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Posts Tagged ‘sons’

Why can’t I tell my daughter she’s pretty?

Will that make her believe her sole worth is tied up in the beauty I see in her face? Will it ensure that she develops an eating disorder or a personality complex or make her vain or narcissistic? Will my name come up all too often in future therapy sessions because I told her she was pretty and that somehow manifested itself into me being a mother who put too much importance on her physical looks?

I was shopping for clothes at the local second-hand store with my kids and had two simultaneous realizations that… I suppose, are very much related.

My oldest daughter (who will be 16 in a few weeks), was drawn immediately to the rows of shorts — micro-mini-shorts. I said, “no”, without so much as a look in her direction. Then, her logic hit me… with overwhelming force, as most teenage logic does.

She stared deep into my eyes and asked, “do you think I’m a slut if I wear short shorts?”

 “No!”, I vehemently denied, without hesitation.

Of course I don’t think my daughter is a slut… what I was thinking about was if others would think she was a slut. The visions of Rush Limbaugh that floated through my mind at that very moment sickened me.  

Her words stopped me from traveling down a path that too many use as an excuse to defile girls… it made me remember this post I read a while ago about the amazing Eve Ensler. Our clothes and our looks should not define how we are treated by others… but often, it does.

This realization hit me like an elephant kicking me in the gut… how easy it was for me, a strong-willed-out-spoken-independent woman to fall into the trap of blame and shame.

My other realization was with my youngest daughter (8). She is, in childhood terms, chubby. I’ve been watching her gain weight the last couple of years… I changed her diet, began telling her the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, cut back on the high calorie meals, and cut out visits to fast food restaurants. Still, she steadily has gained weight. Her clothes are too long in length in order to get them to fit the waist. I worry and plan and worry some more.

Let me not fail to mention my son (13) — he went through a couple of years of chubby and now is thin… maybe too thin. I read an article on the growing number of boys affected by eating disorders. So, now I have my girls and my boy to consider with each word and glance and misplaced sigh of disapproval that escapes my body. I have to make a conscious effort to not fall into that trap of societal pressure — am I complimenting their brains enough, am I telling them how nice they are enough, am I encouraging their creative talents… enough?

So, here I am, in the middle of the consignment shop being questioned by my oldest as to if I think she is a slut for wearing certain types of clothes, ruminating about the food that I should and shouldn’t allow my youngest to eat, and wondering if I should be concerned about my son’s weight loss.

My horror at myself came when I grasped the uncomfortable fact that I was concerned about the perception of others… in some cases people I didn’t even know and probably wouldn’t want to know. I was concerned about how all of this would look reflected on me as a mother.

Later that day, when the stress was far behind and we had all retreated to our corners of the house, I googled “the best way to help your child eat healthy”. The first thing that popped up, surprisingly, was a direct answer to that question — “the best way to ensure your children make healthy choices in life is to let them see you make healthy choices”.

Okay.

Great.

Somehow it always rolls back around to being the mothers fault.

Now I realized I needed to focus attention away from my worries about the kids and look at myself… never a fun task. I had been eating healthy for over a year, my kids don’t even ask to go to fast food restaurants anymore, we have salads and fruits and lean meats. My oldest and I are currently practicing pescetarianism… the other two aren’t far behind. But, admittedly, I’ve been lacking on a steady exercise routine — this is where I needed to focus my change.

Last week I read an article about an article… I haven’t read the original article that seems to have pissed so many off. It’s in the April issue of Vogue and purchasing Vogue isn’t on my budgeted list. The original article by Dara-Lynn Weiss, talks about how she put her 7-year-old daughter on a diet. My dismay (along with others, I’m sure) is the way she went about it. In her own account, she talks about berating her daughter in public and focusing most of their private conversations around her daughters need to lose weight… I did mention she was 7, right?

I’m thinking Mrs. Weiss’ name will come up in future therapy sessions way more often then mine.

But… here’s the thing.

I think my youngest daughter is pretty and I do tell her this, often… physically attractive. I tell her I see her beauty in her mouth and her nose and her eyes that always pierce straight through to my soul. I see her beauty in the way she laughs and cries and screams and flashes those looks of contentment. I also think I need to show her how to be healthy by being consistently healthy myself — not by putting her on a diet or ridiculing her in public.

I think my oldest daughter is amazingly gorgeous — long and lean and silky hair and eyes that are a color that hasn’t been named yet. I tell her this often. She is also a brilliant reader and writer, an amazingly focused student, kind, and funny, and just the perfect amount of smartass to round her out. And I don’t think she dresses like a slut, I’m not even sure what a slut dresses like… a suit and tie, micro shorts, dread locks? I don’t know. And, I’m glad she stopped me as I ventured down a path that pisses me off when I hear others venturing down it — what we wear does not define who we are nor does it invite unwanted advances or unwanted criticism.

And my son… he’s absolutely adorable — long hair, long eyelashes, a smile that makes girls faint. I tell him how cute he is all the time. I tell him how kind he is all the time, almost saint like really. He’s smart and funny and laughs loud enough to catch a whole room on fire with his charm.

So, will they need therapy when they’re older — possibly.

Will they blame a mother who focused all her attention on their outward appearance — hell no.

Back to the article… I’m not necessarily counted in the “backlash” group. I’m not sure there’s an “I concur” group related to this but I’m sure I wouldn’t belong to it either. I’m just a mother who learned from the mistakes of my past and my mothers past and her mothers past. I’m a mother who thinks my kids are attractive and smart and kind and funny — the order of those changes, as it should.

My children, like your’s, are beautiful and have great hair and gorgeous smiles and enough intelligence to take-over the solar system and enough kindness in their souls to warm the Grinch’s icy heart.

I may think I’m shaping them into the adults they will become… but, really, they’re shaping me into the mother I will become.

Why can’t I tell my daughter she’s pretty?

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This is the second poem of the three I’ll be publishing this week. You can find the first one, “this is about you”, here. If you haven’t read it, I hope you will after you read this one… this one is for my son.

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You’re taller than me now,

you stand there and laugh as your eyes are able to look down on me.

I step back and remind you that I’m still older, I’m still in charge.

We laugh.

You sit next to me on my bed and tell me to listen to that song, the one I don’t understand the words to, the one I know if I tell you I don’t understand the words to you’ll walk away and I’ll be counted as just another parent who doesn’t understand… so I listen, and I smile, and I sway to the rhythm and we share that moment.

I know these moments will become fewer, these times when you jump on my bed and want to share your music and your books and your YouTube videos that I don’t understand either and so for now I don’t dare move off this bed.

I look at you and I see the man you’ll be, he’s already shown himself in this teenage form that he now occupies. He stands up in class and assertively tells the teacher she’s being a bigot, he gets in between the big kid on the bus who’s picking on the little kid on the bus, he tells that girl she’s pretty and he likes her. The man you will become has already introduced himself to me.

I wonder how you got so brave, how you became so fierce and fearless in just 13 years. I think about how much you teach me, how I feel more fierce when you tell me your stories because I think a part of me must be in you… a part of me must be beating in your soul, making you fierce. I think I must have some of that in me too so I breathe in deep and I face whatever comes… because you showed me how.

I dread the day when you bring that girl home… the one who sees the man you are, my man. The one who climbs into your heart and nudges me out-of-the-way… just a bit. I’ll smile anyway — I’ll share that space… your heart can expand so wide and I’ll be comfortable there in that corner and I’ll continue to take up space, even when we’re far apart.

I know this because right now, when you come sit next to me on my bed and you tell me to listen to your new favorite song — I will. I’ll stay right there in that moment and I won’t care if the phone rings or if my email dings or if the perfect poem is forming in my head… I’ll stay next to you and I’ll sway to the rhythm and we’ll smile at each other without saying a word and I’ll breathe in the stillness of that moment… claiming my corner of your heart.

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A little over a year and a half ago, my son broke his arm. I was thinking about this today because I said good-bye to him this morning as he left on a 3 day camping trip with his class. I have often been disillusioned into thinking that as long as my kids are near me, I can protect them from harm — my love can protect them. I realize this is flawed logic but sometimes flawed logic is the hardest to let go of. Back to my son’s broken arm…

I had just pulled out of my driveway to make the 90 second journey to pick him up — I had my youngest daughter with me, she was barefoot and her hair was a mess. But, we were only going 90 seconds down the road to pick my son up from his Tae Kwon Do class — who would see her? As soon as I pulled away from my home, my phone rang. His instructor was on the other end and asked where I was. Knowing I wasn’t late to pick him up and knowing I had never gotten a call from his instructor — I immediately asked what was wrong. He responded that he was pretty sure my son had just broken his arm and I should hurry. I didn’t panic. My son had broken bones before — a finger, a hand… his head. I assumed this would be just another trip to the ER for a simple cast. When I got to his lesson, I went inside and immediately saw a swarm of parents around my son — they had looks of anguish on their faces as they turned to look at me. His forearm, shaped awkwardly like a “v”, was laying in his lap and he was pale. My stomach turned at the sight — my thoughts raced, I allowed panic to sink in just a bit.

My motherhood instincts kicked in as I lifted him into the car — thankfully, otherwise the panic was close to surfacing as he gazed at me for reassurance that it wasn’t that bad. I remember my youngest daughter, shoeless with messy hair, in the back — quiet. I’m sure she could sense my panic. My thoughts went to what everyone would say at the hospital when they saw her shoeless, messy haired self (motherhood panic encompasses all). My oldest daughter was at home getting ready to attend a homecoming game with four of her friends, who were also at my home — waiting for me to return to drive them there.

Within about five minutes, I made a call to the pediatrician to say we were going to the ER, I made a call to another parent to pick the older girls up from my house and drive them to the game, I made a call to the children’s father to come get my shoeless, messy haired youngest, and was allowing, once again, my mind to race as I gazed with a half-smile at my son.

We were at the hospital for the next 30 hours — there was a surgery, there were pins… there was pain and tears and a lack of sleep that parents know too well — there was love.

Love finds us no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It hunts us down to remind us that we matter and the people we love matter. It keeps us warm and safe and whole.

Love was there in the hospital room with me all night as I watched my son sleep. Love was there as I thought about sending him into surgery. Love was there as I worried he would be scared and alone.

When he awoke the next morning, I explained that he would need a “little surgery” to fix his arm. I tried to focus on the cool cast he would surely get at the end of this journey. We sat on his bed for hours that morning waiting for his turn to be called in to surgery. He never seemed panicked or scared — not really. I told him he would sleep through the whole thing and I would be there to watch him. I think love surrounded he and I.

The wait for him to get out of surgery was long and tiresome and filled with anxiety. I wasn’t with him. What if something happened while I wasn’t with him? Would the protective shield of my love reach him from the waiting room? Of course, that was more of my flawed logic. My presence didn’t keep him from harm, my love couldn’t protect him — only nurture and care and encourage and warm him.

It occurred to me that I had been with him when he broke his finger and when he broke his hand and even when he broke his head (yes, a story for another time).

Flawed logic.

So this morning, he was thrilled, happy, excited. I was sending him out on his own to enjoy what life was offering him today, tomorrow… this week. My love will keep him warm, my love will fill his heart, my love will help him become whole — the rest is up to him.

Picture from Zebrasounds.net — Check it out, you’ll thank me later.

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