Mean Girls

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teen-cell

Yesterday, I got a text from daughter while she was on her three girl sleepover hang-out.

“It’s annoying when everything your friend does has to be better than you.”

I text: “Hells yes.”

She texts: “She does all this stuff, can afford whatever, does all these programs because she can afford it. I just don’t like being the broke girl with divorced parents.”

I read this and my heart sinks. My heart sinks because I KNOW.

know.

I text: “I know. It must be hard. Honestly, I don’t like being the broke divorced mom either. I am sorry, honey. I wish it were different. Try to see what you DO have… like a loving brother.”

She texts: “Yeah. But it’s different for me though. Whenever we talk about anything it’s all horseback riding and I was on a national gymnastics team and I have a beach house, etc. etc.”

I text: “Try not to compare. I know when I compare I feel miserable.”

She texts: “BUT SHE WON’T SHUT THE F UP ABOUT IT!”

Yes, she really texts that.

I text: “Talk about your singing, your writing, your stories, your grades. You are great from the inside out. Not the other way around. If she won’t shut the F up, she needs to hear herself, know what I am saying?”

She texts: “She has amazing grades, she THINKS she is a good writer, she has money and parents who are married. What else does she need?”

I text: “Apparently to shut up and learn some humility.”

Right??

She texts: “If my self-esteem were any lower than it is right now, it would be 20,000 leagues under the sea.”

I put the iPhone down. I sit, remembering all the triangulation between teenage girlfriends growing up. All the betrayal, mistrust and humiliation. But mostly the exclusion.

Who is “in” today. Who is “out”.

This is the thing girls do to gain control of one another. While the boys fight it out after school, we are busy leaving each other out.

Before long, daughter arrives home. And she starts talking. First slowly, but in a very short time the dam bursts.

She says, “We were skating and “M” and “S” were always skating together, holding hands and every time I came up and tried to hold hands and skate they would skate away, or tell me, ‘Oh it’s too hard to skate in threes’ or something. It just kept happening and they were all acting like it was me making it up but they were really doing it!”

She is crying now. “They kept saying, ‘What’s the matter with you anyway?’ and I tried to talk to them and they were just like ‘ok…’ and walked away. I was just standing there by myself. It was horrible!”

I hug her. All her black eyeliner in running down her face. I pet her head.

The she says, “And “M” just thinks she is the best at everything. It makes me so sick!”

Now she is REALLY crying. Big crocodile tears. I keep listening. I hold in all my mama revenge thoughts.

“It sounds really hard honey. It reminds me of when I was growing up. Girls would leave each other out, write mean things on the bathroom wall…”

“They still do that!” she says.

“I bet.” I say.

She pauses.

“Mom. When we were on the train they kept walking away. They would be in one spot together. Then when I came over they would move!”

“Whoa!” I say. “You know though, that kind of stuff is not about you. You are just the convenient target for their control issue.”

But I can feel the humiliation. I want so bad to solve it all for her. But I know I cannot.

She cries in my arms. We talk about growing up female. We talk about friends and middle school and high school. Soon she is wiping her eyes and making Goth girl eyeliner jokes.

After a while she gets up and goes about her business. I sit on the floor and think.

I hope I have been a good listener. I know there are two sides to every story, but I want to tell daughter to never, ever, ever, never hang out with those two girls again.

I know this day in her life has left a mark.

I hope it is a learning mark.

Blurred (Gender) Lines

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I have a daughter. She is eight. I just want to repeat that for the record – she is EIGHT.

The other day I was asked if I’m worried she is a lesbian. This question didn’t come out of the blue – it came after a ten minute conversation with the lady doing my eyebrows. She’d asked me if I have any children and we got chatting about my daughter. I was waffling away and when I’d finished explaining what my daughter is like, the beauty therapist asked me.

At first I was speechless. Then I laughed. Then AWKWARD. Then I mumbled an “I don’t mind” and left.

Five minutes later, I’m in my car and I’m really annoyed. I’m annoyed at myself for my lack of articulation and I’m annoyed because the lady’s reaction is exactly the kind of reaction I have seen towards my daughter for the past four years. She was just more vocal about it than most people.

The thing is, my daughter is a tomboy. Not just a climbing trees, kicking a football around kind, but a 100% dedicated to EVERYTHING BOY kind.

From the minute she turned four, she refused to wear dresses. She joined Beavers when all her peers were joining Rainbows and her Christmas lists include skateboards, black skull duvet covers and Spiderman hoodies. She wears boys clothes, boys school uniform, boys shoes and tucks her long hair into a baseball cap. At our 10th wedding anniversary party, she wore a suit. Often, she wants to be called Sam or Ben. She doesn’t know Snow White or the Little Mermaid but some of her best friends are Batman characters.

I used to laugh because I thought it was just a phase. But here we are four years later and nothing has changed. Well, something has… I have.

The thing is, you see, people don’t really understand a girl who dresses like a boy and I have no right to get annoyed about that because, once, I was exactly the same. Oh yes, I used to laugh – but that laughter soon turned to worry. Worry that there was something wrong with her, worry that she had gender dysphoria and worry that people would think that I was forcing her to be this way. But worried most of all because she just wasn’t how I’d imagined my little girl to be and it was having an effect on our relationship. I didn’t understand her.

I was confused because all around me I saw daughters with ribbons in their hair, wearing Cinderella dresses and playing with Barbies. Then there was my daughter dressed in army camouflage, her face painted as a demon and her skull ‘n’ cross bones wellies – constantly being mistaken for a boy.

Her first teacher had a word with me once to say that she thought she had “issues with her self esteem”. The annual school dance was stressful because they couldn’t understand why she refused to wear a pretty dress. There were the odd comments from the girls in her class. She wanted to play with the boys, but although the boys were more accepting of her, at the end of the day she wasn’t a boy.

Then something happened which gave me the slap round the face I so needed. I was discussing her with a friend who cut me off mid-sentence and said “Claire. I’m not having this conversation with you now. She’s eight and she’s happy. If she’s a teenager with real issues, then we’ll have this discussion.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear. In those few moments I realized that my daughter is very special, indeed. She is unbelievably happy in her own skin and as for having “issues with her self esteem” well, hey, – she knows exactly who she is. I needed to concentrate on her, forget what other people think and sort out my own mistakes.

After all, even if she does turn out to be gay or want a sex change or damn, well anything else – what does it matter? Isn’t it better for a child to be open about what they want and who they are than to spend years hiding it away? I honestly don’t care as long as she’s happy and I’ll be there for her, no matter what.

The second I accepted who she is, is the second our whole relationship changed. No more battles over the baseball hat or clothes. No more me trying to get her into any girly activities. No more fights over her hair. In fact no more a mother being, in a way, disrespectful to a daughter who has a clear vision of who she is, even at age eight.

Recently, I’ve seen articles where people are complaining about their daughters being “clones” and “copycats”. I’ve read the Disney-Princesses-are-eating-my-daughter stuff and the complaints about pink-for-girls culture and marketing. Some people don’t want this for their daughters, it seems. They don’t want their daughters to conform, understandably, but of course it’s worrying if they DON’T. I’ve been there.

But here’s a thing – I have a daughter who doesn’t conform and who doesn’t even care about conforming, but it’s very rare that I see a reaction other than it’s bizarre. Like I said – she’s mistaken for a boy. Sometimes I correct people, sometimes I don’t, because she doesn’t give a monkeys. If I do correct, I usually get a strange look or a “Weird, I thought that was a boy.” comment. I’ve been asked if she’s a lesbian, if I’m worried she’ll want a sex change, if I’m gutted about not having a girly girl.

A good comparison is Shiloh Jolie-Pitt. The media reaction to seeing Shiloh with short hair and wearing a suit was outrageous to the point where there was even talk that Brad & Angelina had wanted a boy. I tell you now, I might not have much in common with Angelina Jolie but I bet we share this – a history of battles trying to get our daughters into a dress and now a deep admiration for a girl who would rather take the stick than be something she’s not.

And I’m sure Angelina has come to realize exactly what I’ve realized – that at age eight it’s so much more important to have a healthy, secure and happy child.

Yesterday my daughter told me that sometimes she gets asked by the kids at school if she’s a boy or a girl. I asked her how this made her feel. Her reply was “I don’t mind. I’m not bothered. They’ll learn.”

Yes they will, kiddo, I thought. They will.

Then I went right out and bought her a Batman bag.

The Race Towards Body Acceptance

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sink
Dear Shaila,

I am 37 years old as I write this. I know that might seem old to you when you read this and there was a time where I would have thought the same thing. 37 was where you went to die once your life stopped being fun. You encountered it as you approached the twilight years (your 40s) and Spanx became your best friend. 37 wasn’t a number I was particularly looking forward to, and it came upon me much quicker than I expected.

Do you know how many months are in 37 years, Shaila? 444 months. That’s a LOT of months. Do you know of those 444 months, how many I was actually satisfied or content with what I saw in the mirror?

Zero.

Yes.

None.

How does that happen? You know, I don’t really know what to tell you, honey. I know that there was a brief period in the summer before fourth grade that I thought I was remotely passable, especially when your Nana and Nani got me that wicked denim jacket from Sears.

Other than that, I never really liked what I saw.

When I was younger, I always wished I had shiny, straight hair. I also wished I looked like my other friends, which basically meant being white.

When I got to high school, I accepted my curls. For two minutes. I spent the rest of the four years wishing I was taller and thinner. Prettier. Less meaty.

Less, GOSH.

Less me, maybe?

In my twenties, my thighs were too big. My waist not small enough. My arms? Never quite right.

In my thirties, they were even more NOT right. Not only that. People were finding new things to “fix.” Some women even started talking about surgeries like vaginal rejuvenation to make their hoo-hoos prettier after childbirth. Your own Mommy looked down and said, “Oh great! another thing to add to the list!”

Yes, Shaila. People apparently have pretty ones and NOT so pretty ones. That is the society we live in, baby.

And for whatever reason, even knowing how messed up it all is, I have bought into all of it.

No, I didn’t blow your college fund on vaginal rejuvenation.

Not yet, anyway.

It’s just that, do you know that since I was 15 years old, there has not been ONE SINGLE DAY of my life where I have thought, “My weight is perfect. I look perfect”?

There has not been one day that I haven’t compared myself mentally in some way to another woman, in terms of my size, in terms of my appearance.

NOT. ONE. SINGLE. DAY.

Do you know what that makes me realize as I sit here today and I write this? At 37 years old. With a 5 1/2 year old daughter?

That I have wasted a whole lot of fucking time. So much fucking time wishing I was something other than what I was.

Excuse my language, dear.

But fuck, it makes me really, really sad.

I wish I could rewind things and go back and shake myself and say, “Love THIS. Enjoy THIS moment. It goes by too fast. You look fine. DAMN fine. But even if you didn’t? Who cares?!!!”

I wish I could, but you know what else? I need to shake myself now. Here. Now. Really hard. Because I still can’t seem to make that leap between unrealistic expectations that I will never, ever be able to fulfill and just accepting myself.

What the hell kind of message am I sending to you, my only daughter? I ask myself this as I have this realization. I tell you every day how perfect you are. How beautiful your heart and your mind and you soul are. So, why do I expect you to believe me when I never stopped, not one of those 13,510 days, to believe in myself just a little more?

Not ONE day, honey.

Not for 37 years.There are so many messages I send you every day. One of those messages has never been that Mommy feels comfortable in her own skin. The message has always been that Mommy needs to change some things. But don’t worry! She’s getting there!

But I never get there. Ever. It’s a race that just never ends.

I need to stop running it.

For your sake.

And for mine.

Love,

Mommy

 

25 Rules for Raising Daughters

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hippy-girl

1. Teach your daughter to never allow herself to be anyone’s property and that you will disown her if she ever wears shorts that claim otherwise.

2. Teach your daughter to talk about her feelings – not eat them or purge them. Or if she doesn’t want to talk, teach her to express her feelings through writing, art, music, sports, etc. Anything but food.

3. Teach your daughter to work with what she’s got and love what she’s got. Tall, short, fat, thin, your daughter is beautiful – inside and out. Make sure you tell her all the time and make sure she believes it.

4. Teach your daughter to like and respect herself and demand respect from those around her. She might end up lonely at times, but at least she won’t be a doormat.

5. Teach your daughter that “fish lips” photos are never appropriate and never attractive.

6. Teach your daughter to value herself enough to defend herself – physically and verbally. Let your daughter watch “The Burning Bed.” She’ll never forget it and she’ll always know she has “options” if she finds herself in an abusive relationship.

7. Teach your daughter to go easy on the plastic surgery.

8. Teach your daughter to be strong and confident in her abilities and not be afraid of failure. Teach her that sometimes she will fail, but she can’t let that fear stop her from trying something.

9. Teach your daughter that she has the right to get loud. Make sure she knows girls can get angry, they can have opinions and they can throw “lady like” behavior out the window if necessary.

10. Teach your daughter to never text/email/snail mail naked photos of herself to anyone. Ever. Ever. Ever.

11. Teach your daughter what a “douche canoe” is so she can avoid them.

12. Teach your daughter to never steal her best friend’s boyfriend. That’s just a real skank move. What is it that our mothers always told us? “Boys come and go, but girlfriends are forever.” Still true.

13. Teach your daughter that having her underwear and half her ass hanging out the back of her jeans is not attracting anyone substantial nor does it make her look smart – even in the library.

14. Never let your daughter wear clothing with sexually inappropriate “cutesy” sayings.

15. Teach your daughter that smart girls get further in life than slutty girls.

16. Teach your daughter to walk away from the teen magazines. There is so much pressure put on young girls these days to look pretty or hot it’s nauseating.

17. Don’t let your 9 year old dancer look like a 25 year Pussycat Doll.

18. Teach your daughter that bigger boobs isn’t necessarily a good thing.

19. Don’t let your daughter marry young. Encourage her to get out and see the world, live on her own and figure out who she is and what she wants in a partner before she settles down.

20. Teach your daughter that there’s nothing wrong with staying home on a Friday night and reading a good book, but try to get her to read more than just Chick Lit. Give her The Gift of Fear. This book really empowers women to spot danger signals. Unfortunately in the world we live in, this is an important gift to have.

21. Teach your daughter to beat the boys at their own games.

22. Teach your daughter to be able to laugh at herself and have a sense of humor. There are so many women I meet that say they have a sense of humor, but they really don’t.

23. Teach your daughter that the “Queen Bees” and “Wanna Bees” and “mean girls” are a waste of time and she should just invest in one or two great friends. 

24. Don’t allow her to pierce or tattoo her body until she’s on her own.

25. Teach your daughter that her choices in life are limitless. She really can do anything – except maybe use the Men’s Restroom.

10 Promises I’ve Made to my Daughter

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happy girl

My sweet daughter, I know you have only been on this planet 6 years, but I already feel the world trying to pull you from me, trying to yank your childhood out from under the both of us. In light of this, I make you these promises. 

1. I promise to encourage you to love your body. I promise you will never hear me utter the words “diet” or “fattening”. You will never hear me complain about my weight or my looks. (Even when you point out the lines around my eyes, I will always tell you they’re from laughing.) I won’t ever let you complain about your body, either. I will not have it. You are healthy. Nothing else matters. NOTHING.

2. I will never tell you that you can’t do something because you’re a girl. I’m so proud to see you stick with basketball. Even though you’re sometimes the only girl on the team and no one passes to you, I love to watch how ferociously you guard your opponent, and how fast you run the length of the court. When you scramble for the ball, my heart soars. I promise that I will always encourage that fire within you.

3. I will never let you be the mean girl. I don’t EVER want to find out that you’ve purposefully excluded someone, or acted in a hurtful way to another person. This world is too harsh, particularly to little girls, and if you are participating in making another child feel inferior, I will make sure you never do it again. I am speaking from experience and love.

4. I will shield you from the misogynistic world of advertising as long as I can. I know I can’t keep you innocent forever, but for as long as I can, I will keep you away from magazines touting weight loss secrets and magic firming creams to maintain your youth. Your life will be spent dodging the media’s messages that you are not beautiful, so I will protect you as long as I can, until your skin is thick enough to deflect their vicious attacks.

5. I will always encourage you to live large and loudly. That does not mean you can be disrespectful, but I want your voice to be strong and confident- your words matter, make them heard! I don’t care how crazy your idea is- share it with passion and claim your place in this world.

6. I will never tell you to “put on a little lipstick”. I hope you never look at your beautiful face in the mirror and think it needs makeup. But if you do, it won’t be from my influence.

7. I will keep you a little girl as long as I can. Remember how mad I got when you attempted to twerk with that tiny heinie of yours? I don’t care that you learned it from the girl on the bus, it’s inappropriate.  Too many girls grow up too fast, too soon. You will never have this time again-  so take all the time in the world to play with dolls and dream of horses and sparkly fairy dust. Let the magic of your imagination sustain you as long as you can.

8. I promise to listen to you with an open mind. I want to hear your dreams, your opinions and your perspective on life. I love seeing the world through your eyes. It may not always be practical (or even sane), but I’m continuously amazed that I helped create a human being who has the capability for so much silliness, intensity and wisdom. I know we’re going to have some incredible debates over the next 50-odd years.

9. I promise to love you no matter what. No matter how many times you tell me you hate me through your teen years, I will remember that you have raging hormones and that you have, unfortunately, inherited my temper. I can’t promise I will sit silently when you unleash your inner bitch, but I promise to hug you close every night and forgive you for your transgressions.

10. If you didn’t get the message already, I love you to the moon and back. I take my job as your mom seriously, and for that reason, I am putting these promises in writing and ask you to hold me accountable to each of them.

All my love,

Mom

Mothers & Daughters

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Jeff and I were lazy parents last night. We stuck the kids in our bed, put on a movie and decided they could just fall asleep without teeth brushing, stories and songs.

The two of us sat on the couch together; no computers, no kids. It was nice. We talked.

Jeff told me about how sweet Lily has been with him lately.

The night before, when he tucked her in, the two of them lay side by side in her twin bed and reminisced. He told the story of the night he fell in love with her, in her lilac room in our very first house. She was a few months old and crying in her crib. He went it to console her and she looked up at him, smiled and he melted, as only a father can.

He told her of the time when he’d been away on business and came home and she was so happy to see him that she cried tears of joy as she hugged him close. She teared up and cuddled with him, remembering that feeling. They traded countless stories and laughed and dozed off together.

She’s been amazing, lately, Jeff said, his voice shaking. Fathers and daughters, I sighed.

He looked at me, expectantly.

She told me she hated me four times today, I contributed.

Mothers and daughters.

On Having a Girl

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Having a girl is hard. I mean, mine isn’t even six yet; she’s years away from puberty, and it’s still hard…

I have issues with food. I am beginning a diet for the 397th time on Monday. The Monday after Thanksgiving, as I have every year that I can recall. I aspire to again fit into my skinny-ish jeans. Not the skinny jeans that I wore in college or the even skinnier ones I wore the months leading up to my wedding, but the skinny-ish ones I wore after I had Evan. Before that, I was at my smallest weight ever months during the months after Ben was born. His hospital fridge was stocked with Enfmail and Slimfast. I was motivated. I was ready. And I got there, but just couldn’t maintain it. It’s actually the reason I went off of birth control pills; the notion of being able to eat again over-rod my fears of having another child. A year before that, I intentionally got pregnant with Ben to be pregnant during my college roommate’s wedding. Being the knocked up bridesmaid was far preferable to being the heaviest one.

Lily refuses to wear flowy clothes. She claims they make her look “flat” and by “flat” she means “fat” and it’s tragic and funny all at once. She’s not even six years old for crying out loud.

When I was about ten, I stole a candy bar from a supermarket. I clumsily shoved it in my pocket while an off duty security guard watched and reported it my parents who were mere feet away. I know they were concerned: What deep-seeded issues did I have? Did I need therapy? Have an eating disorder? What should they do? Nothing, I thought. I just wanted a fucking candy bar.

Lily has been sneaking food from home. I find wrappers under the bed and smell chocolate on her breath. I see myself in her and it scares the shit out of me. I don’t want to be like my parents and limit junk food so rigidly that it becomes an obsession, but I feel like she needs strong boundaries. She’s built like a dancer and probably will never have the issues with weight that I do, but I want to do right by her. I am determining a life-long relationship with food for her, and the responsibility overwhelms me.

Being a girl is hard.

Having a girl is even harder.