I need a little leg room

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It is a little cramped in here, people.iStock_000004752171Small

In this box you keep putting me in, that is.

Not all of you, of course. The expansive, breezy souls among you are content to just let me and the rest of their fellow human beings be.

But you know who you are (or maybe you don’t and that’s one of the reasons you drive the rest of us crazy). The box checkers. The ones who flame on Facebook and Twitter about those “damn liberals” or “repressed conservatives.” The mommies and daddies who still think of the world in terms of jocks, cheerleaders and nerds. The ones who like your labels—and your fellow citizens—categorized neatly so they fit into your color-coded, everything-and-everyone-in-its-place world. You know—that world that exists only in your head.

Or again, maybe you don’t know. And again with the crazy-making for the rest of us.

When someone like you meets someone like me, I can see the wheels turning in your head. It’s easy if your exposure to me is short-lived. If you see me with my college friends from oh so many years ago, dancing to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” after my third Cosmopolitan (Always stop at two, people. Two is fun. Three is just messy.), you will either join in my fun (“Oh, she’s so funny and outgoing. We really must invite her to our next party.”) or look away in disapproval (“She’s dancing to that song with the filthy lyrics and drinking. I’ll be sure to keep little Jake away from her tiny heathens.”).

And if that’s all you see–if your capability for discernment is that small and your attention span that short– it will end there. Considered me judged. Or at least categorized.

But if happenstance causes our paths to cross again—say, on a weekday evening when I’m volunteering, you may scratch your head. (“Isn’t that the hussy I saw dancing and drinking? What is she doing here working with disadvantaged youth, talking about faith in a higher power?”). I see that I’ve created some cognitive dissonance within you. And you don’t like it.

Tough shit.

I say that with a smile. Because your confusion truly amuses me.

Your world may be boxes. It may be the Young Republicans’ club, target practice at the rifle range, family picnics and fighting for God and country. Or, it may be meditation, prayer circles, fighting for gay rights and eating vegan. You may be somewhat homogenous. I’d like to say good for you but I can’t. I’ll just say live and let live.

I’m not homogenous. Get used to it.

I am a fiscal conservative who still believes in humanitarian programs funded at least in part by our government. Everybody needs a leg up at some point and some aren’t lucky enough to have a helpful uncle or church group.

I’m a social liberal who believes in gay rights but am conservative enough to hate the tacky displays at my city’s gay pride day. As I would tacky displays in any celebration, gay, straight or otherwise.

I come from extremely waspy stock on my father’s side but my last name is Rodriguez—and my boys will not grow up to become landscapers or bus boys or drive low-riding Chevys. I cannot check a box that says they are either Caucasian or Hispanic. They’re both. You need a box for that. I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit into your world view.

Scratch that. I’m not sorry.

Yes, I love me some “Pour Some Sugar on Me” but a good Bach cello suite or Chopin prelude will bring me to tears because of its beauty.

I have some very exclusive favorites amongst the shops and boutiques on the Mag Mile, but have also been known to smile with delight when I run across a particularly great school supply bargain at Walmart. My bargain shopping friends look confused by my Neiman Marcus bags. And my Chanel-shopping friends recoil in horror when I mention the school supply bargains at Walmart.

I’ve read some of your approved “classics,” religious conservatives, and liked some. I am a well-read English major who can hold my own with you on those—granted, my knowledge of Brit lit far surpasses yours because you seem to feel American literature is superior and the only required reading to which any of us should be subjected. We’ll debate that another time. Right now, I need you to know that I read books you would consider shameful in addition to those by Nathaniel Hawthorne and company. This will stymie many of you. Mind. Blown.

I love a good happy hour with the neighbors but am puzzled by people who “grow up”, get married and then proceed to get buzzed or drunk every other weekend. Don’t you wonder when your children will begin to think this is how life should go? And what makes you need that artificial high so often? Perhaps “growing up”, getting married and having 2.1 children was not your cup of tea. And now you escape by reenacting your college frat parties or sorority “teas” on a regular basis.

Lest you think I’m siding with the teetotalers, allow me to clear up that misconception. Not on your life. Those who don’t drink but don’t judge others—great. Those who don’t drink because of perceived moral superiority—well, they make me want to get drunk.

And these are just my examples. What about my gay friend who coaches (and plays) basketball better than any of my straight male friends? Who towers over them and could probably squash most like a bug?

How on earth do we process my salsa-dancing Baptist friend?

People don’t always make sense. I am a contradiction in terms—as are many of you.

So why the silly little boxes? And the labels? Are these not the very things that divide us?

Walking boxesWhen you post slurs about Muslims on Facebook, I don’t think of the hatemongers among them. I think of the sweet, hijab-wearing girl with whom my son goes to school. Her peace-loving parents. And the hate that gets thrown at her because you’re raising your children to put people into boxes.

When you rant about stupid liberals, I don’t think of people shouting epithets as crazy as yours. I think about my children. About how, as a fairly liberal gal, I try to get my children to be accepting. I also think of how their father is far more conservative. We are a study in contrasts—and as a product of this union, my children do not fit into a box. Their views are mixed. Which group of extreme crazies will hate them? Yours? Or the opposing camp? Or maybe both. How silly, really.

One of my favorite parties, ever, was a weird mix of the world. It shouldn’t have worked, this mix. There should have been cliques and arguments and judging. But, for just that one night, there weren’t any of the above. It was a beautiful, transcendent experience—and for those of you wondering, no, there were no mind-altering drugs involved. I’m not a fan of drug use. Screws up lives, big and small. And yes, I smoked weed in college several times. Another contradiction in terms. Go figure.

It can work. When you throw away those little boxes. When you realize that knowing one or two key facts about a person does not mean you can extrapolate those facts to a portrait of the entire person.

Some of you get this. You know a gay Republican. Or a liberal Baptist minister. Maybe you know a football player that plays the flute like an angel. A calm Latino. A generous Jew. An effusive wasp.

The stereotypes don’t work. At least not in the world I’m living in. Maybe in your head? Meh. So be it. That world will crumble soon enough.

As we all are allowed a bit more leg room. And a sigh of relief. As more children come from households like mine, those where boxes are not welcomed not only because boxes are ugly but because they make no sense.