Forms of youth

Lately, I’ve been kind of lacking motivation to blog. I’ve actually started, written, and even briefly posted one of several posts. But just ended up taking them all down because frankly, I don’t have much to say. I’m in the middle of reading “The Help,” and making plans for Russ’s first birthday party on September 10th. I’m sort of conflicted about his birthday, which makes me feel like SUCH a jerk, honestly. So many people I know personally or know of want kids and can’t have them, or got pregnant and then lost the baby, or – God forbid – have a sick child who might not see as many birthdays as any parent would like. It’s heartbreaking, and whenever I feel mopey because Russ is growing up so fast on me, I think of those parents. And suddenly I feel better. And like a jerk. Funny how those two things can coincide, but I know I’m normal – it’s pretty well documented for parents (usually moms) to be a bit emotional about the passing of another year in their child’s life. I suspect this will be the worst one for awhile. Maybe when Russ turns 16 or 18, I’ll have another one like this where I just sit in disbelief, trying to rewind the time with my mind, only to be struck by how helpless and powerless I am to go back and do it all over again. And that’s okay. Parenthood is an exercise in choosing your battles. You cannot go back and redo things, even though you will make mistakes; you can, however, plan for the things which you can control (which, turns out, those things are in the minority) and try to do those things right. You will still screw some of those things up.

So, to recap: I am mom. I am a jerk. I am still upset that time – gasp! – continues to pass whether I like it or not. I am somebody who screws up here and there as a parent. I am someone who plans too much. And who is learning to just shut up and let stuff happen. So that’s what’s happening with that.

I’m a people watcher. Now, I don’t think it’s in some sort of weirdo “people watching” way – I mean more that I just sort of notice things people do and say, expressions they make, the tone of their voices. I guess maybe it’s one of the reasons that I get striking instinctive “pings” about when a friend acquaintance, or even somebody on TV whom I don’t know from Adam, is pregnant. Jonathan jokes that I have a “built-in E.P.T.” I’m not saying I’m psychic, because I have no propensity for those kinds of things – I just know a preggo when I see one. Even if she’s only 3 weeks along and won’t find out until tomorrow. It’s not 100% accurate, but I’d say it’s at least a 75% accuracy rate. So yeah – I’m a people watcher. I notice stuff.

I forget where I was, but the other day, I had an unusual and almost creepy experience. I think I might’ve been in a grocery store, but considering we make multiple grocery runs each week, I’ve not a clue which store it was. Probably Publix or Walmart. What creeped me out was this look I got from this girl. She was standing there behind her mother, who was looking at some product on the shelf, when I turned onto the same aisle with Russ in the grocery cart. I’m not someone who totally ignores kids – it’s just not my style. I usually will smile and mouth the words “hi” if they seem receptive. I guess it’s just something that stems from the kind of child I was – I never met a stranger, and I was always interested in what people did, what they said. From as early as I remember, I’ve studied people. And this kid was studying me, but not in a good way.

She looked me up and down, almost like there was something wrong with me. It was a look eerily reminiscent of the sneers and snarls I used to get from those couple of girls in middle school and high school who honestly would not have peed on me if I’d been on fire. Of course, ya know, first thought in my head is “Oh…booger? Toilet paper on shoe. Zipper open? No…Bird crap on arm? What is it?” and then I’m frantically scanning my person to see what elicited some reaction. Out of the corner of my eye – and while trying to act like I wasn’t really looking, I glanced over to see if she was still eyeballing me. Yup. Cutting those little eyes at me as she sauntered off with her mother, who didn’t so much as look back to see if her daughter was following her as she turned to go to the next aisle (yes, sauntered – imagine a six year old, sauntering. Weird.). I was thoroughly disturbed – so much so that I remained on the same aisle for far longer than I needed to, wasting time to try and give the girl and her mother a headstart so I didn’t have to face her again. And wondering, why the hateful glare?

In that short few moments though, I found at least a few answers. The mother sure didn’t seem to care, but I noticed a few things. The far-too-mature way she carried herself. The seeming distrust of anyone in her presence. The excessively mature manner of dress. And that was what I could deduce when I tried to look past the gobs of makeup caked on her face, the Coach purse (though I hope to all that is holy that it was a fake), and the smug smirk so much more fitting of a snot-nosed teenager. But to me, she looked to be six, maybe seven. Frankly, she looked so young that she should’ve still been preoccupied with playing dress-up and going to the playground – not sizing up strangers in a store and contemplating how much better or more sophisticated she looked. She was just…disturbingly mature for her age. It deeply bothered me, even though it’s probably none of my business, since she’s not my kid.

I still don’t know what it was about me that made this kid glare me down like I’d just killed her puppy or something. And to be honest, ya know – and this is embarassing, because I’m a friggin’ adult and shouldn’t really care – it shook me a bit. What has to happen around a six year old, what has to be said or done in her presence, to get her to look at a stranger with such complete and utter disdain, to have her glaring at anyone in her midst? I’m just a woman, with a baby (an exceptionally cute one, if ya ask me), walking through the store. I’m plain. Sort of tall, not chubby, but not bone-skinny. Not dressed in designer duds, and usually schleping a enormous diaper bag along with me whether I need it or not (I like to be prepared). I don’t know what I did wrong or what was wrong with me.

Have you ever seen that Tide commercial where a little girl – she looks to be maybe ten years old – dances around in various patterned tights? Okay, let me start by saying I freaking love that commercial, and probably for a lot of really over-pondered reasons. For one thing, I think that little girl is a great example of what little girls should be in this world, but so rarely are. Seems like everybody you meet has a tan-o-rexia issue, but not this kid. She’s pale and freckled and somehow seems free because of it. Her hair isn’t dyed or covering half her face, but up in these two, cute, youthful little buns on each side of her head. She doesn’t slink about like some pre-adolescent Lolita. She does not seem to be filled with images of what her non-existent sexuality should be, or how she should carry herself, or whether boys think she’s fat (she’s as gangly and undeveloped as she is wholesome), or if her clothes cost enough.

That, my friends, is how little girls should be. But so often, they are not, and sometimes I think it’s hard for me to hide the sadness I feel when I see an 8 yr. old wearing heels or a padded bikini top, discussing how she really hates the job the last stylist did on her highlights, or fussing over a little spilled coke on her brand-new top. Allow me to vault my own youth onto a short-lived pedestal, but for all its shortcomings, I sure do thank the good Lord above that my childhood didn’t include these kinds of unnecessary, grown-up concerns until I was at least…maybe in high school? Late middle school? By that point, there wasn’t much paranoid self-analysis in me that hadn’t already been spurned by the ideas and assumptions ingrained in me by a far-too-early subscription to Seventeen. 

I want my daughter to be better than all that CRAP. It’s crap. And if keeping her away from that stuff, at least for as long as I can, means saying “no” to some things, then that’s what I’m going to do. I want her to be free to do things she loves to do, so long as they don’t compromise everything about her. I want her to be free to wear stuff she likes and hairstyles she likes, providing they don’t turn her into the human reinterpretation of a Bratz doll. I want her to be able to discern between a situation where she needs to put her foot down, but to know the difference when it’s a situation where she needs to let things go, to remove herself from it. Like…just some standards, you know? I just want better things for her than what this world would have her depending on, believing in, and standing for.

Youth takes a number of forms, and as a parent, I sometimes find myself frozen. I wonder how I will anticipate and dodge the bullets that will surely come my way, and how I’ll stop the bleeding from the ones that will even more surely be unavoidable. We’re really blessed to have some smart women around us, especially at our church, who have both sons and daughters. And since having a son is territory I am most definitely charting (at a far more rapid pace than I ever imagined possible), I’m not as worried about it. But every day, it seems I notice something else that little girls in this world will have to contend with. And each Sunday, I am impressed to see girls – from age 0 to 16 or older – at our church, expecting something a little more dignified for their lives. I’m not saying they’re all going to be perfect. They will make mistakes, just like I did, just like their moms did, just like their grandmothers before them. That’s life. But I think if Jonathan and I ever have a daughter, we have a lot of great folks to help point us in the right direction. There IS a right direction. And there are a still some people on it. I just wish the rest of the world could find the map.

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