she-files

Her Stories: Welcome Back Summer Break

DENVER–Summer break hits me like a slow-motion punch every year even though I’ve been counting the days since October. When it finally arrives my mind floods with scenes from movies and music videos from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (my childhood, teen and college years) that conjure long idle days outside. The pool scene from “Caddyshack” is pure summer: the golf caddies, reeking of working-class frankness and “so what” attitudes, stampede the country club pool and disrupt the too perfect, too rigid day-at-the-club. The uptight, privileged members gawk in horror at the chaos and vulgarity of the caddies. Ah, summer.

In anticipation of the new season, I recently rewatched “Caddyshack,” and I caught myself laughing out loud (the feminist in me is embarrassed about that), but it also made me think about how much has and has not changed for women since the movie came out in 1980. Blatant sexism was acceptable comedy at the time and a promiscuous beauty with a name like Lacey Underall or a chicken fight in a pool with a topless caddy astride her partner’s shoulders was hilarious. In my recent interview Holly Tarquini, the founder of the F-Rating, told me that 95% of the people writing and directing films are men and that the statistics have gotten worse for gender equality rather than better in the last few decades. I wondered though if despite the shocking statistics around women working as decision-makers in the industry if on-screen female representation was better, worse or the same. What will my seven-year-old daughter internalize from the classic summertime movies of her age?

In 1991, a decade later, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s hit song “Summertime” topped charts. In the video, Will Smith donned cut-off jean shorts defining fashion for a whole generation of younger men. And summer is captured in alternate shots of cruising, backyard barbecues and gyrating women in tight clothes. Nearly 30 years later, when June rolls around, you can count on hearing it somewhere—a barbecue, a swim meet, the radio. Even though I can’t stop my head from bobbing when I hear the song, a voice in the back of my mind needles me about how that video, with the camera focused on gyrating women’s bodies, contributed to a real girl somewhere internalizing the idea that her worth comes from how she looks. And one can argue that in 2017 music videos aren’t any better in terms of objectifying women. In fact, they might be worse.

But songs and music videos from the last three decades of the 20th century and gender equity ponderings aside, the reality of summer, especially as an adult, is something quite different. I was reminded of that, a bit harshly, this past week as my kids’ school year came to an end. Summer isn’t all fun and games. And the week leading to the last day of school is a mad dash for parents and has kids acting crazy.

Here’s an example from last Thursday: At 8:30 A.M., just like every other school day, I got my kids on the bus. I cranked out a few to-do items for work, picked up the breakfast mess and then headed to school to grab my son for a dentist appointment.

I had lunch out with him and when I got back home I did a couple more things for work, then headed to the kitchen to prep dinner. As I pulled two pork tenderloins from the fridge, I took an unfortunate trip down memory lane to when I was six and visited a slaughterhouse one summer.

My parents had been given a cow (to butcher) by friends who owned a farm and my mom and dad thought it would be good for their four children to see where food came from—it wasn’t good at all. Pushing the memory out of my mind, I tossed the pork and marinade in a bag and added two chipotle peppers and put it all in the fridge for dinner. I had just enough time for some more work and to make the beds.

Soon after I could hear the mustard yellow school bus lurching and moaning as it chugged up the steep hill that is our street. With a high-pitched scream and a hiss, the bus stopped, the doors opened, and my kids hopped down the stairs, backpacks stuffed with an entire year’s contents from their desks and arms full of anything that didn’t fit in their backpacks. “One more day of school!” I smiled and opened my eyes wide to show them how excited I was for them. My 10-year-old rolled his eyes; guess  Mom isn’t not cool anymore. My seven-year-old smiled and gave me a hug.

Hurrying the kids inside, I instructed my daughter to change into her swimsuit for swim team practice and grab a snack. She dropped her stuff in the middle of the floor and stormed off, mad that she didn’t have any time to relax. In 15 minutes, we were speeding down the road, late for practice. After dropping her off, I flew home to pick up my son. Their practices were 45 minutes apart. As I dropped him off at his practice, I spotted my daughter and waved my arms for her to come.

She had a birthday dinner and she was already late. I took her there, had two minutes to breath and then went to pick up my son up from swimming.  Before he even got into the car he started crying big, fat crocodile tears because he didn’t get to go to the birthday dinner with his sister. “How about we pick something up for you to eat when we’re getting teacher gifts?” I said, hoping dinner out would cheer him up.

Home again– I asked my husband to grill the pork. While he was prepping the grill he told me a story about what had happened while I was out. He had just finished cutting the lawn when a kid on a motorbike zipped up and down the street a few times with no helmet, cutting through people’s yards. My husband, being the mayor of our small community, didn’t think that was too clever.

“I motioned for the kid to come over,” he said.

“Yeah,” I responded, gliding past him to grab a couple things from the fridge to prep a salad.

“And he said, ‘Make me, bitch,’” my husband told me, sounding incredulous.

“Wow!” was all I could think to say. I was shocked because never in all my summers would I, nor my friends, would have thought, let alone say something like that to an adult. But I believe in karma so I withheld judgment lest one of my kids did something equally shocking someday.

“So, I called the police. They’re looking for him.” I looked at my husband, figuring best to let him handle this rather sticky situation.

The pork cooked and, once on the platter, it looked a little too much like an arm without bones. I poured a glass of wine, exhaled at that thought and of the day in general, and sat down to eat with my husband and son.  Before I finished dinner I was already putting together –in my mind–the 10 gift for the teachers, administrators and the librarian who was retiring— almost all of them women— when the doorbell rang.

The police had found the motorbike kid and he was standing there, looking at his feet and likely about to cry. Next to him was an unhappy-looking, unfortunate man that I assumed was his dad. He asked for my husband and I was all too happy to excuse myself from the situation, telling him my husband would be right there.

I stuffed gift bags and put them on the passenger seat of my car so they’d be ready to deliver the next day. I emptied the kids’ backpacks and stuffed one last snack for the year into the front pocket of each. Back from her birthday dinner, my seven-year-old told me she wasn’t tired. I corralled her and her brother down the hallway to their bedrooms, supervised teeth brushing, and sent them to bed to read before lights out. They needed their rest, I told them. “It’s the last night before summer!”

My husband told me the boy would be cleaning his car tomorrow as an apology, probably not how the boy imagined his first day of freedom from school would start out. I thought about “Caddyshack” and parenting and sexism and summer and decided that the famous “Caddyshack” gopher with his “I’m Alright” dance just might be onto something. Onwards to summer.


By Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp

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