People always tell mami she’s lucky she had at least one daughter. They tell her I will help her and grandma. That will take care of them. No one ever mentions my brothers.
It’s always been that way; the women and girls in my family are expected to take care of their parents, even if they marry and make lives of their own. The men were never expected to though. In fact when a man was taking care of a parent, I’d hear how selfless and wonderful that man was. My grandma ended up taking care of her mother-in-law, brother-in-law and two sisters-in-law. My grandma is the best example of a woman dropping everything to take care of someone else, often at the expense of her own health.
Now, it’s on me and my daughter to take care of my mother and grandma. I’ve heard it plenty of times. “It’s so great you had a girl. If you’d had a boy you’d be alone”. They don’t expect TJ to have a life of her own when she’s grown. If I had a boy, they would expect him to leave me as soon as he was able.
I’m the one in charge of mami’s affairs when she dies. I’m the one who has to make the medical decisions should she ever end up in the hospital. Grandma is sick and may need surgery. Who does the responsibility fall on? Mami. But since she isn’t well, it’s my job. My 6-year-old daughter is expected to help out too. I have two brothers. One of them lives with grandma. But I’m the “girl” so it’s my job to take care of everybody.
My brothers are able bodied. I am not. But I had the bad luck of being assigned female at birth. I can’t leave grandma and mami to fend for themselves without someone accusing me of being selfish. Even if I protested and mentioned my brothers, I’d be told that it isn’t proper for sons to take care of their mothers. This was made clear to me when I was nine years old and my mother had a hysterectomy. It was my job to help her wash up and get dressed. One day I couldn’t help her because I was sick. So my younger brother volunteered. My grandmother started yelling at me. She told me I was lazy and that it was wrong for a son to see his mother naked. I questioned what mami was supposed to do if she hadn’t had a daughter. I was slapped and told to stop talking back.
I wouldn’t leave mami and grandma to fend for themselves. I’m not that cruel. I wasn’t conditioned to be selfish. I was conditioned to never think of myself. It’s taken me a while to get out of that thinking. It’s taken me a while to learn to say no and to take care of my needs.
When the time comes to take care of either mami or grandma, I’ll do it. I’ll know it’s because it’s expected of me but also because no matter how hard I try I will never be callous like my brothers. I know I’ll hear all about how selfless I am and what a good daughter I am, and don’t I hope TJ will take care of me in my old age.
And I will know that if I ever need TJ to take care of me, it’s because I earned her love and respect, not because it’s her “womanly” duty or because she owes me.