At this very moment I am sitting on my bed typing away on my laptop. I attempted to organize parts of my house today, which resulted in even more piles of stuff. As I look back on the day that has passed, I fondly think back to this morning when I was laughing and wrestling and goofing around with Bean while attempting to not get out of bed so early. I made her favorite breakfast and I enjoyed my coffee with her while she happily ate it. And then a terrifying question occurred to me. What am I teaching my child? What am I teaching my daughter? Those questions were fiercely reinforced just a few minutes later when she asked me if I was going to wear jeans today because if I was wearing jeans she wanted wear jeans too. There’s no denying it, she is proud that I am her Mommy. I am proud to be her Mommy. She emulates me in almost every way possible. She wears fake glasses, she lets me teach her yoga poses and we even share a love of the same Starbucks beverage (Shaken Passion Tea with ½ a pump of sweetener). It’s so obvious that she looks up to me. And what mother wouldn’t be over the moon to realize that?! As overjoyed as I am to have passed on my love of the written word and all things nerdy, I have to worry about what other examples I am setting for her.
Clothes: As females, we become very aware of our bodies and the power they possess at a young age. Our bodies wield a strange power over us, they can make us self conscious, and they can make feel like we rule the world. They sometimes determine our self worth in this screwed up world we live in. Sometimes I wear jeans in the summer heat in Florida because I didn’t shave my legs. Other times I wear jeans because I don’t like the way my legs look. Yesterday after school Bean put jeans on because I had jeans on. She was visibly hot and sweaty, but wanted to be like me. She had no idea why I was wearing them, but I’m afraid one day she will. She probably sees me twisting and turning when I try on certain things. No doubt she has seen me adjusting my bra or swimsuit top. She sees my hesitation to shed my tank top at the beach. This isn’t an intentional message. I never criticize my body in front of her and I never will. But she sees everything with those soulful eyes. In an age of rampant female body-shaming, this is not the message that I want to send to my daughter. I want her to see a confident person who has earned every scar. A person who a proverbially fought hard to get to wear she is. I may not have skinny legs, but I have strong legs. That strength comes from years as a soccer player and a childhood of swimming for hours on end. Muscles made from what seemed like never ending shifts at the bar. I have legs that allow me to move quickly at work, or move even quicker should I hear my child scream. I have thighs that have helped me move kegs and lift my sweet child when she was an infant. Walked her for hours and hours and nights and days around the neighborhood or pacing the house in the middle of the night to get her to go back to sleep. My shoulders are strong. They aren’t lithe or petite. I’m just not built that way. I have arms that can carry in all the grocery bags in one trip. I have scars. Some are from childhood, some are from adulthood. Each one has a story and I am proud to retell them. I was built to survive. I was built to live and never quit.
Food: I sit with Bean every morning while she eats breakfast. I drink my coffee and we chat. But I very rarely eat breakfast with her. Not because I don’t want to, but honestly I am just not hungry that early. And I really dislike most breakfast foods that aren’t bacon. But I’m afraid I’m teaching her that nourishing yourself isn’t important. I always eat dinner with her, but even lunch sometimes is hard. I’m always trying to accomplish so much in a day, that I make lunch for her and then begin another task. Again, it’s not intentional, but what is she seeing? Is she seeing that life’s menial tasks are more important than eating a good lunch? Is she interpreting it to mean that coffee is a food group? Wait, it’s not? It should be.
Relationships: D and I have a great relationship now. But we didn’t always. For a time it was downright unhealthy. He and I were both in bad places mentally and as they say “You always hurt the ones you love.” We broke up for a time when Bean was 3. I would’ve rather her see a person willing to recognize her own self worth than remain in a relationship that was making her miserable. And it took time for us to find our way back to each other. But we did. And we worked every day to be better people, as a couple and as individuals. I want her to see that you have to hold on to your sense of self. Just because you love someone, doesn’t mean you give up who you are and what you love and what you believe. She has seen her parents argue. She has seen her parents madly in love. Every day she sees 2 people who love each other enough to make an effort. She doesn’t see a woman who doesn’t speak up for herself anymore. No matter how much I love D, I will always be who I was before we met. I hope that I’m teaching Bean that a good healthy relationship is one that lets you be who you are, together.
Technology: Ugh….sometimes I hate technology. As Bean has gotten older, I am more aware of the presence of technology in our lives. In our home we have 2 tablets, 2 iPhones, 1 iPod, a couple gaming consoles and a TV in each room. I am a big offender of having the TV on for background noise. D is notorious for playing games on his phone as soon as he wakes up. We have been at dinner several times and seen other parents so involved with their smart phones that they seem to have forgotten they have kids desperate for their attention. I have recently made the deliberate decision to set my phone down and walk away. It gets put away when I drive because A) its safer and B) I want Riley to know that her safety is more important than anything else and C) conversation and car singing are much more fun anyway. The people physically in front of me are more important than the screen in my hand. One of those tablets in our home is Bean’s and I’m totally 100% good with that. She might spend a grand total of 45 minutes on it a week. But it allows her to learn the up to date technology and I monitor what she is able to access. She’s been able to use an iPhone since she was 18 months old. I let her play on my laptop. All she does is type, but she has fun. At the end of the day there is nothing on any of those screens that is more important than the people in front of you. I recently told a friend that I don’t get any alerts for the games on my phone. I don’t get any Facebook or Pinterest alerts either. Most of the time my phone is on silent for the simple fact that I don’t want to be interrupted by it if I’m doing something cool like building the Great Wall of China out of Legos. This blew her mind. The fact that I could conceivably go a whole day without being bothered by this tiny technological thorn in my side was unheard of to her.
Interests: This is a big one because she is in school now and there are 18 other kids in her class, each as judgmental as the last. Kids can be mean. Bean is an only child, has a great home life, a strong sense of family and is given the freedom to be herself. But not every kid has that. Some of the kids in her class have older or younger siblings. Some of the kids in her class are so starved for their parents’ attention that they manifest it by putting other kids down or having to one up them. Some kids, even at this tender young age have shown a propensity for lying in order to gain popularity or admiration from the other kids. A few times Bean has asked if it’s “okay” for her to like a certain thing, be it Harry Potter or Legos. I have made it a point to show her that I unapologetically love what I love. I am a nerd. And I own it. I read like it’s going out of style, because sadly it seems to be doing exactly that. I’m an 80s kid, Jem & the Holograms, Labyrinth, Fraggle Rock. Bean knows what these things are, and more importantly she likes them. She also loves science. She loves to come up with new experiments that we can try. She loves Star Wars and wants to learn how to surf. I want her to see that no matter what happens in her life, her favorite things will never abandon her. And her favorite things will often lead her to the best of friends. The kind of people who will share her interests and share in late night movie marathons and inside jokes. The kinds of friends who will have entire conversations comprised of movie quotes. Those are the best kind of friends. The keepers.
My child has made me realize that I need to be more aware of the examples that I’m setting for her. We become so caught up in making sure that they are doing the right thing at the right time and in the right way, that we forget that old adage “Monkey see, Monkey do” What do you want your monkey to do? Would eating breakfast really hurt me? No. It would probably be good for me. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wear shorts……
Keep those toes in the sand!