Barbie. I try really hard to hate her, always looking at me with those perfectly painted blue eyes and that molded plastic smile—I just know she’s judging my non-coordinated outfit and my fully jointed limbs. But then I see her deformed little feet and I just can’t be angry at her. Especially when Mattel makes so many adorable little pairs of shoes for her misshapen feet.
Yes, that old broad takes a lot of flak, but I played with Barbie as a kid and still managed not to develop an addiction to blue eye shadow so I feel confident in letting my daughter play with her now. Just like me, my daughter’s eyes go wide when she sees a new Barbie in a pink, frilly gown with a ring shoved strategically right through her hand. Magic, simply magic.
You can imagine the wave of excitement that ran through our house the day my daughter got invited to her friend’s Barbie-themed birthday party. There was Barbie’s face right there on the invitation, beckoning my daughter to eat cake and be fabulous. My daughter was breathless with anticipation as she read the invitation and I said a quick prayer of thanks that the party wasn’t being held at Chuck E. Cheese.
“Mommy, what does this part say?” she asked while shoving the invitation in my face.
“Come dressed as your favorite Barbie,” I read aloud.
“Come dressed as your favorite Barbie?!” my daughter and I repeated in unison.
Panic quickly replaced the excitement that had just pulsed through our veins as we thought about what Barbies my daughter owned that were viable options to pattern a child after for this party. I’m pretty sure that all of my daughter’s Barbies once had a fantastically engineered identity complete with lavish, theme-appropriate attire, but they fade quickly in my daughter’s hands and each Barbie ends up with a new identity, like:
Head Injury Barbie: this Barbie is what happens when played with by the daughter of a doctor. This Barbie was a thrill-seeker who scaled to the top of the Dream House then, thanks to a slippery stiletto, plummeted three floors to the carpet below. She has undergone many groundbreaking surgeries and has recovered quite well, the only lingering after-effects are her propensity toward not wearing pants and using skirts as hats. A real triumph of the plastic spirit, but I can’t send my daughter to a party with no pants and a skirt hat.
Barbie Who Only Wears Clothes Made Out of Kleenex: this Barbie has shunned popular fashion trends in favor of a more simplistic style—tissue. She can go from day to evening in a single Kleenex, but the wardrobe malfunctions abound with this flimsy material, especially in the presence of water. Luckily, this Barbie isn’t shy and makes no excuses when a tissue dress drops to her ankles at a tea party. Barbie can take that chance, but not my daughter.
Brothel Barbie: It’s the oldest profession in the world and this Barbie looks the part. She’s wearing a skirt that barely covers her tushy, Ariel’s seashell bikini top, and seven-inch platform heels that lace all the way up to her knees. Of course, my daughter put this outfit together based solely on the bright colors, but there are still rumors floating around as to how this Barbie really affords all those fake furs and a Corvette. Clearly, I’m not letting my daughter dress like this for any party. Ever.
Bad Hair Day Barbie: This poor Barbie never had a chance—her hair became a matted clump of blondness ten minutes after leaving the sanctity of her box. Her hair sticks straight up and no brush can tame it and no rubber band can confine it. Because of her obvious hair woes, she never gets the really cool outfits and usually ends up wearing a mud-stained dress and a pair of Ken’s old pants. It’s not fair, but if life were to magically become fair, it wouldn’t be in the Dream House. I can’t even imagine the amounts of hairspray I would need to use to get my daughter’s hair to do that. Nope, not this one either.
After rejecting each Barbie my daughter owns as a possible costume inspiration, my daughter opened her closet, rummaged through a few things, then emerged with the perfect party outfit—a tattered blue tutu, an orange tee shirt with a heart on it, hot pink tights, and an assortment of plastic jewelry. It was certainly fabulous, but I secretly wondered if it was fabulous enough for a Barbie party.
I dropped my daughter off at the party and saw a dozen seven-year-old girls, all wearing old skirts, flashy tee shirts, and cheap, plastic jewelry in honor of their favorite 11.5 inch doll—Barbie. Those girls giggled and danced, never giving a second thought to what they were wearing, just happy to be surrounded by the color pink and celebrating their friend’s birthday.
It’s no wonder I can’t hate Barbie.
Back-to-school is that special time when moms everywhere experience the extreme opposite of emotions all in one morning: Thank goodness the kids are back in school—I’m so sick of applying sunscreen to children as they run by! and Summer flew by too quickly! I miss my baby!
I’m pretty sure only moms understand the bipolar experience that the start of the school year brings. I know my husband is immune to any tugging of the heart strings that come from our daughter starting a new grade and he certainly can’t understand the utter joy that comes with knowing that after three long months of entertaining a six-year-old, I will finally have time to start doing laundry again.
After two days of wandering the house not knowing what to do with myself, I finally started getting back into my pre-summer routine. Then I made the mistake of checking my email. There it was—an email from my daughter’s teacher informing me of the dreaded “Back to School night.” No, no, no my inner spoiled child wants to scream. I did my time in school. I suffered the slings and arrows that ill-behaved children hurled at me. Why must I be dragged back for this yearly ritual? Why can’t I just get school information the old fashioned way—in random sound bites and fragment sentences from my daughter?
I quickly come to the realization that there is no escaping Back to School Night—it’s part of my contractually obligated duties as a parent, just like providing a vegetable with every meal and picking dirty socks off the bathroom floor.
The night of the information-filled extravaganza arrives and I walk into the school with a fake smile and a choreographed saunter. Every parent there crowds the seats in the back of the room so I strategically pick a seat in the front row thinking there may be some extra credit for my obvious bravery. I glance around the room and nod at a few parents, a gesture that clearly says, “Yeah, I’m that mom.”
I get comfortable and prepare to listen to everything I ever wanted to know about first grade but then I have a moment of panic—what if my short attention span kicks in? I have been known to lose concentration mid-sentence and start cleaning out a closet instead. No, I won’t let that happen to me tonight. I sit up straight in my chair. But now I’m sitting too straight and my boobs are sticking out. That can’t look good here a back to school night. I try slouching a little so that people will think I am relaxed and cool. No, that makes me look like I’m sitting on the toilet. I finally contort my body into a completely unnatural state that I think implies, “I’m totally listening to you,” when I realize the meeting started almost ten minutes ago.
I concentrate even harder but then I catch a glimpse of the woman sitting next to me. She is nodding her head at some important information I have missed. She keeps nodding. Wow, I think, she really is a good listener! I can’t take my eyes off of this incredible nodding woman. Wait, is she really listening or just nodding? I decide to time her. I glance at the clock on the wall and start. That woman nodded for six minutes solid. I have to get to the bottom of this.
“Excuse me,” I whisper. “Are you just nodding aimlessly?” Sitting in the front row has apparently given me a new boldness.
She gives me a quick smile and keeps nodding her head.
I don’t know if she was answering my question or if her head was set to automatic bobble mode, but I think she might be a genius. As for me, another fifteen minutes of the meeting have gone by and I still know nothing about the esoteric world of first grade.
Using every bit of concentration I have, I focus on the teacher speaking long enough to hear her begin a speech about misbehavior. Oh, please don’t let her be talking about me, I think. Fortunately, she is speaking about the children. That was a close one. As she talks about locking kids in closets, or whatever it is they do with ill-behaved children these days, I hear a bit of pandemonium break out in the back of the room (I have a six-year-old at home—I know what pandemonium sounds like).
It’s a group of children some parents have brought to the meeting and have let play in the back of the room, but the playing is clearly getting a little loud and out of hand. The teacher speaking about discipline glances to the back of the room, obviously fighting all of her tingling teacher senses beckoning her to the back of the room to dole out some punishments, but she gets ahold of herself, visibly grits her teeth, and soldiers on. I’m on the edge of my seat now because the irony of the situation is more than I can take. I search the room to see if the offending parents will go claim their hooligans, but no one moves. It’s like in yoga class when someone’s phone rings and everyone just smiles nervously like it’s not theirs. Not one parent budges and the meeting continues.
I heard something about lunch money and a quick dissertation on the evils of decorative pencils and then it was over. I felt a bit defeated knowing another school year would pass without me knowing all the secret handshakes or which papers had to be signed and which ones required just initials.
Next year, it’s my husband’s turn for back to school night.
There seems to be an unwritten rule in our house that all pet responsibilities are mine. Let’s take dog poop, for example. My husband and daughter see the dog poop, they step over the dog poop, but somehow they can never manage to pick up the dog poop.
It’s the same way with all of our pets. First, there is our Wonder Mutt, a 50lb German shepherd/sheltie/mutt/oh-my-gosh-what-is-it who is simultaneously the most lovable and the dumbest dog in the world. In short, I love her. Well, we all love her, I’m just the one who who gets the honor of cleaning up after her every time she throws up behind the chair. My husband and daughter love petting her and throwing the ball for her and taking her for walks, but that poor dog would certainly go hungry everyday if it weren’t for me. Of course, my husband did feed her once back in 2010 which he still brags about to this day.
The next group of pets are the kind with too many legs that my daughter adopts via our backyard. It all started with caterpillars; my daughter was so excited to see those caterpillars turn into butterflies. She even made me show the caterpillars a time-lapse video on Youtube just to make sure the little guys were ready for the big change. My daughter watched half of the video then went outside to play. I sat there for the rest of it, trying my best to reassure the caterpillars that it couldn’t possibly be that gross in real life and saying encouraging things like, “A cocoon is just like a little vacation; I’d make one myself if I could.” I fed those butterflies orange slices and sugar water in an eye dropper until they were ready to fly away. My husband and daughter watched as I let the butterflies go, it was very beautiful until the dog jumped up and ate one and another hit the windshield of a passing car. Funny, none of that was in the video.
Our insect pets have also included, but are not limited to: an old Tupperware container of roly-polies that my daughter shoved in a drawer and I found a month later, a few lady bugs that were literally played with to death, and a dead beetle of some sort that my daughter insisted was just sleeping (that one “ran away” when my daughter wasn’t looking shortly after his arrival in my kitchen. My daughter said, “See, I told you he was just sleeping!”).
Then we have fish; lots of fish. Usually goldfish or sometimes bettas—we stick with the ultra-flushable varieties. It’s always the same story with fish: my daughter insists she needs a fish and that she will take care of it, then it’s all on me. I actually like the fish but I have had some bad experiences with them. Once, I was poised over the toilet and ready to flush my daughter’s fish, Sally, when the darn thing started swimming again. I could have sworn it was dead. The next time it died, I waited an extra day just to make sure. It wasn’t moving this time and I’m almost positive it didn’t have a pulse, so I finally felt at ease about her burial.
There was also the time my daughter’s fish, Rhoda Flower Haas (she was very into formal names at the time) died and my daughter didn’t notice for close to four weeks. When she finally noticed, she insisted that she needed another fish. I drew a hard line. “No, if you don’t notice a pet has been dead for four weeks you lose all rights to obtain another a pet of that same species.” My hard line lasted for almost two months, then we got a new fish, simply named Clucky.
I don’t mind being the caretaker for all these creatures and I guess I can’t really blame my husband and daughter for their inability to feed and care for the pets since neither one of them has mastered obtaining food for themselves yet.
As a mommy, I spend an inordinate amount of time saying things like, “Be careful!” “Slow down!” “Did you remember to floss?” and “They’re vegetables, nobody likes them but we eat them anyway because humankind’s future is inexplicably bound to our consumption of leafy greens!”
It’s simply the way of parenthood; we all end up saying things that sound eerily like the things our parents told us. I’m not even certain how I got to this point. I never sat around in my twenties telling my friends, “Gee, I really hope that one day I have to spend the better part of a day telling a five-year-old that no, her butt is not like a glue stick.” Yet I have had that very butt/glue stick conversation on more occasions than I care to recount.
And now this whole parenting thing has taken yet another bizarre turn as my daughter keeps having these moments of acting like she is my mother.
Like the other night, my husband and I were seeing who could hold a plank the longest. Apparently I started convulsing after about four seconds and then the painful groaning began. I avoided my normal pitfall of swearing profusely (mostly because I didn’t have the strength for profanity) but my daughter decided it was simply too much for me.
“Mommy, just stop; you’re going to get hurt. Mommy, this is enough!” she yelled at me while her brow furrowed with genuine worry.
I made it to thirty seconds then dropped (my husband was the clear winner, holding the plank all the while laughing at me). My daughter patted my back and said, “It’s okay Mommy.” Her gesture simultaneously melted my heart and bruised my already fragile ego.
She had another one of her mommy moments as we walked to the park together last week. There’s no sidewalk, so I was walking closest to the street with her on the inside; every time a car came down the street, my daughter would grab my hand a little tighter and pull me towards her saying, “Mommy, a car is coming, get over here with me!” Her eyes were filled with what I can only hope is the same concern she sees in mine when I pull her closer.
I guess it’s not bad having this little mommy look out for me. But if she ever tries to make me eat lima beans, I’m grounding her for a month.
Sometimes when I’m really bored I like to find an Abercrombie & Fitch store and pick out a dozen or so pairs of jeans, all in a size two. Then I ask for a fitting room. There is nothing better than the look of utter bewilderment and confusion on the sales clerk’s face as she glances from me to the jeans then back again. I smile demurely as I walk into the fitting room, then I ask casually, “These jeans stretch, don’t they?”
How was I supposed to know that woman was going to faint? Luckily she fell onto a display of tiny little hoodies, so she was perfectly fine.
I actually I have long history with Abercrombie & Fitch. It was almost ten years ago when I first stumbled across one of their stores. I was walking through the beautiful new outdoor mall in my city when I came across this place blasting music and reeking of cheap cologne with huge pictures of half-naked, oiled up men and women on the walls outside. I surmised immediately that this new mall had one heck of a nightclub and I wondered what the cover charge was.
Later that week, my husband (he was still my boyfriend back then) and I had dinner and a few drinks at one of the restaurants in the new mall. I told him about the nightclub at the mall and we stumbled over to it. It was just like the day I found it: music up so loud you could barely hear your own thoughts and cheap perfume seeping from every pore of the place. We walked in and found that there was no cover charge. This club was about to become our new favorite.
A guy approached us, so we tried to order some drinks.
“I’ll have a Long Island Iced Tea,” I said.
“What do you have on tap?” my husband inquired.
“Er, well, I don’t think we have that but jeans are ten percent off this week and we got a new shipment of tees today,” he said and looked like he might cry at any moment.
“This is a club, isn’t it?” I yelled above the keyboard solo that was accosting my ears.
“A club? No, this is Abercrombie & Fitch!” he yelled back with all the teenage angst he carried in his 110lb, 6 foot frame.
My husband and I left, disgraced and a bit shocked.
I dragged my husband back there the next day under the pretense of buying him a shirt. He protested.
“This is a cool kid store. I’ve had the same haircut since I was three; I’m not cool enough for this store,” he explained.
“I know, but I can’t buy something here because it will compromise my values as a woman because this store represents everything that is wrong with society today; this store is packaging and selling low self-esteem!” I said fervently.
“Really?” he asked.
“I don’t know; I read that on the cover of Good Housekeeping when I was in line at the grocery store the other day. The point is, I don’t need another hoodie, I just want to see what’s in that store,” I admitted.
We got about three feet into the store when the guy from the previous night recognized us and we were asked to leave.
Oh well, it wasn’t the first retail establishment I’ve been asked to leave and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
I don’t get out much. I used to, but now most of the contact I have with the outside world happens within a simple loop from the elementary school to the grocery store to the cleaners. On any given day, the most exotic place I go is my backyard and the most interesting person I talk to is myself (but I’m pretty sure I make up most of the really interesting stuff I tell myself; once I told myself a very dramatic story about my time in Asia taming tigers and collecting rubies but I had to call bologna on myself because I know for a fact that I have never even been to Asia).
I don’t really remember when I stopped venturing out. When I was younger, I was always going places—I even used to go out at night (now, the mere of thought of going out after dark is quite unsettling, not so much because I’m afraid of the dark but because I would miss House Hunters). Before marriage and a child, I didn’t even get ready to go out until 9:00pm and my friends and I never left a club until closing time. These days, I’m pretty much useless after 7:30pm although last Christmas my family and I did go to a party that lasted until it was dark. I couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful the world looked when it was all lit up.
“Wow, look at that!” I said with my face pushed up against the car window to get a better look at the illuminated glory before me.
“That’s just McDonald’s, honey,” my husband said in the condescending way of a man who never leaves work until after dark and gets to see these amazing lights everyday.
“Yes, but have you ever seen those Golden Arches look more magnificent!” I said, my enthusiasm undaunted by his cavalier attitude.
I have been looking for opportunities to go out after dark ever since the McDonald’s sighting last Christmas and yesterday I received an invitation to one of those parties where a woman cooks some fabulous meal all while demonstrating the latest in esoteric kitchen gadgets. I was about to ink this little soirée onto my calendar because nobody appreciates the majesty of kitchen wizardry like me, when I saw what time the party started—8:00pm. Eight o’clock at night? My mind reeled. What are these women, vampires?
I sat down and tried to figure out the logistics of how I could get to this kitchen utensil extravaganza and still maintain my scheduled bedtime. I’ve been known to start dozing off around 8:15pm, but the excitement of fancy new measuring cups and slotted spoons might be enough to keep me coherent. Certainly the hostess won’t mind if I show up in my pajamas and I’m sure all the other party-goers will be bringing their toothbrushes as well.
The night of the party arrived. I was in my pajamas by 7:30pm and ready to go, but apparently I fell asleep. I woke up around 8:15pm and I could have still made it to the party in time for the bonanza of bowls demonstration, but House Hunters International was from Kathmandu and that’s really about as much excitement as I can take these days.
I went to Hallmark today in search of a very specific kind of card. I perused shelf after shelf of cards, but I just couldn’t find the sentiment I needed. Finally, a kindly sales lady came over.
“Can I help you find something, dear?” she said.
“Yes, I’m looking for a card for someone who has suffered recent weight-gain,” I told her.
“Oh! You’re looking for a congratulatory card for someone who is pregnant!” she said with delight in her eyes.
“No, not that kind of weight-gain; the kind that comes from a good, old-fashioned love of cheese and baked goods. You know, a card that says something like: Sorry you’re fat and your pants don’t fit anymore. Maybe one of those cards that plays music. Music makes everything better, and it might help to ease the blow of being told you’re fat.”
“That sounds like a pretty awful card; who are you planning on giving this to?” she asked with trepidation.
“It’s for me,” I explained. “I keep gaining and losing weight and I’m currently on the upswing, if you know what I mean. I need some motivation and some reassurance. And who is better at motivation and reassurance than Hallmark? I mean, Hallmark cards only contain truth. If I get a card that says Happy Mother’s Day, I know it’s Mother’s Day; if I get a card that says Merry Christmas, it’s Christmas; and if I send myself a card that says I’m fat, well then, I’ll know I’m fat.”
The sales lady gave me that all too familiar you-might-need-a-psychiatric-evaluation look but I saw a glimmer of sympathy in her eyes as well as she patted my shoulder and walked away.
Deep down I knew the answer I was looking for wasn’t at the Hallmark store, the same way I know the answer isn’t at the bottom of a half gallon of ice cream either. I guess what I am really looking for is balance. I want to be healthy and active and make choices that support those goals. I want to wear jeans with a size that has just one number. I want to wave to people and not have my arm jiggle. But I also want to relax and enjoy a glass of wine and a piece of pie every now and then. I don’t want to worry about every single bite of food I put in my mouth. But I do. Every single bite. Should I be eating this? I earned this! This is healthy and that means I’m a good person. Oh well, I already messed up this morning with that donut, so the whole day is messed up, might as well eat my body weight in Cheetos. It should be simple, but for me it’s always been a roller coaster.
I know a lot of it is tied to my body image too. All it takes is a quick glance at the cover of Cosmo and I feel like I’m a failure. And now there are so many ad campaigns about “being real” that show women who don’t wear a size four but that just seems to beg the question: what is real and how can I be real? I want to be real and fit into my old jeans and eat cheesecake! Is that too much to ask?! But I can’t blame the media for my weight gain; I’m the one eating cheeseburgers like they might go extinct at any moment.
I guess the card I really need to send to myself should go something like this:
You’re beautiful no matter what your jean size. Don’t worry about anyone else but yourself. Eating a piece of cheesecake isn’t going to destroy your life, but neither will a good workout. Embrace the fact that you’re going to mess up, probably often, but kicking yourself when you’re down isn’t getting you anywhere.
I bet there’s a few of us out there who need this card.
I have been cursed with a bizarre kind of photographic memory. My memory is useless when it comes to things like the periodical table of elements, algebraic equations, and the Magna Carta, which is precisely why I wrote all those things on my hands during tests when I was in high school. But my memory is impeccable when it comes to lyrics from any song written in the 80s, dreams where my husband does something questionable, and ridiculously silly conversations I have with my daughter. The following is an exact transcript of the conversation I had with my daughter as we waited in the school drop-off line the week before school ended.
“We are here so early, the school isn’t even open yet,” I said.
“That’s good because you have been dropping me off late all year and I have always wanted to be early,” my daughter said.
“School doesn’t start until 9:00am; I drop you off at 8:45am,” I said with just a hint of exasperation.
“Exactly. It’s too late,” she said.
“What? You don’t even finish your breakfast until 8:35am,” I said and looked at my daughter.
“I think we both know whose fault that is,” my daughter said with a toothless smirk.
I started counting slowly to ten because I read somewhere that it calms you down; before I got to four, my daughter had already switched gears.
“I need a five dollar bill.”
“Why do you need a five dollar bill?” I asked.
“I just want to do something nice for my teacher,” she said with a smile.
“And a five dollar bill is the nicest gift you can think of? What about some flowers or drawing her a beautiful picture,” I said sagely.
“A picture is a good idea, Mommy,” she said happily.
“What are you going to draw for her?” I asked, glad the conversation was finally going in a positive direction.
“I’m going to draw her a five dollar bill!” she exclaimed. “I still need you to give me a five dollar bill so I can draw it.”
I craned my neck to the front of the drop-off line in a vain attempt to will the school doors open, but had no luck. Just then my daughter noticed the boy in the car behind us.
“Mommy, that’s the boy that sits next to me! The one who always lies!” she yelled like a crazy woman.
“What does he lie about?” I asked.
“He says he has a brother but I don’t think he does,” she said like she just uncovered a conspiracy theory that could rival JFK’s assassination.
“What makes you think he’s lying?”
“It’s his eyes, Mommy. Remember when I told you I climbed George Washington’s nose when you weren’t looking that time at Mount Rushmore? And you said you knew I was fibbing because of my eyes? That’s how I know he’s lying,” she said intensely.
“Well, your eyes weren’t the only clue on that one,” I said and smiled.
“And he also wears tank tops to school and when he raises his hand I can see his armpit,” she said with utter disgust.
“Yes, that clearly marks him as a miscreant,” I laughed.
“And now I can’t wear a tank top because then he will see my armpit when I raise my hand,” she said with such an impassioned tone I almost felt bad for her armpits.
“I never knew kindergarten was such a rough place,” I said with amusement.
“It is,” my daughter agreed. “Mommy, the doors are open now! I can go in!” she yelled excitedly.
“Give this to your teacher,” I said as I handed her a twenty dollar bill.
“Why?” she asked while tentatively taking the twenty.
“Your teacher has been in a classroom with you since August; hopefully she can find a nice happy hour after school today,” I said.
“What’s happy hour?” my daughter asked as she climbed out of the car.
“It’s where teachers go to relax after a long school year,” I said.
Maybe I’ll join her, I thought to myself.
The world is a funny place—literally. I love to laugh and I love making people laugh. Humor is cathartic for me and I try to find humor in most situations. I laugh at myself everyday, multiple times a day. So when I find something I can’t laugh at, I know there’s a problem.
The other day my daughter was playing with a friend in our backyard; I was sitting on the patio reading a book and enjoying the sunshine. I was just settling into a chapter when I noticed the tone of my daughter’s voice had changed so I looked up. My daughter’s friend was reprimanding my daughter the way a dysfunctional mother reprimands a child. Stunned, I listened intently.
“You didn’t let me throw your teddy bear into the mud; I’m the guest here and can do what I want. Do you think that is very nice of you? Do you?!” the girl said in the ugliest voice I have ever heard come from a child.
My daughter cowered and suddenly seemed a good three inches shorter than she had previously been as she shook her head sadly.
“No, it’s not nice! You better apologize to me, right now!” the girl demanded.
“I’m sorry,” my daughter was barely audible.
“For what?!” the girl roared at my daughter, a grin picking up the corners of her mouth as she watched my daughter’s shoulders slump and her head fall to her chest. My stomach turned as I realized this little girl was actually obtaining joy from being cruel.
“For whatever I did, I mean for not letting you put my teddy bear in the mud,” my daughter sputtered.
I froze; something deep within me shattered into a million tiny pieces; I’m pretty sure it was my heart. I knew I should step in and say something but while my heart was crumbling, my mind was busy transporting me back in time…
I was probably about seven-years-old, or maybe eight, but it doesn’t really matter because it was the same thing for most of my childhood. I grew up with a kid who took every opportunity to rob me of my self-confidence and self-respect. I endured years of being called horrific names that eventually became my identity. This kid hit me everyday of my life, so much that I developed the habit of flinching each time he passed by me; which only angered him more. But more than the hitting and name calling, was the fact that this kid derived pleasure from making my life miserable. Even as a kid, I could see that my anguish was making him happy. In my mind I was screaming, “Stop it!” but my voice was never strong enough to be heard so I was always left cowering. That kid took everything from me, until there was nothing left.
I believed the names he called me were true and I became unable to look people in the eyes, because I knew I wasn’t worthy. I ended up traveling down some dark paths to even darker places. Then one day when I was in college, a thought occurred to me, I have a neck for a reason and it’s to hold my head up; and I have a voice for a reason and it’s to be heard. I was suddenly able to lift my shoulders and raise my head; I left that class and looked everyone in the eyes as I passed by. I still have no idea why I became so aware right at that exact moment, but I was a new person that day. And no one has ever made me cower since.
I shook the cobwebs from that involuntary flashback and heard my daughter crying as her friend held her favorite teddy bear over a mud puddle and smiled with delight as she said, “I’m going to drop it right in the mud and it will be ruined!”
“No one is dropping anything,” I said without raising my voice. “Let’s go get your things because it’s time for you to leave,” I told the little girl.
After the girl’s mother picked her up, I sat down with my daughter and we had what I know is just the first in a long series of talks about people. I told her that she is a caring little girl and that I know she never likes to hurt anyone, but standing up for herself is not going to hurt anyone. I told her that she knows what is right and what is wrong; she told me she feels it in her heart and in her tummy. I told her that she must tell her friends, or anyone else, when she doesn’t like something. And then I taught her about finding her strong voice. A strong voice doesn’t have to be loud or mean, it simply needs to say, I am worth so much and no, you may not treat me this way.
I know there will be girls much worse than this one that my daughter will have to contend with in her lifetime. It makes me sad, but I also know it is simply part of life. I don’t want to live my daughter’s life for her nor do I think I can protect her from every hurt in this world, but I can arm her with knowledge and give her the tools she needs to navigate this world. I want her to always know her worth and understand that no one gets to take that away from her. I want her to know that her worth doesn’t suddenly diminish based on who she is friends with that day. Her worth is beyond measure, her worth is constant, her worth is not in someone else’s hands, her worth is not dependent upon someone’s else’s opinion, and her worth should never, ever be compromised.
If there is one thing I have learned from being a parent, it’s that I don’t know anything.
Before our daughter was born, my husband and I decided that our baby would never use a pacifier. Pacifiers were a crutch for weak parents who didn’t know how to properly comfort their children, I said with all the infinite wisdom of a woman who had never even changed a diaper.
My husband and I had no experience with children or pacifiers so our decision was based solely on an air of superiority that can only come from two people who have no idea what the heck they are talking about. But we had skimmed the better part of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” so we felt pretty secure in our first parenting decision.
Two days after we brought our daughter home from the hospital, she started crying and wouldn’t stop. We fed her, we changed her, we rocked her, we burped her. But she just kept crying. In a final desperate move, my husband said, “Don’t we have a pacifier somewhere?” We dug a pacifier out of a gift basket in the closet and read the instructions. We boiled it for five minutes, let it cool, then popped it into our daughter’s mouth. Magic happened. She began sucking on it and immediately calmed down and fell asleep.
The next day, I went and purchased every Nuk pacifier I could find. We kept them in the car and in our pockets. We had found the answer and there was no way we were going to be caught without one.
As it turned out, the pacifier wasn’t the only thing we were wrong about. My husband and I always shook our heads at people who put TVs in their children’s rooms. “That’s horrible parenting; our child won’t have a TV in her room until she’s 25, at least.” That’s what we thought until we discovered we had a child who never slept.
I’ve heard parents talk about children not sleeping through the night until they were six or seven months old and I have to laugh. Our daughter didn’t sleep through the night until she was two-and-a-half years old. My husband and I were shells of our pre-child selves. I spent over a year with wet hair thrown into a ponytail because I never could quite remember to blow dry my hair before I left the house. My husband fell asleep daily on the train to work, missing his stop on more than one occasion. We discovered that Red Bull and Mountain Dew could render a sleep-deprived person semi-functional and began subsisting on mass quantities of caffeine.
Then we discovered that our daughter would sleep if the TV was on. The only TV we had was in the living room so we began letting our daughter fall asleep on the couch. We would then try to move her to her crib, but she would wake up and scream. Thus began our life of shame: we let our daughter sleep on the couch. We did this for about three months until we agreed that we couldn’t continue to let our two-year-old sleep in the living room. So we bought a TV and put it in our daughter’s room. It worked. She fell asleep in her room and slept all night. My husband and I started sleeping through the night as well and the fog finally cleared from our brains. It was a miracle. Still, we felt like horrible parents and hid the TV in the closet each day so no one would now how unfit we were.
Now our daughter is almost seven and we have finally learned not to judge other parents. Parenting is an art, not a science and everyone paints their masterpiece a little differently. It can’t be learned from a book—it’s something you fumble your way through daily, making decisions based on desperation and a total lack of sleep. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if a child has a pacifier or watches TV or eats McNuggets four times a week, as long as that child is loved.
But just in case I’m wrong, I have started a fund to pay for any counseling our daughter may require for all the mistakes we’ve made along the way.