I look for the bright side

“Why is Donald Trump inappropriate?” You asked today on the way home from the library, your impossibly enormous brown eyes completely guileless, gorgeous. Shit. You must’ve overheard the NPR program I was listening to, grimacing at the election outcome. Resisting once again that perpetual parental urge to tell you everything I think, I return the question:  Do you think he is inappropriate? Why so?

“Yes,” you answer, without skipping a single beat, “because Raul told me.” (classmate)  ‘Does Raul know a lot?’ I ask. You pause briefly before answering, “He’s just a first grader; but he’s taller than me”. Ah. (A germane detail in a 3rd grader’s social hierarchy.)

‘Sooo what did Raul say about Donald Trump?’’ I offer perkily, trying not to raise any communication alarms: Alert! Mom Wants To Know! Stop Talking Immediately. Oh yeah. Smooth. You pause:  “Well, it’s inappropriate to say it again.”

‘You won’t be in trouble,’ I frown-smile reassuringly(? I hope!); after 8 years of attempts at perfecting this tone I’m still apparently unconvincing because you scratch the leather top of the bucket seat you’re buckled into, nostrils flaring skeptically. It’s all I can do to breathe and gather patience, smoking an imaginary joint, waiting for any answer as the grey November sunshine streams through the car window onto your curls and smudgy baseball cap.

“Raul says he’s inappropriate because he touches women’s vaginas.” OH. Okay. Here we go. I’m actually having this conversation with an 8 year old. My 8 year old.  It isn’t the first time we’ve broached the subject of sexual violation – unfortunately –  but it’s definitely a new experience today. Because today, I get to explain to my kid that what she thinks is inappropriate, and Raul thinks is inappropriate, is barely the tip of the iceberg.  We have entered a whole new galaxy of inappropriate, Babygirl.

Scrambling to create a kid-friendly version of the situation, I return to a consistent recurring theme when situations like this arise (and oh, they arise a lot more than you want to know): body autonomy. I try to translate a bit of the garbagesuckfest that is our current media cycle into her tender little ears – slowly, without excess reactiveness:

“I think your friend heard the same news story I did; it’s a little more complicated than just that.”

Wait for answer; nothing

“The problem isn’t necessarily with touching; the problem is that he was actually really bragging about touching someone without their permission in a way and place that requires permission.”

Still waiting

“The vagina and vulva are very private places, and it’s not right for anyone to force someone else to do something with their body they don’t want to do. It’s not right for anyone to do that, ever.  But someone who behaves this way should not have the ability to make decisions about anyone else’s body, since they don’t understand respect. And in the United States, presidents have the power to make decisions about all of us, so it’s an even bigger deal when Donald Trump brags about this.”

Nothing… i’m dying… interact with me pleeeease

“So,” trying to lob it back to you – my little 8 year old sparkling sunbeam of pure curiosity and brutally cruel honesty – I feebly add, “does any of that make sense?”

Shrugging, you mumble, “Sort of, except for if everybody knew he does that then why did they still vote for him?”

Yeah. Good question.

This is the part I really want to protect her from:  the part where shit gets scary. Because    it’s the same question I have.

I’m less concerned that the candidate I least wanted to elect was elected – there’s a pretty consistent pattern and high probability of this occurring. We still have a mystifyingly stupid 2-party system here, and every 4 to 8 years, ½ the population is pissed and threatens to move to Canada, (why is it always Canada, seriously? I can think of no less than 20 countries I would much rather explore) or buy more guns, or protest, or start #notmypresident hashtags (way to go guys! Super helpful solution.) but then it usually chills out and the presidents get more moderate. And every time I’ve watched Old Pumpkin Cheeks blather on about whatever nonsense he’s spouting, I usually come to the conclusion that like so many bullies, Trump is all talk but no game. I look for the bright side and I cross my fingers but Trump himself – he’s not what scares me.

What scares me is how many people either deliberately ignored, excused, or admired his execrable, repugnant behaviour during the campaign and in general – to say nothing of the fact that he is appallingly stupid but I guess that part doesn’t even matter anymore.

So many people who are crowing over their “win” but are sadly ignorant to what this represents for planet earth. I honestly believe that whatever else Trump & co. try to accomplish, we can recover from eventually – the racism, the blatant celebration of tawdriness and arrogance, even the brash and antiquated legislative measures. None of that is or must be permanent. But we get only one earth, and the electorate just collectively spoke and literally said, “to hell with it”.

Speaking of hell, I see many people who claim some iteration of the christian faith dictates their lives, praising their god and dutifully nodding that they will hang a picture of Dtrump right above their prayer rug, thanking the lord for such a blessing. Not quite sure how that squares with their collective previous assessment that Obama was a punishment from above for cultural abominations. Or wasn’t Obama supposed to be the anti-christ?! I can never keep up!

Sidenote: If Obama was the anti-christ, I have to say the book was way better than the movie. Letdown! Revelations promised us like, heads with snakes and exciting stuff like that. All we got was a hot black nerd. Thanks Obama!

Anyhow, the logic doesn’t exactly square with that reasoning: the same god who cursed America with a mild-mannered bureaucrat now wants to bless us with a foul-mouthed idiotically aggressive bully? Okay y’all. I know the churchies have never been real huge on logic or reason but this goes beyond the pale.

Like don’t christians wonder whether or not they have some degree of responsibility in openly rejecting ANY candidate who will not also openly reject any association with the KKK? Really makes you wonder. You and the KKK are rooting for the same carnival barker. But maybe that’s just another attempt by the devil to confuse us all? There’s got to be a way to make sure that you are 100% correct without having a little uncomfortable truth get in your way, right? At least we’ll be spared from the christians bemoaning how they are some sort of persecuted minority here, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge any other minority’s legitimate struggle. At least. Brightside?

I look for the bright side whenever I can. This has been a recurring theme in my life – whenever I feel the shadow of some impending doom, there’s usually something brighter on the other side. I hope for that now. But with the headlines already telling of an uptick in hate crimes, I truly feel afraid for the first time in a very very long time. But I can’t show that to BB – she’s 8. I have to believe there is a bright side, even to this.

How about this for a brightside observation:  I’m actually really relieved that now people can at least see – blatantly – that this country has not gotten over its racism, that it’s alive and well and registered to vote. And now there’s a bright shiny orange spotlight calling attention to it.  To all of the oh-so-well-informed liberals who are astonished that this could have happened – I am astonished at your astonishment.  Every time I watched a debate I felt a deeper sense of dread – we are so accustomed to idiocy that we now demand it. Of course we would elect a pompous tit of rabble-rouser to be president. America is a racist mess and now it’s apparently proud of that. Time to wake up. Like I always tell BB, before we know how to fix a problem, we have to know what the problem is.

BB…  back to my babygirl in the backseat of the car. There will be other days and other rants to come – and unfortunately, it won’t be the last time a topic I wish didn’t exist will be prompted by this man and the people who got him to the most powerful office in the world.

But for now, the conversation slowly returns to more comfortable topics – what she’s reading, where we will travel next, family members we miss, lollipop versus popsicles… the usual. We resume our sing-song pace, and I am reminded of how little she really is – even for an 8 year old, she seems unusually childish and immature. Sometimes I am so frustrated by this; but today, after the conversation topic forced upon us by the grownup world, I am truly thankful for her childish viewpoints and prattle. I know that it cannot last much longer.

So I’d like to thank everyone for dragging us into this circus. First of all, thanks to Donald Trump! You finally got your wish – you won something legit. Hope it’s so legit you quit. Special shout-out to ALL (and I really DO MEAN all – like, fuck you too, NPR) news media who gave Dtrump unceasing coverage. But I would really like to dedicate the previous recitation of this afternoon’s conversation about unwanted pussy-grabbing with my 8-year-old daughter to all the hypermoralistic smug religious peeps who have been celebrating the past couple of days. Special shout-outs to the “evangelical christians” who spent the last 8 years packing extra cans of baked beans for the coming crisis and wrath of god over the Reptilian Alien Lizard Lord Anti-Christ Obama. I hope you trip on your fancy white sheets at tonight’s cross burning.

And if any of my language here offended you, I understand. I myself am sickened by things like racism, environmental gluttony, and sexual assault. It would truly be a tragedy to trample upon your moral high ground with such heinous discourse, so I guess I’ll leave all of that up to your president.

publish what you preach

Imagine you are a publisher of a known and prominent family magazine with nearly endless potential readers. You know the type: weekly or monthly periodicals that lurk in the corners of restaurants, bars, grocery stores, parks, and other public places – most likely nationally syndicated yet somehow personalized according to each city — like this, for example, or this. However, Houston Family Magazine seems to be pretty specific to this city, which makes my annoyance with their February cover all the more profound. Partly because I live in Houston and partly because of other stuff that I am going to rant about… rightnow.

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 2.30.35 PM

Nothing screams body confidence like a face full of makeup

Leaving aside the inexplicable choice to plaster *a child* in more makeup than most Miss America contestants wear (for now), let’s focus on the primary headline of the cover:

Teaching kids to be body confident. An admirable goal indeed:  based off the choice of cover photograph, one that can apparently be achieved by slathering your little one in something which actually changes their appearance with makeup (in this case, looks like they went full-on 80’s Mary Kay — we are in Texas, after all. No accounting for taste I guess) and a fair amount of quality time up close and personal with some hot rollers for that special Victoria’s Secret voluminous curl every 8 year old girl craves. (Oh don’t worry though — they’re “good” curls)…

You may be looking at the above and thinking, “Hey, what’s the big deal? So she’s wearing a lot of makeup. It’s not as if oversexualization of young girls is predominant in our society”

But wait! Let’s read the article before we rush to any harsh judgments…

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 2.31.53 PM

seems like a better cover choice to me…

Oh. snap. Listen I’m sure that race had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to have a conventionally beautiful blond prostitot on the cover, despite the fact that the second picture is 1) appropriate to the article and 2) adorable but let’s explore the idea just for a second.

While Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country (yay!) it is sadly one of the most segregated (boo!).  Hopefully I shouldn’t have to explain why the former is awesome and the latter is not. But suffice it to say that as a city, Houston has a long way to go in terms of improving racial tensions, not unlike the rest of the nation.

This morning I got my beautiful daughter ready for school picture day. Her caramel skin was gorgeous and glowing against her lacy white dress –  always reserved for special occasions. Her hair was an irresistibly intricate puff of curls and kink, soft and strong, haloing all around her face. It’s been in braids for about 2 weeks now, and last night after I took it out I begged her to wear it as it was – ‘Just like Esperanza!’ – I coaxed her. She bounced out of the house – confident and happy.

Later in the day, around noon, I realized I had neglected to send a piece of paper that was due in with her for re-enrollment. As luck would have it, I approached the office at the same moment she was walking by with her class and was dismayed to see that her hair had been put into a ponytail – halfassedly, so maybe she did it herself. I pouted when I saw it and wailed, Please tell me you left it down for picture day! She winced and said, It was too messy, Mama.

Whether or not she came to that conclusion on her own will remain to be seen. But I know one thing – every time she looks in the mirror and wonders aloud how she would look with straight hair, or complains about her curls, there is no amount of maternal coaxing that can compensate for images like the one on the cover chosen by Houston Family being constantly upheld as the ultimate standard for beauty. And that breaks my heart.

Pathetically…

(As with most things mothering-related…)

Here I am writing a blog post because none of my *almost/hopefully/soon-to-be* friends (moved here to H-Town a year ago, so I have almost 2 now – that’s good, right?) were available at the last minute to come to my place or the local ice-house/yuppie* wine-bar to listen to me drivel about my quandaries.

*A side note on the word yuppie…

Yes, I just wrote the word yuppie. Outdated slang is maybe more accurate than carbon dating. Sidenote:  are you my age? (born 1980ish)? Do you use this term? Isn’t it the original hipster terminology – like the original term for hipster before we had the term hipster? I mean how fucking hipster is it to have a word *for* hipster *before* hipsters existed that most hipsters don’t even likely know about? And I reference Portlandia, which is like the hipster what – bible? Dictionary? – as  supportive evidence for this claim. Because me and the Frenchie just did catch up on like 3 episodes of the newest seasons so we now qualify as experts on the topic of hipster culture. And there was a sketch in which a punkrocker had been in coma for twenty-some  years and woke up in his previous state (punkrocker screaming DIE YUPPIE SCUM) with the t-shirt and everything to boot – only to realize – everyone’s now become a fucking yuppie. Fretting about their pontsing precious lattes and what-have-yous. Which is totally true.

So anyway, sidenote forgotten and back to the previously promised drivel…

In lieu of “girl talk”, here is what I would have said to my friend tonight at the winebar/ icehouse:

*I’m so grateful BB has a strong sense of self, but it can make it challenging when there’s a difference of opinion.

* Someday her leadership skills will be really needed and possibly welcomed, but right now they just really push my limits of my patience and general happiness.

*We really have had success enforcing boundaries.

What I would have actually said if it were my one real person whom I can really level with:

* Yeah she is so smart and bossy that she could be Supreme Court Justice. It will be really gratifying then, if she is still talking to me

*Boundaries are a joke, mothering is a joke, plans are for fools, we are all flying by the seat of our pants…

Just keep this handy if you need a translator. Pin it, or whatever.

Question Everything…Except Me

I would love to know the secret magical cure that the nice mommies use to prevent the screaming threats and mimed profanities (what? You do it too) that send children running for cover when they hear the Angry Footsteps. There must be something they have that I don’t. (Aside from plenty of percoset. Which I don’t even want. Yet.)
The question that runs through my mind when I step back and view the awfulness of these types of moments is ‘how did I get here?’ I can point to hundreds of small choices and life changes that put me in number 1 freak-out mom mode, but a more interesting question to me these days is, “How do I get out of this mess -this problem right now that I’ve made?”

Yesterday BB was 3, tomorrow she’ll be 10. I’ve concluded, after discussing puberty with friends of older kids and some late-night viewings of Disney Kids in hotels on business trips, that puberty basically repeats the toddler years but with more iphones and boobs. How do I get out of this mess before another one starts?

First, the problem: the mess. What is it? Beyond busyness (everyone’s busy) beyond stress (again, everyone’s stressed) what can I actually do to improve myself as a person to make me better at mothering? I love my children. I knew what I was getting myself into – no one’s ever put forth the claim that motherhood is an entirely easy gig. So why do I get so upset – sepcifically, angry – when this little person who I put here challenges me?

I asked that question today at some parenting lecture. After learning from a very earnest and chatty leader that my heart was actually another brain in the body and following her guided meditation wherein we visualized our hearts as welcoming and bright green and breathing (yes, I was lost too), one of the other panel members – a no-nonsense, IDGAF grandmotherly type (my favorite!) basically shut that shit down ala Marilla Cuthbert but with more side-eye. One point she made was that you perpetuate the cycle you were brought up in. We hear crying and it takes us back somehow to when WE were crying at that age. And it seems the majority of us had this in common – instead of a loving caretaker holding us close through the tears, and simply offering comfort – we experienced something like “Stop crying” “Be quiet” or perhaps something hurtful. I’ve heard variations of this theory, but for some reason it really resonated. I sat and listened to her common-sense grandmotherly voice tell me, “You’ve got to work out your issues with your daughter”. And suddenly I realized she was right; I constantly silenced my daughter’s hurt. And judging from her behavior, she has some pretty deep hurts that need to be released one way or the other. 

So I tried it. The next time we faced a battle of the wills, I stuck to my guns as usual. But this time I didn’t try to quiet her protests, or even offer an alternative to placate the disappointment – “the answer is no. I’m sorry you are disappointed. You’ll be fine.” And waited for the tantrum which unsurprisingly ensued.

What did surprise me though was how quickly she moved from anger to tears. Deep, racking sobs that went on and on and on and on. Where did this all come from?  I followed the advice I received at the parenting conference – held her, stayed by her, gave affection and merely said, “I’m here. You’re safe”. Almost comically, she started to calm down after about 10 minutes and turned into her self – but her sweet self. Not sulky, not sullen – just sweet and clear. After two more episodes similar to this, I feel as I have found an answer. Not THE answer by any means – but another tool, one that I’ve been neglecting to use out of fear or guilt. Who knows why – all I’m interested in is moving forward in a way that allows us to discipline our daughter without secretly worrying we are damaging her irreparably the entire time. (Of course we know we’re damaging her somehow – we just want to make sure it’s not to the point of dysfunction – or, if it is dysfunctional, hopefully it’s a cute kind that ends up as the basis for really great memoirs). 

The worst part about looking back on the mistakes I’ve made thus far is that, I’ve known what I have been doing wrong, even as I was doing it. I just never allowed myself to face that, in the name of – what? Busy-ness? How many times have I rushed my daughter to hurry up with her feelings? Why did it irritate me when she didn’t behave as a robot? Of course I want you to question everything darling – just not me. Well for whatever reason, letting out those deep emotions the past few times has made her incredibly compliant in a different way. We’ll keep at it. And start taking notes for the memoirs.