There are some milestones that I have breathlessly watched for—first steps, “mom”, reading, riding a bike. I rejoice as the girls achieve them and some times find myself a bit crestfallen at how much they make me ache. Over the past few months I’ve realized that we’ve reached a new one and it terrifies me. All three girls are sitting on an axis that is tilting them toward a new realm that involves unabashed worship of kids older than they are.
I can see it in the trance-like effect of movies, the absolute silence that comes over them when we pass a group of teenagers, the way their necks crane when we pass the neighbor’s house that is always peppered with boys playing basketball without shirts. They quietly posture, affecting poses to look older. Finley is less fluid, the exaggerated swiveling of her hips more comical than anything, but her sisters not so. They are devouring each teen sighting as if they’ve been assigned a character study in theatre.
Just last week I watched Avery as she quietly ate a Freeze Pop and watched a crew of teenage girls of all sizes race around a pool. I wish that I didn’t, but I found myself thinking, “I’m so glad that she’s just eating a popsicle. I don’t want the day to come when it becomes about calories and whether or not she deserves it.” I watched the girls too. They went from launching themselves off of the diving board to riding four wheelers to tearing around the yard hurling one-liners at one another. I found myself thinking how glad I was that they were such great role models, but then I remembered how much testing and experimenting is done at that age. They aren’t supposed to be perfect role models; they need to do dumb things. Testing the waters of sexuality and rebellion is critical, how do you not watch like a hawk and impede those instincts that they have to try things, fail or triumph, and learn to deal with either outcome?
I have no idea what to do, how loudly to speak, or how plainly to display my dismay over certain things. All three girls are obsessed with the song Timber. Some people might judge me for letting them listen to a song like that, but the reality is there are so many hours of the day that I don’t monitor, can’t monitor. The truth is they knew the lyrics to the song (with some comical errors) before I’d even heard it. Cafeteria? Movie? I have no idea where they learned it, but they did. Am I supposed to go into what some of the words may mean? Am I supposed to say that they can’t listen to Kesha? Or do I tell them that she is a great cautionary tale of how things can derail and that it’s never too late to change something?
The truth is I hate so much of what may be ahead. The size wars—it took me thirty years to not judge myself for my size ten feet or for knowing that I’ll never be below a size 28 in designer jeans and that in many stores, despite being skinny, they just don’t carry my size. I’m only just now ok with buying a size large shirt to accommodate my shoulders. The apologizing for every little thing? It’s maddening. The threat of assault, the doubt, the judgment. The focus on women aging and the sustained critiquing over whether or not you still have it. Being too vocal, too aggressive, dressing too this way or that way. It’s like a lifetime penance for playing with dolls, we’re treated like dolls—don’t dress like that, don’t say that, fit into a tidy model, you aren’t smart enough for that.
I am rambling, which I think is normal. I have three daughters to raise in a world that I am still trying to figure out myself. How do I teach them not to be overly concerned about image when it still matters to me? How do I give them license to love themselves, to enjoy feeling pretty or sloppy when I still berate myself for not being able to do certain things? Can it be taught to embrace all paths—boys who cry, boys who don’t, girls who are curvy and girls who are flat? Do I teach them what I’ve learned about scanning a room to know whether it’s safe to say a certain thing or not? Do I express my hope that they don’t grow up to start a massage parlor and salon in LA called The Jolly Fox or do I delight in the fact that they are imaginative and driven?
I suppose that we all just have to take it day by day and allow ourselves the same forgiveness as we too experiment with boundaries. Maybe the secret is honoring a five second delay before I launch into my opinion on something.
Waiting a moment before judging can’t be a bad thing for anyone, right?
Tagged: #IStandWithJada, #likeagirl, #shinestrong, acceptance, body shame, Confidence, daughters, feminism, J.Crew, tweens
I think the five second delay is a very good thing. I need to employ it a bit more.
Yes, a good safety measure 🙂
This is so similar to the sentiment I wrote about this week too, though I’m a few years behind you and your girls (I think . . . I hope). It’s all so tricky, but I love the notion of waiting a pace or two before making judgments. Already I sense I am going to be too quick to pony up my two cents even before I’ve waited to see how something my daughter attempts/tests might fully play out. If I wait, it might all lend itself to its own (and more instructive) lesson. I appreciate your honesty here, especially because I feel like you, and a few others with daughters older than mine, are such great signposts of the uneven terrain ahead.
Hopefully we can all keep talking.
Oh, I think about this all the time. All the time. I think the notion of a five second delay and some processing time is a good one, though beyond that I don’t have anything to offer. I’m glad to know you’re by my side as we head down this road, though. As an aside, I’ve started to think that widening the space between an input and my reaction to it may be one of the goals of my life. ox
Amanda, for years you’ve been one of my favorite writers. I began following your blogs when my oldest daughter was a newborn, and through the years, I, too, became a mother of 3 girls, and have always enjoyed your posts as a peek of what I’ll be tackling in the coming years. My girls are 7, 4, and 1. You do such a great job of capturing being a wife, mother, and daughter. I don’t know exactly how to tell you how much your writing has meant to me.
All that said…I felt betrayed a few weeks ago when you pulled an immature mean girl move by posting a picture on twitter of a stranger’s toenails that you “will never understand.” Now bear with me, but with your stand on body shaming and feminism and empowerment, I don’t know what part of you thought it was okay to take a picture of another person’s body part (toes, legs, breasts, elbows: all body parts), post it publicly on the internet, and criticize it. Would it be okay for someone to photograph part of your body and post it online with a caption of scorn? When I read it, I suddenly wondered if your writing – the same writing that has inspired and motivated me through a great deal of parenthood – was for real.
I’m imagining you reading this comment, wondering what crazy chick cares if you make fun of someone’s toenails…but you have to understand that you are part of the problem now. When one can’t even sit in the airport without wondering who will take a picture of their toes and make fun of it…It is the same body shaming that you decry. You don’t know that person’s story.
It made me sad and really changed my impression of you.
Meredith, that’s completely fair comment. I admit that my behavior as I travel, which is very infrequent, is different as I cope with fear of flying. That doesn’t condone being mean.
The tweet that you are referencing was about not understanding long toenails. I have been mocked while having pedicures for having too short toenails and so I was very sincere in stating that I do not understand long toenails. That said, I can see how it could be interpreted as contributing to the problem.
I have always believed that we are all a part of the problem and capable of being a part of new solutions. I am not perfect, I hope I never suggested that I was. If you choose to see this as something that discounts what I portray here, that’s your right.
I am sorry that you were hurt.
This reminds me of what you wrote about perfectionism a while ago, specifically perfectionism in being a mother. I understand what you’re up against, I worry about it, too — I have a daughter, who is much younger, but nevertheless already knows the lyrics to Katy Perry songs.
But it’s not completely up to us! We don’t have to teach them everything. We don’t even really need to teach them ANYTHING. They are smart and perceptive and passionate, and also they are bound to struggle with something. The struggle is ok.
Love your writing. xo
As a mother of three daughters (28, 17, 15) I can completely relate to what you have written here. We as mothers, know the curse (not THAT curse!!) which comes with being female. The blessing. The beauty. The shame. The changing body. The critical self. The comparison. The competition.
I remember vividly the days of looking for that “thigh gap” to prove that I had good thighs. Even when I wore 30″38″ Levis, I never had that sought after thigh gap. And now. Now my youngest (5’8″ and a size 2) wishes she had a bigger booty. Apparently, today it is all about the booty and the bigger and rounder the better. Knowing that the bar we measure ourselves against is always changing, it becomes even more important to find ways to love ourselves that are related to what we can do with our bodies and not what they can do for others. I see my girls, all of them, get a great deal of pride and satisfaction out of their own physical strength. One plays roller derby and hula hoops. One loves basketball. The youngest keeps trying new things (lacrosse, ballet, tap, hula hooping, soccer, baseball, knitting, beading…) and still looks ahead to new things she wants to try.
The world will challenge them in so many ways. Our job is to be that safe and loving place for them to try, fail, try again, and know they are loved and accepted, even if they don’t have this year’s big booty…
I think it’s hilarious that your girls like Timber. Just evidence that so much of parenting is totally random and out of our control. And also evidence of how neurotic the mother culture has become that we worry about this. (As an example my husband thought nothing of singing Red Solo Cup with the boys when they were 7 and 4.)
I have 2 boys but worry about so many of the same things you worry about with your girls but with different specifics. Should I be worried my 8 year old knows about crushes and tesla me about girls who “like” him? Is he going to be ok even though he can’t play baseball? Am I too critical of him, do I hover, if I give him too
Much space will he think I don’t care?
Thank you for capturing these nebulous and confusing times so beautifully.
With three boys to parent and raise, my feelings are similar, yet so different. Reading about a rape at my college alma mater made me pause to think about what the college environment will be like when my three boys are college-aged and are tackling, without parental supervision, the boundaries of drinking, dating and unfamiliar situations. Oh, my heart. I can only hope and pray that our home environment, where we lead by example and lots of communication, is one that readies them for their lives ahead.