Tag Archives: parenting

Pretty

When I was little, and didn’t want to sit through getting my hair brushed or styled, my nana would say “It hurts to be beautiful”. It’s a statement I’ve known all my life and one I still say to myself. 

And to my own daughter.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged and accepted.  If you’re a woman, it hurts to be beautiful. 

We color our hair, wear make-up, wax our eyebrows, our lips, our bikini lines.  Totter around on stilettos that make our feet bleed and bruise.  Cram ourselves into spanx and forego food for a day to fit in one specific dress.  Inject our faces with botox to eliminate wrinkles.  Undergo surgery to lift our boobs, tighten our necks, smooth our tummies, all to defy the effects of gravity and motherhood.

I’ve done most of those things.  In the end I’ll probably do them all.  If I leave the house without at least a bit of make-up on, you can be pretty sure the only place I’m heading is to the gym.  I’ve got a fair bit of grey in my hair, and I will continue to cover it up with dye for the foreseeable future.  I own — and wear — shoes that bruise my toes so badly that I can only wear sneakers for the next three days after a single night in them, and spanx that squeeze the thickest part of my thighs so hard they leave indentations that last for hours after I’ve taken them off.  I have worn clothes that made deep breaths difficult and eating impossible.  I regularly have hot wax smeared on my face and ripped off to remove the shadow on my upper lip and the caterpillar eyebrows I inherited from my dad.

I participate in my own torture, willingly, because I have been conditioned to believe that I am only beautiful if I do those things.

I hate the concept, but continue to play the game.  And I’m teaching my daughter to play it as well.  I wrestle with the messages and the practices, both as a mother and as a woman.  Am I doing the right thing?  Am I teaching her the right thing?  I’m uncomfortable with it all, but we live in a society that says “this is what it takes to be pretty” and so we follow along. 

Some of it I can paint as pretty harmless: I like make-up, and it’s fun to play with and it certainly doesn’t hurt.  Coloring my hair isn’t painful, just time-consuming, and I like changing my color to suit the season or my mood.  I enjoy getting dressed up and I don’t really mind sucking in my tummy for a while to make the line of a dress lie more smoothly.

But there’s nothing fun about getting the hair ripped off your body with hot wax.  Nothing fun about wearing shoes that bruise and pinch and underwear that squeezes and compresses and clothes that hinder your movement and breath.  I can’t pretend there’s any message but self-torture in there.  And yet I teach my daughter.

Society places a high premium on looks, and the standards to which men and women are held are comically different. 

Why doesn’t daddy look bad without make-up on? Because society hasn’t told him that he does.  His skin isn’t a blemish- and blotch-free poreless canvas, highlighted and contoured in all the right places.  He has circles under his eyes because he didn’t sleep great last night, but he doesn’t need to hide them.  His eyebrows are a bit scraggly.  He has grey in the hair on his temples.  He’s definitely not clean-shaven.  And yet all he has to do is run a warm wash cloth over his face, comb his hair, and he’s done.  Handsome even. 

Can you IMAGINE if men had to undergo the physical modification women regularly submit to in the name of beauty?  Good lord would our standards change quickly.

I have no answers, only questions.  I will still dye my hair and wear make-up.  I will still wear shoes that hurt and underwear that squeezes.  I will continue to have my hair waxed off.  And I will forever ask myself why I do it, what would really happen if I didn’t, and whether I’m teaching my daughter the right lessons.

It hurts to be beautiful.

March

Despite the cold and wet and snow, despite a train cancellation that added 90 minutes to our journey, despite a million other things we could have been doing on a Sunday afternoon after a busy week, yesterday the six of us made our way into London for the Women’s March. 

It was my babies’ first protest.  Not their last though, I’m willing to bet. 

When I first mentioned I’d like to go, Matt of course was all for it.  Love that man.  Bridget was ALL for it. Quinn was all for it, in his absolute unwavering happiness to do whatever it is we’re going to do.  Gabe and Owen were not as convinced.  But mama was adamant, and so we went.

It was COLD in London yesterday.  And so wet. But we made our way to Downing Street and saw the crowd and heard the chants and read the signs and it was all worth it.  My boys were ALL IN then. 

They chanted.  “We want justice, not revenge.”

“Time’s Up” they cheered. 

Bridget took the good camera, because she’s a good photographer and I am not, and wound her way as far into the crowd as she could get without losing sight of us, snapping pics all the while. 

And then it snowed, but not a light, dry snow.  Big, fat, wet flakes mixed with big, fat raindrops made a sloppy mess of the sidewalks.  And my children stood shivering and uncomplaining in a crowd of people who were all there to make a point and make a difference.

But a mama can only ask so much, and so we cut out after about 45 minutes and made our way 15 minutes across the Thames to Wagamama for a bowl of warm ramen.  And the restaurant was closed.  But the one wayyyyy back where we’d started was open, according to the sign.  I felt so guilty — we’d walked a long way and it was cold and windy and snowy and rainy and everyone was damp.  And they were all out there because of me, mostly.   

“Nevertheless, we persist!” Gabe shouted out.  The kids all cheered. 

I’m not gonna lie, I almost cried.  I held it together though, and Matt and I grinned at each other, and we rallied.  We walked back across town to the open Wagamama, ate our lovely spicy ramen, and warmed our freezing fingers and toes.

It was a good day.  One of those days that makes me proud to be their mother, proud to be his wife, and excited to see what the future holds for these babies who are paying attention and want to make a difference.

Winter Break Fun

There are really and truly few things I enjoy more than spending time with my children.  But they have been on school break since December 15th and we still have five days left before they go back and hoooo, boy am I ready for them to be at school all day for a few weeks.

My kids, at ages 13, 11, 9 & 7, are pretty self-sufficient in terms of entertaining themselves.  Because there are four of them, they always have someone to play with. But having four kids in the house all day, every day ALSO means they always have someone to annoy and argue with.  Always.  Like, every hour of the day.  Which makes me abso-freaking-lutely insane and despite the fact that I know I should let them solve their disputes themselves, I end up mediating and then losing my patience and shouting at them to stop bickering over and over.

The kids get up before me most days on school break and make their own breakfasts.  Five years ago I could only dream of the day that would happen, and make no mistake, I appreciate it.  But they eat like locusts.  We’re going through food at a rate so alarming, I am almost afraid someone is hoarding it in a cupboard upstairs somewhere.  And although they are reasonably okay at cleaning up after themselves after making a meal…actually, no.  Not true.  They’re generally rubbish at cleaning up and I end up reminding them kindly and patiently several times a day and then screaming and yelling like a lunatic to just put the bread away already, goddammit.

Luckily it’s not as cold here in England in winter as it was in D.C. (or is on most of the east coast of the U.S. right now) so the kids can still play outside for a few hours almost every day.  But it IS wet and rainy and that means it’s muddy and I don’t mind them playing in mud and getting dirty until it’s time to do laundry and I discover that they’ve actually worn three different pair of warm-ups and two different pair of socks each in a single day because they kept getting wet and dirty and then changing and leaving their dirty, wet clothes on the floor.  Then I give long lectures on making unnecessary work for other people when you could just wear one outfit a day or two AT MOST and not go back out once you’ve already changed into clean dry clothes.  And then I spend twenty minutes teaching people how to do their own laundry.  And then we all spend an hour every other day folding and putting away clean clothes while I threaten the lives of the children if they don’t stop changing outfits multiples times a day.

So.  Winter break has been fun.  Lots of fun.  Lots of movies and baking and cooking and board games and reading and laughing and good times. 

But my goodness, I’m ready for the fun to end.

Truths About Eleven

You know what I love about you, my Gabey-baby? Everything.

You’re happy, thoughtful, responsible, loving, funny, helpful, interesting, curious, earnest, silly, kind, and caring.  You are all those things, and that is the truth.

Lest I be accused of bias, though, and in order to demonstrate that I am not oblivious to your faults, I’ll tell you that you are also not a good listener, you get too easily frustrated, you like to pick on your brothers, and you have real trouble not trying to get the last word in during an argument. 

Those things are all also true, which I assume you know because your dad and I do have to say them to you fairly frequently.  (But just in case, I’m writing them here so you can read them, because…well…look at the first one on the list.)

In the balance, though, you are a pretty amazing person.  I’m so glad I get to be your mom.

You are, as I’ve said before, the person who introduced me to the way boys work.  When you were born I began this weird new journey into the mind of a little boy and I have learned some amazing things — the most important being that little boys are just as multi-faceted and varied and complex as little girls. 

I think that concept gets brushed aside a lot.  Before I had you, my eldest son, I admit that I probably had a less-than-nuanced understanding and set of beliefs about what little boys were like.  I bought the stereotypes and just assumed that little boys are these rough and tumble oblivious mess-makers who stumble through the world without much thought, slamming into things and not really paying attention.

While that can certainly be true and you’ve had your fair share of times when that description sums you up pretty well, the reality is that you are every bit as capable of being a calm, thoughtful, attentive, detail-oriented person as your sister.  The older you get, the more that becomes true.  You aren’t just one thing, you’re not a preconceived notion or a one-dimensional character.

You are sensitive.  You are empathetic and sympathetic.  You are snuggly and loving.  You’re not a risk-taker or a thrill-seeker, you prefer not to be scared.  You pay attention to people and how they feel.  You look for and find beauty and wonder in the world around you and you appreciate it, out loud, without embarrassment or hesitation.  You are expressive and emotional.

You have taught me about boys and girls and stereotypes and expectations and it has made me a better person and better parent.  Because I have you (and your sister and brothers as well) to illustrate daily the similarities and differences between boys and girls, daughters and sons, and individuals in general, I am a more understanding and complete human myself.  Thank you for showing me the truth.

Yet another truth is that you’re simply one of the coolest people I know.  You do what you love and you do it wholeheartedly, regardless of whether that thing is something people would expect from you or not.

Bridget wondered aloud the other evening why everyone always thinks “Gabe is so cool”, when, as you danced around the dining room singing, with your hair in a ponytail on the front of your head like a unicorn, it seemed very, very clear that you are not, in fact, cool at all.

That, I said, is the trick — Gabe knows in his heart that as long as he believes he’s cool, he is.  And whatever he is doing, therefore, becomes cool by default.

Bridget wasn’t thrilled with that answer, but it’s another truth, undeniably. 

You’ve discovered the key to happiness there, too, I think. 

You really do just embrace whatever you find that you love, whether that’s playing ALL THE SPORTS (which might typically be deemed cool), or tap dancing (which might not).

Whether it’s talking about movies you love like Guardians of the Galaxy (typically pretty cool) or the Sound of Music (maybe not as popular with the 11-year old boys).

Or whether it’s spending your free time playing video games and riding your skateboard and playing football (generally regarded as cool pastimes) or reading books about history and singing along to musicals with your mom (possibly not regarded as the coolest hobbies). 

And because you unapologetically do your thing, because you love what you love out loud and with passion, you MAKE IT COOL.  And you enjoy your life so much more, because you’re doing things you love and you’re happy about it.  If you can hang on to that skill, you will have a much easier time of high school and college than your dad or I ever did.  Keep on doing what you’re doing, my boy.

You are now officially a pre-teen, which is 100,000% insane to me.  I can’t quite wrap my head around the concept of a grown-up version of my Gabe.  You’ve matured so much over the course of the last two years though, and I can occasionally see glimpses of the teenager and adult you will become. 

I’m looking forward to meeting that guy; I think he’s going to be fun and funny and I will enjoy his company.  Hopefully he’ll decide that hanging out with his mom is still cool and we can still watch musicals together even when you’re 15, and 18, and all grown up. 

This is our last year in England, and I know you’re both excited and sad about that.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the time we’ve had here has been awesome for you from beginning to end.  I don’t know that you’d have a single negative thing to say about it.  (Maybe that there’s no baseball.  But that might be it.)  You’ve thrived here.

I think though — I hope — that the happiness and positivity and openness and willingness to try new things you have now is something that you would have grown into no matter where we lived, that it’s just part of who you are.  Whether that’s true or not, though, I hope that now you know that no matter where we live, you will make friends, find things you love, and have fun.  Now you’ve just got the added bonus of being able to do those things in either an American OR an English accent.  So cool.

So on your 11th birthday, I want to finish up by telling you the biggest truth I know: I am so proud of who you are and who you’re becoming as a person, and I am so, so filled with gratitude on a daily basis that I have the privilege to be your mother. 

Happy birthday to you, my Gabey-baby!

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