Found this in my childhood journal while going through old papers… apparently I’ve always been meant to do science 🙂
Aubade (who loves all things sparkly and frilly and fancy) discovered today the few formal dresses I have saved over the years, and convinced me to try one on. She was really rooting for the wedding dress, but putting that one on is not a one-person endeavor, so I ended up in a navy blue full-length gown from high school.
I am still surprised I managed to put it on; my ribs are definitely wider post-pregnancies. And it felt far more elegant than I remembered, which was nice. But the best part was when I walked out wearing it and Aubade was overwhelmed with delight that Mommy was wearing a pretty dress like she was and Limerick ran to me instantly to exclaim over the dress and claim a hug. I was reminded of the time my mom dressed up in the most gorgeous burgundy outfit with sheer sleeves for a fancy event with my dad – how I thought she was just the most glamorous and beautiful person I’d ever seen, and how it made me so happy to see her so beautiful, like my heart swelling inside me. And now somehow I found myself in her role in the cyclical drama of life, the mother instead of the child, the familial archetype for human beauty as well as human nurturing.
I’m still figuring out where it comes from, this child’s joy in seeing their mother beautiful. I remember feeling it quite strongly; I could tell my children felt it, as they demanded I not change back into normal clothes even when I had to do dishes and get ready for work; but I’m not quite sure of the source. My guess is that it has something to do with the overflowing love a child has for their mother, because when a person loves someone else they delight in that person’s beauty.
And knowing my children have this deep unconditional love for me, as children typically do for their parents, makes me want to be beautiful in character and not just in appearance, to be truly worthy, somehow, of this love pouring itself out for me for these short years of childhood. If it takes dressing up more frequently to remind myself of this, then (despite my love of the comfortable and casual) I am all for it.
Compared to the scope of a pandemic, my life feels quite small. Not necessarily insignificant, but most definitely small: myself just one person, my family just one little cluster of people amidst the billions all swept up in a single massive crisis. It is the kind of smallness that can make someone feel helpless and afraid, unsure of how to protect themselves and their loved ones from something so big and so out of their control; it is the kind of littleness that can leave us cowering and vulnerable against a greater force than we can hope to conquer.
But tonight, as I put my daughter to bed, she curled herself up against my side, tucked under my arm, and I thought that the smallness of fear or helplessness is not the only kind of smallness in this world. There is also the smallness of restful trust: the smallness of a little child confident in their parents’ love, to whom the world may be very big and scary indeed but for whom that parent is a shield and refuge and source of strength. This is the smallness of a child who is hurt, or sad, or scared, or angry, but whose tears fade in the arms of their mother or father.
The Psalmist wrote that,
"Truly I have set my soul in silence and peace. As a child has rest in its mother's arms, even so my soul." (Psalm 131)
Against the swirling unknown threats of a pandemic, against the overwhelming storm of uncertainty and anxiety that is threading its way around the world, we are each on our own very small indeed, like a young child trying to fend for themselves. But where I find peace in this time is in acknowledging my own smallness and staying close by God my Father, who is quite the opposite of small and helpless, and in whose unconditional love I can be utterly confident. I do not need to be my own strong tower in the hurricane; he offers his strength so that in him I may have the peace of a child comforted in their mother’s arms.
Visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of this week’s linkup! She didn’t do 7 takes either this week so I don’t feel too guilty about just sharing one thought 🙂
“When we set children against one another in contests – from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read – we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health. We invite them to see their peers not as potential friends or collaborators but as obstacles to their own success. (Quite predictably, researchers have found that the results of competition often include aggression, cheating, envy of winners, contempt for losers, and a suspicious posture toward just about everyone.) Finally, we lead children to regard whatever they’re doing as a means to an end: The point isn’t to paint or read or design a science experiment, but to win. The act of painting, reading, or designing is thereby devalued in the child’s mind.“
Alfie Kohn, The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Chapter 4
Recently, when I mentioned I wasn’t yet part of any homeschooling support groups, a (non-homeschooling) friend mentioned a local co-op called Branches, so I looked it up. It is far more structured and school-like than I am interested in, and also has several concerning (to me) points in its code of conduct and statement of faith. When choosing a homeschool group, as when selecting a private school, it is important to read through to that level of detail because no matter where the co-op or school falls academically, it will be detrimental to your child if its culture differs dramatically from your home culture or endorses cultish or prejudiced beliefs.
Some of those concerning aspects were (unfortunately) fairly familiar to me – the parent must sign a strict statement of faith, and must cede to the group’s board the final word on the interpretation of that faith. Considering they are not my pastors, nor theologians, nor even members of my church, I don’t think they can legitimately claim to have that level of authority. I did appreciate their honesty, however, in stating that while they believe the Bible is the final authority it is their interpretation of that authority that will have the ultimate say… it reveals a weak point in Protestant understandings of religious authority in general.
However, one point that I had not run across before was as follows. In a list of forbidden behaviors, along with things like cheating and bullying, the group prohibits “personal appearance and behavior contrary to one’s biological sex.”
That is so broad and vague. While it was most likely intended in a transphobic manner, it is so loosely worded that it essentially prohibits all display of non-gender-stereotypical behavior. So… apparently in this group, math is only for boys, and the girls can’t be competitive in STEM topics or hope for a career as a scientist. Apparently, it’s inappropriate here for little boys to wear pink and purple shirts, or play house, or take care of baby dolls (because heaven forbid they grow up to be engaged and involved fathers when they have babies of their own). Apparently, girls need to wear makeup, do their hair neatly, wear skirts, and make sure they stay clean when they play; boys on the other hand should probably get muddy every so often to avoid an appearance of girliness. According to the words in this code of conduct, it is ok for girls to giggle and cry with each other, but boys should stick to anger and aggression if they have strong emotions. If a girl does just happen to be athletic, she should definitely stick with acceptable sports like gymnastics and volleyball, and avoid playing pick-up basketball or touch football with the boys. And just to be on the safe side, boys should play with boys, and girls should play with girls, to ensure that all the play is happily gender-conforming.
How can a child feel free to explore the fullness of the world around them if they have to be worried about stepping over a (socially-constructed, averages-based, generally-applicable, ambiguous) line all the time? Even a feminine, female-identifying, biologically female individual is going to have some aspects of their personality and behavior that fall outside female gender-stereotypical lines (for example, I am a cis-gendered female who likes my hair cut very short, does not wear makeup or heels, and has a career in the hard sciences). In this group, would that behavior be censored in a (transphobic) attempt to force all people into one or other of two black-and-white categories? I’m guessing it wouldn’t be – but the exceptions would be tolerated in an unpredictable, social-norms-based way (kind of negating the whole emphasis on biological differences) instead of by any sort of reliable and consistent rubric, which creates confusion and has the potential to lead to shame or stigma.
And finally, because this is what this kind of discriminatory rule is really intended to address, what happens to the child who actually struggles with gender dysphoria? Here, they would not be met with support and help, but with shame and rejection. Here, they would be told that because their brains and their bodies aren’t in sync, they are unfit to be part of an educational activity with other children (a mixed-gender educational activity, no less). Here, they would be told that the shape of their body is more important than their identity, their natural inclinations, their talents and giftings, and their mental health and emotional well-being.
That isn’t ok with me.
Trying to discriminate against one group of people usually ends up this way, with the implementation of vague social rules that constrain and restrict all sorts of unintended behaviors while adding to the stigma and isolation faced by the target group. I would rather be with people who may not always act as I would, but who accept and love each other anyway, around whom I can be my authentic self and know their authentic selves. While this co-op may have good things to offer, they don’t outweigh the negatives of prejudice and social control. After all, we are homeschooling in part so that our children can be free to explore, learn, and grow in their own time and in their own way; we don’t need a group of self-appointed parental “experts” trying to shape us into their acceptable mold anymore than we need the public school system doing so. And I am sure that in the right time, we will find the right group and homeschool community for our family.
Once upon a time, long long ago, someone tried to bully me. He was a scrawny little red-headed boy who I don’t think ever smiled, and I was a skinny little girl with huge glasses, and he was hurting and confused from the turmoil in his own life and tried to pass it on by calling me “four-eyes.”
I don’t think I was really that insulted by it. I’d read about things like this in my American Girl magazines and was partly delighted to be experiencing something I’d only read about, and partly disappointed that he hadn’t come up with anything more original. It didn’t make me self-conscious about my glasses… I think I just gave him a look like, I’d rather wear glasses than be an idiot! And that era in my life passed away.
But I know people who have been deeply wounded by being bullied as a child, whether because it was more long-lasting than my encounter, or more focused on an area of vulnerability, or less understood by the victim, and it makes me sad. I wish I could go back in time and find those people I love as children and tell them, you are worth so much more than this! They just don’t see – or don’t care to see – the real wonderful you inside the awkwardness and quirks of growing up that make all of us look warty and weird at different times. And I don’t know if it would help, of course. I have never taken my self-confidence and sense of worth from my peer group; it mostly comes from inside myself, from pride in my own abilities, from seeing myself accomplish my goals. But many people are different by personality, and need the camaraderie and acceptance of a social circle to make them feel worthy and complete. Those are probably the ones who would be hurt most by bullying.
I hope that as my children grow older they will not experience bullying – but if they do, and if they aren’t able to shake it off, I hope they will be able to come to me with their hurts, to be loved and strengthened. I hope they will have at least one close friend to stand by their side and fight for them when the world seems to be against them. And I hope that they will make it to adulthood without the scars of childhood alienation and pain that I see on too many of my peers now.