Okay, I admit it – I was a good girl. I was the kind of girl whose mother never had to say, in her most exasperated tone of voice, “Why can’t you just be good?” I was always good.
Most of the time, being good came easily. My parents were good people, and we lived in a good neighborhood. I went to moderately good schools, and I had good and true friends who weren’t likely to lead me astray. Being good worked for me – as an only child, it served me well to stay on the good side of my parents. They rewarded me with all the good things of life -books, bikes, cool clothes, and plenty of loving attention.
My mother was a good girl too, and she became a good wife. At least, what was considered a good wife in the 1950’s. She kept a good home, cooked good food, and raised a good child, while her husband made a good living. She was also an only child, and was “raised right” according to the standards of her small southern town . She suppressed her own dreams and desires, whatever they might have been, in deference to the needs of her husband, her child, and eventually, to the care of her elderly parents.
But then my father displayed his really bad side, and left my mother after 42 years of marriage to run away with his 45 year old secretary (I know, it sounds like a very bad movie). In the early days of her despair, my mother would say in puzzlement, “I always just tried to be a good wife.” As despair turned to anger, my mother would tell me “Don’t bother being good – it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
These days, I tend to hover somewhere between those two extremes. Usually, the good girl wins out – I keep showing up at work, taking care of the people and things I’m supposed to take care of, saying “please and thank you” at appropriate times. Being good feels right to me – most of the time. Sometimes, though, I sense that there’s an inner girl in there that isn’t quite so good. That’s the one that loves driving too fast, that goes out with girlfriends and drinks a little too much, that has allowed bad language to creep into her once pristine vocabulary. I know, this stuff is mild according to real bad girl standards, but it’s borderline decadence compared to the way I was raised.
As I get older, I find myself getting irritated at the good girl, because sometimes her goodness intereferes with my real desires. Women face this dilemma all the time. We’re trained to be pleasers and caretakers, even when that means sacrificing our own needs. But, I’ve decided to heed my mother’s warning and let the “bad” girl out a little more often – the one that thinks about me first, about putting duty and responsibility aside momentarily in favor of some (good) fun. I have a sneaking suspicion that both girls will be a lot happier if I do!