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    Entries in children (2)


    I am not an astronaut and other failings

    A question I heard on the radio today struck me: would your six year old self like you? I hope that in my case the answer is yes, but what I really got to thinking about was if my adult self would live up to the expectations of my childhood. And that answer is, unequivocally, no.

    Many girls, whether because of social constructs or through their own choosing, dream of and plan to have children when they're still kids, themselves, but I wasn't one of those. I didn't fashion wedding gowns from my mom's cast-off dresses and I didn't imagine myself caring for babies. Once, while walking to my mom's car with her after a school function, she remarked to one of my ten year-old classmates that the baby on the girl's hip -- her own little sister -- was positioned just right, and I remember the eye roll of annoyed pity I shot in her direction. I just won the science fair, but have fun with that baby. 

    You could attribute my disdain for motherhood (because, let's be honest, that's what it was) to any number of things: the fact that the feminism of the time wasn't particularly supportive of mothers (and my exposure to it WHICH I DO NOT REGRET FOR ONE MOMENT through my own mom), my disappointment in the way women were pigeonholed into the role whether they wanted to be or not. But the biggest reason was probably the fact that I had little faith in my own ability to rise above my family of origin and the world around me to turn out happy, functional people of my own making. 

    Now, that sounds really depressing, especially coming from a then-ten year old, I know. It was depressing. I was a depressed kid, situationally, chemically, but my line of thinking also felt plainly realistic. I believed what others told me -- that everyone was just doing his or her best -- and I assumed that anger, cruelty, addiction, apathy and all the other trappings of dysfunctional families were just some people's natural states, and the matter couldn't be helped. The best I could do was take the phone off at the root, so to speak. If others just did the same, I thought, we'd certainly have less unhappiness to deal with.

    In my late teens and early twenties I adopted as reasons for childlessness the issues of overpopulation and environmental responsibility. Having kids was just irresponsible, I railed. I've heard it over and over and over since then, said by young women not (in any substantial ways) unlike I was at twenty to my face while I held a baby in my womb, in my arms, as my only child turned into two. They don't mean harm, and I don't take offense. I've thought the same thing, and don't totally disagree with them, in any case. 

    I don't mean that they're necessarily going to see the folly in their thinking; plenty of people choose not to have kids for exactly those reasons, justifiably, and stick contentedly to their choice. But I don't guess I'm the only one who looked for more socially acceptable, more enlightened, less pathetic-sounding reasons for childlessness than I'm afraid of myself and the world around me. 

    Obviously, at some point, I changed my tune, since I have two children. I never stopped questioning my own desire to have kids (and this is the reason why I try to limit our consumption and live consciously), but I did stop questioning my own ability to grow. Because I don't consider myself a naturally nurturing person, I researched. I researched my ass off, and continue to. I read a lot about child development so I know how to adjust my expectations. So I can forgive myself the time I embarrassed my dad in a restaurant and received a spanking despite my behavior being normal, expected, and incidentally out of character for a child like I was, who had been manipulated into "behaving" because I believed my parents' love to be contingent on my doing so. I contracted with my kids that I would learn everything I could so that I could be the mama they deserve.
    I also stopped telling myself I was doing the best I could. My therapist argued about this for years, literally, but I think this practice can serve as one big crutch to lean on when our pasts loom so large that we feel bent under their weight. Even though I knew that I would fuck up, I birthed these little creatures, and despite fucking up all the time, I keep trying. Yelling is not my best. Manipulation is not my best. Bribing is not my best. I will own up to feeling the tsk-tsk of my conscience when I resort to bad mothering, and ignoring it. I admit that I think, sometimes, I just want you to ___! What will it take? And it's in those moments that I am willfully not doing my best. It pains me to say so; one of the traits I adopted when my family made it obvious that my brain mattered more than my feelings was precision. Correctness. I hate being wrong, and yet. I am, many, many times a day, because I'm a parent. Because I'm human, and we're wrong. A lot. This is not something that ever was presented to me as a possibility, let alone a universal truth. 
    Even though I'm wrong like a million times an hour, I'd like to think that the six year old me, and the ten year old me would be impressed that I've taken the initiative to learn. They'd look at my empirical data, they'd look at my bookshelf and be satisfied that I may not be an astronaut but I am using my brain. In fact, I might be using my brain in a way more beneficial than they teach at space camp. They might like to hang out with me. They might think I was a loser, but guaranteed they'd think I was a nice, respectful one. 



    on tramps 

    This week, a male sports columnist -- a single father to a son -- wrote an opinion piece for, a website I only visit when I'm directed there by others' outrage. He asked the parents of America to stop dressing their daughters "like tramps" and, in an undoubtedly purposefully creepy and inflammatory way, described a young girl as "the sexiest" person in the room. He posits that we can blame retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch if we want to, but the problem is really that parents don't set boundaries in favor of acting like their childrens' friends, allowing them to wear halter tops and Juicy Couture track suits, enabling perverty weirdos (who may or may not work for CNN) to leer at them. Lowering their self esteem via teensy padded bras. 


    I agree with him on one point: parents DON'T set boundaries, but it's nothing to do with buying size 6X thongs. Little girls live in the world with the rest of us. The world where famous women are simultaneously glorified and demonized for their bodies, their appearance, the lengths to which they go in order to stay relevant and beautiful. These little girls have mothers who diet, buy fashion magazines full of altered images of already nearly physically "flawless" women. Mothers who buy Spanx and padded bras and minimizer bras and ask apologetically before they leave the house if they look halfway decent. We present to them a framework of femininity that leaves no room for fat unless you're also hilarious (and sexless). No room for short. Or too tall. Or broad-shouldered or thin-lipped or round-assed lest you suffer the same fate as Jennifer Lopez who cannot be called beautiful without the qualifier of CURVY, even after carrying twins. 

    And if you misstep? If you somehow fail to strike that perfect balance of demure but hot, available and eager but hard-to-get, if your skirt is half an inch too short and your expression reads less-than-interested? WHORE. You think you're too good for me, bitch? Fat slut. Ugly. You'd be kinda hot if you weren't such a bitch. These have all been said to me, without provocation, after polite refusals of come-ons. If you find that surprising, you haven't been in a bar recently. And by recently, I mean ever.

    What LZ Granderson's article (which I will not link to, but is fully google-able) about child tramps failed to address is what got us here in the first place. What makes little girls want to dress scantily, suggestively. Why it's not their fault, or their mothers' fault for buying the stupid crap, but all of our fault for wondering aloud in the doctor's office while reading US Weekly if Jessica Alba is pregnant again because she looks a little... thick, if you know what I mean. We don't set boundaries, but failing to do so at the mall is the least of our problems. We need to identify the ways in which we propagate this poison. Start saying, in front of our daughters, I LOOK FUCKING GREAT TODAY, instead of, "Do these give me a muffintop?" Better yet, I AM A GOD DAMNED GENIUS WITH A CROCK POT or whatever other affirmations actually matter to their lives. Start setting an example of good. Of smart and interested and involved instead of not-really-pretty-but-trying. Yes, stop buying that glittery "girly" junk, those track suits and gross underthings, but if we imbue girls with worth beyond or instead of their looks, they won't want it anyway. 

    There are ways to address the problem of sexualizing children without further marginalizing women, without insulting sex workers, without contributing to the very mindset that created all those horrific screen printed slogans. LZ Granderson just wasn't interested in going there. I am, though, and I'll keep rooting for girls, advocating for them instead of shaming them for participating in the cultural mess we made long before they got here. 

    Sorry, Chelsea; it was just too perfect not to use. Love you/miss you.