La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for November 2012

When Jada Pinkett-Smith was asked why she let her daughter Willow shave her head, this is what she said:

“This subject is old but I have never answered it in its entirety. And even with this post it will remain incomplete. The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power, or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit, and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes, and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.”

20121129-061552.jpg

Thank you, Jada. Whatever you think of her as a celebrity, I think this message is potentially the most important for anyone with daughters. Your daughters do not exist to impact any grown up’s “insecurities, hopes and desires.”

I get asked a lot why I “let” Bambina have such long hair. Because that’s how she likes it.
Why I “let” her wear only dresses. Because that’s what she likes to wear.
Why I said I’d “let” her get blue hair if she wants to in high school. Because she thinks she wants blue hair. And why is this your business again? Why are you so invested in my child’s sartorial or hair choices? What do her decisions make YOU feel? Because, recognize that your question reveals not issues you have about Bambina, but with yourself.

By the same token, I get similar-but-different questions about Baby Sister’s fashion and hair choices. Why always with bangs! Why such kooky outfits? My first reaction is to scream from the depths of my being, “OH MY GOD! SHE’S FUCKING FOUR YEARS OLD, WHO GIVES A SHIT?!” But because I AM beholden to society’s insecurities, hopes and desires, I politely say, “because that’s how she likes it.” But note that the questions arise with hair, both short and long. Outfits, dressy or crazy casual. Temperaments, both outgoing and shy. Which illustrates the issue of which Pinkett-Smith speaks. That there is no way to insulate your daughter from the weight of society’s expectations other than to teach her to ignore them, to know and love herself, and to exist outside the echo chamber telling her who she needs to be/look like/act like in order to make grown ups feel good about themselves.

The greatest gift you will give your daughter is the freedom to make her own choices without regard for our culture’s expectations. Be it a desire to dress a certain way or to undertake an activity considered not girly or to be as “girly” as she wants to be. We owe it to the women who went against expectations to attend medical school when it was considered an affront to do so. We owe it to the suffragists who endured ridicule to get women the vote. And because I wear jeans on every day that ends in Y, I personally owe it to the women who said F-U to the tyranny of the petticoat and wore pants, people’s breathless disapproval be damned. Free your girls to do the same. Our world needs girls unchained.

For all the pearl-clutching mom bloggers out there aghast at how they are going to explain the Kevin Clash situation to their children, I offer this sage advice, brought to you by the letter E and the number 7:

YOU DON’T.

Maybe your kid is all up in IMDB at the age of 3 but I have to imagine that, to the majority of other children, Elmo is…Elmo. A puppet. An asexual puppet. An asexual puppet who has nothing to do with the inappropriate touchy-feelies of any actor.

So please let’s can the now-tired “what about the children!” trope. If you really care about your kids you won’t touch this mess with a ten foot pole. And you won’t show them these pics:
http://gawker.com/5963764/how-to-explain-the-latest-elmo-sex-scandal-news-to-your-kids-an-illustrated-guide-starring-spider+man-and-my-little-pony

The words you speak to your children will become their inner voice.

I read that and it stopped me in my tracks. Hard.

I immediately ran through the previous 24 hours of parent-child dialogue in my head and, after hating myself for a minute, vowed to do better in the next 24 hours and 24 years. I had already done something similar with yelling. Realizing that I was yelling at my girls to “stop yelling!” I told them that I would owe them each a dollar for every time I yelled at them. Since July I am proud to say I’ve paid out just 6 bucks total. But it was WORK to stop. With a capital, screaming W. But. ridiculous as it sounds, behavior in the home has improved as a result, for child and adult alike.

And now we move on to the more insidious low-volume communications. There is, of course, an entire spectrum between calling your kids worthless and calling them consequence-free perfect, and I worry not about hitting either pole. But what about all the stuff in the middle? The stuff I say in annoyance without thinking. The stuff that Scottish Grandma (back when she was just my mom, She Who Must Be Obeyed) used to go on about ad nauseam: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

What inner voice am I giving my kids? And, equally as important, what am I teaching them to accept from others’ opinions and judgments? If I’m brutally honest, I’m teaching them that it’s more okay to use “tone” with family than with strangers. That if you are annoyed, you can use any tone or delivery you want to because your annoyance justifies or excuses it. (Worse, I’m teaching them that someone who says they love you can talk smack to you for frivolous reasons, which scares the s– out of me). And it’s wrong. I would never open my door, heave a big sigh, and lament –with visible irritation– to the mailman, “oh my lord! Why are you always making us late?!” And yet I’m certain I’ve delivered that line at least 50 times to Bambina. Yes, it’s because I have no emotional investment in the development of responsibility in my mailman, so obviously the exchanges with my child are more fraught. But why do I have the capacity to measure my response to the general public and yet not to my child? The answer is, of course, that the capacity is there in both instances. I have just been choosing (with fatigue and/or annoyance as my excuse) to ignore it at home. And guess what kind of 8 year old I’m raising? One who creates drama at small annoyances. Which is 1/3 personality, 1/3 circumstances involving a 5 years-younger sibling, and–sad to say– 1/3 “it’s coming from inside the house!”

Some people call it karma, energy coming back to you, garbage in-garbage out. My dad put it this way: Be careful what you dish out to others, because sooner or later, someday, you will have to eat your own shite. Well, Dad, get me a knife and fork. Because I am watching the results of my parenting bloom. Many of them wonderful and humbling and deeply-rewarding. Some of them, not so awesome, blooming with the help of nothing but my own manure.

So I’m taking a page out of the Shimmy Shakin Aunt Susan book. Back when Bambina was younger, she was being very annoying. I can’t even recall what it was, but I remember teeing myself up to say something in an irritated manner. SSAS just took her by the hands, looked her in the eyes like an equal person, and said, “Sweetheart, do you know what the word ‘annoying’ means? Yes? Well, you are doing that right now and so it’s feeling not fun to play together.” Bambina got it and pivoted almost immediately. No raised voice, no delivery soaked in disapproval and pique. Just an explanation SSAS could have been offering to anyone, adult or child.

So instead of shaking my head and going “grrrrr! You’re late again!” I’m just saying–once–“you know what you need to do to get ready. The car leaves the driveway at 8:20. Be in it or walk to school.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m still irritated, still in despair that I’m producing a lackadaisical, disorganized bum who will never keep a job or friends due to chronic tardiness. But I’m trying–as embarrassing as it is to say–to give my child the same respect I’m giving my mailman.