I landed my first job when I was fifteen years old. After years of babysitting for neighbors, I marched into my school district office, requested a work permit, and headed straight to the local mall, where I was employed part-time until I left for college.
I have always worked. Always. Except for when I had my third child and I gave up trying to make it all work and left work behind for a bit. It was hard. I missed work.
When I started back up with paid employment in 2016, as Millie was turning five years old, I decided to open up a local bank account. We had an account where Bob worked in the city but it made sense to have easier access to our money locally, too. His pay went into that account and my pay would go into this account. It didn’t matter that everything mine is his and his is mine. It just mattered that after a dozen years of managing every aspect of our budget, investments, and overall financial health, I would be once again contributing to our budget, investments, and overall financial health.
It made me so happy to go back to work – to have an account that reflected my work.
On new bank account day, I gathered up all of my new job deposit information and headed to the bank branch bringing Bob in tow. I knew he needed to be on the account, too, in case I ever died tragically in some Joanna-appropriate manner (which, would be, like, trespassing on someone’s property to get a better look at their house or something). So, Bob was with me at the bank branch and I asked that he be added to the account but it was absolutely clear that he wasn’t the one opening the account. It was me! I was opening the account! With my new job money!
Imagine my dismay when the account statement arrived and I saw it was addressed to Bob. His name was the primary on the account. My name was secondary. The checks arrived and Bob’s name was listed first, too. This was especially grating as I’m not entirely sure Bob even remembers HOW to write a check.
It was such a little thing – the manager opening the account for me but listing him first. Her not bothering to ask who should be the primary account holder. Her assuming it would be my husband. The man in the equation. It seems so inconsequential, my rage. Like it shouldn’t even matter. But, it did matter. It mattered to me. A lot.
It mattered so much that it made me want to close the account.
A week or so ago, I bought a new car. We’d known for awhile that our minivan needed to be replaced but Bob and I were unable to decide on what kind of car to replace it with. Finally, after way too many months of indecision, Bob arrived home declaring that the minivan needed to go! It was time! The impasse must end! So, I said I would take care of it. I’d figure out a new car I thought we could both agree on.
The next morning, I notified work I’d be late and I drove to a dealership a little ways away but one I knew that had the model and color I was interested in seeing. I’ve bought a few cars over the years so I knew how it all worked and I knew how much I wanted to pay and I knew how all car salesman have treated me in the past so I arrived with an all business demeanor absolutely loaded for bear.
It was a gorgeous day and the salesman I approached was lingering outside in the sun. I asked to see the car I had found online and he said, “Sure,” without even once looking around me to see if my husband was behind me. When I sat in the car, surveyed the cargo space, had him point out where the closest USB ports to where my children would be seated were located, he kindly showed me all of the features without even once asking if my husband would be joining us. When I asked him for his best price, let him know he was in competition with another dealership, told him I could close the deal on the spot, he never even once asked if I needed to consult with my husband. That night, I got to surprise my husband with a new car, in the make he had wanted, and I have to say it was a very Lexus-December-to-Remember type thing but without the red bow (or the Lexus actually).
It was such a little thing that the salesman at that dealership wasn’t asking. He could have easily asked. Could have easily assumed that I couldn’t do it on my own. But, he didn’t. He never once assumed that there was anyone else in the car buying equation but me. That mattered to me. It mattered a lot.
It mattered so much that it made me want to buy a car.
I’m not really entirely sure what my point here is other than I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important our words are. How much weight they carry. What we do say and what we don’t say. What we do ask and what we don’t ask.
It’s hard not to think about it when things seem so broken – the vitriol amongst us at a fever pitch. It’s hard not to imagine that some of that could be fixed or mended with a better choice of words.
Being inclusive, reserving assumptions, watching our phrasing are all such little moments. Little opportunities to do better by someone, for someone. I hear people complain and bemoan the extra steps it takes to be cautious and mindful with our words. That those little things shouldn’t matter. I think they do matter. I think they matter a lot.
What if all of the little things add up to much bigger things?