I had two half days to myself. Daycare started unexpectedly early, work a few days off yet. I thought to build.
I gathered my list, loaded in the car, and drove the quick five minutes to the lumber yard.
The cables corraling the lengthy planks made extraction nearly a circus act. I attempted a quiet extrication and – success. Twelve foot board after twelve foot board. Up up up, balance…swipe the cable restraint away, lower lower lower, hand over hand and…on the cart. Repeat.
It was slow going and I was on a milk timer. Assessing my speed I realized it would be a lot faster if I wasn’t trying to be quiet. Why was I trying to be quiet? I was in a hardware store, in the lumber section, no one else was being quiet. No one else was female either.
I let the plank drop. Onto the cart.
Still concerned about the time I thought again: I need to move faster.
I had set my cart up on the side of the aisle so as to not take up too much space. I moved my cart so that…
BANG. Swing. BANG. Swing.
That was the pace I needed. My cart was loaded in no time.
I pushed my way to the front of the store and got in line. A man came over from the tool rental area to do a remote checkout of my items. I asked him if he would check if there were any trucks left in the lot to rent. I mentioned he’d miscounted my boards and was about to under charge me.
There was a truck. I left my lumber and set up the truck rental at the service desk. The lumber checkout had gotten more popular in the meantime. The looks I got pulling the truck into the loading bay. The looks I got retrieving so much lumber.
“I’ll call someone up to help you load up,” the man who had rung me up declared kindly.
“Oh. Ok, thanks.”
Wait. I don’t need help. Why am I getting help? Why did I say ok?
“Hey. I’m going to start loading up. If they get here before I’m done, great.”
I went outside. The drop gate wouldn’t drop. Oh, well. Up. Swing. Slide. Up. Swing. Slide. A man approached with headphones on. He saw me and deflated. Picking up the end of one board he waited for me to pick up the other end. Up. Drop. I picked up the ends of three boards. He didn’t notice. He slipped. He noticed. He picked up three ends of three boards. Up. Drop. Up. Drop. The lumber loaded, he walked off. Never a word or a smile.
I drove home. I enjoyed driving a truck again. I felt how I’d felt in the summers in the country growing up. Farmers and fields everywhere. I unloaded the lumber into my garage, pumped, and headed back to return the truck.
Truck returned. Walking back to my car, I got whistled at. Doing nothing other than walking empty handed through the parking lot on a Wednesday afternoon.
I’m not a terribly quiet person. Shy in new social situations. Outspoken and opinionated at work and with friends. I actively work against the institutionalization of gender expectations within myself. And yet I tried to be quiet in a lumber yard. I tried to not take up too much space. I accepted help I didn’t need because someone thought I did.
Having become the mother of a daughter, I’ve become ever more mindful of gendered life. She regularly wears shirts with lizards on them, a pink tutu, plays with dump trucks, and wants her nails painted. Having recently had a son, new pieces of indoctrination come to light. He smiles. Baby boys that do so are called flirts. Baby girls aren’t. Because from infancy boys’ sexuality is acceptable, girls mustn’t be promiscuous. Older boy children get to be charmers, girls are boy crazy.
It took me this long to realize I was even trying to be small and quiet in a situation as mundane as the lumber yard. What else am I missing? What am I unconsciously indoctrinating?