We are buckled up on an Alaska Airlines flight scheduled from Oklahoma City to Seattle. It’s just my husband, Mark, and me. Our two teenage boys are home alone and have called and texted us at least 300 times since our departure 48 hours ago. I’m deathly ill with a head cold and sinus infection, and we are both utterly exhausted.
We have been on the tarmac in this plane for 4 hours and it is still on the ground in Oklahoma City. I’m ready to slit my wrists and Mark, for some reason, has become as peaceful and serene as a Buddhist monk. “Don’t you think it’s odd that we’re still on the ground?” I ask, hoping to get some kind of reaction from my husband. “We’ve been sitting here for four hours!” He continues reading his biography on Abraham Lincoln.
I can’t breathe. I’m a nose-blowing fiend and never-ending snot fountain. I cough uncontrollably for intervals that seem to go on forever. I am truly miserable. I’ve gone through three boxes of tissues in the last hour and a half and feel like I’ve been run over by a Mack truck. Then I sneeze and grab one of my lesser used tissues out of my bra before infecting everyone on the plane with projectile germs. In my mind, I am literally overwhelmed by my lightning fast reflexes and heroic rapidity in protecting an entire planeload of innocent passengers.
But Mark looks at me in horror and say, “Really? Are you that old?”
“What are you talking about?” I say baffled by this question after showing my insanely quick response time.
“The tissue thing? In the bra? I mean, really?” he continues.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I say feeling suddenly defensive and vulnerable. “That’s an old age thing?”
“Well, I just remember my old lady aunts and bubbe use to do that,” he sneers.
I think back to my mother who never stuffed a tissue into her bosom. She used to roll up the used tissues and keep them in her sleeve. Now that was gross. But a slightly snotty tissue stuffed into a bra? Well, that is clearly not a sign of old ladyhood.
I sneer back at him. “Um…well, where am I supposed to keep it? I don’t have any pockets, and I’m not tucking it into my sleeve like some kind of old Jewish balabusta!”
“I don’t even know what that means,” he quips. “But it’s just sort of…icky to see your beautiful young wife acting like some kind of phlegm-hacking alter cocker.”
“Oh, but you know what that means?” I snipe with more than a little irritation. “And may I add, that I find your negative stereotypes of elderly Jewish women to be limiting, insulting and degrading.”
“I’m not stereotyping,” he insists, “I just only knew old Jewish ladies who did that.”
“Yeah? Well, plenty of hot young atheist chicks at the gym stuff their Kleenex into their bras!” I assert.
“Really?” He asks with a perplexed stare.
“No. Not really,” I say “I just said that because I feel awful that I’m suddenly an old lady and I didn’t see it coming.”
It’s kind of funny to think about how skewed our vision of the world actually is based on our background and experience. To me, bra stuffing still reminds me of the seventh-grade horror Laura Minke faced after her bra came off in the locker room after gym class and a few random tissues emerged. She vehemently swore that the tissues had fallen out of her pocket at the same time and that any synchronicity between these two events was purely coincidental. But for Mark, the same image conjured up a picture of big-bosomed Yiddish yentas pushing him around the Seder table and pinching his cheeks.
On the other hand, the thought of me stuffing a used tissue up my sleeve didn’t elicit even a modicum of disgust. For me, however, the image of my mom in her jade green velour robe with scrunched up tissues in her sleeve made my skin crawl. We both simultaneously marveled at our discrepancy of perceptions.
I used to be an anti-bias trainer with the ADL in Phoenix. It was an incredible opportunity to help people acknowledge the unique and sometimes limiting lens through which we each view the world. I think of myself as a pretty open and accepting person without a lot of racial, religious, gender, or sexual orientation bias clouding my vision. But this was an interesting kind of wake up call.
If we don’t even recognize the limiting views we hold about members of our own family and tribe, what else might we be missing? I think it’s important to step back and reevaluate our judgments – both conscious and unconscious.
Because the truth is, lots of people stuff tissues into their bras and that doesn’t make them old, female, or Jewish!
Debra Rich Gettleman is a mother, blogger, actor and playwright. For more of her work, visit unmotherlyinsights.com