Lindsey Lohan. Brittany Spears. Khloe Kardashian (or some other Kardashian…I don’t know; aren’t there about three of them that are famous?). Barbie. Whatever “Bratz” is. Biblical Womanhood. Patriarchy in the Church. Women’s liberation. Feminism. Mean Girls. The mean girls in our neighborhood. Buffy. Bella. OH GOOD LORD, Bella. A flawed, tired mother.
My daughter is bombarded. I am bombarded with her. Megan at SortaCrunchy has written very thoughtfully on this topic. It is so overwhelming to think of how many different messages she will receive in her lifetime about how she should be defining herself; and about how she should be understanding herself to be in the world. Not that she knows what all of these things are. She’s only four and a half. But she will. And right now, what she knows is mostly me.
To quote Tina Fey, sometimes I’m the worst. I get so cranky. I’m tired. I hate saying that when people ask me how I’m doing. I don’t like the sympathetic head tilt, or worse, the judgment of the fact that we haven’t nightweaned or just plain old weaned our 17 month old. For whatever reason, I’m not managing my stress too well these days. J would love to give me a break or help me in some way, but I don’t even know what have him do. He helps with housework, kids, diapers, and a host of other things when he’s around. It’s not his fault. But still I struggle sometimes.
The thing is, I don’t think that being a woman of character waits until your kids are sleeping through the night. It doesn’t wait until you are not overwhelmed. Part of me wants to claim that excuse and live in it like a comfy sweater; I am allowed to be mean to you because I am tired. If I just wasn’t up at night, I would be able to do a better job.
The problem is, that will be too late. E is starting to absorb this behavior. Remember, I am her normal. When I apologize for slamming a door or for speaking too harshly, she says, “I didn’t think that you were being mean, but I forgive you.” This is the worst part for me, because it means that she has learned from me that this is how people are with each other, and it kind of breaks my heart. Kids do not immediately see meanness as meanness. They will assume that they are the problem, and that they deserve it. And eventually, they will start to pass that on to other people. E has started making the most awful (and awfully familiar) grimaces at her brother.
But parenting is a relationship, and you get more than one chance to make an impression. It’s possible that her first memory will be some mean thing that I did or said. But hopefully she will also remember that I apologized and made real efforts to become more gracious. That I never claimed to be perfect, but that I never gave up trying to be my best.
But I can not be everything that a woman should be. No one woman can be everything that a woman should be, and so I am always looking for really great women to talk about with my daughter. It is inconsistent to think that we can obsess over and emulate shallow people and yet raise women of character. I think the first step to becoming and raising women of character is to value those things at a societal level.
So I will present, for your consideration, a few women who are famous in our house.
This is Beatrice Mtetwa. She is a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe and has risked her life and safety to tell the truth about corruption in that country. We heard her speak last summer, and Elizabeth wore pink for her because in our reading about her we found that it is her favorite color.
This is Chloe Hopson. She is the founder and Executive Director of Passport Project, which is a Cleveland organization working toward better cultural understanding and promoting a more healthy, aware and peaceful society through the arts. She is one of the most openly passionate people I know and cares very much about fighting against the racialized ways that our culture functions without many people even knowing it.
This is Mayim Bialik (I’m on the left there). She is a tv star, but I still admire her very much anyway. Because she’s an observant religious person in Hollywood and in the scientifc community, she homeschools, she has a Doctorate in Neuroscience; she’s also just very thoughtful about a lot of things that I care about, like encouraging non-competition between moms, and buying socks from American Apparel because they are sweatshop free even if you do have to make sure your kids don’t see anything super awkward in the process causing them to ask you questions you may or may not be prepared to answer, or to make comments that you find very surprising. I interrupted her bagel-eating to take this picture in which I do not at all look like a crazy super-fan. Ahem.
There are so many more people who are famous in our house than there is space for in a single post!
People like our neighbor Danielle, who homeschools her children who are 10, 6 and under 1. Her older two have taken my daughter under their wing and as I type this she is at a drop-off playdate at their house. She gives me hope that my kids, too, might survive my parenting. Maybe even to age 10.
My friend Audrey, who runs a business from her home and is just generally a really great friend. She is the mother of Everett, who I recently found out is also E’s imaginary friend. That’s how much we like their family.
My friend Michelle, who opened her home to me when I needed a place to stay a few years ago and was my first real grown up housemate. A lot of little unconscious things I do in my household are because of her. My friend Catherine who, among other things, came and found me when I was giving birth and whose voice is the one I hear in my head when I am trying to sound calm and reasonable and eco-friendly.
My mother, who is my normal and who built the framework for how I view the world. My MIL, who did the same for my husband, working very hard as a single mother for his formative years.
I think I’ll stop there for now. But it is encouraging to have such a great cloud of witnesses to what being a woman is. The more wonderful women I can look at and think, “Wow, I’m glad she’s in the world,” the less I feel pressured to do ALL THE THINGS and the more I feel freed up just do my thing.