Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This Really Chaps My Ass

So I’ve been pretty absent here for a while, but I had an experience recently that seemed worth waxing poetic about. Plus it provided an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use one of my favorite phrases as an apropos title. 

Last week I caught wind of a new Chapstick advertisement that predominately features a woman’s butt in the air in what is supposed to represent a frantic search in the couch for her lip balm. My hackles went up immediately, and as their advertisement encouraged me to do, I visited their Facebook page to “be heard.” I expressed my displeasure with what I found to be an insulting, sexualized representation of a woman in what could have otherwise been a clever ad campaign.

"Drat. If only I had room in these jeans for my Chapstick."

You can imagine how happy I was when I realized two minutes later that not only was my comment removed by Chapstick, but suggestive and offensive comments towards the model made by other visitors were left up. As often happens with me, I got pissed and this became my afternoon activity de jour. I sent an email to Chapstick and posted a few other comments on Facebook. In what was surely a loving tone, my husband commented, “Wow, you’re really outting yourself on Facebook over this Chapstick thing.” (It’s true – I’m coming out as a crazed feminist. Look out.) Later, at dinner, I got into a friendly debate over the issue with some girlfriends who didn’t seem to share my irritation. Shoot. I started to wonder. Am I over-reacting? Answer: Hell no.

I am frustrated to see how many women are buying into the social roles and stereotypes that have been prescribed for us. I am not a pervert, I am not preoccupied with sex, I am not a 'feminazi,' and I am not bored. When I look at this ad by Chapstick, I see a faceless (headless, even) woman with her ass front and center, pushed into the air, knees spread. Her hair is blowing in the who-knows-what, as I presume there is no wind in the house. A hand that must be hers is reaching up from behind the couch in a position that is not physically possible, assuring me that the person creating this image could care less if unimportant appendages such as arms are attached (also a subtle nod to dismemberment). And in case there’s any question of what the focus of this ad is, if you download the image from Chapstick’s site you will find the file name is ‘ass.’

For those that think this ad is no big deal and this outrage is nonsensical, I am just as perplexed by you as you are by me. Maybe if I step away from this ad in particular I can make sense to you. This type of portrayal of women is a death by a thousand cuts. Our young girls – and we as grown women – are exposed to THOUSANDS of messages a day that help shape our perception of ourselves and our place in the world (see here for a refresher). Perhaps this ad or that commercial isn’t so bad; harmless, really…and you talk that way until you’ve been exposed to 10,000 headless, sexualized, super thin, silenced, submissive, stereotyped images of women.

What’s normal and acceptable in our minds is based on what we have been shown. I choose to show my daughter something different. In an attempt to let her develop her own sense of self, without being told what that looks like, I limit her exposure to commercials, media, advertising, violence, and other images I feel would sway her developing psyche. As has been mentioned before, if not-so-subtle racism was being used (which it often is, by the way), we wouldn’t be having this argument. Just as white folks (myself included) are able to enjoy the privilege of seeing our race represented daily in positions of power and influence, in history books, in popular culture and in toys, etc; men enjoy the daily privilege of seeing themselves in these roles. Women have to look harder. The spell checker on my smart phone wants me to correct “Congresswoman” to “Congressman”. Death by a thousand cuts.

After throwing out all the Chapstick I could find in the house over the weekend and buying some Carmex, I got distracted and moved on to other things. So imagine my pleasant surprise to find the following email in my inbox this evening:

Thank you for your email. Our new Chaptsick (sic) ad was not intended to offend anyone. We are dedicated to listening to the views of our customers. To that end, we are removing the image from all of our properties.

Thank you again for your feedback.


Raymond Kerins

Raymond is the VP of Corporate Communications at Pfizer, and I’m sure he is unlikely to misspell “Chaptsick” in an email after today. Typos aside, the ad got pulled. No, it’s not well written. But I don’t care. What I care about is that I had the courage to speak up about something that bothered me and I was part of affecting change. What I care about is that I am setting an example for my daughter: have ideals, stick to them, and don’t apologize for it. What I care about is that the company got the message, and it’s one less degrading image that young girls will see.

What does a 13 year-old girl think who saw this ad by Chapstick? I bet you could show it to 100 of them, and 90 would tell you they wish they were thin, or had a butt like that. Because it’s in their face. All. The. Time. I choose something else for my daughter, and myself. And it’s not this.

You may have already seen a shorter version of this rant (full of horrible misspellings) in a discussion on Melissa Wardy’s Pigtail Pal’s blog. Her site educates and promotes discussion on body image, gender stereotypes, marketing, and media literacy. Check her out at

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Only’s Not So Lonely's been a busy summer. Which means that my 10 dedicated readers may have noticed that I've not posted a blog in three months. To kinda-sorta end the streak, I'm posting a piece, but it was written by my girlfriend and mommy blogger at large, Katie. She was kind enough to invite me to take up space on her blog recently, and I'm happy to return the favor. Especially since it gives me yet another pass on writing something new... Enjoy!

* * * * * * *

Penny and I have known each other for years.  You’ll find my blog: to be “all about the baby,” whereas Penny’s claim to fame is a blog NOT being about the baby.  (Even though, let’s give her credit, even when she’s on a feminist rant we know it’s because she wants her daughter to grow up in a better world). When it comes to families I’ve found that Penny’s appreciated her small clan for everything they’re worth.  I, on the other hand, keep finding myself talking about “the next baby.” Here’s where the guilt of over-sighting my one and only joy catches up to me.

Whenever I’ve thought about what I want my future family to look like I conjure up a diluted, nostalgic version of my own childhood.  Six people, siblings and their friends tearing through the house with little distinction between outdoor and indoor voices, always someone to explore with, and having younger siblings to force into ridiculous games created from my imagination.  As adults we have nieces and nephews to roll into an even larger collage.  You can always invite yourself along with whatever a sibling’s family has planned; it’s not considered imposing, it’s an unspoken open invitation.  There are more holiday traditions to create and always someone to give advice whether you want to hear it or not.  Yeah, yeah.  I know there is arguing, maybe a few violent attacks, competition, and that someone would have had to trade college for the whole family to afford a trip to Disney World; but I just remember a whirlwind (okay, Category 5 hurricane) of people and noise that weave together into this nest of love that I flew from.

Needless to say, I always imagined my own family would be much of the same.  One day, I didn’t understand why at the time, but my mother convinced me that having four kids would be insane.  (“Whhaaattt?? You want FOUR children?? Are you INSANE??  You grew up in a house with four children!!”—as if that were explanation enough.)  So, in the way that every young girl has a carefully drawn out schedule and plan for her future, I made the fateful scratching of 4 into a 3.

I’ve been a mother in the making since creation.  I was a babysitter, nanny, became an elementary school teacher, and married a man that revers family as much as I do.  All plans continued onward and upward.  Precisely one year after we got married I became pregnant with our now 15 month old boy.  Yes, that was in the timeline.  And now, the checklist says it’s time for Number Two.  But here’s the question that renders this post a coveted place on Penny’s blog, where originally it was the antithesis of It’s Not About the Baby:  Could my son be enough?

What if he was able to get snuggles from Mama anytime he wanted?  What if we were able to give him the world because we wouldn’t have to pay for three kids to have tennis lessons/guitar lessons/summer camp/airfare for travel/college?  What if I didn’t have to buy a minivan to fit all of those little rascals in?  And, what if while I’m pregnant I can’t run and play with him (I was gigantic while carrying him), or hold him because my belly is in the way.  What if I’m nauseous and tired and lose my patience with him?  What if Daddy has to take over all of those nurturing responsibilities and he resents me and only wants his Daddy for the rest of his life??  (Yes, welcome to the demented way my brain functions.) 

Society and historical psychology have left their identifying mark on “The Only Child.”  We’re told that Only Children don’t know how to socialize with others their age, that they don’t know how to entertain themselves, and that they’re spoiled.  If I think about personal memories of any classmates who were only children I remember that they had a lot of toys I wanted, and their bedrooms were spotless. I may have even identified them with the word spoiled.  

Now, it doesn’t take a proverbial brain surgeon to deduct that their parents could probably afford more toys having fewer groceries to buy.  I’m not entirely sure if the neatness is a fair correlation but I’m guessing it’s easier to keep on top of one child’s destruction than the mess of more.  When I was growing up our Rec Room (that would be the pseudonym for a carpeted basement) looked like a Misfit Toys Island Massacre. Somehow my mother did perform a daily miracle of keeping the house clean, we just covered all of the sparkling laminate and carpet with our junk.

Of course these Only Child stereotypes are unfair.  For me, it’s no longer a case of “I can’t have an only child because I will disservice him by his instinctive unwillingness to share, inability to entertain himself, or inevitably become socially inept,” it has become, “Will I have everything I’ve ever dreamed in this one child?”  I mean, in prior Only Child judgment I hadn’t taken into consideration the parents who were actually unable to conceive more than one child.  For all I knew when I was younger kids were to be had and the amount was a choice.  

Now I know families that have one child because that may be all that’s biologically possible.  They don’t wring their hands wondering if they should have just stayed childless as opposed to bringing an Only Child into the world.  They scoop that child into their arms and marvel at how amazing it is to love a creature with a strength that has an unknown beginning and infinite end.

So, will I have more children? Probably.  If I couldn’t have any more children would I be devastated?  Not at all.  I’ve learned that I can undoubtedly find everything I need in the family I have.
Do you feel the pressure of The Only Child syndrome? Has your viewpoint changed over time?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cover Girl Culture: Who Wants to Be a Supermodel?

“I didn't eat yesterday
And I'm not going to eat today
And I'm not going to eat tomorrow
'Cuz I'm going to be a supermodel!”

Think back. Chances are pretty good that if you are a woman you desperately wanted to be a model or an actress at one point in your life, be it fifteen years ago or fifteen minutes ago. If you’re a man, there’s certainly an excellent chance that you aspired to date a supermodel at some juncture. Though I wince while doing it, I can remember high school pretty well. My self-esteem was somewhere in the subterranean level and it raised or lowered based on my perceived social status, looks, and current boyfriend.

Unfortunately, things aren’t getting much better for today’s girls. The issues I struggled with in college are popping up in high schools and the problems of my high school days are now considered middle school shenanigans. Back in April I wrote about the sexualization of girls, a disturbing situation I call ‘sexy babies.’ This issue must be on a lot of mom’s minds, because it was the most traffic I’ve ever had on my site. As a result of the piece, I was sent a copy of Cover Girl Culture, a documentary addressing the world of fashion, modeling, advertising, and their impact on tween and teen girls.

I have watched this film twice and taken four furiously typed pages of notes. They are barely legible, even typed, and contain dozens of punctuations such as, “HA!” and “WTF?” I consider myself media literate, but this documentary still made my jaw drop. The director, Nicole Clark, wove together interviews with young girls, fashion magazine execs, psychologists, motivational speakers, models, and teachers, which she then layered with images from Teen Vogue and ELLE magazines in an incredibly powerful way. I promise you, if you have a daughter, you will begin seriously considering home schooling within the first fifteen minutes of this film.  

A Teen Vogue featured celebrity fashionista.

The most difficult part of this review is deciding which fashion editor’s quotes to use, as they were all so horrifying. The Teen Vogue and ELLE editors interviewed maintain earnest faces while insisting their magazines feature healthy body images, relevant lifestyle articles, and a needed escape into fashion fantasy. They help girls “reinvent themselves and decide who they are going to be.” How generous. Anne Slowey, a Feature Editor at ELLE and currently my new imagined face of Satan, referred to the fashion layouts as personally rewarding for readers. “We are realistic that this [fashion spread] is a dream. The ‘dream pages.’ Women project themselves into the fantasy of what they want to see for themselves. The magic of that exercise is joyful, it’s really rewarding.” Oh, definitely. Clearly drugs are still a huge problem in the fashion world. 

The notes I scribbled to myself while watching all these images were less than joyful: “More fashion pages that make me want to gag. And starve. And weep … Ugh. Too skinny. …That’s just gross … Why are we selling this shit to our kids?” The sad news is that our kids are buying it in spades. The film is filled with interviews with girls from ages 6 to 18. It's the hardest part to watch, as the girls all want to change their faces, bodies, and looks. They want to be supermodels, because they think it's the most effective way to be respected and admired. 

One particular comment by an interviewee struck a nerve with me. In reference to some advertising, she said, “I resent that you are showing these things to my young child.” Correction: You are showing these things to your young child. I control my child’s media consumption closely, particularly advertising. I have made a commitment to my daughter, and that is to be aware of what is happening in her world, educate her on what is happening in her world, and protect her from what is happening until she can handle it for herself.

From recent ELLE cover shoots. Et Tu, Gwen Stefani? 

Marketers and advertisers are smarter than you. (If not smarter, definitely wilier. Don’t take offense – it’s their job.) If you let them, they will find your fears, and they will play to them. They will figure out who you are, and how to get in, and will then tell you who you should strive to be. The best way to win against these attacks? Don’t read/watch/listen. Once you’ve thrown out your juicy celebrity gossip rags and glossy fashion mags and canceled your cable, stay vigilant. Become media literate, assess and treat your own self-image issues, and make sure you and your partner share the same values in raising your children.

Cover Girl Culture features a startling statistic about a year’s subscription to Teen Vogue: It contains 1,730 pages of advertisements and 590 pages of articles. That means the few articles featuring real girls and covering real issues are sandwiched between hundreds of images of skinny, sexualized advertising. I spent some time online at both ELLE and Teen Vogue. The sites were hard to navigate, featuring hundreds of pages and tons of advertising. To get through the ELLE content, I had to click out of a full page Stoli Vodka ad no less than 12 times – with every link the ad reappeared. Teen Vogue was dense with celebrity pictures, fashion tips, and beauty advice. The message was clear – this is how you need to look; this is who you should be. The ELLE homepage is financed by Macy’s and their “Impulse” campaign. A link to Macy’s and the tagline “Love it; Want it; Get it now” is plastered all over the website.

One of Teen Vogue's featured 'real girls' fashion inspiration.

 Images from Teen Vogue's current Prom inspiration webpages. 
I don't know many high schoolers who look this stylized. 

If you have a child, watching Cover Girl Culture is a great way to up your own media literacy. It is powerful, educational, and happily, accessible. While I love Jean Kilbourne and everything she does, her films are difficult to find for personal use. You can’t take her films out of the reference section of our library, they are not on Netflix, and at roughly $250 a pop, they’re not in my budget. For $29, you can get a copy of Cover Girl Culture for personal use, which I really appreciate as an individual consumer.

I was able to convince my husband to watch the film with me, and his response was just as interesting as the documentary itself. When I wasn’t swearing at the screen or keeping up a running side commentary, I was watching him sideways to see how he was reacting. When it was over, he said, “You are L’s best role model. I can be a role model, but only to a point. You are it.” The film must have left a lasting mark on him, as he randomly shouted out over the next few days, “YOU ARE HER ROLE MODEL!”

In the end, this is the real message. Children are incredibly impressionable and are mimicking what they see before they can even talk.  A psychologist featured in the film names a positive maternal self-image as the first line of defense against the media attack on our children. My heart broke when I first saw my daughter checking out her own butt in the mirror – a behavior I have not been able to break her of, and one she learned from me. Recently I realized the danger in letting her sit on the sink with me while I do my makeup. Running out of the house last week she yelled, “Wait! I have to put my pretty face on!” Ouch. A tender mother-daughter morning ritual is put aside and I now sneak my makeup on while she’s doing something else. On a good day, I skip the make up altogether and show her that our faces are ‘pretty faces’ all on their own. It looks like we’re both growing.

You can see more of Nicole Clark's work at

Monday, May 23, 2011

Judge Not Lest... Aww, Go Ahead. Ye Be Judged Either Way

After a recent mouthy comment on a friend's website, she graciously offered to have me write a guest post for her blog. How fabulous! How bloggy! Check it out...

The Bebe Diaries

If you are a follower of Bebe Diaries (and who isn't?), you might have seen the sassy-pants comment I made following Katie's latest blog about a teen parent she made friends with at a local playground. Having a little piece of web heaven myself, I would have responded to this type of feedback on my blog by unfriending you on Facebook. Katie, being the even-tempered angle that she is, called me and asked me to write a guest blog. So I can talk even more trash. I know, right? I so lucked out by being friends with her. Anyway, enough sucking up. Here's my guest blog...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Postpartum Mother's Day: Ah, the Memories

On this, my fourth Mother’s Day, I can’t help but reflect back on my first Mother’s Day with a snort. To be fair, I was a mere seven weeks postpartum and still dealing with a raging case of postpartum crazies, so there was no way it was going to end well. (Remind me to tell you about the postpartum crazies some other time.)

I was adamant. This was my first major holiday with baby, and it was Mother’s Day, damnit. We were going to have a big formal gathering and go out to dinner as a family to celebrate all the women in the family (and by all the women, I meant me). Technically speaking, the baby had been with us for Easter, but it was the day after her birth, we were in the hospital in a state of abject terror, and we’re not even quasi-religious.  

For the blessed event, my mother’s parents came up from Florida to see their first great-grandchild. While I love my mom and I love my Granny, it is not unfair to suggest that the two of them together can be a tense combination. With the women inside and two older generations of men outside giving my husband pointers on staining the deck, the house was vibrating with anxiety.

At the appointed time, we all got dolled up and headed to my parents house for a photo shoot. I had a sweet little dress and sweater for the baby, and imagined a beautiful and touching series of photos showcasing three generations of women tenderly gazing on their newest female member.

I just found the resulting photo and was planning on posting along with this piece, but I’m pretty sure my mom reads my blog, and if she sees it on the web, she’ll stop babysitting for me. It’s worse than I remembered. I’m in my stretchy dress with the forgiving stomach area, boobs straining the lycra to the max. I appear to be wearing nylon stockings, probably the only time in the past five or ten years I’ve done so. I imagine this was in an effort to contain my gelatinous gut. 

My mother is wearing her black ‘slacks’ and white button down, her go-to ‘dressy’ outfit at the time. I remember her being only slightly irritated with me that I requested we dress for dinner. We are standing behind an old-fashioned wing back chair in which my grandmother sits, holding the baby. You cannot see the baby’s face. We are not touching. Our smiles are strained, eyes glazed. I was probably crying or yelling at someone minutes before. Or both. There is one really sweet photo of my parents with the baby, caught in a candid moment when I was probably safely out of the room.

How I chose to dress the poor babe on that holiest of days.

Onward to dinner. The whole motley crew meets my brother and his wacked out girlfriend at the restaurant. The relationship was short lived, and to say she was uncomfortable at this particular gathering is an understatement. I was proud as can be, taking in all the cooing from passing customers and staff. We fretted over the placement of her car seat – was it safe on this upside down highchair? Will someone knock it over? Should I put it on the floor? Will someone step on her? Can we effing order already order before she wakes up and starts crying and I panic because I don’t know what to do when she wakes up in public??

Once we’ve ordered and are settled in, the Mother's Day cards come out. I’ve got one for my grandmother and my mother, my dad has one for my mom, etc. And of course, everyone has one for me. Everyone that is, except my husband. His response? A very honest, “I didn’t know. You’re not my mother.” Yeah, well I know your mother, buddy, and she would not approve. I think I cried at the table over it, and then bitched about it to him for days. Or I’m sure what felt like days to him.

To write this piece, I got up and dug through my card box. I had a total of nine cards from that first Mother’s Day. Including ones from my husband’s sister, brother, and parents. So someone got the memo. Anyway, I digress. As we’re opening cards at the restaurant, I start getting a little emotional. Sweep away a few tears here and there. I’m doing okay until I open a card that has a picture of the baby and I glued on the front. It says, “Daughter, you’re a mother now, and you know what it’s like to hold a little someone in your arms and realize you would give up your own life to protect this precious being.”

I start with a fresh round of tears, and say “Oh, Mom.” My mother says, “It’s not from me, it’s from your father.” SOB. I. Lose. My. Shit. I actually have to put the card away and come back to it later. The whole time my brother’s girlfriend is looking at me as though to say, “I will never, ever get old and fat and married and conduct myself in this totally disgusting manner.”

Later, I finally open the card and read the rest of the sappy Hallmark prose, along with another picture of baby and a note from my dad: “Twice blessed. A perfect daughter and a perfect granddaughter. Love, Pops.” I may have been on the floor at this point, I don’t recall. I do remember that we took dessert to go because I was at Def Con 1 due to baby’s pending consciousness.

Of course, I now know that a sleeping newborn is manna from the gods. This Mother’s Day, like most days, I awoke to the sound of thumping feet on the hardwood floor and the scrambling of a tiny person climbing up our bed. She allows a few minutes of laziness before demanding we go downstairs, and the day is full tilt from there. It’s all on the table: eating dog food, playing in the toilet, writing on the walls, screaming in the grocery store, pushing and biting other kids.

This Mother’s Day we continued a tradition of sorts. Yard work, playing outside, homemade presents and a clean house and dinner courtesy of the best daddy around. (He learned pretty quickly after I went all Carrie on him that first year. And in his defense, we regularly both forget our own wedding anniversary and other such events.) I don’t need a fancy dinner, or a carnation at the local pancake house for being a mom, or a big parade. The way I choose to spend Mother’s Day is pretty much how we spend most summer days. So that either means I have really low expectations, or my family treats me like Mother’s Day is every day. I’m sure you know which one of these I choose to believe.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Look Out Sprout, Time to Begin

Spring. March, being my least favorite month of the year, brings with it one bright spot. While the northeast snowstorms and first rays of late sunshine battle it out, I am scouring my favorite seed catalog. I’m pulling out last year’s seeds, counting the folded and battered envelopes containing any overflow from the previous season. What do I need? What do I want? What new things can I try?

This year's new undertaking: Pac Choi.

I’m not a particularly sharp housekeeper. Houseplants weep when they pass over the threshold of my door. I’ll let quite a few dog poop piles accumulate before I head out with a shovel (you don’t even want to know what I mean when I say “quite a few”). So why the motivation for a vegetable garden? It takes a lot of work, and a lot of money. I figure my homegrown organic veggies are running me roughly, say, $20 a pound? Several reasons:

Tradition. The desire for a little plot of vegetables runs in my blood, like my rage, appetite for ice cream, and oversized feet. In my earliest memories, spring is synonymous with the sound of the rototiller firing up. My parents kept a garden the size of an Olympic swimming pool in our backyard. I can still see my dad working the rows, wearing tall sweat socks, scant 70s era shorts, and a savage tan instead of a shirt. My grandmother still keeps her garden today; and a Christmas cactus that descended from one of my great-grandfather’s fabled plants sits in my kitchen. Last summer I came full circle, scolding L. for picking things that weren’t yet ripe; a lecture I’ve heard many times myself.

L. 'helping' in last year's garden.

The magic. The first green sprouts of a new plant never fail to impress. I set up my little plastic trays in the kitchen, filling them with soil and pressing tiny, dry, hard seeds into them. Some will sprout in what feels like minutes (broccoli) and others will take weeks before giving you any satisfaction (parsley). As soon as their little heads curl out of the dirt, they race up and out, reaching for the sun. It makes me smile to hear L. yell, “I’m going to check and see if my plants are growing!” The joke is on me however, when I stroll by 30 minutes later and realize, wow; I think they have grown while I was out of the room.

The lessons. The garden has a lot to teach you. There’s nothing scary about a garter snake. You can’t just put everything in the ground on the same day and expect it to grow. Weeds are a bitch. You don’t really need 25 snap pea plants (unless you want somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 snap peas). You’re better at growing zucchini than red peppers, but then again, everyone is. If you leave the garden to rot over the winter, it will still be there in the spring, but grosser. To be fair, that was the summer I discovered I was pregnant and became oddly repelled by fresh food. The little I could bear to pick without vomiting went to neighbors and I turned my back on the rest in favor of plain cake doughnuts and McDonald’s fries.

The satisfaction. Successfully coaxing vegetables out of the ground brings one a certain smug air. Grilling tonight? No problem, let me just grab some fresh summer squash out of the garden to throw on. That tomato sauce? Oh, thanks, it’s just a little something I whipped up with my own tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil, and oregano. No biggie. Aside from the self-righteousness, it’s also satisfying in that it is hard work. I’m not exactly a paragon of physical fitness. But in my garden I’m strong enough to move landscaping timbers and push a wheelbarrow full of loam. I’m strong enough to shovel two yards (a lot) of wood chips around the raised beds my husband made me. I can squat a million times to plant seeds, pull weeds, and bait those retched effing slugs.

Impatiently digging snow out of the raised beds.

The acceptance. In a culture that values image, money, and looks over pretty much all else, my garden values only my time. It doesn’t care that I’m wearing homemade jean shorts and rain boots. I don’t have to suck it in, or comb my hair, or even wear clean clothes to work in the garden. It’s quiet, it’s mine, and it’s available any time of day. A well-tended garden will benefit from hours of work nearly every day. Happily, if it’s raining and shining with some regularity, the same garden is just fine if I disappear for a week at a stretch.

A time-keeper. Summer slips by quickly in a region that can really only count about 10 weeks of real heat in a year. The garden makes me get outside and give thanks for the summer days; it makes me pay attention. It makes me grateful to hear rain on the roof at night. It stretches the season, bringing me out to prepare the ground in the spring and keeping me there through the first frost. After Christmas, when the winter really begins, I have a short time to wait for the new Johnny’s Select Seeds catalog to arrive.

Last year's garden planning, saved so I can remember what's what.

Pictures of our house mark the years we’ve been here. The front garden as it was the first year, with some remaining perennials and a shockingly ugly assortment of annuals I got at Home Depot. The year we built the first vegetable bed. The year we put a fence around the flower garden. My favorite picture is the one we recently found on Google Earth that shows our new, big vegetable garden. I like this, because I can brag that you can see my garden from space.  

In Maine, the spring comes slowly. Our yard is a particularly cold spot in the New England circle of hell, and my front flower garden remains heaped with snow long after the rest of the town has been uncovered. Like most people here, the first warm weekend days chase us out into the yard, and we start picking away at a winter’s worth of debris. Bit by bit, experimentally. Sure, I’ll rake around the swing set while L. swings. Pick a handful of leaves out of a flowerbed.  

Recreation break.

Before I know it, I’m frantically tending to dozens of seedlings, moving them from plastic tray to bigger plastic tray. Get them under the lights! Water them! Argh! Seedlings are not nearly so laid back as the planted garden, it turns out. The first crocus blooms, our signal to really dig in and uncover the flower garden. The crocuses may come into the garden when it’s still a brown mess, but no other plant is greeted with such fanfare by the house. And here we are, greeting another summer. Let it begin!

Our first crocus flowers, from bulbs we planted right after L.'s birth.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Not so Funny: Old Mama, Sexy Babies

Lately I’ve really been struggling with a nagging idea that I might be getting … old. I’m not suggesting that I’m elderly or that it’s all over or anything silly like that. But evidence suggests that I may at least be approaching old-ish. Mom old.
Recently, I was carded while buying wine at Hannaford, which gave me some relief from the idea that I might be visibly aging. This was no ordinary carding. The clerk asked for my ID, studied it, and quizzed me on my personal information. Feeling pretty chuffed, I repeated this story to some girlfriends, only to have one of them say, “Ha! She probably just finished a training or something this afternoon.” Bitch.
As that was my only real evidence that I wasn’t aging, I was forced to reexamine the opposing evidence. Lately I’ve found myself thinking, “these kids today!” a lot. I’ve even gone so far as to say this out loud to some women at a scrapbooking event. (I realize scrapbooking is another point in the old column, so let’s not mention it.)
What prompted me to happily engage in one of these ‘kids today’ discussions? The latest pop hit from that little cutie pie Rihanna. I heard the following lyrics in my car a few weeks back and nearly drove off the road:

Cause I may be bad

But I’m perfectly good at it

Sex in the air

I don’t care; I love the smell of it

Sticks and stones

May break my bones

But chains and whips

Excite me
WHAT? Seriously, people. This is a radio station that children listen to. Tween girls are calling in and flirting with the veejays all day long. I was tempted to put the dial right back on NPR where it belonged, but my curiosity was piqued. Next up? A sweet track from Usher:

Honey got a booty like pow, pow, pow

Honey got some boobies like wow, oh wow

Girl you know I’m loving your, loving your style
To add insult to injury, the name of the song is “OMG.” Inspired. He’s practically my generation’s answer to Shakespeare. I mull this all over while gazing at myself in the bathroom mirror during L’s bath that night. Wait a minute, is that me or my mom? I’m drinking coffee! Since when do I even drink coffee? Christ. I’m old.
I actually began taking a few notes on this ongoing old/not old debate. I won’t detail all of them here, because this is already getting long and I haven’t even made my point yet. But what I realize is that I’m not getting old – I’m just having a new reaction to an old problem. When I see the list on paper, there’s a common denominator in the things that are bothering me.

Bratz dolls. Toddlers in Tiaras. High heeled shoes in children’s sizes. Disgusting lyrics in pop songs. Middle school girls giving blow jobs at school. Sexting. My own 3 year-old checking out her butt in the mirror (learned behavior from mom). Real makeup lines designed for 8 year-olds.

The sexualization of our girls, our children, is real. And that has nothing to do with feeling ‘old.’ And there sure as hell isn’t anything funny about it. So I’ll have to depart from my self-absorbed musings to make space for something that’s actually important.
Our culture puts a premium on sex. We put a premium on youth and on beauty. At home we may tell our girls that their brains and personality are most important, but everything else they see tells them otherwise. Merchandise, songs, clothes, advertising, and movies say something else altogether.
The messages out there assure our girls that their bodies are to be exploited and their mouths aren’t for talking. Their brains don’t even factor into the equation. At the end of the day, these messages add up to some sobering statistics. One out of every three women has been physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. Chances are good if a woman was abused, it began at a young age – over half of rapes are committed against women younger than 18, and over 20% of those are on children younger than 12.

You may think I’m making a pretty big leap from sexy toddler clothes to rape. “Advertising isn’t that bad! These songs are a joke – no one takes it seriously!” Really? Take a look at the following words and images and get back to me. If you make it to the end, there are some links you might find interesting. If you do anything at all, take a half hour this week to watch Killing Us Softly on You Tube. It will leave you speechless, which, if you're a woman, is exactly where they want you...

If she ever tries to fucking leave again

I'mma tie her to the bed

And set the house on fire

Eminem, Love The Way You Lie

I've only recently heard that a popular retort given to adolescent girls by adolescent boys is "Go make me a sandwich." I'm not sure what I'll have to do to keep my own daughter protected in this crazy world we're living in, but I can promise her one thing: I'll be raising her to respond to that kind of remark with a sandwich involving four of her knuckles. 

Some reading on the sexualization of our children and what you can do about it: 

The American Psychological Association's report on the sexualization of girls

Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge (SPARK), a movement for girls’ rights to healthy sexuality. 

PBG: Powered By Girl on Facebook and (Also, thank you to PBG - I found several of these ad images on their Facebook page. Like them!)