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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Red Hat Warning


"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple."

~ Jenny Joseph

Jenny Joseph was born in Birmingham on 7 May 1932.
An Oxford graduate (1953), she became a journalist in UK and South Africa.
Her first collection of poetry was published in 1960.
'Warning', the poem above, is her most popular work, and the inspiration for the Red Hat Society.

I want to put on a Red Hat.
I love this poem. Its about social freedom. I want to wear a red hat sometimes and be allowed to be quirky and innappropriate sometimes without being judged, blamed, shamed and shunned. I wish it were as simple as putting on a hat, or wearing an armband, or a button on your shirt, or a certain uniform.

But I guess this poem could also be considered to be about getting to the point in life where you and your behavior have become irrelevant to society, and so you can walk around the edges of it, incognito, invisible, but free.

But I also work very hard to be the kind of mother I would want for myself. (As in "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.") Which means following the current social norms as much as possible so as to not embarrass and humiliate your children...

Early on, I summed it up in my mind with one word; 'wholesome.' My pattern, my model, was the mother in the old TV show "Leave It To Beaver."

June Cleaver. She was calm, understanding, forgiving, involved, clean, organized, pretty and well dressed. She cooked and cleaned and made being a stay-at-home mother seem like a privilege in a time when most young women were thinking of it as drudgery and had dreams of doing other things. I was one of those young women once. I went to college and dreamed of being Mary Tyler Moore, a working single woman with her own life and career, who made being a woman living on your own seem not just respectful but fun and "spunky."

So as a mother, whenever I am making some tricky decision, I try to ask myself the question "What would June Cleaver do?"

The change came when the children did. My children changed my life. It was very visceral. All of a sudden, it wasn't about ME anymore. The next generation had arrived, and they were as important as mine was and is.

Someday I will wear a Red Hat. But not just yet...

I wonder, does the June Cleaver character, as a woman over 50, with her two sons grown and on their own (hopefully) wear a Red Hat sometimes now?

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