Thursday, June 5, 2008

Raising Daughters

I took advantage of a beautiful late afternoon to deadhead my salvia. I've always just let it go to pot, but read somewhere that if I do this, it will bloom more fully again -- and possibly even again after that. I was a bit reluctant; there was still a tinge of purple at the top of the spears and a honeybee madly yammering at me to leave it the hell alone, but I saw tiny buds below and knew that in 72 hours from now it would be 95 degrees, the spears would look barbecued, and I would have no interest in being outside whatsoever.

Bella had been playing in the hose, turned it on herself and soaked her clothes, and decided to run in the house and change into a swimsuit. She emerged a few moments later wearing board shorts, and nothing more. "Let it go," I told Mr. ABF, "she's fine."

I remember quite clearly arriving back home in the hot Arizona desert after spending a year in Germany. I was seven. I walked around my house for the first time in a year, saw my bike, and decided to take a spin around the ol' block. Because it was 10,000 degrees out, and because I had spent a year of my life in a place where all the boys and girls changed for gym together in the same room and used the same toilets and no one thought twice about it, I took off for my ride topless. Somewhere in the trip around the block a neighbor yelled at me to put on a shirt.

It's sad that at some point in our culture girls -- females -- become sexualized. And from that point forward we as mothers and they as emerging women need to take care of chests in public. And it never really stops -- the questions around bras, bikinis, implants, breast-feeding in public. I want so desperately to hold Bella in this place and let her just feel the sun on her skin and not feel embarrassed but simply comfortable. It will come soon enough, the cultural significance of the boobies.

I remembered also visiting Norway after my senior year in high school. And in some now-forgotten town on what I gather was a rare sunny day, in a public park, women sunbathed topless. Oddly, I did not feel uncomfortable, for me or my boyfriend at my side (who I think gamely tried to maturely write the whole thing off for my sake) but jealous. I wanted to join them. I wanted simply to lie on the grass and feel the sun on my skin. But I had been tainted by the whole bullshit of bad which mocked my small boobs and simultaneously told me to please support them and keep them modestly covered at all times. It was too late to turn back and enjoy.

I wish now I had said "hell with it" and chucked my shirt and sat in the sun for a few minutes, because it was probably the last possible opportunity to do so when I felt remotely comfortable with the concept. I breast-fed in public, never caring, but let's face it: six years of (in)fertility has wreaked havoc on my body and my mental status toward it. The good feminist in me tells me I'm more, much more, than the sum of my boobs and my uterus. The other, more vapid and superficial part who wistfully looks at the new Boden catalog wishing I had my '05 body back hates this body -- hates the sags, the pooches, the crags, the bags, the dark spots, and especially the foot that makes it near impossible to improve the rest of it. And most of this, I understand quite clearly, is a result of trying to have children, and most of THAT, a result the Maddy's pregnancy which left me without a will to exercise, an overturned stomach that won't go away despite the sit-ups, and a foot that gave up when I tried to hurry my imagined journey back to the old, firm me.

This part of raising the daughter? The body image part? Scares the crap out of me. It didn't always, but wow does it now. Because I have no love for mine. I must somehow find a way to tell her to enjoy hers, while she has the time and space and opportunity. I've been so hung up lately on whether I'm doing a satisfactory job on raising a big sister whose little sister isn't that I feel I've been letting some other life lessons slide by.

"Mom," announced Bella turning the hose on the lilac,

"I'm going to water Maddy's tree for her."

I almost drop my clippers in shock.


k@lakly said...

Oh Tash, it so reminds me of my son in my other post. Isn't it amazing how they just do things like that and don't you just feel your heart melt?? even when we are not talking about it they are thinking about it and then when the moment is right, out it comes. I hope the tree continues to grow and bloom with big sister's tender care.

The boob thing, I am so with you, wish I would have flashed more when I had perky even I shudder at the sight:0) Last summer when I was still pg with Caleb, my then 5 year old daughter and I were taking a shower together after a day at the beach so I could get all of the sand out of all of her and as I was rinsing her hair out for the 100th time, she looked up at me and said, "Mommy, why do your boobs point down?"
Oh geezus, save me....

sweetsalty kate said...

I'm struck right now with this insane mourning for who I was. Not just the ordinary motherhood thing, the typical tired/sweatpants/baby barf/saggy boobs thing, but the deadbaby thing. Even if I could daydream as myself vintage 2004, I can't get past the misery of what we went through. I wish I could escape it, but I can't - not even in my head, where you're supposed to be able to soften your own edges.

So yeah, I know. The aging mama thig is made so much more intense when it's coupled with disaster.

I don't know about you, but it *does* help to be reminded that everyone else feels the same way. So consider this that reminder for you, just us sitting here nodding as we twiddle our f*^&ing pooches miserably.

(sighs, smiles, lifts glass)

Julia said...

I grew up where we could go to the beach in clean underwear if we wanted to. The bathing suit didn't come on until there was something to cover with it. Not Norway, but not the ridiculous cutesy string swimsuits they sell for 6 months olds here either.

I think it helps make my parenting a great deal easier that Monkey is doing gymnastics. She is learning not only that her body can do cool things, but that even cooler things are in reach if she works for them.

I never ran. But I used to swim. PCOS has messed with my body, and hard. I had hopes last year for striking back. Never happened. Now I hope to get to breastfeed again, because that helped with Monkey, and I do sort of daydream of getting toned. I liked being able to go on overnight hiking trips. I liked skiing for six days in a row. I liked being able to push my body. It's been a while, and I do want that back. Not zealously, not now at least. But I think it would be cool. One day.

luna said...

it's strange how puritanical our society is with nudity in general, and as you said, screwed up how sexualized girls' bodies are at such a young age. it must be very difficult to be a pre-teen girl these days.

I often mourn the body I once had, before ttc and loss and treatments and grief. never again. it's hard to be a feminist with body issues though, isn't it?

CLC said...

Oh, Bella is so sweet. Children never cease to amaze me.

Body image is such an ordeal. It's hard to have a healthy self image when we are constantly being smacked in the face with images of anorexic celebrities that are supposedly the ideal. I have no idea how you circumvent that, but I am sure you will figure it out Tash. You are a smart woman, and I am constantly wowed by what I read here. If Bella could read this blog and understand it, I am sure she would be absolutely amazed and awed by her Mom!

Beruriah said...

I take the opportunity to be mostly naked as much as possible when I'm indoors and it's as hot as it is now. And even alone in my living room the stretch-marked belly hanging over makes me feel like I should hide it.

Your foot, my flipping hip. I start PT for it next Friday and we shall see if I can conquer the results of two pregnancies so close together.

Bella is such a sweetie. Glad Maddy's tree is well care for.

debbie said...

You may have seen it, but there's a book out there called Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. She writes about adolescent girls and body image from her own experiences as a therapist. It's certainly not a cure-all, as it could have a few more suggestions, but overall I think it's a good & necessary read for anyone w/ young girls in their life. My own niece has just recently discovered how "cool" it is that she is so naturally thin and this breaks my heart.
Beautiful post Tash.

Aunt Becky said...

Tash, this post was so incredibly gorgeous. Thank you.

Amy said...

Bella, is an amazing child and for her to take care of Maddy's tree, wow. That's all I've got for that one.

I wish I too were a child again and that someone had said, A., you're a beautiful child and you never cease to amaze me. Please don't wish to grow up to fast for life has so much to throw at us. Sit back and enjoy your childhood, let me do the worrying for you as that is my job. One day, it'll be your job but today just play in the water.

My body image is shot too but I do believe that all women are trained to feel that way. You know, poorly about our not so perfect bodies. But who the hell defines perfect anyhow? I know when I *think* I'm sexy, I actually look it! Mind you, that takes an assload of work but it can be done!

c. said...

The idea of raising my daughter to love herself more than I was ever able to love myself is very scary indeed. I hope I can figure it out. Somehow. And succeed, of course. Although, the idea of K running around topless at 16 doesn't do a whole lot for me, unfortunately.

As for Bella and the lilac tree? What a wonderful big sister that Bella is.

Alice said...

Yes, I know absolutely what you mean about the body thing. I'm asking - so this body hasn't got any function for reproduction any more. So then what's the point of it? And, of course, I know there are other functions for bodies. But I can't find my way to any of that now. Women are so hung up about their bodies - even the ones that are thin and beautiful it's so sad. I'm not surprised you want to protect your daughter from all that.


Coggy said...

I could cry for my boobs, spaniels ears is what I call them. Not attractive at all. I spend a great deal of time now hating my body, which I know is not healthy, but I don't know how to change that feeling. I feel like it let me J down and I have lost the trust I once had in it.

I think I've always had an issue with the way I look. I've always hated my body, thought I was fat, my nose too big etc etc. I find that so sad now when I look back at pictures of me in my early 20's. The fact that I never appreciated what I had at the time, because it really wasn't as bad as my warped mind made out, and I'm never going to look that good again. *sigh*

Bella is an amazing little girl. I hope she gets to stay uninhibited for as long as possible. Certainly over here little girls seem to be growing up way too fast these days. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

MsPrufrock said...

A wonderful post, as usual. Thank you.

When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to have a boy. 5 years of IF treatment wasn't enough to make me just wish for a healthy baby - I wanted a boy because I didn't feel like I could raise a daughter well given my own body and self-esteem issues. I still doubt this every day.

Bella sounds like a wonderful sister and an amazing little girl.

niobe said...

I'll give my mother credit -- she's always seemed perfectly comfortable in her own skin.

Waiting Amy said...

The watering comment was so sweet.

I too find the boob thing daunting. I went to Tar.get the other day and walked by the young girls department (4-7) and was shocked to see pre-training-like bralettes in the underwear section! What 6 year old needs that! They were clearly for social/cultural reasons. It was frightening. And now I am expecting a girl and realize some day I may face these body image issues too, and I'm afraid.

Kymberli said...

You told Mr. AFB to just leave her shirtless self be - it sounds to me like you're doing a damned fine job of things with Bella, both with the issue of body image and her relationship with and attitude towards Maddy.

My body image sucks from the neck down. PCOS makes it next to impossible to lose weight so it's such an uphill battle. I have to work twice as hard at it (when I'm actually working at it, that is). I do have the rather unique parlor trick ability of being able to plug my nipple into my navel. Fun, fun, fun.

Bon said...

i'm late to this but what a wicked post. i've struggled with my body image all my life...and the funny thing i've been most ashamed in times and places where coverup was expected. in Thailand, i go topless on the beaches and feel no shame. in Canada, i wrap a sarong around myself and preferably a tshirt too.

and now, thinking of a daughter...and my son...all i can hope is that they learn to see bodies more gently than i've ever seen my own.

LAS said...

I've struggled with body image all my life and I don't know really where it came from - other than well, what the media and entertainment and society tells us is beautiful I suppose. But I don't really know where I got the ideas that I have about my own body. My mother was perpetually on a diet and I suppose, now that I am thinking about it - never did anything to try to help me love myself or feel comfortable with myself. This is such a hard thing. I've pretty much not liked myself all my life - body and otherwise and so far I have not figured out how to get over it. I'm 130 pounds and I still think I need to lose weight (though I don't starve myself) and I still think I need to be thinner for a man to want me. It's disgusting really. It just makes me mad at myself, but it's been really hard to see myself realistically and change my thinking.

Hennifer said...

Thank you for this post. These types of body issues, sexual discrimination, sex, pregnancy all freak me out about raising my daughter. Why I liked to gloss over that there would still be tough issues with my son don't ask...

You go Bella! Work those board shorts :)

Thalia said...

Oh I have such concerns about this, with my crappy body image and my beautiful daughter. And she's only 8.5 months old!

Thanks for this. And kudos to bella, no shirt and all.

Searching said...

I love Bella. What a wonderful, amazing little girl.

I think I was 8 or 9 before I finally picked up on the fact that I was the only female who thought running around in a Wonderwoman bra and panty set pretending I was a WWF prize winner wasn't kosher. I used to help fix up the garden in the backyard in just my jean shorts, totally hillybilly-style (in a Chicago suburb, no less). I wish it were still that simple. We moved down south when my little sis was 5 months and I can't remember her running around butt nekkid past toddler age. Even Barbies must be clothed down here. (Seriously? Who bothers to make sure every Barbie is in a skirt and top before they go to bed? Probably why I stuck to My Little Ponies...)

I will curse your dratted foot with you. I hope it gets zapped by lightning and is magically fixed. While you are out cold or something so you don't feel any pain of course.