Pickaninny Papers Search
Powered by Squarespace
Parenting Archive

Sexy—Not the Be-All and End-All

By Lucinda Holt

Just last week, while driving home from school, my six-year-old daughter said to me, “Maya* got her hair straightened.” “You mean she got her hair blown out?” I asked. I needed a bit of clarification. I didn’t imagine that Maya had gotten a relaxer at the age of five. Read more...

Karma Is Not Always a Bitch, Sometimes, It's Your Child

By Lydia Holt

It was cold and raining―not a pouring rain but a drizzly semi-frozen rain. It was the kind of early spring treat of icy, swirling water droplets that renders umbrellas useless. And there I stood with the plastic-covered stroller, waiting. My five-year-old stood several feet from me and his stroller-cocooned little brother. 

Read more...

Parenting

 

 

Entries in family (5)

Wednesday
Sep212011

Never Too Young to Stand Up

By Lydia Holt

You know the saying, little pictures have big ears? It’s true, and not only when talking about grown folks business and shooing little ones out of the room. A few months ago, my 5-year-old witnessed me confront a man about his street harassment of another woman passing by. It wasn’t a physical confrontation (he was in a car in the middle of the street and paid little attention to my reprimand) but I became very angry. My son asked why I was so angry. I told him it was because that man was being so rude.

“He was being so rude to you? So you got angry?”

“He was being rude to another woman but you should always say something when someone is being mean and rude even if they’re not saying or doing it to you.”

“Oh, okay.”

After I had cooled off, I feared that I was setting a dangerous example for my son. What if he got hurt because he stood up to the wrong person? But then last night, he told me about something that happened at school. I was wrestling my almost 2-year-old into his pajamas while he simultaneously giggled and whined at the inconvenience, and at the same time my older son began to mock baby-cry.

“That’s not helping,” I said on the edge of frustration.

“It’s not nice to call a big kid a baby.”

“No, it’s not,” I said, dodging a kick aimed at my head.

“It’s rude to say that.”

“Did someone call you a baby?” I asked, having won the wrestling match and now able to give him my full attention.

“No.”

“Did someone call someone else a baby?”

“Yes and I told him that was mean.”

“And what happened.”

“He stopped.”

“Way to stand up to bullying!”

“You should always speak up so that other people can hear you,” he said.

“That’s right.”

I am so proud of my little anti-bullying advocate!

Thursday
Sep082011

Yikes! It’s the First Day of School!

By Lydia Holt

I expected to be a ball anxiety and nerves on my oldest son’s (let’s call him A) first day of kindergarten. On his last day of preschool, back in June, I expressed my worries on my personal blog which no one reads but me. I had to get out the feelings but wasn’t ready to share it with the World Wide Web until now.


Last Day of School Already?

Today is the last day of preschool for my oldest son. I know it’s a couple of months early, but I find myself in the grip of anxiety over his first day of “big kid” school in September. I know it’s just kindergarten but it’s the beginning of the whirlwind that will lead all too quickly to his graduation from high school and in another blink, college. P. S. 321 is considered to be one of the best elementary schools in the borough but it’s much bigger than his cozy little preschool and he’s my little guy and…. I’m going to spend the rest of the summer mentally preparing myself for the first day. I want to be so calm and supportive that he’ll walk into his classroom, a little nervous of course, but confident and excited to begin a new adventure.


Yes, those are Skechers Luminators on the left and yes, they are awesome.After the drop-off this morning, I think I can say that I succeeded. A was a little reluctant to get dressed and brush his teeth, saying he was too nervous to go to school but, with a little cajoling from daddy, gradually finished dressing. I helped him tie the laces on his new “awesome” (his word, not mine) Skechers Luminators sneakers and we took pictures at the front door. The whole family, mommy, daddy and little brother, walked A to school and joined the multitude, and I do mean multitude, of parents and students crowded around the school’s entrance. We slowly worked our way upstairs to his classroom and met his new teacher, a dark-haired pixie of a woman named Kate. Her bright eyes and smile were quite reassuring as were some familiar faces from his preschool days. After helping the kindergartners with name tags and a scavenger hunt (In how many places can you find your name? How many book baskets can you find?), it was time for the parents to say good-bye. Although there were tears aplenty (from me, most of the other parents, and his teachers) on his last day of preschool, as we hugged and kissed good-bye, there were no tears from any of us this time around.


3 hours later, on his return from school:

“How was school?”

“It was fun.”

After a little more questioning I got the full first day of school run-down. After the parents left, the class had playtime (in the very familiar school playground, where he scuffed his new shoes, “But that was OK, I don’t mind.”), story time (“I don’t remember the name of the book.”) and a snack (goldfish crackers). A made a drawing of a hiker standing next to Mount Everest, which he informed me, is the tallest mountain in the world, with a sign and some trees. A also made a new friend but can’t remember his name. We put finding out and remembering the name of this new friend on the to-do list for tomorrow.


Now that the school day is over, I wonder, why was I so concerned? I think my initial anxiety around A starting public school came from my own experiences much later in school. Of course, he will have to deal with humanity in all its splendor and horror, as we all do, but he’s not jumping directly into a churning sea of middle school hormonally-induced madness. He’ll work his way up to it just as I did but for now, it’s just kindergarten. Today and tomorrow are only half-days; how will he handle full days? I won’t be there to pick him up after snack time and circle time. He’s going to have lunch and then stay at school for a few more hours! I’ve explained this to him but I don’t think he really gets what it means. Is he going to have a meltdown once it sinks in? Will I? Deep breath in, and out. It’s just kindergarten.

Saturday
Apr302011

Everybody Is Brown

By Lydia Holt

One lazy morning, while my husband, two sons, and I were piled into the parental bed for a family snuggle, our five-year-old laid some knowledge on us. We’ve never talked about race with him. I’m black and his father is white. I wondered if he would ever ask us about the differences in skin colors he sees all around him, but he never has. It’s clear that he has been thinking about it—mulling it over—until he came to the most obvious conclusion.
Photo by Snorri Sturluson
“Mommy, you are dark brown. I am light brown. N. J. is light brown. Daddy is lighter brown.”

“Umm, yes,” I said.

“Everybody is brown,” he asserted.

I agreed, “Everybody is brown.”

On a genetic level, skin color is like eye and hair color. It’s all melanin. In biology class, we learn that these differences are superficial. But for years before we reach that class, we’re indoctrinated to believe that these superficial differences mean we’re intrinsically different from one another. We categorize skin tone by colors, like black and white, and different ethnicities like South Asian and Latino, and use terms like, African-American. (I have never been a fan of the term “African-American.” Not only is it a mouthful, but it’s stifling. Not all black people are American. Everybody knows what you’re talking about when you say black. And by the by, if we take it to the nth degree, every single human being living in these United States of America IS African-American.)

All human beings are descended from Africans. Every single one of us is a different shade of brown, and we all need to stop actin’ up! We have enslaved each other based on race. We have slaughtered each other based on perceived racial and ethnic differences. We have barred people from entering this country based on race. And we’re all painfully aware of how the skin color of our president has led to all manner of outrageous behavior. Imagine how much better human existence could be if we simply stopped subjugating each other, thinking that one group of people is less-than based on race or sexual identity or any other arbitrary trait. We have bigger fish to fry people! The world is running out of fuel as it speeds toward hell in a garbage-filled, rapidly over-heating handbasket—and we’re still quibbling over skin color?! Honestly?! Come on!

I was impressed by the simplicity and accuracy of my son’s observation. When it comes down to it, we’re all shades of brown. Everybody is brown.

 

Tuesday
Mar292011

Sexy—Not the Be-All and End-All

By Lucinda Holt

Just last week, while driving home from school, my six-year-old daughter said to me, “Maya* got her hair straightened.”

“You mean she got her hair blown out?” I asked. I needed a bit of clarification. I didn’t imagine that Maya had gotten a relaxer at the age of five. Besides, Maya, like my daughter, has loosely curled hair, and it wouldn’t take much to straighten it.

“Yeah. She was in the mirror in the dress-up area brushing her hair. She kept brushing it over and over.”

“Oh,” I said, wanting to give my daughter the space to share whatever she thought about this. I was prepared for a conversation about hair—straight hair versus curly hair or the locked and tightly coiled curls on my head.

“Maya said she wanted to be sexy,” my daughter explained.

“Sexy?” I asked, feeling an uncomfortable churning in my stomach.

“Yeah, but I told her she was too young to be sexy. You can be sexy when you’re older—if you want to be. But we’re not ready to be sexy now.”

I exhaled and loosened my grip on the steering wheel. My daughter has been listening to me.

She is listening when I complain about Abercrombie Kids’ padded push-up bikini tops for girls. She is listening when I say girls don’t have or need cleavage. And she is asking questions and commenting on what she sees. “Look at this, Mommy,” she says, pointing to an ad on the subway platform that features women in short, tight, jewel-toned dresses, posed with boobs and butts out. This is an opportunity to tell her what’s going on. She listens when I tell her that these pictures are trying to get us to buy something, and they’re using women to do it. As she gets older, we can have conversations about consumerism, desire, capitalism and even “the male gaze,” but for now it’s enough for her to know that women have a lot more to offer than being sexy. She is listening when I tell her that there’s nothing wrong with being sexy when you’re an adult, but that’s not the only—or most important—thing someone smart, loving, and kind has to offer.

We live in a world where bodies—especially women’s bodies—are on sexual display. If I don’t talk to my daughter about these images in the moment, she’s left to make up her own mind about what this all means. Does she have to be sexy to be seen? Does she have to be sexual to connect with boys? (Check out this New York magazine article about how technology and our hyper-sexual culture have influenced what girls think they have to do to attract boys and its impact on how boys relate to girls.)  

Sexual images of women are ubiquitous. They speak a loud, powerful language, but right now, my six-year-old is listening to me and what I say to her matters. Who knows if she’ll be listening to me at 15, but I’ve got her attention now. So, when we’re navigating the sex-saturated minefield of our world, I’m there, guiding her, disarming bombs, and telling her how to get through without having her sense of self destroyed by what our culture says a woman should be—passive, sexual, and available.

Sexuality is normal and healthy. I communicate that to my daughter by dealing with issues of sexuality without any shame or guilt, and I make sure she knows how to communicate her boundaries with other people and who to go to if that line is crossed. But out in the world, there is nothing healthy about sexuality being portrayed as the only currency women have to barter with. This limits who girls think they can be in the world.

A passive, sexual object is a lot less threatening than an actual person with thoughts and a personal sense of agency. But we do a disservice to girls and boys when they get the message that the ideal woman is this object who only has value as someone to be screwed around with—literally and figuratively. Girls end up spending their time trying to be sexually attractive—as if that is the be-all and end-all—to the detriment of their other qualities, which could actually contribute something of real value to our society. Boys end up relating to women as only sexual objects, which limits who they get to be as thinking, feeling people in relationship with the people around them.

I want my daughter to grow up comfortable with herself as a sexual person, but I don’t want her to feel she is defined by being “sexy.” I would much rather have the other elements of her personality define her as someone who is smart, confident, strong, and creative. And that’s who she is proving herself to be when she talks to her friend about not needing to be sexy at five. That’s my girl.

*Maya is a pseudonym.

Related article: Roundtable: 8 year olds in Padded Bras and Thongs, Really?!

Saturday
Mar262011

Karma Is Not Always a Bitch, Sometimes, It’s Your Child

 By Lydia Holt


He wasn't in a funk on this day, but it illustrates his typical "in a funk" posture.It was cold and raining―not a pouring rain but a drizzly semi-frozen rain. It was the kind of early spring treat of icy, swirling water droplets that renders umbrellas useless. And there I stood with the plastic-covered stroller, waiting. My five-year-old stood several feet from me and his stroller-cocooned little brother. His arms wrapped around his chest, his face a wall of silence beneath the hood of his coat. He would not be moved. He and one of his school friends had decided they would go to the playground together after school. We, the mothers, had no desire to stand in the rain while they played, got soaked through and proceeded to complain all the way home about how cold they were and how tired. “Sorry, no playground today.” My son switched tack and wanted to go to one and then another friend’s house for a playdate, but they were unavailable. And honestly, I just wanted to get home and out of the rain. All of this perceived rejection left my little man in a deep, indigo, funk from which he refused to be lifted. “I know you’re sad sweetie pie, but it’s raining and cold so lets go on home.” The wall of silence stood firm. “This isn’t any fun, is it? Standing in the rain? Let’s go home ,and you can play Wild Kratts (online).” Nada.  Zilch.  Nothin’. I was beyond ornery as a child, and this was my comeuppance.

I could hear the soft, hissing laugh of my grandmother, just over my shoulder. I should explain that my maternal grandmother has been gone to Glory nearly eleven years but I often hear her chuckling. Sometimes, I just know she’s pointing and laughing, a la Nelson Muntz of The Simpsons.  

When I was a child and my parents and grandmother would trot out that old horse, “You’ll understand when you have kids,” I was so self-centered and blissfully self-unaware that the meaning of the words didn’t fully penetrate my sense that they were just being mean and not understanding my plight. The older my children become and remind me more and more of who I was as a child, the more I wish my parents had just said, flat out, “This is going to come back and bite you in the ass, and it’s not going to be some little mosquito nibbling on your buns but a great white shark tearing your ass in half.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s his usual response to things not going as he has planned. He gets stuck in the funk, and I usually end up pulling or pushing him all the way home as he screams to let him go or that he doesn’t want to walk. It is at these times that I’m thankful I live in the yuppie, hipster nursery that is Park Slope. For the most part, no one cares that he’s screaming bloody murder, as that was their child only minutes or hours ago. Thankfully, on this occasion, I only had to pull him for a few feet before we reached a puddle. I quickly walked over it, pulling him with me, but he protested that he didn’t get to walk through it. I stopped, and after a little encouragement, he walked back and stomped his rain boots through the puddle for all they were worth.

He walked the rest of the way home, still sullen, but walking. What should have been a three- minute walk felt like it had taken twenty. By the time we got upstairs to our apartment, the emotional clouds had parted, and he was squealing and laughing with his little brother.  I didn’t hear anything from my grandmother, but then she was usually quiet when admiring her grandchildren (great-grand in this case), her eyes crinkled in delight.