Friday, May 3, 2013

There's No Such Thing as Quality Time

I don't know if anyone is still saying that time with one's children doesn't really need to happen in large quantities as long as it's high quality, but I'm here to put on my Captain Obvious hat and tell you that anyone who tries to sell you that particular parcel of land is full of shit.

There's no such thing as quality time with teenagers. Okay, what I mean to say is that quality time with teenagers happens quite frequently, but you have to be there waiting for it. It's like the Great Blue Herons in the river near our house. You can't just go down to the river at a scheduled five-minute interval and see one; you have to hang out for awhile and if you're lucky one will show up. They aren't rare, exactly - they live around there somewhere - but you have to be there a lot if you want to see one.

It's the same with Twelve. She says the most hilarious things, but it's not like I can tell her to save them up for x period of time.

Science was so much fun today! she said the other day, and I had this delicious split second where I thought that her interest was finally piqued and that she was finally going to become A Scientist ... and then she continued, I sat next to J and we almost had a conversation!

A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I sent an email to our city's theater asking how they handle costuming for their shows. I had a lot of fun doing wardrobe for a short independent film a few years ago, finishing my dissertation within the decade is looking fairly promising, and the theater is five blocks from our house, so the email was kind of a completely and totally obvious first step.

They replied that the costume designer for the show opening in two weeks had just quit and would I be interested in helping?

Um, yes please.

It is not every day that people who sew get to feel like superheroes.* I had a literature review draft due in a few days and Twelve had just gotten back from Washington DC, so I said that I would love to help starting that weekend. I got the draft turned in and then spent most of the next week's waking hours working on Victorian-era costumes. It turns out that my tendency to notice every little thing that is wrong with something makes me really good at transforming a bunch of begged, borrowed, and found garments into a coherent and properly fitting wardrobe for a seven-person cast. Ultimate result: I may now be moving toward a career in theater costume design. I may also be starting a community sewing studio and sewing machine repair shop, which is irrelevant except that it would have the same proximal result: I was away from home for the greater part of several days.

Twelve handled my absence that week with aplomb, according to her usual orientation to life; she came to visit me at the theater after school and we'd have tea at one of the nearby bakeries before she'd head home and I'd head back to the dressing room-turned-costume shop in time to greet the actors as they arrived. When I'd get home after rehearsal, she'd be asleep and I'd tiptoe in to kiss her temple.

On Wednesday, when cast and crew took the night off before Thursday's final dress rehearsal, Twelve acted like my being home was like Christmas. Several of her very sweet comments that afternoon referred to how we should have a special dinner and otherwise celebrate. It was funny, because it had only been four evenings, but super adorable.

After the show opened and my job was essentially over (even though I left my phone number all over both dressing rooms, I never did get any frantic phone calls with costuming emergencies), we shifted back into 'normal' like nothing had happened. Instead of finding myself saying, ridiculously, that we'd better hurry up and talk because I had actors coming in for fittings, we were back to leisurely teas after school with Twelve telling me how she had burped SO loudly during lunch or that they had teased J about the time that he farted after he laughed, just like that character in that movie they had just watched (I have no idea).

I'm so glad that I'm not trying to squeeze 'quality' time into the window between after school and before rehearsal on a regular basis. We need large quantities of time, during which I might cut organic turkey bologna and two kinds of cheese into triangles and arrange them with crackers on a blue plate, joking that we're having the 'real food version' of Lunchables.

We need time to watch Psych, an utterly ridiculous confection of a show that's perfect for Twelve because it's at exactly the right level of maturity for her. It's grown-up enough to be interesting but not too scary to be comfortable - we *had* a nice thing going with Bones for awhile there, until the Gormogon showed up and Twelve was too freaked out to sleep. (I felt pretty awful about that at the time, but now Twelve is careful about what she watches, so I think it's an overall win.) It is also fun for me because when I predict the completely predictable plot twists, Twelve is totally impressed.

We need time to go over, for the third or fourth time, whether her Washington, DC scrapbook pages should be all cream colored - requiring us to purchase more of that color - or if each day should be a different color altogether (also requiring us to buy more paper), or if each day should be one of the three colors we already have, and just alternate the colors already!

Okay, my dear daughter, we don't need more time for that particular conversation. I am also tired of reiterating that we are not buying another 50 pack of sheet protectors if you end up only needing a few more, and we're not buying any more at all until you know exactly how many you need. (That first 50-pack lasted thirteen years, and I don't want to start over.)

But we need lots of time for the non-annoying stuff, like indulging your desire to drink coffee by taking you to the coffee shop that a friend's parents own and asking her to explain just how much caffeine is in decaf coffee before agreeing that if it's only three percent of usual, it would be okay to buy some to take home. We need time to unfold, drape, and consider six different white fabrics that could become privacy curtains for your room, just to have you conclude that you don't want the one with the sequins or the one with the silver threads or the one with the paisley burnouts or the off-white one with woven stripes - you just want plain white.

And then we need time to re-fold everything, preferably while you tell me that you made your dying kangaroo noise in class and scared all the boys.

*Except for surgeons, but that is not my point.

Monday, April 22, 2013

On Compensatory Skills [or] "Sorry about your penis!"

One of the follow-up assignments to Twelve's DC trip is a scrapbook, and Twelve has done approximately eleven times more work than is absolutely necessary on hers. Normally, I am not in favor of doing more work than one has to do to get an A on assignments, but in this case I am all for it: It is the first time that Twelve has really gone all out on a school assignment. 

She actually failed a Science Inquiry project last year, I think, or at least scored so low she might as well have failed. She has gotten better about doing her homework this year, and has brought her GPA up to cum laude range, but she still doesn't really dig in and do her best.

For her scrapbook, though, she started weeks ago, poring through files of photos to select the ones she wanted and hassling me to get them printed. She sorted her pamphlets and ticket stubs by day and then did the same with the photos. She labeled things with sticky notes. She typed out her captions, journal entries, and page headings. We discussed ad nauseum which color of card stock she would use for the pages and argued about whether or not we needed to buy more page protectors (we didn't) and what size binder she'd need (I was right). We perused the craft store aisles for relevant stickers, which luckily were on sale.

She had a vision of the finished product and she knew how to go about realizing it. 

Seventh graders for whom scrapbooking comes naturally don't arise in a vacuum, however. Twelve comes by it legitimately because her grandmother invented it. Okay, so that's probably not accurate, but women in our family have been assembling scrapbooks long before you could just go to the store and buy coordinated scrapbooking crap and then just assemble it according to the directions. Back in the day, my mom used regular paper, regular scissors, and plain ol' markers to commemorate our lives. Somewhere, my siblings and I each have multiple scrapbooks - the first few are even housed in the kind of books with pages that when you peel back the clear plastic, the pages are somehow sticky but not actually sticky.

(Quick, someone turn magnetic photo pages into a meme that pithily illustrates how we're all getting older! Yes, it *has* been that many years since that movie was made, because that is the way time works.)

I have personally refused to get into the whole scrapbooking thing on the grounds that I don't have another room in my house or hours in the week to devote to it, but it's still part of Twelve's worldview because my mom maintains a Memory Book for her (I suspect that my mother realized that if it was going to be done, she'd have to be the one to do it, but it is a lovely grandmother/granddaughter thing nonetheless). It's now on its second volume. And my sewing room's rotary cutter, mat, and rulers work just as well for papercrafting as they do for fabric, so our house isn't completely devoid of scrapbooking potential. What all this boils down to is that Twelve is good at it.

When I was a kid, our household was heavily influenced by a child psychologist dude named Dr. James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family. He is, of course, a staunch conservative Christian anti-equality, anti-choice activist and his organization follows suit, but I didn't know any better until years later so I read all his books when Twelve was little. I'm sure I'd disagree with most of it now, but one of his points still sticks with me and I think is probably sound: Being good at something is good for a children's self esteem. That way, if they find themselves being picked on for being fat, bad at sports, wearing glasses, or whatever, they have something concrete to hang on to. It's the childhood equivalent of a minimally endowed, insecure-as-hell guy driving a huge pickup that makes him feel better about himself.

(A former roommate told me that she was once waiting for a tow truck on a highway and hollered "Sorry about your penis!" out the window at such a truck as it passed by. I have mentally yelled that at large trucks for about a decade now.)

Now, of course as an academic feminist I'd argue that the responsibility for solving this problem lies with the society that constructs fat, nonathletic, corrective lens wearers as second class citizens, but as a parent I need solutions that are a bit less esoteric. Unless we organized and mobilized ourselves to an unprecedented degree, parents can't stop other people's children from picking on ours, but we can talk to our children about how people treat each other and help them learn a compensatory skill.

I was thinking about this today because a fellow doctoral candidate friend emailed me that her thirteen year old daughter is having body image issues. I don't have a ton to offer on this subject, since body image is not a huge deal for Twelve, as far as I can tell. She makes the occasional comment about not liking her legs because they are fat, to which I am never quite comfortable responding. Twelve's legs are, objectively, just fine. They are not too fat, but they are also not super skinny.  I figure that I can't tell her they're thin enough without reinforcing the beauty ideal, and I can't agree with her because that reinforces the beauty ideal and also makes me a huge jerk. So I just tell her they're fine and change the subject - mentioning the phrase 'the social construction of beauty ideals' almost always does the trick.

So, all I could say to this friend was to suggest that she explain to her daughter that
... the only reason that she doesn't like her body is because movies, tv, and magazines have taught her that her body is not okay, and then explain that the media's definition of an acceptable body is unrealistic and just plain faked. And then work with her to find something that she really likes and can become really good at, which will help her feel good about herself for real and not just because of how she looks.
I don't know if Twelve's scrapbook skills are going to translate into a career path or make her feel better about her legs, but I am absolutely positive that it's been a great experience and I'm thrilled that she's had it. She now knows what it's like to envision a complex project with many steps and make it happen over a period of time. Honestly? I don't know if I can do that particularly well and they're going to give me a Ph.D. pretty soon.

Note: For those of you hetero cismen who thought this was going to be about how to please your sexual partner even though your penis is tiny, I apologize. Please do keep looking, though - there's a lot of good stuff on the internet and you surely aren't the first dude who needed a bit of help finding the clitoris. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

In Response to the Boston Marathon Bombings

On the rare occasions when we hear a helicopter in our town, I remind Twelve that she is incredibly privileged to live in a place where the sound of something flying overhead is a novelty - even something that one might even try to get a better look at. It's not a cause for alarm; we don't worry that bombs will be dropped or seek shelter. Being the targets of bombings in our home towns is just not a reality for us, unlike the realities of too many thirteen-year-olds and too many of their mothers in too many other home towns.

Of course, she doesn't get it.

This week's Boston Marathon bombing highlights the privilege of a nation for which this sort of thing is appallingly novel - we're collectively outraged that anyone would dare bomb us! - and warrants an immediate, indignant, and definitive response.

This afternoon I will remind LJ that in too many countries, being the target of terrorist attacks is pretty much business as usual. In too many cities, a couple of relatively smallish bombs is not a good enough reason to shut everything down while you find the bad guys.

Of course, she won't get it. But I will have said it and she will have heard it, and that's enough.

Actually ... she might get it a little bit, come to think about it. In the car on our way to an out-of-town volleyball game this week, Twelve announced that she wants to be a congressional intern. In Washington, DC, her class met with a young man who had gone to their school a decade or so ago and is now an intern for one of our state's senators. Apparently his snazzy green shirt and matching tie were appealing enough that Twelve was curious about how one might become such an intern, so we talked about how she should get good grades in high school and so on. (I'll take any excuse to talk up 'getting good grades in high school.')

Okay, I said, and then what do you want to do? Do you want to become a senator yourself?

Oh, yeah, I guess so, Twelve replied, with the air of someone who hadn't really thought about it before but supposes she thinks it's a fine idea. She then proceeded to outline how she thought that might work, and we talked about the difference between state and national government and the intermediate steps between seventh grade and senatorhood. Find leadership opportunities wherever you are, I said, be like your Auntie and be the president of everything in high school, be involved with student government in college, that sort of thing. I tried to tie in her ideas with what she learned on the DC trip and help her make connections with what actually happens already. I tried to do this part gently, because it's such a letdown to realize that someone else already came up with your big idea.

(For my part, a couple of years ago I had this brilliant idea for a gift registry website that isn't tied to any specific store. You could ask for anything you wanted from anywhere! I even came up with a couple of excellent names for such a service. As it turns out, the idea was so brilliant and those names so excellent that it was already being done.)

I don't remember everything Twelve said - I was listening reallysuperhard but I am terrible at remembering the specifics of the awesome conversations that we have - but one of her main ideas was that, if she was a senator, she would ask regular people what they thought about things, and then do that. I explained that, well, that's sort of what's supposed to happen already - but it is an excellent approach, you should do that!

I think we arrived at the Boys and Girls Club gym before we had a chance to figure out all the details about Twelve's path to the Capitol, but that was okay by me. It was a great conversation. She's talking to me, first of all, but she's talking to me about things that she's learning in school, learning to care about things that matter to the future of the nation, envisioning ways to be involved, and practicing her critical thinking skills. It doesn't get much better than that in a twenty minute car ride with a thirteen-year-old.

It almost made up for the hour of misery at the volleyball game - between the uncomfortable metal bleachers, stinky strangers with small personal space bubbles, and the really lousy volleyball, going to Twelve's games is not my favorite way to spend an evening.

On the other hand, we now have a reason to be grateful that a sore backside and smelly people are the worst things that happen to us at an athletic event.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Aaaaand, She's Off!

I got up at four this morning to drop Twelve off at school, where she joined the rest of her seventh grade class to begin their field trip to Washington, DC. Don't tell her, but inside her suitcase are three copies of Out of My Mind (chosen mostly because our local independent book store had three copies, but it turns out to be a fairly highly acclaimed novel) for the girls in her group. It's possible that each pair of socks has a little note folded inside, too.

Basically, I will take any excuse to use the (paper) pinking shears and every color of sharpie. 

Twelve LOVES this sort of thing, even though she tries to act like she's embarrassed. I sneaked a balloon bouquet and a heart-shaped cookie into her locker on [stupid, commercialized, heterosexist] Valentine's Day, and she kind of pretended it wasn't cool even though it quite clearly was. I left a post-it note on her locker after Monday's PTA meeting, and she told me later that she was just glad that she got to it before anyone saw it. Go ahead, pretend you didn't like it, I'll play along.

We've been really focused on preparing for the DC trip for several weeks now. Despairing of Twelve ever caring enough about her terrible posture to try very hard to develop the necessary muscles, I finally decided to just flat-out bribe her with cold hard cash since I knew she'd be wanting spending money for the trip. I used the same strategy that was so successful in eliminating extraneous uses of the word 'like' from her speech patterns; I wrote "$100" at the top of a piece of paper and deducted a dollar every time I had to remind her to stand up straight. Combined with the physical therapy exercises that she more or less bothered to do occasionally, that did the trick. She now looks much, much better (the real reason I care) and will avoid back problems and pain later in life (the reason the insurance company will continue to pay for physical therapy).

It occurred to me just a couple of weeks ago that Twelve, for all that she is known at school as a social butterfly and incorrigible chatterbox, is truly an introvert. She's been spending hours each day and entire days on the weekends puttering around her room and reading, but I didn't connect the dots until she skipped a Young Life meeting and came straight home after school, saying that she just didn't feel like she'd had enough time at home lately. Oh, crap, I thought. Nine days with other people constantly around just might actually kill her. Trying not to be one of those freaked-out moms, I brought it up with her group chaperone, who reassured me that she would make sure that there was plenty of down time and that she'd be on the lookout for Twelve needing time alone. I told Twelve that yeah, it's kind of a dick move, but she could always just shut herself into the bathroom for an unnecessarily long shower if she needed to. Desperate times call for desperate measures, after all.

Spring volleyball started last week, which just gave us one more thing to fit into the week. Who thinks that 7:15-8:45 pm is a reasonable hour for middle school volleyball open gyms and observation sessions? Not me, that's for sure, and throwing that into the mix required Twelve to think very strategically about her packing and laundry plans.

Ah, packing. I told Twelve that she could use my wonderful red rolling suitcase (it has wheels on all four corners, which is the best suitcase feature ever), but no. She wanted to borrow my cousin's Big Purple Suitcase. Twelve used to use it for her trips to visit her dad until the airlines started charging for checked bags. I told her that she should pack light, since she has to maneuver her own luggage from the bus to the airport and from the airport to the hotel on the Metro, but she insisted. I gave in, partially, and said that she could take the Big Purple Suitcase on the condition that she contacted my cousin on her own and only if my cousin was willing to drop it off. Since I failed to quickly warn my cousin to say no, she very kindly brought the suitcase over.

It's a good thing that airlines have luggage weight restrictions, because Twelve is a very thorough packer and it is a very large case. 

The planning continued right up until bedtime last night. R had just returned home from a six-week work stint in Costa Rica, and as I was tucking Twelve in, it occurred to him that he has a few dead birds to deliver to the Museum of Natural History (we have quite a collection in the unused ice maker compartment of our freezer), and wouldn't it be cool if she took them with her to hand-deliver to the curator. Yes, it would be pretty damn cool to be the seventh grader who posts up at the information desk with a few dead birds that the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History doesn't have yet. We all discussed the impracticalities of this idea, given that we don't happen to keep dry ice on hand and that transporting frozen carcasses is probably frowned upon by seventh grade trip coordinators (if not outright banned by the TSA). Eventually Twelve - who was becoming increasingly enthralled by the idea of being such an important person - suggested that R could mail the birds to her at the hotel.

We are pretty sure we can get a package to her in time for their scheduled trip to the museum, but R is getting conflicting information on the process for properly packing and shipping bird specimens, so we'll see.

If that doesn't work out, perhaps she will run into the acquaintance who reports via Facebook that she, too, will be in DC on Saturday. Twelve already can't go on a school trip in our town without running into an adult she knows from something or other, and has shared at least one cross-country flight with someone we know, so why not encounter a friendly face in the nation's capital?

I got a phone call a few hours ago from somebody's dad, the guy at the top of the phone tree, with the information that they arrived at the hotel and were eating dinner. Okay, that's great news, even though I did kind of assume that that's what would happen, so I proceeded to call the next person on the tree. Trouble is, nobody (but me, apparently) answers unfamiliar numbers anymore, so I ended up calling every single person all the way down the list and leaving messages. I'd like to give a special shout-out to the mother who was on vacation; thanks so much for putting your work number on the phone tree. I really enjoyed trying to explain things to whoever that was who answered, especially since he had no idea what was going on and did not feel authorized to give me your cell number. If I ever get that far down with the message-leaving again, I'm going to skip you entirely. Have a great vacation.

Twelve called to say goodnight - I was very clear that I expect a call every night, we'll see what happens - and it was an absolutely classic call of obligation: "Hi mom, I'm going to bed now, bye!" Hold on a second there, sweetie. How was your flight? "Good." How was the bus ride to the airport? "Good." How was getting from the airport to the hotel? "Good. Oh, we got the presents, thank you!" Okay, you're welcome, goodnight.

Thus begins my week-long holiday from parental responsibility. I'm sure I have big 'woo-hoo, the kiddo's out of town' plans around here someplace ... 

Monday, March 11, 2013

On Passing

Passing. Passing counterfeit money, passing for white, passing for hetero, passing the salt, passing as upper-middle-class.

Counterfeiters use fancy paper and ink, nonwhites use their white-looking physical features, gay men and lesbians use heteronormative assumptions, and in our household salt uses a turquoise Vernon Kilns shaker c. 1940.

Twelve uses thrift shop clothing.

I realized this the other day when we got home from sewing machine hunting with a couple of nearly-new name-brand things for her - I think one of the shirts had its original retail tags still attached - and it occurred to me to ask her if she tells her friends that the new clothes she shows up to school in are purchased secondhand.

She gave me that special look that means I know absolutely nothing and used that special tone of voice that means I am the stupidest person on the planet when she told me that, no, she does not tell them.

I was a bit relieved that she does not - I was raised that it's gauche to talk about how much things cost and I am perfectly fine if observers assume that I pay full price for my jeans at Nordstrom - if for no other reason than to avoid giving anyone a chance to tease her about it. I feel confident that if I had told people that my clothes were handed down from my cousin, I would have been teased.

And then I made the connection. Just like lesbians can tap into hetero privilege by pretending to be straight and mothers can avoid discrimination to the extent that they can successfully pretend they don't have kids, Twelve is using secondhand clothes to fit in with her much wealthier peers. She's passing. It helps hugely that her dad has given her so many of the big-ticket items, of course, but it's Twelve's ability to find Nike shirts and Juicy Couture hoodies for a few dollars apiece that allows her to play the role of a much wealthier child. And the orthodontia - oh, the orthodontia.

She's successful in camouflaging our relatively lower income bracket, as far as I can tell. It helps that, if anyone asks what her mother does, the explanation that I'm a graduate student carries quite a bit of cache (in our town at least) without an expectation of a lavish lifestyle. Our car is crappy compared to the other cars in the school parking lot, but I don't feel like it sticks out unreasonably (and at least it isn't a minivan!). Twelve has so far declined all my suggestions that she bring friends home, which saddens me somewhat because I would love to have the home where the teenagers congregate, but I can't blame her because I've been to her friends' houses. Even if the parents agreed with me that our small, rented, century-old house is very cool, the kids probably wouldn't get it. I am getting to know the very nice mother of one of the very nice boys in Twelve's class; she is very down-to-earth and, while I am sure she would not judge us based on the fact that their house is probably five times the size of ours, I think I'd think twice about inviting her here, at least until we've spent more time together.

It's not as if I'm immune to wanting people to think I'm in a higher economic bracket than I really am. I don't go around saying that I buy used jeans or that I get my fancy boots at half price because we have a friend who works for the company.

On the other hand, if my mother could decode the symbols embroidered onto the back pockets of jeans (she can't - hell, I can't either, but I've figured out that it costs fifty bucks for each inseam inch beyond 32, and god knows that after a lifetime of too-short jeans I'll take 36 inches if I can get them), I'd better make sure she knows I paid ten percent of the original retail of those Habituals.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In Which the Contents of Both Barrels are Metaphorically Discharged in Twelve's Direction

I let Twelve have it with both barrels tonight; I pointed a spatula at her, spoke sternly in a raised voice, shut the door hard on my way out, and then performed some basic kitchen tasks with more force than was absolutely necessary.

To preface: We do not shout or slam things, especially our vintage dishes or glass cabinet doors, in this house. If someone (say, me) wishes to make a point, all she has to do is to add a bit of extra emphasis to whatever she's doing (say, putting the leftover tomato paste into a plastic container before going downstairs).

To explain: Lately, Twelve has been asking me to hang out in the bathroom while she showers. It started a couple of weeks ago on a day when I was away from home for some reason or another during the period of time after school and before bedtime. The shower curtains are opaque (she is keen on hiding the bits covered by underwear), I sit on the closed toilet seat and file my nails or trim split ends or whatever, and she talks. It's similar to what happens when we're driving somewhere; she talks to me without having to admit that she's talking to me. Today we missed our teatime because I had a plumbing-related situation to deal with at my rental house and a meeting, so I suggested that we have a bedtime tea, and it turned into me drinking a hot toddy in the bathroom. Lovely, right? 

Anyway, she mentions the latest Coach bag that she wants (barf) and says that she's going to mention it to her dad because he might buy it for her. Okay, fine, let's talk some more about how your dad's household has so much money. Twelve brings this up fairly frequently; I appreciate it because I want her to understand that the reason we don't do x or purchase y is not because I don't love her, but because our household income does not allow it. I hate it because it drives me crazy that he pays less than ten percent of his net income in child support and the disparity between our households is stark.

Stark. As in, I'm driving my second mid-nineties Honda in ten years and (according to Twelve) they've had eleven different new cars in five years.

Twelve is asking questions, and I'm answering them as best I can, and trying to help her understand that wealth is relative (we are very rich compared to some and very poor compared to others) and that, once your basic needs are met, the rest is just gravy. In other words, her dad might have four times as much money as we do, but his expenses are not four times as high, which is why his wife has so many Coach bags.

Somehow, this turns into Twelve talking about how she wants to do ROTC ("Well, I wouldn't be a regular private - those are the ones who always die") and advance quickly in the military until she, too, is making heaps of cash.

You've got to be fucking kidding me. First, Twelve in the military? PLEASE. Second, my child in the military? OVER MY DEAD BODY.

But you can't say that to your kid, not one who wants really, really badly to admire her father even though she's fully aware that he didn't bother to stay in touch with her for the first eight years of her life. We talked about that last week in this very same bathroom, for Pete's sake! I get it, she's conflicted and dealing with it as best she can (which she does very well, by the way). But how do you dissuade her from thinking of a military "career" without telling her that the military sucks? Well, you dissemble a bit; you explain that the military recruits most of its members from high schools in working class and poor neighborhoods. You point out that combat service is required for swift advancement and that women are not allowed in combat. You explain, when she mentions patriotism, that that's a very similar propaganda machine to the one that makes her think that a Coach tote bag is beautiful.

Shockingly, this does not get us very far. Twelve thinks that a TOTE BAG that folds into some sort of SMALLER BAG is both functionally and aesthetically pleasing just because it has the Coach imprimatur. OF COURSE she thinks that the military is a noble cause at the same time that she thinks she can just sign up to be one of the people who gets to advance quickly and avoid death.

Then you explain that the military involves a lot of taking orders, and that she's just not cut out for that. I forget what bullshit response she had to that, something about being the one giving the orders and wanting to get a Purple Heart. YOU HAVE TO GET WOUNDED, REALLY BADLY, TO GET A PURPLE HEART, you exclaim. "Well, I wouldn't" she says. "Well, you might!" you reply; "And you might get raped! Many women in the military are sexually assaulted" you add, for good measure. "Have you ever been raped?" she asks. "It depends on how you define rape," you reply, because you have told her a lot, but you haven't told her that story yet and are pretty sure you don't want to. "Well, I won't. Do you know how many machine guns I'll have?" she says.

And then, in the next breath, she exclaims, "Oh, my nails are just ruined!"

Kind of tired of the whole subject by now, and wishing that your hot toddy wasn't all gone, you respond wearily, "Sweetie, I don't think you're quite cut out to be a soldier" and head for the door.

Obviously thinking she's being cleverly mischievous and about to have the last word, Twelve sticks her face out of the curtain and pipes up with, "Well, I don't think that what my dad did to you was rape."

Back story: Since she doesn't know about the postpartum coercion part, she's referring to the part about how he said he 'just hadn't come that time.'

On multiple occasions.

Not knowing any better and being a trusting person, I believed him.

Pregnancy was the result.

Side note: I will be damned, and by damned I mean condemned to an old-fashioned eternity spent in hell, if I will allow my daughter to make mistakes in ignorance. She can be irresponsible, she can follow the dictates of her incompletely developed frontal lobe, she can make the dumbest of all possible dumb choices, but by golly she'll have as much information as I can give her. When Twelve asks questions about things, I answer them. Truthfully.

And before you get all huffy with me about how horrible it is to allow your child to find out that she was unintentional, let's discuss the percentage of pregnancies in the United States that are unintentional.

Forty-nine percent. That's right, almost half of the women who get pregnant each year did not get pregnant on purpose. Of babies born, thirty-seven percent were not conceived on purpose.

We'll skip for the moment the discussion of how horrible it is to pretend to your child that you wanted to get pregnant with her when in fact you did not, and just agree that the thing that matters is for your child to know you love her and that it does not matter one bit whether or not she was planned in advance.

Now, back to the story: I was still digesting the thing she said about rape when Twelve added, "And I don't think you're ever going to finish the thingie you're working on" ... referring, of course, to my dissertation.

Wow, kid, I'm just not sure how to respond to that, so I think I'm just going to leave the room and close the door firmly behind me. 

By the time I got to the kitchen, though, I realized that I probably should make a point of not letting her get away with this. "What on Earth do you think rape IS?" I called to her through the closed door. She mumbled something about how she thought it was when someone forced you to do something you didn't want to do. "Yes, well, how is what he did not that?" I asked rhetorically. She had nothing there (fair enough), so she retreated to, "It was rude of you to say that I wouldn't be a good soldier!" 

At this point, I was looking for things to slam around. Noticing that she had left out the rest of the can of tomato sauce from the pizza she had made earlier, one of those little cans that you need a spatula to do anything with, I selected a spatula from the jar and stormed back into her room. Gesturing emphatically with it, I said angrily, "If you ever got to the point where you have worked for ten years and are a few months away from achieving the highest possible achievement in your field, I would not tell you that you wouldn't be good at whatever it is!" I then went back into the kitchen, yanked a few cabinets and drawers open and closed, found a suitable container, and managed to be good and noisy about scraping the tomato paste into it. Throwing the empty can into the recycle bin made a satisfying clank.

I decided that the grand finale would be to refuse to perform our nightly tucking-in ritual. I went back in her room and sternly said that I'd see her in the morning. By this point she had figured things out, and was eager to explain that she understood the difference between me telling her that she wouldn't be a good soldier and her telling me that I wasn't going to finish my doctorate. I really do think she had got it, but her tone of voice was more smug than contrite, so I stuck to my position and headed downstairs. A few minutes later, when she phoned, as usual, to announce, as usual, that she was ready to be tucked in, I actually pushed the 'ignore call' button and waited to see what she would do. Sure enough, moments later she came bopping down the stairs, acting like nothing's wrong and announcing that she's ready to be tucked in as if I had simply not noticed her call.

Nuh-uh, not gonna happen. I'm making my point with you this time, my dear. You don't get to say something that you know is completely and totally insulting, even experimentally, and then make a perfunctory apology and expect that everything's immediately okay. The price you pay for being a total shit to other people is sometimes that they don't like you very much for awhile. I know I'm your mom and that you get to try things out on me, which is why we tease each other so much and why that's usually just fine, but you crossed an important line tonight and by golly I'm going to let you know about it.

I had already said I'd drive her to school tomorrow, so we'll have a chance to reconnect soon. In my imagination, she's tossing and turning right now, unable to sleep because of overwhelming remorse. In reality, she's probably either dead asleep already or retelling the story with herself as the wronged party. In the morning, she probably won't give me a big hug out of the blue and whisper in my ear that she's so sorry about last night, but we will probably exchange a knowing glance that means we're both willing to let the incident go.

I will probably go upstairs to get a snack or a glass of water pretty soon, and I'll probably have some reason to go into the bathroom. Since the shortest route from the kitchen to the bathroom is through Twelve's room, I might tiptoe through there. You know, just in case someone has something to say to someone about how sorry she is for saying something so mean. Or if someone wants to make sure someone else is properly tucked in.

Goodnight, my sweet girl, have a good sleep.

Friday, March 1, 2013

On Friendship, Part Two [or] You Do It Differently Than I

I have two settings for friendship, on and off. I am either friends with someone or I am not. There is almost no middle ground, to the point that I don't always like situations in which I'll meet a lot of new people, because it can be so overwhelming to think about getting to know them. When I meet people and click with them, I go straight into 'becoming friends' mode, and when I'm friends with people I maintain relationships with them, and I like doing that but it is a lot of work to maintain friendships in several different social networks and all over the country and AAAGGGHHHHH I'm exhausted and can't do it anymore and end up letting friendship threads drop and that's not the point that's the opposite of the point! So I end up having only two categories for people: Friends and not-friends, and the friends category is kind of hard to get into.

The problem is that in the Cuban dance community there are a whole heck of a lot of people that you see on a regular basis - either locally, at classes and our regular social events, or across North America at the major events - but are not quite interested in claiming as friends. Some are just plain annoying; they keep bringing up that one time that you got really drunk or they try too hard to insert themselves into social situations. One sexually assaulted one of my friends in the back of another friend's van on the way home from something, and I flat-out refuse to be friends with someone who does that, even if he seems so personable and friendly. NO FUCKING WAY.

A couple of people tend to hang silently around the edges of other people's conversations, never saying anything but always just being there, which I find insanely irritating. I am fairly open with people I trust, but if we're not even friends on Facebook that means I've already decided not to share myself with you. If I am giving a presentation or teaching a class, then I am perfectly fine with an audience. If it's a private conversation, no thank you - what the hell are you doing, just standing there? GO AWAY. 

As I realized the other day, Twelve's definition of friendship is more ... fluid than mine. I mentioned this to her, and she nodded, knowing exactly what I meant.

[Side note: I LOVE it when I can get Twelve to consider things and respond seriously. It's been happening quite often, and I just get a huge kick out of it, kind of like when I'm rereading an Anastasia book and read a particularly funny part out loud to her and wait with bated breath to see if she's going to laugh too. So far, she always does.]

During tea, I like to ask about how things are going with Twelve's friends. It's kind of a crap shoot, since I'm still trying to figure out who they all are; since I don't spend much time with them, they're mostly faceless names that all seem to start with the same couple of letters - very hard to sort out from a distance. But I can at least ask if one of the Ss is still behaving socially erratically (because OMG she was being totes weird awhile back!) and if L has gotten up the gumption to talk to the boy she likes lately (no), that kind of thing. What I've noticed lately is that if I ask about a friend who was relevant the last time I checked, I get a blank look (the particularly adolescent one that means I'm equal parts crazy, stupid, and clueless, but she's putting up with me for the time being).

I think I read something about this in one of those scary adolescence books, too; that middle school friendships aren't just on or off. They're on again, off again, on again, off again ... rinse and repeat. Sounds absolutely nightmarish to me; I like knowing where I stand with people, and I like stability. Either Twelve doesn't have this trait or it hasn't developed yet; just this week, the one of the Ss who was behaving really appallingly last month met up with Twelve and me at a coffee shop after school. It was weird for me, and I hardly know the girl! But for Twelve this is how it works, and apparently - I may need to go through a couple of those books again - it's normal for adolescent girls' friendships to fluctuate.

For the DC trip, Twelve is in a group with her best friend L, their friend A, and A's mom (their chaperone). Usually there are four kids with each adult, but I suspect that these three will be plenty, and that there is a containment aspect to just having three in this particular group. When she called to tell us that this is the group, A's mom said that Twelve was currently not speaking to the other two girls and that we needed to get them back on good terms before the trip to avoid drama. I said that of course I would check with Twelve about it and find out what's going on.

When I asked her about it, she gave me that blank look that I just love and said there was no problem. She and A had exchanged messages moments before, and everything was fine. Okaaay, what about L? I asked. Same response, nothing wrong between her and L. I tried to ask why she hadn't been speaking to them for a week, Twelve was noncommittal - something about A being annoying. Since all seemed to be resolved, I decided not to pry. While I would love to know about everything that happens, mostly because I am fascinated by other people's drama, my long term strategy with Twelve is better served by feigning an attitude of nonchalance, keeping an ear to the ground, and asking as many casual questions as I can get away with.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Perfection vs. Chaos vs. NO THANK YOU

About a month ago, I officially (if privately) declared myself as being a part-time doctoral dissertation proposal writer. My new co-advisors (who are fantastic, compared to my previous nightmare advisor - I got an email from them asking if I wanted to meet to discuss my progress, and nearly fell out of my chair) are encouraging me to set my own pace, and when one sets one's own pace, why should one be knocking herself out when one does not have to? It was remarkably freeing to disengage myself from the expectation that I be frantically trying to finish.

And then today a couple of friends shared this post about how we sanitize our lives before posting them on Facebook and how we really should be sharing more of the reality - frustrations, spilled cocoa, and all. That's all very well and good, I suppose - although a more truthful version of my news feed would involve way more carbohydrate cravings than anyone is interested in hearing about, particularly from a thin person - but it also just idealizes the other end of the spectrum.

The way I'm seeing it this afternoon, there are two fields of battle on the internet, as well as "IRL": 'Whose life is more perfect' (Pintrest, you are an accessory here) and 'Whose life is most hectic.' Both options exhaust me. I'd like to declare myself the Switzerland of this particular war. I would like to just not play this game. I would like to define perfection for my own self, and this morning that was waking up on a Monday morning with one important task on my list: Mail four packages.

You see, by being on the part-time track, I am rediscovering things about myself that I had lost and hadn't even remembered to miss; laughing out loud at the computer screen and going out of my way to do nice things for people. I surprised myself at one point, bursting into laughter at the guy who fell off a treadmill, shoes flying every which way. I laughed when Bones breezed through Booth's crossword puzzle and then earnestly asked where Gilligan's Island is located. It's such an amazing feeling! It's like deja vu; I think I remember it but I'm not quite sure.

One of my packages this morning was just my Gingher scissors that need sharpening (dropping really good scissors on a cement floor should be punishable by a lot more than an eight dollar refurbishing fee). The other three, though, were little presents for friends across the country, people that I don't necessarily even know very well, I just felt like doing something nice for them. This shouldn't feel so unusual, is the point; I used to be the kind of person who did stuff like this on a fairly regular basis, I think. I don't want to live a life in which writing an address and making a trip to the automated postage thingy feels like the final, camel-killing straw. I don't want the little things in life to be shoved out by the panic of too much to do. We'd have to ask my friends if they really wanted me to make them a set of cloth napkins, but - cliche alert - it's the little things in life that really matter.

I love/hate it when yet another cliche turns out to be true. I love that we have such pat phrases to describe life truths, but I hate not being able to come up with a more original way to say it. I feel like I did when I read The Dialectic of Sex for the first time and had an utterly profound realization, only to turn the page and discover that Shulamith Firestone had figured it out before I was even born.

It's also true that it's easy for me to come to this conclusion from my relatively privileged position. Between child support, the margin on the house I rent out, a very lucky housing situation, and a modest standard of living, our basic needs are mostly covered. I can work part-time, write my dissertation part-time, and still have time for three o'clock tea with Twelve and the occasional gratuitous Anastasia re-read.

I'd conclude with something cheesy and grossly side-steppy like "everybody should be so lucky," but what I really mean is that everyone should be empowered to pursue whatever kind of life they want, whether that is super-perfect or super-frantic or just plain chill. This is partly - perhaps mostly - a call for society to distribute wealth in a manner that makes this possible, but for many of us in the middle class it's also a question of personal empowerment; a personal decision to step off the treadmill (hopefully gracefully and with no loss of shoes) and define success for oneself.

My next challenge is to define my parenting efforts as successful even though Twelve's definition of success still involves owning handbags with garish logos.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nine Weird Steps to a Fantastic Thirteen-Year-Old Daughter

Awhile back, I posted something precious about Twelve on Facebook, and one of the comments was a semi-serious "How did you do it?"-type question. I've been sitting on the idea until now because I couldn't quite put my finger on how to explain what I've done that's made Twelve so totally awesome. I was thinking about it again yesterday, because my high schooler friend, A, came over for tea and a catch-up and I realized that she and Twelve are heading for similar experiences in early adulthood, when they realize that their peers are dunderheads. They are both ahead of the game right now - A particularly in academics, Twelve particularly in social awareness, and both in common sense and critical thinking more generally - and I suspect that they both expect on some level that eventually they will be in the company of equals.

I'm very sorry, ladies, but that's not going to happen.

For Twelve, the problem is that she's going to show up at the dorm with carefully chosen accessories and high hopes for meeting fun new people, only to realize that almost everyone else is socially awkward, insecure, and incapable of doing their own laundry. She'll be excited about the first party she's invited to, until she gets there and realizes that she had more fun with her mom's friends when she was thirteen. (True story: We were just sitting around comparing Sidecar recipes when she came out of her room and asked me if we could play Catchphrase. I said Sure, but only if you make it happen. Ninety seconds later, that red disk was making its way around the room, and it was an excellent party.) I've been very careful to expose her to just enough adult behavior to completely demystify it for her. I haven't let her taste alcohol yet, but I hope that her first drinking experiences are at home and I hope that she learns to appreciate the difference between good tequila and the well crap that you get for two bucks at college town bars.

For A, the problem is that she's going to show up in her first college classes with carefully selected required textbooks and high hopes for being challenged academically, only to realize that her written work is still getting perfect marks because she's a competent writer and the only student who actually grasped the point of the assignment. Go to the most academically rigorous school you can find, I told her, because even at the doctoral level at my state university I am praised for writing that I barely want to claim. She's also struggling to maintain her values, amongst peers who seem more concerned with the number of likes they accumulate on Instagram than things like human trafficking and global poverty.

Anyway, I was trying to identify some similarities in A's mother's parenting approach and mine, to maybe come up with a list of instructions, when I figured out the real answer, which is as follows:

How to Raise a Fantastic Thirteen-Year-Old Daughter

Step One: Be Successfully Nurtured. It's really hard to pass along what we haven't received. Possible, I suppose, but difficult. As I was just saying (wearing my Captain Obvious hat) to my sister in regards to my niece who just doesn't like strange people, it's good for her to be securely attached to her known caregivers. It's a pain in the ass, yes, because it's going to be a lot more work to help her learn to transition between situations, but it's infinitely better than the alternative.

Step Two: Be (or Become) Highly Educated. The mother's level of education is the single most significant predictor of individual success, period. As a bonus, attending college while your daughter is growing up means that she literally cannot conceive of life without higher education.

Step Three: Have Sufficient Financial Resources. Awhile back, some cutesy thing went around Facebook to the effect that the problem with kids today is that they need to learn to cook, clean their rooms, do their homework, go outside and play, etc, etc. To which I replied indignantly along the lines of (but with much gentler phrasing) Okay, now we just need to ensure that every child has a fully stocked kitchen, an appropriately furnished bedroom, schools that bother to assign homework and spaces at home in which to do it, and neighborhoods in which it is FUCKING SAFE TO BE OUTDOORS.

Step Four: Live in a Place with Excellent Infrastructure. You want well-funded fire and police departments, ample, safe, and convenient playgrounds, sidewalks, organic grocery stores, libraries, parks, and schools. A major state college town with lots of excellent public schools and at least three private schools is good, especially if your third grader can walk or ride her scooter to elementary school and then later, in a completely different neighborhood, bike to the fantastic small public middle school that's eighteen blocks away.

Step Five: Pick Private School. The first time you visit, Waldorf kindergarten classrooms seem completely and totally weird. Stick with it, though, because by about the third visit you cannot imagine how kindergarten could ever be any other way. The muted colors and natural materials somehow imbue the space with a kind of magic. For two years, I couldn't go in that room without tearing up a little bit, and every 'regular' kindergarten classroom I've seen since seems chaotic and harshly overstimulating. Never mind that it costs as much as college tuition; you may be eligible for a tuition adjustment that, in the words of Tim Farrington, brings "the cost of the grand gesture down from inconceivable to merely prodigal."

Step Six: Be and Breed White. White children find it much easier to fit in and feel normal; they are broadly represented everywhere, and don't have to bother to learn how to switch between multiple cultures to navigate home and public spaces.

Step Seven: Have Thin Genes. With thin genes, your child will never have to seriously worry about her size. She might show you a pinched flap of midriff and you might despair that she actually believes that the pictures in magazines actually look like that, but she'll fit into regular desks and regular airplane seats and find clothes that fit in regular stores. Exercise will be about becoming more athletic, and you can joke about turning into all those cupcakes you've eaten rather than worry about diabetes.

Step Eight: Be and Breed Beautiful. This is inextricably linked to steps Six and Seven; your daughter will have a snowball's chance of reaching Step Eight herself if you don't have thin genes and if you're not white or pretty close to looking like it. Symmetrical features and straight teeth are absolute musts; the latter can be faked with enough orthodontia, so you might get lucky there.

Step Nine: Provide Appropriate Costuming. Help your daughter dress the way she wants to be seen. If necessary, buy secondhand clothing to help her pass herself off as a child of a wealthier family, even if the peers she's emulating are backed by ten times your household income.

Okay, I'm sick of this exercise, so - like the people who collect a bunch of funny photos or clever household hints and then just count them and call it a headline - I'm stopping now, with no pretense to the list's comprehensiveness. I don't mean to suggest that I haven't contributed anything to Twelve's general awesomeness, because I'm sure I have. However, I'm equally sure that whatever actual advice I could come up with would be absolutely grounded in these fundamental realities. It's always been easy for me to encourage Twelve to be independent and capable, because our neighborhoods are safe and our infrastructure quite good.

Case in point: She made cupcakes from scratch yesterday, from ingredients and with equipment that are customarily present in our kitchen. She preheated the oven and used a portion scoop to distribute the batter into the hot pink zebra patterned cupcake papers she found in her Christmas stocking. I showed her the miraculous transformation of butter, vanilla, milk, and powdered sugar into frosting via KitchenAid (she really should have been more impressed). After the finished cakes cooled on the special baking cooling racks, she frosted them and added the several different kinds of decorative sprinkles.

Okay, so our kitchen isn't perfect; the baking soda jar was empty and she had to look up how much baking powder to use instead. She did that all on her own, now that I think about it, providing another handy example of how our kitchen's fundamental infrastructure allowed her to practice the kind of resourcefulness that will help her do things like checking the syllabus if she has a question about an assignment instead of emailing the professor in an incoherent panic at the last minute.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hand-Me-Down Values

I grew up wearing other people's clothes. Specifically, my older cousin's. Whenever we saw them, I usually ended up with a few paper bags of her outgrown clothing to go through. They sort of fit, at least until I got a lot taller than her, and I suppose they were stylish enough, though from photos it's hard to distinguish awful-because-eighties from awful-during-eighties.

We rarely shopped for new clothes, and when we did, it was just the clearance racks. It wasn't that my family couldn't afford it, I don't think; it was that clothes for the kids weren't a priority to the breadwinner, so they weren't purchased. Our mom went along with it, because that's what you do when you are a young Christian homemaker wife and mother, and we kids didn't know any differently. How was I supposed to know at age eight that being worried about money when our dad bought a new power tool meant that his financial priorities were all fucked up?

I didn't mind about the hand-me-down clothes - it didn't occur to me to mind - until junior high, when I entered public school and had something to compare my clothes with. I realized that mine were all wrong and that other people did things like go to the store in August and buy a new wardrobe for school. Some families designated hundreds - hundreds! - of dollars especially for that purpose, which I swear to god I didn't know was possible.

After my undergraduate degree, when Twelve was little and I had a 'real' job, I went through a stage of buying new clothes for her, in batches, from Gap or another of those generic but 'name brand' shops. That lasted until the credit card debt started piling up and I went to graduate school to become a highly educated person with skills no one wants to actually pay for.

I still don't see the point of paying full price for anything, especially now that I know that the markup on retail clothing is upwards of fifty percent. And then there's the ethical question of apparel production, which makes purchasing new clothes from most brands an absolutely immoral act. So we buy secondhand for the most part, though I do make my own clothes when I can find soft jersey knits in good colors.

Twelve has, I hope, a healthy respect for the fact that our lifestyle includes only occasional purchases of relatively big-ticket items. I don't think that she worries that we won't be able to pay rent because we spent too much on clothes. It's all relative, of course, in that the things that are big-ticket to us are absolutely impossibly astronomically big-ticket to some and business-as-usual to others. We also have a particular value system in that we'll pay more for certain things, like good boot socks, and never dream of spending much on others, like Juicy Couture wallets. (Forty bucks for a wallet? Are you kidding me?)

It helps that her dad buys her things like color-coordinated Beats headphones and Coach bag (THEY FUCKING MATCH), so she fits in just fine at school, but one of the things I really appreciate about my otherwise ridiculous progeny is her sensible approach to buying clothes. She is perfectly satisfied with her thrift store clothing at three and four and five bucks a pop. And why wouldn't she be? She gets way more stuff that way than she would if she insisted that everything come from a mall.

But the thing is, I would buy her new clothes from the mall if that's what it took for her to feel good about what she wore. There wouldn't be as much of it - I'm not ever going to do the credit card debt thing again, thankyouverymuch - but if for some reason she needed that, I'd make it happen. I'd be symbolically rescuing my former self, I'm sure, but what else is parenthood if not the chance to work through one's own issues? Abused children vow not to inflict similar abuse on their own offspring, impoverished children become workaholic adults in the quest of giving their own children a better life, and children of argumentative parents work really hard to achieve harmony in their adult partnerships.

The hand-me-down system remains alive and well in my extended family. I don't get paper bags of my cousin's castoffs anymore, but unwanted clothing is still circulated until ... I don't know what eventually happens to it. I imagine that eventually someone either keeps it or takes it to Goodwill, but whenever I see my mom, she has some sort of hand-me-down bag for us, usually with clothes or some sort of sewing paraphernalia. Once the bag contained a really terrible black velvet button-up shirt that I had gotten rid of several years before. It had made the rounds of my sister and at least two aunts before coming back to me.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great system much of the time. R has inherited quite a few things from my brother, a beneficial partnership because my brother is quite the clothes horse and R is, well, let's just say that I've definitely pondered the ethics of getting rid of certain garments while their owner is out of the country. Twelve also has a variety of t-shirts and sweatshirts that are remnants of my sister's high school and college athletic days. It is a very sweet symbol of the auntie-niece relationship and signifies our as-yet-unfounded expectation that Twelve will become an athlete. The garments lead to some pretty surreal situations that we get a kick out of; her PE teacher recognized a high school track sweatshirt because he had previously taught at a neighboring school. When the orthopedist recognized one of the college basketball t-shirts, I gestured toward it and said 'my little sister' by way of explanation. His expression led me to quickly clarify that the t-shirt, not the wearer, was my sister's. The rusty patio furniture that came with the house R lived in when I met him has since been handed around amongst our friends at least three times. It's currently on the back patio of the house that I helped our friend N pick out, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are really looking forward to that first shiveringly optimistic cookout of the spring.

I love that Twelve has eaten so many times at the same set of crappy-ass patio furniture. I love that hand-me-down clothes mean something different to Twelve than they did to me. She wears her Auntie's old t-shirts and hoodies because her aunt is awesome, not because she has no other options. I love that wearing secondhand clothes is for Twelve a pragmatic way to get more of what she wants, not a resented result of a parent's reluctance to spend money on her.

However, I really hope she doesn't figure out that I'd buy her clothes at the mall if necessary. I really hate malls.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cocktails and Hypocrisy

I'm hosting the inaugural Cocktail Club meeting tonight, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; I'm taking a stab at creating an intentionally social group and using the hapless cocktail as an excuse. I came up with the idea because a bunch of people I really like get together on a regular basis to play a game I tried once and just couldn't see the point of, and I was jealous of the camaraderie, so decided to try a similar group in which Catan remains unsettled. I have no illusions about the chances of this actually working out - it might not - but I figure I'll set up the infrastructure and see what happens.

Since my goal is to create a small community, the Cocktail Club membership roster is carefully considered; I want folks to have the opportunity to meet new people, actually get to know them over time, and eventually become friends. Since that's the goal, I tried to keep the total number low. I included only people I really enjoy spending time with, and not even all of those. I left off people with whose partners I happen to not be friends, and I invited only a few people from each of my several social circles. It didn't really work, of course; I ended up with about fifteen people on the list, but I figure that not everyone will be able to come every time, so we should be okay.

I'm not looking for ways to exclude people, but it's impossible to be close friends with an infinite number of people, at least for me. My brain is only so big and my capacity for socializing in groups is fairly small. The worldwide Cuban dance community is huge, and I realized long ago that meeting someone once at an event is not sufficient for friendship, even the Facebook version. Even locally, I've released myself from the expectation that I'll get to know everyone. We have new people coming up through classes all the time, and even though I'm paid to help teach one class a week, it's not enough to even learn all their names, much less add everyone to my personal social life.

Also, my house is the opposite of a Tardis house. It looks big from the outside, but you get inside and it's really tiny. Occasionally I do love to cram thirty people in here for standing-room-only drinks, usually before we go out dancing, but that's not what I'm looking for with this project. Five people can comfortably sit in my living room on the couches and upholstered chairs, and with four kitchen chairs and the antique sewing machine bench, my house accommodates exactly ten people for grown-up sitting around.

I was driving to a meeting today (one of the social circles from which only half of the people are invited) and I found myself thinking about how I hope that the folks who are coming have the good sense to not tell other people about it. (Unbelievably, that happens; this summer I had a get-together and the first guests were two people I hadn't invited - one of whom had specifically not invited, and he brought some other guy I had barely even met. They were early, and then they ate all the snacks.)

And then I realized that I'm a hypocrite. I'm trying to get Twelve to be the kind of person who excludes no one, but at the same time I steadfastly defend my right to be friends with only the people I actually want to be friends with.

My past and current selves are in conflict. My past self, the scared seventh grade self, would like for everyone to be included in everything, always, because she remembers how hard it was to be excluded. She wants her daughter to go out there and be friends with everyone; to rescue all the poor lonely seventh graders so they won't feel so bad.

My current self, the comfortable-with-herself self, recognizes that this is impossible, because personalities and houses can hold only so many people and because not everyone likes everyone else. She enjoys the fact that she is now in a position to choose her friends from a relatively wide range of prospects. She wants it to be okay that she has fairly high expectations of people who might become her friends; she wants to devote her emotional energy to people who are interesting and engaging and who capably reciprocate. She realizes that her daughter should be free to spend her time and emotional energy in pursuit of relationships that she values and cherishes.

(As long as she continues to choose to pursue relationships with young women and men of the highest caliber, that is.)

My current academically inclined feminist self also recognizes that cultural norms of womanhood involve the giving of oneself to others, and identifies this as a big fucking problem. Women are supposed to provide emotional work for others in every possible way; we learn to be so in tune with others' emotional needs that we don't know how to tend to our own. We give and we give and we give (particularly to men and to children) until there's nothing left. Sometimes we're lucky enough to have other women in our lives to take care of us, but still, maybe it would be better if we focused first on meeting our own needs and then looked around for ways to help others.

Listen to your flight attendant: If cabin pressure is lost, secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Ladies: We cannot be everything to everyone. 

Okay, Twelve, I'm going to continue to expect you to be cordial and gracious with the general public and with the sixty other seventh graders in your class, but I hereby release you from being everything to everyone. You do not have to retroactively rescue your hapless mother by befriending every awkward member of your class. Again, be polite to all and sundry, but first be your confident, capable self. Perhaps you can lead by example. Would I have been less hamstrung by social ineptitude if I had had a confident, cordial role model? Okay, probably not. But in retrospect I'm not sure there *were* any confident, cordial people in my junior high, or high school for that matter.

Would I have been less picked on if my seemingly confident classmates were truly secure in themselves and less concerned with battling to the top of the heap by scrambling over others? I think so. Such a person wouldn't even have had to be my friend, but I think it would have helped to see someone my age being comfortable enough with herself that she didn't need to pick on others.

Perhaps the best I can do for the imagined reflections of myself in Twelve's sphere of influence is to encourage Twelve to be her best and most secure self.

When they all go to Washington, DC, four kids and one chaperone stay in each hotel suite; each child makes a list of her or his top five or six roommate choices, and then the teachers figure it out. I'd previously envisioned Twelve ending up in a room with girls outside of her current circle, girls who are perhaps a bit on the fringe of things at school, girls like I was. I imagined that Twelve would have some sort of epiphany of inclusion and the girl like I used to be would have some sort of transformative experience of becoming one of the gang (I don't know, it was all very vague, what can I say).

Now I'm suggesting to Twelve that she her girlfriends should sort it out amongst themselves ahead of time, so that they all request each other and get to pick their own roommates. After all, when I go to events requiring shared hotel rooms, I am fairly particular about the people with whom I'm willing to room, so I figure Twelve should be extended the same privilege.

But I still feel guilty with my short Cocktail Club list, and I still feel guilty for not trying to get to know everyone who comes through our Wednesday night class. What if I am paying my former self back for years of unpopularity by an inappropriate use of social power? It's hard to tell the difference between maintaining healthy and necessary boundaries based on my ability to function socially and the side dish of satisfaction that comes with being finally in a position to exclude others.

It's much easier to come up with new cocktail recipes. Just pick a fruit juice, an alcohol, and a carbonated beverage that go together, and fiddle with the proportions until it's delicious. Tonight's is the Pear Fizzy: Two parts pear nectar, one part vodka, one part club soda. Shake the pear nectar and vodka with ice, then add the club soda and swirl gently before straining into the fanciest possible glasses. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Friendship [or] Please Don't be That Woman

Tonight on our way home from taking dinner and socialization to some friends who just had a baby, Twelve and I had a great conversation about the social dynamics of her group of friends. It seems that they're starting to compete with each other for attention from the boys, for closeness with the queen bee (who I think is turning out to be her best friend L), and over the relative status of this or that consumer product. I'm really bad at recounting these conversations, but here goes.

She started by telling me about some things L does that are starting to get annoying, though she was a bit unclear about whether these are new behaviors or whether they're just now starting to bug her. L is whiny, she thinks her opinions are the final word, she has to be the best at everything. Apparently today Twelve was talking to the boy she likes about volleyball, and L turned around and started talking about how much better at volleyball she is than Twelve. When Twelve pointed out that her team had at least been league champions, L responded that, well, her team had been in a much harder league.

While it is in fact accurate to say that L is a better volleyball player than Twelve and that they had played at different levels, it seems that it is typical of L to highlight her belongings, her skills, her experiences, and so on, even at the expense of Twelve. When Twelve remarks that her legs are sore from the week's riding lesson, L (a highly accomplished rider) teases her about her legs *still* being sore. When Twelve shared that she had cantered by only her third lesson, L dismissively said that she'd been galloping for years. Twelve, at least in the retelling, just wants her best friend to be proud of her - or, at the very least, to not poop on her parade.

"I think she just wants to feel superior to everyone else" concluded Twelve, in a moment of brilliance.

Yes, my dear, that is exactly what's happening. You're right, it is ironic that L, who is so good at everything and owns several of everything else, would be the one who needs to put other people down in order to make herself feel better. It is ridiculous that she would work so hard to insert herself into your conversation with the boy you like. It is absolutely appalling that she can't even congratulate you on learning how to canter.

L just may be on the path to becoming That Woman. You know, the manipulative woman who bosses everyone around and flirts with all the men because she's insecure and not handling it well.

I told Twelve that I know exactly what it feels like to be in her position and that I felt that I could advise her, since adult women do the same damn thing, at least in the realm of competition for male attention. I was searching for the right words to emphasize the importance of what I was about to say when Twelve interjected with crucial. Yes, I said, it's crucial that you refuse to compete with other girls for the attention of the boys.

I think Twelve kind of gets this, because it's something that has come up for me and R a few times. For some reason, women who need more male attention than they're getting are drawn to R. Okay, he's a pretty handsome guy and Those Women usually do it to other men too, but it drives me nuts because it's so damn disrespectful of me when you fawn over my partner and pretend like I'm not STANDING RIGHT HERE. Seriously, Those Women try to connect with R while acting like I don't even exist, and it makes me crazy. It's particularly annoying when they are visibly triumphant when they are able to draw his attention away from me.

I am now extremely careful of my behavior when I first meet the women partners of men I've known for awhile. I make a point of talking to and making eye contact with both of them, orienting my shoulders toward the women instead of the men, avoiding subjects that are specific to whatever context in which I know him instead of her, etc.

Anyway, the following are instructions to Twelve that she will probably never read but will hopefully follow instinctively because of what she's observed in the adults in her life and what I've modeled for her. (And by 'modeled' I mean 'complained a lot within earshot.')

My dearest daughter,

Be a self-contained person. I don't mean you should try to be a totally independent person, but be an interdependent person among other confident people. You should not be dependent on attention and approval from other people to feel okay about yourself. Be okay with who you are without having to manipulate other people to make yourself feel better. Don't derive your sense of self from the extent to which you are able to get other people to do the tasks you don't want to do or the amount of attention you are able to get from someone. 

You mentioned tonight that, while L may be popular, you are able to get people to do things for you, and that they like to do things for you even though you are not necessarily their friend. This scares me, and if you hadn't waited until the end of our conversation to bring it up, we would have talked about it a bit more. We're definitely going to talk about it again another time, so just be prepared.

You say you're hetero now, Twelve, but you also still think sex is gross, so we'll use that as the example in what follows, but with the understanding that you may someday desire women instead of or in addition to men. In twenty years, when you're old enough for such things, of course. 

If you can help it, never compete for male attention, Twelve. It is a sign of weakness and of weak character. If a man is attracted to another woman, that means he is unavailable to you; it does not mean that it is appropriate for you to pursue his attention. It is fine and good to have men friends, but it is imperative to respect their women partners when they have them. No matter how tempting it may be to see your partnered male friends as convenient sources of male attention, don't go there. If you find that you simply must have attention from men, for the love of all that's holy (your Coach bag), get it from available ones. 

If no men seem interested in you at any given moment, be okay with that. Go ahead and keep an eye out for an attractive, funny, and intelligent partner who might be around the next bend, but do not, under any circumstances, ever shove another woman out of the way (metaphorically or physically) in pursuit of one. When you are in a group with more women than men, or when only a small number of the men are attractive, be your confident and beautiful self, but in the perpetual game of single womanhood, be a good sport.

Being a good sport is not that difficult; the Golden Rule applies. Don't do anything to another woman that you wouldn't want done to you. If you're in a social dance community (which you probably won't, given that you're growing up as a child of one), don't go up to a couple who are talking, perhaps even holding hands, and ask the guy to dance. You're interrupting, which is rude enough, and you're leaving her all alone, which is worse. You're also probably doing it at least partly because you feel like you're winning by taking him away from her, which is reprehensible.

If a man is talking to another woman, by all means join the conversation, but gracefully: Listen to what they are both saying and contribute as you like, but do not hijack. In particular, address your remarks to and make eye contact with both of them; never, ever, under any circumstances, attend only to him. Do not interrupt her to say something that will impress him. I know that you are capable of doing this very thing, my dear, and not only because you are currently a practiced interrupter of conversations. You have social skills, special social powers, and you must use them for good instead of evil. One of my biggest fears for you is that you will become a Mean Girl; I have been proud and relieved that you have not so far, and I'd hate for you to become That Woman later on.

Keep in mind that if a guy is attracted to you, you will know it. In the seventh grade, you will know because he will tell his best friend, who will tell your best friend, who will tell you. In adulthood, you will know because he will suddenly decide to attend that same upcoming dance event in Miami as you and casually books the seat next to you on the flight.

If you find yourself in a partnership and That Woman seems to have invaded your life, remain calm. If she gets your partner to run her errands and interrupts you to talk only to him or to ask him to dance in that sickly sweet voice with a triumphant undercurrent, do not panic. Wait to see if the pattern holds, and if it does, discuss it with your partner. He will not have noticed what's going on, so don't take it out on him. Acknowledge that he probably feels just a bit flattered, though he should know that if she's doing it with him, she's doing it with others. It's not about him, you see, it's about the fact that That Woman is insecure and it makes her feel better if she can get more attention than you, even from your own partner.

If yours is a good man, he'll eventually learn to recognize That Woman's manipulative shit and continue to be polite to her but will think to check in with you when she intrudes. Her behavior will soon become a shared joke between you and your partner, and you will magnanimously allow her to 'win' sometimes and learn how to establish boundaries when you need to. You probably don't see this very often because it happens when you're asleep, but R and I have pretty much figured it out: When I come back from a trip to the restroom or the bar and find that That Woman has installed herself at his side the moment I left it, I meet R's eyes, roll mine, he smiles at me, and I go talk to someone else. Later, he makes a point of coming to find me. When I am waiting while R puts on his dancing shoes and That Woman comes up to us and asks me if she can dance with him (yes, that happens from time to time, and it's just as absolutely ridiculous as it sounds, especially since it's clear from her tone of voice that she thinks she's going to get away with it), I reply that we were actually just about to dance together (as was clear from the way that I was STANDING THERE WAITING FOR HIM TO GET READY). Sometimes you must protect yourself from That Woman, but guard against finding too much satisfaction in triumphing over her; instead, find satisfaction in a strengthened relationship with your partner.

If yours is not a good man, heaven forbid, and encourages That Woman in her attentions or refuses to understand that it bothers you, then she's probably done you a favor. Let him have her, and wait for a worthy partner.

Do the right thing, my dear. Be the best self you can possibly manage, and if you can't be perfect, just don't be That Woman.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Have a Teenager. So There.

Fortunately, our sojourn at DFW on our return from Mexico was only as long as it should have been. After going through immigration, customs, and back through security, we needed another terminal. DFW being laid out such that you very nearly might as well take a cab from one terminal to another, to the SkyLink we went.

(I am pretty sure that the SkyLink drivers assuage the boredom of driving in endless circles by racing each other around the track. Can't say I blame them.)

A group of young women joined us at the next stop. They were probably college students - I think I saw a vaguely collegiate logo - but they seemed younger, in keeping with the standard academics' observation that they keep getting younger every year. They were dressed in that carefully fashionable way that stops just short of hyper trendiness, and they had a familiar look about them and a familiar feeling attitude toward me. Of course, I could be projecting all of this or making it up entirely, but when I am confronted by a group of fashionably dressed 18 to 22-year old women, I experience an acute feeling that's equal parts pity, disdain, and intimidation.

Pity at either my feeble attempts at fashionability or my complete lack of fashion sense. Today, a combination of both; I borrowed Twelve's Toms as effective cross-climate traveling footwear but am wearing them with ankle socks, leggings, and a t-shirt. Not quite a Twelve-sanctioned outfit, but an excellent air travel ensemble, and one in which I feel perfectly fashionable enough except in contrast to a pack of 20-year-olds with their leggings and boots and huge shiny logo bags and their immaturity masked by insolence.

Disdain at my clearly advancing age, as I am obviously no longer eighteen and therefore am no longer a threat. It's a complicated disdain, though, because I am both older than I look (this trip without Twelve, several new acquaintances reacted incredulously to the fact that I have a thirteen-year-old) and a harbinger of things to come. Someday, my dears, you will look like me, so don't look at me like that.

You'll look like me if you're lucky, that is. I often want to take these types of young women by the shoulders, give a firm shake, and tell them to start wearing sunscreen every day, right now. It's your only hope of looking as good as I do when you are 33, I'd tell them warningly, and this is about as good as it gets in the age-defying business. (It's true. I am regularly told that I don't look my age. Either they're right or they're lying, and that conspiracy would be one heck of a waste of time. I've done daily sunscreen for over a decade and am a dedicated proponent of the sun hat. I am ahead of my time in the sun-avoidance game and if I get skin cancer it will be a particularly ridiculous irony.)

Intimidation because I am an adult woman of a certain height and a certain class status and a certain race and a certain bearing, and people react to me a certain way. I read recently that people are quicker to assume that higher-status people are angry, and that helps explain why my students didn't connect with me when I dressed more a bit more fashionably. It's something I tried last year in an attempt to be more relatable, and it had precisely the opposite effect, I now think; they thought I was mad at them when in fact I was simply not smiling every second. The three-inch wedges were probably a particularly big mistake - and I was just thrilled to have jeans long enough to wear with three-inch wedges!

In my lifelong quest to escape my inner scared twelve-year-old's insecurities, it's possible that I've overcompensated. After high school, I realized that an effective way to develop self-confidence is to just pretend you have it, since (I decided) nobody can tell the difference. Somewhere along the way I somehow became actually confident. It helped to realize that nobody cares (which is applicable to an awful lot of circumstances) and that I don't care if they do anyway.

It's that last bit that Twelve and I might never have in common. Well, the first one too, since I'd lay even odds that Twelve maintains the ability to look cute and fashionable long beyond age 33. (Okay, now that I think about it, I've never really looked cute or fashionable in my entire life. When I do now, it's carefully calculated and I usually feel like an imposter. Classic and elegant are safer feeling fashion adjectives for me, and you don't have to buy clothes as often.)

However, I don't detect any scared seventh grade insecurity in Twelve. She seems perfectly comfortable with herself and her social role. She is popular - last time I checked, she and L were the most popular seventh graders - and she admires at least one of the eighth graders but is not too intimidated by her to chat about the other girl's new hot pink Juicy Couture hoodie (*gag*). She has spent enough time with adults that she's annoyed by at least one friend whose behavior is consistently annoying (I'm pretty sure that she never shuts up; I don't know how Twelve can stand it). I think she's got a lot of capacity to be overbearingly confident, and I highly suspect that she's already begun to alienate less-confident peers with her taken-completely-for-granted comfort with and confidence in herself. Even if it takes a hit in the next few years, heaven forbid, I am at least confident that it will eventually return.

Anyway, as R and I jolted our way to Terminal Whichever, enough of the 18 to 20-year-olds chatter drifted toward us that I suddenly turned to him and said I'm not sure if I'm quite ready to get Twelve back tomorrow. It had been a lovely week of tropical vacation, and listening to those girls reminded me of just how much energy it takes to effectively spend time with a thirteen-year-old daughter. You have to be totally focused on her; for one thing, she notices if you aren't paying attention and gives you a hard time about it, and for another, it takes effort to respond in a way that keeps her involved in the conversation.

I had not quite put those pieces together until just then, as I started to prepare for re-entry into the world of emails and meetings and people wanting things from me. I knew I had been feeling stressed out about it, but thought it was just that there were too many threads that I needed to re-gather (yes, I'd been reading Sherlock Holmes on the Kindle during the trip). I realized that there's even more legitimacy to the I Have a Teenager thing than I had previously thought, and it's important to set aside that time and mental space.

So, all of you people who want little pieces of me, you can stick it where the sun does not shine. I Have a Teenager, and that takes time. I'm not available for meetings from three pm to bedtime, most days, and I'm not going to go out of my way to arrange to be gone overnight unless I really want to. The pay is lousy and the hours are inconvenient, but it's what I'm doing now and I'm not going to take any crap about it. 

In Defense of Criticism

One of my jobs right now is to write the first three chapters of my dissertation. I'm basically reading a ton of articles and deciding if and how to cite them, and most of the articles are only peripherally related to my research (which lends credence to my work - yay!). There's a lot of good stuff that I can't really use, such as today's discovery that, in one study, "adolescents consistently received the least positive evaluations, being the targets of the most criticism, the least praise, and the most efforts to change physical appearance" (Striegel-Moore and Kearney-Cooke, 1994, p. 384).


Twelve hates criticism. I don't mean that I constantly criticize her and it bothers her, I mean that she hates any mention of anything that's remotely negative, like not getting an good score on an assignment. She'll even call me out on it ("Gee, mom, that's not very nice"), and I go back and forth between feeling like I'm being too critical and worrying that she's becoming an entitled, snowflaky brat. Thirty-four out of 50 is less than 70 percent, which isn't very good! I wouldn't be doing you any favors by praising you for doing below-average work. And you want me to say something positive about it? Surely you jest.

It's possible that I am too critical. It is what we do in my family, and we're pretty good at it. We often think of it as a negative thing, and it certainly can be. We are quite capable of picking on each other to the point where we lose track of our positive attributes, although for the most part I think we're getting better about it. However, a critical perspective on the world is a very useful skill, assuming that it's used for good instead of for evil and deployed gracefully: It allows you to foresee potential problems, ask tough questions, make good decisions, and is a very useful characteristic to have in a friend (not to toot my own horn, but ... me). 

If you are house-hunting, take me with you. I will ask you if you really want a twelve-square-foot kitchen when you are one of our community's main hosts. (Answer: No. Buy the house with the full-sized kitchen and large backyard that just so happens to have a partially finished attic that would make an excellent sewing room.) 

If you just got dumped, call me. I will recognize very quickly that the guy was a total douche canoe and gently encourage you to stop wasting your time worrying about his bullshit list of non-reasons. He dumped you because he knew from the beginning that he was moving away in five months and figured he would enjoy your lovely company in the meantime without telling you the truth. (Side note: It is astonishing how susceptible women are to believing that being rejected by men is their own fault and that they need to figure out what they can change about themselves to be accepted. Come on, sisters! Demand that your partner be with you because he absolutely cannot help but be with you!)

If you are having trouble envisioning your dissertation research project, talk to me. During Twelve's volleyball games last season, I helped one of the other mothers sort out her thoughts about her dissertation. All I did was ask questions about her target population and methodological approach, but she said it was more useful than talking with her advisor. A critical perspective just might be essential to the performance of academic work. Research starts from a place of critical inquiry; from asking the question What is going on here? If your orientation towards the world isn't one of trying to figure out why things tick, you're probably not going to make it. 

If you are shopping for clothing for yourself, take me with you. Under no circumstances should you go with me to shop for clothing for me, since nothing fits and it's all mass-produced crap anyway, but I am brilliant at helping other people pick out clothes. I'll tell you if something looks like crap because it doesn't fit properly, it's designed poorly, or it's a ridiculous style in the first place (nobody looks good in those shirts that are gathered under the boobs and then flare out stiffly). Just the other day, Twelve and I were at the trendy local resale shop (staffed entirely by 20-somethings who ignore me almost completely) looking for a pair of jeans for her and exercising our critical thinking skills together.

We have a pretty good shopping routine, which I think developed (now that I think about it) as a form of Mother-Daughter Bonding Time. I am a fairly impatient shopper, but I've learned to cram myself into the premise of shopping with Twelve and have built up my tolerance to the point where I can do it for tens of minutes at a time. Truthfully? It is almost not possible for me to care less about the specifics of what she wears. I do not care which shirt or pants or type of socks she picks, as they all look pretty much the same to me. I could accomplish the same clothing acquisition objectives by giving her some cash and reading a book in the car. But it is an important investment in this whole intensive parenting thing that I'm trying, so I gird up my proverbial loins and participate.

In the initial rack-combing stage, we both hold up things for the others approval; sometimes my suggestions are actually acceptable and usually if I grimace and shake my head at something particularly heinous she puts it back. Once we have an armload of possibilities, she tries everything on and shows me anything that she's seriously considering so I can weigh in. I wait just outside the fitting room during this part, and am careful to examine each prospective garment gravely, giving the impression that I am invested in the process. I also serve as the hanger fairy, putting everything back on the hangers. It keeps me busy, and I empathize with the employees whose job it is to run on the hamster wheel of putting clothes back on the racks.

Twelve has good taste and modest expectations in both propriety and quantity, which makes my role as the Final Arbiter an easy one. We almost always reach an easy consensus on what to buy; very occasionally I'll veto something outright because it's particularly awful or unnecessary, and she acquiesces gracefully. She humors my principled objections to billboard clothing and I indulge her desire to wear name brands by allowing garments with discreet logos. Often our final decisions are price-based; in our jeans shopping foray, I had her try on jeans at all price points, with the logic that I'd rather pay more for a perfect pair of jeans than spend the same amount on several not-quite-right pairs. She, thrifty Scottish soul that she is, was aghast at the notion of spending $100 on a single pair of used jeans. She's not wrong about that, and luckily none of them fit anyway. When it came to tops - of which she already has approximately a thousand - she narrowed it down to two. Both carelessly assembled of cheap materials, and both reminiscent of the eighties. I allowed the weirdly-vintage-looking floral one, because it was deeply discounted, but said that the neon pink one just wasn't worth the ten bucks. Twelve agreed, and off we went to the register. 

It's a small thing, but I want Twelve to be able to make fine distinctions like that. I want her to have the ability to determine that she doesn't need the shirt, that the shirt probably retailed for less than $10 in the first place, that the purpose of the outing was to buy jeans, and that the discounted shirt was a sufficient treat for the time being. 

She's learning fast. At tea today, she told me about the elaborate guarding rituals at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. She was pretty amazed by the precision and complexity of the whole thing, and I was just happy that she was showing enthusiasm about something, when she asked why they only do that for those three people. What's the difference between them and all of the other people? she asked. That's a very good question, I replied. Why don't they just do it for the highest ranking people? she continued. Or, I said, for everyone, with emphasis on the 'everyone.' 

I don't know (or care) very much about military rituals, but I love that Twelve asked the question and I hope that she asks it when she visits Washington, DC with her class in March.

As I wrote these paragraphs, I realized that I see the world as a series of problems to be solved and situations to be analyzed and then improved. Striegel-Moore and Kearney-Cooke also found that "adolescent girls were rated significantly fatter than adolescent boys" by their parents, even though there was no gender difference in the reported BMI ratings. 

I spy a problem. 

My analysis is that this finding is consistent with beauty norms that require girls to be thin and masculine norms that allow boys to be less concerned about the way they look. 

This situation should be improved, perhaps by sweeping changes in media portrayals of men and women and by a shift in societal expectations of everyone. 

If this means that I am too critical, I don't care.  

Work Cited

Striegel-Moore, R. H., and Kearney-Cooke, A. (1994). Exploring Parents' Attitudes and Behaviors About Their Children's Physical Appearance. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Vol. 15, No. 4, 377-385.