If you have no idea what this is, read these chapters first:
Everyone handles divorce differently. Some kids blame themselves, some kids blame the world, but I’m almost positive that no kids fantasize about working in corporate America and blackmailing their chauvinistic boss to keep him from calling the police after accidentally trying to kill him. And if they do, most kids probably aren’t six when they do it.
In case you don’t know (because you were born in the 90s or you’re a straight man), I just described the plot to the 1980 women-empowerment movie, 9 to 5, starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. By the time I was 8, I had watched this movie over 100,000 times. I knew every single word and was fairly certain that one day I would have boobs as big as Dolly Parton’s.
My mother liked to tell herself that the only reason I liked it was because Bambi and Thumper were in it. But they only appear for five minutes to help Lily Tomlin poison her boss, then catapult him out of a 100-story skyscraper window, so even if that was true, I can’t imagine how that made my mom feel any better.
I think I related to it because, just like Lily, Dolly and Jane, my mother was also struggling to make it in a man’s world. And I watched that struggle every day. Only instead of losing promotions to men and being sexually harassed in the workplace, my mother was trying to raise me alone on a teacher’s salary which to this day is still pretty pathetic considering how important teachers are to society. And if you disagree, just remember that you wouldn’t even be able to read that statement to know that you disagree if a teacher never taught you how to read.
I think my dad was supposed to pay like $40 per week in child support, which by today’s standards would equal like $90 per week. That barely covers my peanut butter and chocolate habit. So I don’t know how any judge thought that was acceptable. Plus, I think he may have missed a lot of payments because I remember my mom writing a lot of letters to the judge. Then again, this was before social media and status updates so maybe she was just writing to see what his dog ate for lunch or how his colonoscopy went.
Whatever the case, my mother needed help so we moved in with my grandparents and stayed there for the next few years. To me, it was the most awesome thing in the world. My grandmother taught me how to play five-card draw poker and to not trust anyone because “people are out for themselves!” My grandfather was a little more open-minded. He taught me to respect other people’s opinions, to always pay my debts and that eating grapes in a grocery store while you’re shopping is definitely stealing—no matter what my grandmother said.
But for my mom, as a recently divorced 30-year-old, being forced to raise her daughter alone and move back in with her slightly overprotective parents who probably expected her to be home before the street lights came on, it was probably exhausting and even a bit degrading. And somehow, watching this struggle made it really easy for me to relate to three overworked, underappreciated women determined to exact revenge on the their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical boss.
As a second-grader, I could recite the script to 9 to 5 with my eyes closed and I had written at least a dozen letters to Dolly Parton. I’m not exactly sure what I wrote, but I imagine there were a lot of questions about how to naturally increase breast size through proper nutrition. Of course, as a kid, it probably sounded more like “Dear Ms. Parton, How do I make my boobs grow real big like yours?” She never wrote back, which was probably a good thing because I imagine that an 80-pound seven-year- old with Dolly Parton boobs might have scared the other kids, or worse, would have given me some serious sciatica pain.
My mother handled my obsession with the movie and my boobs the best way she knew how. She mailed all of my letters, listened to me quote every scene and on Halloween of 1984, she gave me one of her fullest bras, stuffed each cup with three or four pairs of the thickest gym socks she could find, gave me a blonde wig, a skirt and a pair of cowboy boots and sent me off to parade around the playground as my hero, Dolly Parton. Spiderman and Strawberry Shortcake didn’t know what hit them! Actually, they might have. Those boobs were all over the place.
These days, the Twitterverse would be passing all sorts of grammatically incorrect judgment on my mother. But back then it was just something quirky the parents and other teachers laughed about at PTA meetings. And, ironically, the whole experience gave me my first real insight into a woman’s struggle. I spent the entire day fighting off pre-pubescent second grade boys who wanted to cop a feel of my new rack. So I did what any empowered woman would do. I used my boobs as ammunition. No, seriously. I reached into my bra, pulled out a balled up pair of sweat socks and whipped it at them as hard as I could. Dolly, Jane and Lily would have been so proud.
(Check back for Chapter 3, coming sometime this year)