“Look, Mom.” My 13-year-old daughter’s eyes shone with a sort of mischief as she called me in from the hallway. I stood in her doorway and watched as she opened her top drawer and proceeded to hold up the teeniest, tiniest thong I’d ever seen. Momentarily halted (“DON’T TASE ME, BRO!”), I just blinked. I’m assuming my face froze unnaturally (or maybe I just dropped the laundry basket, I can’t remember) because she added quickly, “Don’t worry, I got it on sale.”
Good God. How was my head supposed to explode off my neck when she was following my cardinal rule? I drew a breath, nodded and did what any other mom would do: turned on my heel and left. I needed a mom moment. For sure.
It’s not that I feel seventh grade is entirely too early for thongs (I do), and it’s not that I don’t particularly see the need for invisible panty lines in middle school (I don’t). The bigger issue, as I see it, is the undeniable and intrinsic empowerment of a thong. Any female that’s ever donned one knows there’s a hell of a lot more going on than invisible panty lines. It’s as if there’s a secret sexual revolution going on in your pants. I guess I wasn’t expecting a thong—and everything that comes with it — in middle school and worse– from her.
She’s hip. She gets it (only mothers of teenagers who don’t get it fully understand this phrase. Trust me, my eldest teenager, a boy, does not get it. They become husbands who don’t get it. I digress…). But my savvy, sassy daughter? She’s confident. And reflective. And beautiful. Not beautiful in the kum-ba-ya sense that “all kids are beautiful,” but beautiful enough that our friends nod knowingly and offer “yeah, good luck with that” condolences or “got the shotgun ready?” inquiries whenever she whisks through the room. The truth is she doesn’t need a thong. I only wish she knew that.
My daughter might disagree (umm… quite loudly, I imagine) but I happen to think I’m a fairly cool mom. My hair’s not stuck in a time warp, I tend to favor high heels with just about anything and I am incredibly adept at the muffin-top-camouflage. Still, even the coolest parent will grimace when their baby girl wants to be sexy. I’m not a soapbox-standing mom who’s going to blame the demise of teenage morals on MTV or say the world’s going to hell in a handbasket because some emaciated Barbie traded her bikini top for peanut butter on Survivor. I know sex is everywhere we turn, but I also know I’ve instilled some pretty good values into my little girl’s head. So why the sudden need for the inner strength of sexuality?
Having been a teenager myself, I well remember the gradual ascent of provocative dress. In junior high, my Maybelline Nautical Blue eyeliner was smuggled into the roller rink undetected in my Jordache pocket. It was also was wiped clean off my face before my pick up hours later. In high school, weekend club-hopping called for white anklets and cotton-candy-colored pumps paired with denim mini-skirts (Hello… Long Island in the ’80s? Really? I was far from alone). I understand the glorious burst of self-esteem that comes from feeling sensual. I sooo get it. But the image of a sexy pink string just visible over the tiny waistband of my daughter’s jeans? That just might send me over the edge. This is so not Nautical Blue eyeliner.
My inability to come up with an intelligent (or ANY for that matter) response was eating at me. Clearly this was some type of mother-daughter milestone that shouldn’t be dismissed with some dropped laundry. I fretted for hours while my daughter easily resumed her life, humming effortlessly without noticing the elephant in the room (the irony being that our particular elephant was the size of a Band-Aid). If she felt the need to be secretly sexy, I didn’t want to deny her the nourishment that her self-image might need at this particular moment in adolescence. At the same time, I didn’t want to send her father to the emergency room should he catch a glimpse of it for the first time while walking into Chili’s.
Right before I turned in for bed, I noticed her light was still on (of course it was; parents of teenagers already know their children turn into vampires after their 12th birthday. I haven’t stayed up past my two older kids since the season finale of Lost). She looked up at me, questioningly. Here was our big moment. I cleared my throat.
“The thong?” I asked plainly. It was as if she had to remember.
“Yeah?” She seemed unaffected, like I was inquiring about chorus practice or where she’d left my curling iron.
“If I ever see it, I will cut it with scissors.”
She didn’t skip a beat and went back to her textbook. “Got it.”
And that was that.
I imagine June Cleaver might have spent a bit more than 11 seconds on the entire interaction, but I know my point got across. Some things work best when hidden. And some feelings of empowerment are meant to be savored—privately. You know. Where Dad can’t detect them.