Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon(Enough)

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my mom's coral floral quilted makeup bag. It was filled with pink plastic refillable Mary Kay eyeshadows and waxy eyeliners, hot pink tubes of mascara and soft swirly brushes that I recall my mom sweeping across my cheeks some mornings, no doubt with nothing on them.

On rare occasions, my mom would let me take this bag out onto the front porch of our house and I'd play with it, removing the items from the bag carefully, setting them up on the rough concrete step. I would unscrew the tubes of lipstick and line them up so that I could see the shades of bricks, peonies, roses that I could choose from.

The tweezers got ignored in favor of more colorful pots of powder. I would carefully sweep the shadows across my eyes, using the liner to trace my eyes appraising my own face, layering the liner until I looked like a seven year old blonde straggly, bruised-knee Cleopatra. My lips pursed in a pout, I used my superior skills gleaned from coloring books to follow the lines.

I'd look into the big swirly blue plastic handheld mirror trying it all on for size, trying to hasten the day that I'd be able to wear this stuff all the time. Then I'd usually return to my room, put the Grease soundtrack on the white leatherlike box turntable. I'd put on the closest thing I had to the outfits and reenact nearly the entire movie in my bedroom. I was an only child, this is how I passed time.

I remember a night around this time, I must have been maybe nine or ten tops. It was a sticky Wisconsin summer evening and my mom and I had gone to see a late movie. We would frequently pay for one, stay for two. We drove home in her car with the windows rolled down, the swirling air drying the perspiration, cooling our skin. Bored, I fished through my mother's purse, handling the sundry of objects. The tan crumpled pack of Winston lights that I would frequently take out and pantomime my best Marlene Dietrich or Faye Dunaway, her smudgy sunglasses sliding down my nose, Chapstick covered with stray tobacco and purse lint, pens, lighters, a stray tampon flinging itself free from the thin paper wrapper rendering itself useless in all but the most dire of emergencies.

I found the tube of lipstick and put it on, using the streetlights to see by. I sat on my knees in the passenger seat, no doubt without a seatbelt, to appear taller, and I looked out at the passing cars waiting to be looked at. I saw a truck with two men in it and I tilted my head so that my blonde hair was caught by the wind coming in and whipped around. I didn't look at them but pursed my lips out, angled my head and felt at some point that I was being looked at. I looked briefly and could see that they were smiling at me and angling to move into the lane closest to ours. My mom finally noticed them, the driver almost hanging out of the car trying to get our attention, as they got closer I watched the drivers face change to disbelief as he must have finally realized I was just a girl.

So what's the point of this trip down memory lane you ask. I don't remember how much early conditioning I had in the girly arts but my mom was not overly fixated on her appearance and while my grandmother had fun things like hat pins and long bright pink fingered gloved and hard lucite purses and hats with veils and leopard spotted coats, day to day, she mostly wore polyester pants, cheap shoes and tank tops and garden gloves. I think I was one very girly girl from pretty early on. You could have presented me a case full of shiny new hotwheels or some ratty silver platforms, cats eye glasses and a balding feather boa and I would have picked the accessories every single time.

I am a feminist. I believe in equal opportunities. I strive to give my children a common experience. In our household, everyone cooks, everyone cleans, everyone soothes, everyone cares for children. I am strong, feminine, I wear skirts frequently more out comfort than convention. I typically wear makeup when I leave the house and when my husband and I go out, you'll usually find me in heels although I admit they are uncomfortable and crippling. In spite of having three children and a fuck lot to do, I cannot seem to part with my long hair though occasionally I will longingly imagine a cute bob that air drys in ten minutes.

So I am okay with my daughters wanting to play dress up and enjoying my application of makeup whiskers to their Halloween kitty costumes. I am not concerned by my five year old's near insistence that she wear pink because she can also explain the basics of photosynthesis.

What I am concerned about is the sexualization of girls. I am concerned about the images of girls and women portrayed in what are supposed to be children's shows. I am concerned when parents allow the imagery of Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears and others to take a strong enough hold that these created, manufactured images become what is aspired to. I am concerned that later, when these idolized girls do silly and not so silly things, parents allow these same girls who idolize these girls to watch programs where their mistakes or heedless actions are put on display, given attention to and of course, tacit approval. I am concerned that parents willingly purchase and allow into their home dolls and toys that encourage young girls to be provocative and precocious.

One of the things I remember that night the men in the truck mistook me for a woman was that beauty or the attention of men was it's own kind of power and powerlessness. It could be the thing a prospective employer looked at instead of your talent. It could be a message you got that how you look is more important than who you are. It could come in often unwanted jeers from strange men. It could erase thoughts of science and math and discovery and replace them with outfits and insecurities and attempts to be pleasing. For a woman it is an everyday double edge sword, for a girl, it is an albatross, a burden, an unfair responsibility, choppy waters that they are unprepared to navigate.

This is not what empowerment looks like.

Postscript: When I was searching online for an appropriate title, I came across this, a very thoughtful look at this very same subject.

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Child Abuse

I'm not sure but I think this might come up in therapy later.

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Easter Phony

So the boy was talking to the hubs Friday about the Easter bunny. He wanted to know why the stuff from the Easter bunny has UPC codes on it. Hubs said, “What, you think a bunny actually manufactures all the stuff?”

Disaster averted.

Until I brought home the Easter basket crap and hubs and I were in the kitchen assembling the baskets when the boy “just happened” to come in an hour after bedtime into the kitchen to get a drink(which he never does). Mind you, the big kids have their own cups in the bathroom where they normally get a drink so he was sniffing around for sure.

He comes in and sees all the loot on the table and his eyes get as big as my mother-in-law's ass.

"Get in bed," my husband shouted, and he smugly walked back to his bedroom.

"Little fucker," I say, "what a Snoopy McSnooperson."

"Geez," hubs said, "what do I tell him now? Easter is over as we know it. Christmas and the tooth fairy can't be far behind."

"I know," I pipe in, "tell him that the Easter bunny had to lay off some workers, you know, the recession and all and since he's short on people, he had to spread deliveries over three days instead of just Sunday and since there have been so many layoffs and cutbacks, he's understaffed and just dropping off the stuff this year and making all the parents actually assemble the baskets. "

"Fuck it, it's over." hubs relented.

"Look on the bright side," I offered," if he knows that all the loot comes from us, maybe he'll start sucking up a little, it would be nice to finally get a little credit for all of this fairytale stuff.

Ok son, I'll tell you what really happened to the Easter Bunny but let me preface it with you are the one that wanted a dog.

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'Da Butts

She has been doing a lot of this lately and it cracks me up. I don't know what all 'da butts stuff is but I think she means buttons. The video is about three minutes long, too long for most of you but I think she says fuck at about minute 3:20. That's my girl.

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Oh the Humanity

I looked not unlike a Weeble Wobble, sort of egg-shaped like one of those plastic toys that according to the manufacturer, “wobble but don't fall down.” I was nearing the end of my pregnancy and on my way home after a long day at work. My feet hurt, my legs were swollen, my ankles nonexistent. I was crabby, exhausted, resentful to still be working and not at all looking forward to coming home to two needy, exhaustively chatty kids and one husband who probably had not picked up the house, started homework or saved some dinner for me. My car had become the setting for a very large personal pity party and I was headed home with a boulder-size chip on my shoulder.

I slowed my car to a stop at the red light and that's when I saw him. He had amazingly clear blue eyes and as they met mine, his face broke out into the widest, most friendly smile I had seen for days. His hand went up and he waved wildly at me hunkering his head down a little in my direction so I knew it was for me. I couldn't help it, I forgot my building tirade and I smiled and waved back. It was one of those odd simple moments where I am reminded of my humanity.

He must have been in his late thirties or early forties but he looked closer to seventy. I don't know if the drink had done it, meth or the other cornucopia of drugs that can drag a person to the depths. Maybe it was mental illness or a combination of all of them. His skin was thick and leathery and tanned to the color of a saddle from his days outdoors. His pants were too long and too big, cinched around his thin waist with a belt. His long hair was greasy and pulled back in a ponytail. I saw his shopping cart parked next to a pair of defunct pay phones, well within his sight protecting what were no doubt his only possessions.

I started crying as the light changed to green and I continued home. Maybe it was the hormones, maybe it was the humanity. I don't mean to say that just because a person smiles, he or she is happy but in my mind I considered that if he could smile, why couldn't I. I contemplated that long ago, he was someone's baby boy with big clear blue eyes, small chubby fingers and a host of needs and wants. I remembered that nearly all of us start there, perfect, unsullied, a blank canvas. Then we are written on and sometimes scribbled and scratched and crumpled up and thrown away. It is just a matter of luck and circumstance that some of us can rebound while others of us spiral further and further down.

I considered my pretty house, healthy children, caring husband, my warm bed with clean soft sheets, my hot shower, my warm and satisfying meals, my children's hugs, my safety net. Yes it may seem like a pretty obvious a-ha moment or a little Lifetime but that day, that short, probably three minute light shifted my paradigm. Gratitude is a funny thing, it comes and goes, I am reminded at least weekly of the constant need to refocus, be grateful, be kind. These small reminders are gifts, small pokes and pinches to pull us back to the reality of how good most of us have it, how much better a hand fate has dealt us. I don't mean that personal responsibility doesn't have a hand in it but how many of us could be that person were it not for the resources of health care, mental health, recovery, family not willing to let us sink, kind friends and partners who perhaps filled the gaps and holes childhood left behind or a simple, clawing tenacity to not be left behind.

One of my most recent personal goals has been to do more of the things that I intend to. I think intent is a powerful thing but action even more so. A few months back, a neighbor of ours lost a seventeen year old son. My husband and I went back and forth trying to think of something we could do for them. We don't know them at all, we've never even introduced ourselves but we wanted to make a gesture, to do something that would perhaps ease even just a moment or show that they were in our thoughts. Should we bring dinner? I thought they really don't know us well enough where they would just eat something we brought over. Then we thought maybe some muffins and fruit and things that would be good to have on hand when people stop by. Death so frequently brings company. Then I thought, muffins? Fucking muffins? Why do I think that me bringing over a basket of muffins will do anything to make anything better for this family. What did we end up doing? Nothing. I couldn't think of something appropriate, something I was sure would be taken the right way and seen as a kindness and not an intrusion. I was ashamed that I had really intended to do something and I didn't, because it was just easier not to.

So I have been on a mission of making my actions match my intentions. Which brings me to my blue eyed fellow human. I literally see him in that same spot every time I leave work for home, I don't know how I never noticed him before. Ever since that day that he gave me that gift of gratitude, I have intended to pull in the parking lot near where he waves and panhandles. I've wanted to tell him that he made a bad day better, that he touched something in me, that he spared my family from my anger and hostility that day.

I used to be judgemental and self-righteous about giving people money I knew would be used to buy alcohol and drugs but now I think, who am I to tell this person what they need or don't need to get through the day. In addition to verbalizing my thanks, I wanted to give him some money. In part because I have attachments to money and in my fledgling study of Buddhism, one of the goals is to release your attachment to things. Mind you not get rid of all money, but loosen one's attachment to it.

I most certainly have attachments to money, which means I worry, mostly needlessly about having enough. It makes me stingy because I think, what if my children need this someday, what if I want something and I don't have enough money, what if my husband loses his job again or my shop goes down the tubes. Still none of this is real and my mantra, which I have to remind myself of frequently, is 'I have everything I need, I always have enough'. I had just worked and had cash in my pocket. I also wanted to make his day the way he made mine, maybe he could find a cheap room for the night, take a hot shower, sleep in a warm bed, sleep safely.

I have intended to do this for about twenty months, that's over six hundred and twenty days of intending to do something. This past Saturday, I finally did it.

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Several months back, Chris, one of my favorite reads, asked me to guest post. He gave me a jumping off point-- 1995. 1995? Many of you might have taken the hop over to his place to see my post but here it is for those of you unfamiliar with using links. Yes Grandma, I mean you.

In 1995, I was twenty-one, finishing my last year of college. I had taken the LSAT and scored in the top 7%* in the country, I had limitless options as far as law schools went but I could not get my head around whether or not I actually wanted to be a lawyer. Did I want to travel? Tired of being poor, should I get a job? I know one part of me wanted to write, even then, however, in my family “artistic” pursuits got shelved for “real jobs”. I never really thought it was an option. I had so many people telling me what I should and shouldn't do that I couldn't hear myself think.

I look back to those days and hardly recognize myself. Those were probably some of the most difficult days for me, that tumultuous transition between childhood and adulthood. Not legal adulthood mind you, but adult in the sense that you truly take care of yourself and make your own decisions. I was terribly unsure of myself back then. I was still living under the roof of my very opinionated mother, running almost every decision past her because I didn't trust myself. I was, and continue to be, the extroverted introvert. Shy and slightly uncomfortable in social situations, being funny and gregarious is my defense mechanism to overcome that anxiety. I only appear socially adept.

I thought about how much of what I know now I wish I had known then. I imagine sitting down with my twenty-one year old self. What would I tell her if I had the chance? How could I better prepare her? I'm sure the things I'd say will continue to evolve, but at thirty-five, this is what I'd pass along.

1-You are not the only one who is insecure and unsure of yourself, in this regard, you are just like everyone else which should be comforting.

2-Don't be ashamed or embarrassed about being smart, later on you'll find the best men like the smart girls.

3-You need some breathing room away from your family to figure out who you are and what you want.

4-With regard to said family, just so you know, they're not always right.

5-Tennis? Volleyball? Ballet? So what if you're hopelessly uncoordinated? Especially since really, you're not, your just so self conscious that you get yourself all torqued up and forget to move your body. These are things you want to try, so what if you look silly, what do you care? Guess what? Most people are too self-absorbed to care what you're doing anyway.

6-Stop being so afraid of failing. You think half the people out there are misguided and misinformed anyway so why do you care what they think?

7-You think you're not pretty and you need to figure out why you think that because it's not true.

8-Go easy on the carbs and you'll lose that babyfat. Stop eating salads with ranch dressing and cheese, in spite of what you think, this is not going to help you lose weight and frankly, it tastes awful.

9-Your parents can only give you the tools they have so you are not going to be armed with everything you need. Some things you'll figure out the hard way, other tools you can get through some keen observation, the latter is far easier.

10-You got the short straw in the dad department. His behavior has absolutely nothing to do with you. You don't deserve it, you didn't do anything to cause it. You are not difficult to love and in time, you will figure out how to trust men again.

11-With regard to men, you seriously have to expect more.

12-That thing you do, you know the thing I'm talking about, you need to stop doing it on the first date.

13-Get yourself a good therapist(see #9 & #10)

14-Clean up those eyebrows already, bushy brows are so 1995.

15-One word, sunscreen.

16-Quit smoking today.

17-Trust your gut. Whether it's school, men, friends, you know more than you think you do.

*I never actually attended law school so that 7% is the sum of my bragging rights.

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I See London, I See France

My five year old is at the stage where she has and wants to wear jeans but has not figured out that girl trick of hoisting them all the way up. Likewise, she only snaps or buttons them about fifty percent of the time.
At the end of the day, I suppose I should be grateful that I see her giant "granny panties" hanging out of her jeans and not a thong.

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What Do People Do During an Economic Depression?

They eat and they, well, you know, do other things that don't cost money(well, at least not if you're married).

The husband started a new job a month back, a real job, for real pay. Not the 50% of his pay scale job he first accepted in a mad dash to be employed. I didn't want to mention it for fear of jinxing it but things have mellowed considerably here at the maison 'de formerlyfun. He is still in high gear as he proves his mettle at the new digs but the heavy cloud of what ifs has passed for now.

Still, we continue to be in belts tightened mode, if for nothing more than to replenish the savings we spent the first part of the year. We've looked to do things that are entertaining and cheap(each other) and we've eaten from home most of the time. My grandparents, who were Depression-era, took a great pleasure in food. I don't know if it is because they remember lean and hungry times or if food was a measure of wealth, simple pleasures or all of the above.

I've always been an adept cook but I've never been much for baking. When I was single I didn't attempt baking because I knew I'd be the one eating all of my experiments and this could make singleton status permanent. With the rigors of young family life, who had time to dish up some fruit and yogurt much less make a cake or a pie. But then came the economic downturn and time on my hands with little money to spare. Additionally, have you noticed how blech most of the things from the grocery bakery taste? Why does nothing have butter in it anymore? I don't want lard in my frosting dammit. Sugar and Crisco do not great flavours make, I don't care how much pink food coloring you put in it.

So with my husband's birthday around the corner, I decided to attempt a homemade birthday cake. Caveat, much like my grandmother's idea of homemade, I mean a box cake, not just dumped into a sheet pan, with homemade frosting and something thrown on top. So I decided to make a devil's food cake with Swiss buttercream(yes, real butter, about 8 sticks thank you very much)frosting and a chocolate drizzle, mmmmmm. My first attempt I used two round cake pans, a mix, a recipe for the frosting, with included doing a bain-marie(fancy french name for warming something in a water bath rather than directly on the burner) and some shaky decorating skills.

This is what I got:

This is what it looked like after photo retouching. Yes, even cakes can be airbrushed.

So it was two layers and yes, it tasted damn fine. There is nothing that compares to frosting with butter and sugar versus high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil.

So this was the tester cake because I had really only ever made like two cakes before and didn't want to 'practice' for the hubs birthday. After this one turned out so delicious, I got a little cocky and decided to go three layers. I changed up the decor a little and ended up with this bad boy.

The cake was a little slice of 3000 calorie heaven on a plate. I wish I would have taken a picture of the inside but as soon as I cut into it, the whole family devoured it. It was a big hit and yes, you must now bow down to my baking acumen.

So the moral of the story? Economic downturn's are not all bad as long as you have the heady muse of chocolate to assuage your empty wallet.

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