It’s a conversation I have had many times in my years as a CNA. This time it happens while I’m struggle to dress a very picky resident in the ten minutes I have until lunch is announced.
“Are you married?”
“Nope,” I mutter, still working to get her shirt straightened. She’s so particular about her appearance–at times like these, when I’m pressed for time, it’s hard to be patient.
“Well, don’t worry, you’ll get a husband soon: you’re pretty. Though,” she says, reaching out to touch my hair (once neat enough, but now throughly destroyed by hours of non-stop movement and sweat), “you could put just a bit more effort into your looks. You have to look your best to get a man’s attention, Momma always said.”
As far as labels go, I guess “feminist” can be applied to me; in the time it takes me to raise my head to look her in the eye, I’ve got several retorts lined up. They range from “Sweetheart, I’m not getting up any earlier than I already do to get gussied up” to “I have a fundamental problem with being anybody’s eye candy”.
She quickly adds, “Just make sure he’s a good one who will take care of you.”
It’s just one of those times when I have to swallow my initial reaction and put myself in my resident’s shoes. What does this mean to her?
Empathy is easier with knowledge, knowledge is shared more freely with trust and trust must be earned. It’s a getting-to-know-you process that’s never over, only refined. I’ve earned her trust with good care and a willingness to listen; in turn, she’s told me stories of her life…stories I now use to reframe my way of thinking into something closer to how she views the world.
What does her surprise at my single state and her concern over my less-than-perfectly put together appearance mean to her? Well, she grew up in a poor, rural area during the Great Depression, in a time when women had far less freedom and options. When she was my age, a lot of women still depended on their husbands to provide for them. Moreover, she married “up”–due in no small part, she says, through her attention to appearance catching her future husband’s eye. One time she went as far as to call herself “Cinderella”.
She just wants me to be taken care of and happy. She just wants good things for me…it’s just that her methods are a) outdated and b) not my style.
I smile briefly. Not everyone is or was a pioneer of social change and not everybody I care about is going to agree with me on my every opinion. It’s not my job to argue with her about feminism, the purpose of marriage or anything else, really. Take the compliment and the concern and move on.
“Thanks,” I tell her. “I’m not in any hurry to get married, but when I do, I’ll make sure it’s to a good man. Now, is this okay? Because you’re going to make a fashionably late appearance at lunch, Cinderella.”