Monday, June 29, 2009

If One Drowns, Do They All Drown?

This here is Zoey's 12th birthday present:
Although with the hormones in the tomatoes these days perhaps I ought to give it to her for her 10th birthday. I mean, surely I have some time to think about this, but really, I just want her to know how very stupid it is to try to be like other people.
Years ago I went to a psychic. Which is sort of the antithesis of what I'm trying to say here--not to follow the herd, to listen to yourself... But honestly this woman was eerie. She said that Bryan should watch his blood sugar (he's diabetic), that she sees him around boats and water (he surfs and sails religiously). Looking back she said an awful lot about Bryan and not so very much about me there with my cash in hand, but she did eventually say that we would have two children, the first a girl, an old soul. She said that adults would be drawn to her eyes. (She also said that my second child would be a boy with very feminine energy, so watch for my son to appear sometime in 2011? 2012? It's Gay Pride Month and I will be honored to join PFLAG should I be so lucky.)
Anyhoo. I watch Zoey play sometimes, her head bent to look at something no one else can see. She talks to herself a lot, pretends; sometimes she looks in the mirror and makes funnyuglysillystupid faces. She does not care if her face is dirty, does not flinch when I catch her eating a booger, she is not embarrassed when she farts. In fact, she laughs. Do I hope my daughter grows up to be the strange kid who sits in the back of the class wiping boogers under her desk and cutting stinkies all day? Mmmm, not so much, but if that is who she truly is and she is happy, then yes. Sure. Senior year I want my daughter to be voted Most Likely to Pick a Winner.
I was a stupid teenager. Is there any other kind? I was a cheerleader my freshman year of high school because I saw one too many John Hughes movies and thought that was what I was supposed to do. Bear in mind I am not naturally prone to cheer. I wanted to be popular. (God, the very word makes me cringe. Popular? Popular?? What a fucking joke. The only time that word should ever be used is in front of the word Mechanic, and even then it should not see the light of day outside of a tire superstore.) I drank when I was not thirsty, laughed when I did not get the joke, flirted when I didn't even know if I liked the boy, I just knew I liked hoping the boy would like me. I was weak. I wore too much makeup and swam in these ridiculous little circles breathing only when the others did, my face surely contorted and strained and pathetic. I tread water, my feet never once touching the bottom.
How do I ensure Zoey stays there making funnyuglysillystupid faces in the mirror? That she does not one day look and see the eyes of other people staring back from the void of her own reflection? Is it inevitable, the synchonized swim, the furious way we all dog paddle to stay in rhythm, or is there something I can do to teach her how to cheat at Marco Polo, to yell out her own name in response to any question?
This post started as me just laughing at that pic. But then it unraveled, as they so often do, and I want to know: What sort of stupid things did you do to fit in? Do you do now? And honestly, do you have any advice on how to raise a self-confident girl who knows who she is and never ever, not even once, drinks 6 peach flavored Bartles & Jaymes just because some boy keeps handing them to her???

16 comments:

Aunt_B said...

I've always tried to have a "pick your battle" philosophy with my kids. I have a 12 (almost 13 *shudder*) year old daughter, a 9 year old son and a 7 yr old little girl (my Zoe). My oldest is going through the whole Hot Topic/angry "teen" phase. I would be a little worried if she didn't always have a huge smile on her face. She is the one who determines what is or isn't cool in the family so needless to say the whole Hannah Montanna/Jonas Bros frenzie flew right over our little world. Not sure where I was going originally with this comment...got a little off track. I don't tend to give advice on topics such as parenting because what works for me might not necessarily work for someone else. I try to let my kids be their own individual person even if that means purple hair and an all black wardrobe in 100+ degree weather. They just have to "own it". Sorry for the rambling...I probably should've stopped after the 4th cup of coffee. :)

Judi said...

Aw man. Forget adolescence- if you know the answer as to how to be that self-confident as a WOMAN, I'd love to hear it. I still grapple with it more than I'd like to admit. On the Internet.

It's probably never too early to help her discover her interests. The more she knows about herself- what she likes, what she doesn't, what bores her and what she finds interesting- will help her carve out her own identity, apart from boys and her friends. And your support of whatever that identity turns out to be (aside from skinning animals or something) could be all she needs to be the kid we all wish we were.

jen said...

Oy. This IS the question, isn't it, especially with a girl child. My daughter has already noticed she is Different because she's as tall as a lot of grownups and has boobs and she's in fourth grade. She has cried about it and worried about not being like Them. And it breaks my heart everytime.

HOWEVER, even though I did my share of stupid stuff to be like everyone else (the asymetrical hair cut, putting some distance between my lifelong friend and me in 7th grade because he was called a fag), I also was one of those kids who fit in with EVERYONE. I was friends with the dorks, the motorheads, and the Popular People. My kids seems to be that way already.

So basically I've got no good advice except to keep championing your kid. She's awesome if she's tall, if she's weird, if she stands out in any way because she's herSelf.

Sparkie said...

I went through a similar popularity quest in junior high (old school parlance for middle school). Every minute of every day was spent trying to get in the good graces of Marie K. and her entourage. It was a constant upstream battle. Finally when I approached "victory" it was of the hollow sort. Turns out I didn't want to be a member of that club. I felt the fool for even trying. It was one of the hardest lessons learned of my adolescence but it has stuck with me to this day. If you have to try so hard to make someone like you and you're not getting any traction perhaps it's best to move on. Unfortunately to really learn this lesson I think you have to live through it. It's gonna leave a bruise but she'll be the better person for it.

Maggie May said...

raising a girl....oye. i'm just starting, too, after two boys, and it's intimidating.

mosey along said...

I definitely think these particular "worries" are more girl-oriented. If I had a boy, I'd probably be worrying more about making sure he grew up having respect for others and not wanting to shoot gophers with bb guns like my boy cousins did when I was growing up.

When my daughter was 3, she came home weeping that some of the other girls at daycare told her that her eyebrows weren't pretty. To be honest, I can't remember how I responded, but she's now 5 and just about the most self-confident kid I know. More than I ever was. But I know that changes as they reach ... ulp .... puberty.

I edited a short documentary a couple of years ago that asked woman-on-the-street style: "What do women want" and the marked difference between the older women's responses (balance, contentment, health) and the pre-teens (popularity, nice clothes, accessories) was both amusing and yet terrifying at the same time.

I have no real answers other than common sense ones like hammering the point home over and over (what's important and what's not). But I will say that at the very moment I see my daughter showing signs of herd mentality when she reaches 12 or 13, I'm yanking her out of school and homeschooling her instead. I'm sort of joking, but sort of not.

Richie Designs said...

I think if I was encouraged to "make more mistakes" instead of not trying to be perfect I would have been a lot more self confident with my day-to-day choices and bigger life stuff.

If I think about what I would tell my teenage self and I would say...you'll change a lot between 20 and 30 so wait to get married, don't be afraid to change your mind, and if you can't trust him with your life and your ATM run as fast as you can the other way.

Make mistakes, try new things and challenge yourself. The only way you'll figure out what you like and who you are is by falling down and taking a different path.

krista said...

well, first of all, no one should EVER be allowed to drink wine coolers. just sayin.
oh, man, i think about this a lot these days. i was such a conformist. such a need to be a part of the "in" crowd. i wanted to be popular without trying to be popular and spent much of my time trying to figure out how to do that. granted, i liken it to having control over my environment considering i didn't have control in my home environment but that's not really an excuse that works. i was always drawn to the characters in movies and books that stood out on their own, didn't give in, handed over the popular crown in exchange for anonymity as long as it meant keeping their integrity.
i was a damn sheep.
and i drank way too much.
all these things make me fear for my daughter.
bryan wants her to be into math and science. and he keeps praying she'll turn out less cute.
(fyi...we, too, kind of wish for a gay child. we're so okay with it and would be so supportive that we'll probably be those parents who keep telling their child over and over "but it's OKAY." and our child will throw their hands up in exasperation saying "I'M NOT GAY!")

Tara [at] Pacific Wedding Guide said...

I'm not a mother but I like to think that my parents raised my sisters and I to be independent, smart, self-confident girls. My parents never discouraged us from persuing art, dance, whatever we wanted to do. And they always let us make our own decisions. We were never grounded because we never rebeled- there was nothing to rebel against! I think it's all about mothers being great examples of strong, determined, independent women. When it comes to fathers, I think getting outside, playing sports and doing the same activities with your daughter that you would do with a son teaches them that girls can do anything boys do.

Robin said...

Yeah, I think I got of easy having a boy when I consider this stuff. But, regardless of gender, the best possible thing I think any of us can give our children is confidence. Celebrate who she is and love her unconditionally and give her opportunities to find interests and hobbies that help her define her sense of self. At least that is my plan with Micah.

Jenn said...

I joined pep squad. I wasn't even a cheerleader. I couldn't do a hurkey to save my life, and yet I learned every cheer in the hopes that one day I could aspire to popularity. I struggled throughout middle school and the first years of high school to be the same as all the other girls. But I wasn't.

I remained that dorky, bespeckled girl who always sat at the front and wouldn't let you copy her homework. I learned by junior year that it didn't matter if people liked me anymore, because in two years I would be in college. That was the year I learned that you reach the pinnacle of popularity when you stop caring about ever being popular. Even if you do forget to shower on occasion and you wear combat boots to school.

Have faith. Zoey will have her years of striving to be like everyone else, but someday you'll catch her, at 25, making faces in the mirror all over again. My mom did.

Adriene said...

This is exactly what I am trying to avoid in my son(5) and daughter(3)....you speak my mind!
"That she does not one day look and see the eyes of other people staring back from the void of her own reflection?"
How do we keep them, them?? Did our mothers wonder the same thing? If so, how did they fail us? Because I was right there slurping B&J too, and drinking canned Natural Light out of a straw.
I think we can count all fashion trends of the 80's as trying to fit in, not true expressions of our developing snazzy fashion sense.
Perhaps my worst herd moment involved a joint and a golf cart in reverse.
I survived, so will our kids...but the looming sense of them seeing their self image reflected by their peers scares the daylights out of me.

Shannon said...

I think back to the brutal world of being a pre-teen/teenage girl...it always seems that no matter how many times I look back into the past those years make me slap myself in the head. What a freaking bitch I was, I was not the popular girl who "made the rules" but I was worse, I was the one who followed that dumb ass hoping to fit in and hoping that those who said they were my friends really were. The life of a 13 year old girl is such a hard time. Puberty, boys, girls, parents, you name it they are trying to understand the hand they are being dealt.
Advice, hell, if you know of any pass it along to me, my daughter is 3 months old, I dread what will be her 8th grade year. With technology rapidly progressing someone will just be able to think a nasty thought and the entire class will be pointing and laughing.
I hope that I can raise my girl to be smart and compassionate and that when the time to "fit in" comes around, she will already know her place and not have to try as hard as her mother.

SGM said...

Your words made me laugh so hard, as did the photo (but it also gave me a headache--those strained grimaces faces. EEK.)

Petunia Face said...

I think I will just save theese comments and make my daughter read them :)
You guys are so freaking awesome. Thank you.

Author said...

Well, I just thought you were naturally scooped into that group, so you "succeeded," I suppose. Back in those days, I pretty much stopped doing something the minute it felt weird, risky, or mind altering. So maybe just tell her to go with her gut. If it doesn't feel right, it's not right for her, even if it looks right for others. Of course, I made up for all that big time in college, but you can white out this sentence if you print these out. I socialized with a lot with super creative adults when I was growing up (my dad was in advertising), and I think that they ended up being great role models and mentors. So, find some ad biz friends and she'll be fine ; )