I went out for drinks with a friend tonight and since the women I was meeting up with were all in their late 30s-40-ish, we, seemingly obviously, began talking about our mothers and motherhood, as the night ended.
One woman talked about how her mother smashed her dreams by insisting that she find something to, “fall back on.”
I nodded tipsily when she uttered those words. See, women from my generation, they were pushed towards careers, with the idea being that they should have a skill to fall back on, in case their dreams failed. The implication was that, they would. Fail. Their dreams, that is. Dreams = failure. Skills, like typing and school teachering, those were skills that would always be necessary. Dreams, career, goals, those were lofty goals that only women made of magic and romance would attain.
Well, moms, of past generations. they don’t teach typing anymore, and teachers are gettin’ the boot these days in case you aren’t paying attentiong.
Yep, having a skill to “fall back on” just don’t work these days.
Somehow, this song, “How” makes me think more about mothering than romance.
“You said you never would leave me alone,” the lyrics wail. The look on the girl’s face, in the video, reminds me of how I felt for most of my 20s and early 30s. Completely lost, totally abandoned. Rejected. Wondering who and what, and how to grasp on to in the world.
I wonder if I am doing that to Annika. I wonder if that’s how she will feel in her early adult life. It scares me to think that she might feel that abandonment.
Sorrow. That is the only word that comes to mind when I think about how young adults are abandoned in our society. Tossed out, after inadequate training. Poor schooling. A society that doesn’t love, but looks at you with suspicion and competition.
With the news that Amy Winehouse died this week, of what unofficial sources are saying, an overdose, it gave me pause, thinking back to my youthful days as younger woman, in my 20s.
I don’t think women like Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan, and (gawd) Paris Hilton are much different from any young woman in her 20s. Uncertain about their looks, scared about their futures, wondering if a man will love them forever, fearing or overly desiring motherhood, even though you really have no idea what it’s all about.
The pressure on young celebrity women is multiplied by thousands because of being in the public eye.
With the news of Winehouse’s death, it made think about how I would have dealt with that kind of pressure as a young woman. When I was in my 20s, I was married and had a pretty great body (although, I didn’t realize it at the time), cute looks, and I was still paranoid that someone might see me looking sub par. (Those of you who know me now, might find that hard to believe as I am a total slob most of the time. But yes, it’s true.)
Back then, you’d never catch me without my lipstick on, my hair done, I shopped way more, to keep up with the latest styles. And yet, I still felt constantly deflated when it came to my looks, my abilities, and my desirability. If my nose was shiny, or my lips chapped, I was a monster. I remember when I gained a bit of weight, tipping the scale at 127, and I thought I was a disgusting pig. I weigh more than that now, and I only wish I could get back to that weight.
Women of all walks of life are judged by standards that men are not. I once wrote a research paper on the difference in how the media examines women and men. It is not a leap to see it drizzle down from the media into society. Research shows that the media is a mirror on our society. It is a spiral, the influence of the media on society, and the societal influence on the media. Which came first, media hype or societal mirroring? Nobody knows, but it’s reality.
I was shocked at the drastic differences in how women and men were portrayed.
Not surprisingly, women were more often shown in subservient roles, cleaning, and taking care of children. Surprisingly, women in sports and politics were judged by their looks, their age, their status as a mother, and more often called by their first name.
This wasn’t decades ago. The research was from the mid to late 90s and early 2000s.
I wondered why it was that when narrating a basketball or golf game, or discussing politics, the female player’s children might be mentioned. Or why it was the women got called by their first names, and not their last names, just like men do.
Example: Hillary and Obama.
Celebrity women are often the butt of way too many sexist jokes and pressure to hold up an ideal that even the most beautiful women cannot keep up.
Women have much higher standards for looks, behavior and couth, than men, even in everyday, run-of-the-mill life.
I’m not saying that’s why Winehouse died. I’m sure it’s way, way more complicated than that. Nor am I saying that sexist jokes were the cause of her depression.
Whatever her problems were, they were just multiplied by the pressure that women feel typically.
I’m no better than most, I like to joke about celebrities just as much as anyone. But I don’t buy the magazines (anymore) that discuss their love lives. I don’t give a shit who has more adopted babies. And I sure as shit don’t care who’s had what face surgery.
I just don’t care. And I wish that less people cared about these topics. Not because I’m concerned for the feelings of the celebrities. But because I worry about how these judgments on them affect young women in our lives.
When I was a teen and heard jokes or judgments about certain female celebrities. I’d think, “Well, if she’s not beautiful enough, I sure as hell am not.”
I came to realize eventually that most of that stuff didn’t really matter. But it controlled areas of my life for years.
Now, I have a daughter. She’s a lovely child and I hope she will be a lovely woman. But I really hope that she realizes early on in her young life that looks don’t define you.
It’s a lesson that will be hard to teach, given the nature of our society.
Perhaps if Amy Winehouse felt less pressure in other areas of her life, she would have been able to simply concentrate on her music. Perhaps if Lindsay Lohan didn’t feel the pressure to be a certain way, she could just be an actress. Perhaps Paris Hilton would stop caring so much about what kind of bag she was carrying and just run a dog shelter for miniature dogs.
That’s all I want for my daughter. The freedom to concentrate on what she’s good at, instead of worrying about if her hair looks great. Collectively, men have that freedom. Why don’t women?
I’ve spent much of my life regretting actions and wishing I hadn’t done or said many of the things I’ve done. Or said.
Enter motherhood. Naturally, there are things I regret, but mostly I spend a lot of my time trying to make sure that nothing happens in Annika’s life that I regret, or will traumatize her.
Then earlier this week, I was sitting outside of the Austin Zen Center with a friend. We had just meditated, and we both have a penchant for the outlandish: fantasy, sci fi, metaphysics. Our conversation typically goes there pretty quickly.
We began discussing the possibilities of other dimensions, past lives, the potential for the future, and how our current states affect all of that.
Being one who enjoys the Buddhist mindset, I find this next bit ironic, but I had to share it with you all because it was so perfect. The scene was pure serenity.
We were both relaxed and staring directly at the lawn of the center. Dirt covered ground. A bird bath, with birds coming and going. And a tree. A magnificently large tree that was bent and gnarled in many places, making it all the more beautiful.
As we spoke, he noted that the only reason that we acknowledge birds with the name — birds — is because we are all in agreement that those are birds. Initially, when he pointed them out, I thought he was talking about the waves of water in the bird bath. “Yes,” he said. “That’s a good example of something that isn’t real, yet we all agree that it is.”
Then we, finally, noticed the tree. This tree, right in front of us, and yet, we had been totally ignoring it throughout our conversation.
Trees bend. They twist. They turn. They are pushed down by the world, by weather, by man, and yet, they continue to reach for the sunlight. The more bent and weathered they are, the more beautiful they become. The older they are, the more times they have weathered storms, they become magnificent, with each bend, and each time they climb back up toward the sun, their beauty multiplies.
Why can’t people do that with their lives? My friend wondered. Why don’t we look at life in the same way we see trees, with the weathering and the beating of the storm of life. We look back and regret fills us, making the bend so much less significant than if we looked at it as part of the beauty of our lives.
I often wonder about gender. I wonder what the world would be like if we weren’t divided by gender identity into certain jobs, clothes, tasks at home, hobbies, interests, movies, TV shows, toys, colors, cars.
What if we were all just people and the only difference between the people was that some of them could have babies and some of them couldn’t?
Really, if you boil it all down, that’s the main difference between men and women. Well, that and body parts. But even the body parts are about 98 percent the same. We just have a couple of ones that perform different tasks. It’s so simple.
But it’s not that simple because we wear so many masks that define our gender.
So, what does it mean to be a woman?
One of the things that I think defines myself as a woman is the ability to bear a child and be a mother, even though not all women do, we have that ability.
But there are people who feel they are women who don’t have that ability.
For instance, on a recent trip to the grocery I encountered a transgender MTF (male to female). I’ve seen more transgendered people here in Austin than anywhere else in the world, but really, I haven’t seen that many in person.
I realize the world is changing its views on sexuality and gender, but still, I have to force myself not to stare. Not because I judge. I don’t know what it must feel like to wish desperately to be something that you’re not. I mean, sure, I have things about my body that I don’t like, but I don’t have any parts that I look at and think, “You don’t belong.” (Well, okay, I do tell that to my fupa, but it doesn’t listen. Bitch.)
But dang, I AM curious. I’m curious what it must feel like were born in the wrong body. And anyone who is bold enough to challenge societal norms has my respect. So, I try hard not to judge. We all have our trials and tribulations.
I will admit I have wondered what it would be like to be a man. But I don’t desperately desire to become one. In fact, I prefer being in this state of woman-ness. I like having breasts that perform various functions related to sex and nurturing a child. I adored being pregnant. I hold in great esteem and satisfaction the 19 1/2 hours I was in labor and bore a human being into the world. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for all the riches in the world even without the child to go with it. Labor, motherhood, sexual organs, these help define me as a woman. I honestly feel even more womanly than I did before I had Annika, even though there are parts of my body that feel less attractive, giving birth and nurturing a child with my body makes me more of a woman than I ever was before.
But this MTF, she feels like a woman. She will never bear children or go through labor. She may become a mother through adoption, but she could have done that as a man. Or, she could have become a parent through the old-fashioned way, but she would not have been a mother.
But it got me to thinking, our definition of being a woman, (and for that matter, a man) is changing.
The first step in outwardly showing the world what it means to be a certain type of person is to begin dressing like the sex you wish to be. Certain clothing mean certain things.
The MTF trans who I saw in the store was wearing a mini-skirt and high heeled espadrilles.
Shit, the last time I dressed like that Bill Clinton was in office. But yet, I am a woman. To that person, wearing a mini skirt and high heeled sandals makes her feel womanly. But being a woman is not just about the clothing.
It’s about the way you talk, walk, and feel, sexually.
So, what does it mean to be a woman?
Is being a woman how you dress, or walk, or talk, or feel, sexually?
I’ve known lots of women who dressed more like boys or men, who walked with a swagger, had a deep voice, sexually desired women, and not men. Some of them are lesbians and some of them are not. Some lesbians act like girls and some act like boys. But they are all women. So, are they really acting like boys? Maybe they are just acting like themselves. And who they are, is, women.
Another example: as I was leaving the grocery store I saw two women riding together on a scooter. My initial guess was that they were lesbians but they could have just been female friends or perhaps, sisters. It doesn’t even matter because it was a compilation of their dress, their stance, and their apparent partnership that made me notice them.
The driver was wearing big, sporty sunglasses, a scarf on her head, tank top, capris, her legs were covered in tattoos and she sat with a bold, wide stance. The passenger was wearing a pink and white helmet, striped T-shirt, shorts, and her shirt was hiked up, revealing her chubby back. They appealed to me on a very base level that I can’t exactly explain. They weren’t sexy, but they were hot.
I wasn’t sexually attracted to them. I just enjoy it when I see women who aren’t afraid to be who they are instead of hiding behind the societal definition of femininity.
And they were allllll woman.
There are so many types of women. Does gender identity even really matter that much? Why do we place such an emphasis on it when our kids are young? Do we really need to worry about what kind of clothes our kids choose to wear?
Annika is really into wearing dresses these days. She doesn’t give a shit that they are “girly.” She likes to twirl. That’s it. She likes them because they twirl. She also likes to wear running shoes with her dresses because she likes to run. Not very “ladylike.”
So, what does it mean to be a woman? How do you express being a woman to your daughters? Are we raising women or girls?
I want my daughter to grow up to be a woman. And being a real woman, to me, is someone who isn’t afraid to be herself. She can express her femininity, or her boyish charm. She can bear a child, or choose to baby her career. She can be sporty, stylish, mannish, feminine, whatever she chooses. She just needs the confidence to express it.
Annika (and I) has been a big Dr. Seuss fan since she has been old enough to follow along with a book. Her first ever ever favorite book was The Foot Book. I kind of miss reading that one to her, even though, at the time, I wished that she enjoyed the more complex ones like Green Eggs and Ham. (Nope, I am never happy. The grass is ALWAYS greener.)
But lately, she’s been on a Song of the Zubblewump kick. Song of the Zubblewump isn’t technically Dr. Seuss, since it’s just a book about the characters from his books, not actually written by him. But she still likes it.
It’s also been the source of her first realization that people can be called names when you don’t like something they are doing. (I have already told her that it’s not okay to call people names, but we make exceptions for politicians.)
The story’s protagonist, Megan Mullally, is impatiently awaiting a Zubble-wump egg to hatch. When the Grinch sneaks in a steals it the night before, she goes after him to get her egg back.
As the story meanders along, the Grinch gets called several names, among them, a “rotten green bean.”
Whenever we get to this part, Annika shrieks with laughter.
And she’s been using it.
At first, it was all in fun. Then last week, we went to have dinner at an outdoor cafe with some friends. While we were eating, Annika and her little friend began playing nearby some 4-year-old boys.
The boys weren’t being all that bad, but they were 4. And they began doing things the girls didn’t like, one of them being, to throw dirt in their direction, not maliciously, but still, close enough to annoy the girls.
After a couple of rounds of telling them to stop, Annika and her friend became more agitated. Annika began yelling at the boys and telling them she did not like that they were throwing dirt at her and her friend.
Then the name calling began.
“You rotten green beans!” She shrieked. I don’t think the boys paid any attention, to them, that probably wasn’t much of an insult.
But I knew where she had gotten it and I pulled her aside to tell her that name-calling wasn’t appropriate.
It was then that I realized that the color inside the insult had more of an impact on her derision.
“But, but Mama, that boy…. that boy….”she sputtered. “That WHITE boy threw dirt at ME!”
Since I’m a single mom, I have glimpsed the future, without cosleeping, something that many/most AP moms don’t get a chance to do.
It’s a sad, ironic future where you can finally sleep alone without the twisted torture of a child mangling your body while you sleep. But you miss it. You miss the child. You wish for the mangled body because with mangled body and sleepless nights means a child who needs you and holds you tight, whispering, “Mama,” in the middle of the night.
For the first two years I lived by the same mantra that many AP moms do when feeling cramped and frustrated during insomniac nights, “Don’t complain, because when they’re older, you will miss it.”
Then for me, it came. The nights alone with the child gone out of the house.
I can say this without hesitation.
Trust me. You will.
The first night I spent without my daughter right around her second birthday, I barely slept a wink. I couldn’t sleep, knowing that she wasn’t in the house. Her warm body was not in my bed. Her breathing, long past the age of needing to be regulated by my own, was nowhere near my face, as I was so used to.
I missed her. But I told myself that soon I would get used to it and would begin to sleep again.
Since that night, I have had some blissfully serene sleeping nights.
I’ve had about two in the past year. For the most part, I hate it. I hate having her gone even though I know she’s safe and happy at her dad’s house.
It’s ironic that I can’t sleep without her here because I have one of those kids who suffocates me while she sleeps. She likes to sleep lying, at the very least, on my arm, and ideally, along the curve of my body with her head resting on my shoulder. That’s been her preferred method of sleep for the past three years.
I have such a sore back and stiff neck from sleeping like this that you’d think I would relish the chance two times a week to sleep without her cratering my body into a pretzel.
It’s one of the worst kinds of irony.
Comfortable sleep deprivation, or child deprivation.
It’s hardly a choice.
It’s the sad twist of single motherhood. The thing that most moms dream of, a blissful night when their children will sleep quietly, and leave them in peace. Single moms get it. And we get a glimpse into the future of a time when our children will be gone, a time when we can finally sleep in peace and all we wish for is the moments when our children were at their most vulnerable, and needed us the most. The happiest and most trying time of our lives.