and headed out to the garage to fix my bike.
Like I said, things need to be fixed. But things need to be given attention first. My husband knows it.
While I understand that not all women stick to the above when dealing with others, I'm very happy to say that they are qualities that I've seen when working with so many of them over the years. And I'm even happier to say that I have a partner who follows the approaches of my fellow females.
So I can happily say this again: My husband rides a bike like a girl, and he should be very proud he does. It's the only thing that keeps me pushing forward down the path, that keeps me headed home.