On Compliments and other Controversies

Back in June a thought-provoking piece by Lisa Bloom was published in the Huffington Post, its provocative title--"How to Talk to Little Girls." As a mother of a daughter with two more on the way three daughters, I was intrigued. But the article rubbed me wrong and here's why:

The article insinuates that society separates beauty and brains like north and south poles. Up or down? Left or right? Pick a team. That by complimenting little girls (specifically girls we don't know) on their physical attributes we are setting them up for a life of half-shirts and plastic surgery. Or at the very least, a belief that beauty is bigger than brains.

Bloom writes:
Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.
If women are unhappy as a whole then it's because we are told to take ourselves SO seriously that we have forgotten it's okay to have fun in our lives. I've said this before and I'll say it again--parents need to lighten up. Nobody's perfect and yet the pressure today's children face to measure up to robotic levels of "well-roundedness" is real. And it's more than just girls wanting to be "sexy." We are raising children during a time when they are told they must be "the very best" at everything. Not just physically but across the board.

"Be better, faster, prettier, more interesting! IN ORDER TO BE HAPPY YOU MUST WIN AT LIFE!"

I do agree with Bloom when she acknowledges the importance of asking questions instead of showering children with praise. About a year ago I wrote this piece about empowering our kids to praise themselves instead of relying solely on their parents and outside influences to do so. Instilling confidence in our children is, I think, our most important job as parents, second to unconditional love. I also think Bloom makes a great point when she writes of thinking before we speak to our daughters and to young girls in general. We could all do with a lesson in that, in opening our minds before opening our mouths, in thinking about the ramifications of our words, including the motives behind our compliments.

But I disagree with her that we should ignore physical attributes entirely, especially when it comes to talking to strangers. Our physical appearance(s) will always be the first thing a stranger sees. Not because it's what's most important, but because... quite literally, IT IS THE FIRST THING A STRANGER SEES!

The truth is, no matter how we talk to little girls and little boys and older girls and older boys, all of us navigate our lives with insecurities, so we must raise our daughters (and sons) with the knowledge that they will, too. And there's nothing wrong with that. Our insecurities are an important component to better understanding ourselves. That's what makes us human and vulnerable. That's what makes us stronger - understanding our weaknesses, or more importantly, understanding that it's OKAY to have weaknesses.

...And lets be honest. Some of our children aren't going to grow up to be rocket scientists so who's to say that putting unnecessary intellectual pressure on children isn't potentially more harmful than commending them for physical attributes?

I loved what Miguelina at Everyday Treats wrote on the subject:
Humans desire beauty. It feels good to feel attractive. Pretending it isn't so doesn't make it go away. A lot of people (men and women alike) enjoy decorating themselves in ways that make them feel attractive. What does that have to do with their brains? Nothing.
A confident woman in work can also be a confident woman physically and hearing that she's beautiful at a young age isn't going to keep her from attending college or reading a book.

I want my children to own their beauty, not be ashamed of it. I want them to know how to take compliments and to return them because we are the sum of all of our parts. In order to have healthy bodies we must know how to properly care for them, not ignore that they exist. Our bodies are more than just shells. They bring pleasure and yes, even happiness when treated with respect and love. So ignoring our daughters' physical selves does not protect them so much as it sets them up for potential guilt and insecurity.

I happen to think my children are extraordinarily beautiful. And yes, I tell them so. Every day. Because I feel it and I want them to know that! I want them to hear me! Because I believe that when you love someone, you tell them so. Hell! When you love someone's shoes, you tell them!

"Hey, you! Fantastic shoes!"

I let Fable wear my lipstick sometimes. She also puts shaving cream all over her face when her dad shaves and enjoys wearing thick-rimmed glasses with her favorite glitter scarf. And sometimes she rocks a camo tee over a pink dress. Sometimes she plays "princess." Other times she slaps on her stethoscope and pretends to be a doctor. Both roles bring her equal joy and why not?

"Wear what makes you happy," I tell her. "Do what makes you happy."
Our girls need to hear that they're loved, they need to be complimented for the things that make them kick ass, they need to come equipped with the knowledge that beauty is ONLY powerful when one has something to back it up with. But they also need to know that it's okay to want to look their best. That it doesn't make them (or anyone else) vapid or shallow or LESS intellectual to want to don a pair of pretty shoes. Harvard will still accept you if you like the color pink. And think princesses are fun. And dance to Katy Perry. And rock mascara.

Isn't the core of feminist "fem?" Why then, are we so afraid that our daughters will want to enjoy being girls? I want my daughters to understand and embrace their sexuality as they come of age, not be ashamed of it. Does that mean I'm going to buy them a push-up bra at fourteen? No. But I'm certainly going to be understanding if and when they ask for one. Because I remember how it felt to be fourteen. To go to bed a child and wake up a woman seemingly overnight. I remember how confusing and conflicting that was. I remember wanting people to treat me like a woman because suddenly my body was doing womanly things. Not because I wanted "boobs" like some pop-culture starlet but because, all of a sudden, I HAD THEM!

Being a teenager is hard enough without having to deal with parents who can't look past their own fears and remember what it's like to be thirteen or sixteen or eighteen and feel completely misunderstood and hormonally challenged. Mine always made me feel like no matter what I was going through, I was normal. And yes, they let me wear lipstick at twelve. And yes, I came out of it alive AND with a healthy self-esteem.

Pop culture will not kill the Engineer or Author or Professor of Women's Studies in your child. Complimenting little girls on their clothes isn't the gateway drug to implants. A girl can love both books and magazines, documentaries and rom-coms. A competent and confident woman can rock a miniskirt as well as ace the MCATS. The key words here are confidence and self-respect and a girl can only have both if she acknowledges her body AS WELL as her mind.

I love what Skipper has to say on the subject, here:
Maybe better to teach a little girl that she doesn't have to choose between picking the perfect outfit to shine at the dinner party and talking about books while she's there?
Days after shooting the above Momversation video, (comment thread is great, by the way. Highly recommended reading), I read a piece by my friend, Sarah Sophie Flicker on Hello Giggles which spoke to the same kinds of questions I have as a mother of three daughters. Because like Sarah Sophie, I enjoy makeup and clothes and nail polish and getting dressed up and done up and fashion magazines. But also like Sarah I feel empowered by those things. I am a more competent mother, writer, wife, friend and all-around human being with my hair brushed and makeup fresh, wearing something that makes me feel beautiful.
How do I instill the importance of education, kindness, smarts, empowerment, over fashion, beauty and princesses? Can I show her a positive image for female empowerment and still wear sky high heels and red lipstick everyday? If I spend half an hour getting ready and then turn around and tell her that beauty isn’t everything and it’s more important to be smart, am I sending a conflicting message?
... The one thing I do know is that the greatest gift I can give my daughter is for me to be happy, fulfilled, satisfied both as an artist and a mother. This also means being myself 100%. Being “me” means dressing up in my wacky costumes, primping and pruning, but doing it because it is the truest representation of who I am. If I am living my life truly and passionately, I know that she will absorb all these aspects of me as a woman, not just the pretty, fluffy, sparkly bits. I suppose I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest gift of empowerment I can give my daughter is an example of a happy, loving and fulfilled life. That is my hope, anyhow.
Hear hear, sister. Because an intellectual conversation can still be had over sparkly-tutus. And pink-frosted cupcakes. And, yes, even princess crowns.


Twin Sleeps

Boheme & Reverie
Today on Gone Child(ssss): How we sleep at night.



Yesterday, not three hours after we arrived home with Bo, all of us together in our home for the first time, Hal got a phone call. It was from our landlord, who wanted to discuss some landscape changes he wanted to make to the house, landscape changes we weren't particularly fond of. When probed as to why such changes needed to take place, the bomb fell.

"We want to move back," he said, acknowledging his timing was terribly (ed:HORRIFICALLY!) inopportune. "You have from now until July 1st... "

Nine months. Nine months. The day we come home with our new babies we are given forty-weeks to gestate a new home.

The doorknob had broken off earlier in the day and I kept thinking it must have been a sign. Kind of like how the sprinklers broke the night I went into labor. How we waded through our flooded front yard as I clutched a towel between my legs. How the water didn't stop until after the babies were born and Hal could call the water company.

When we first found this house, we thought we'd live here forever, or at least, for many many years. That was the understanding when we rented, that we were looking for a place to put down roots, a place to grow. When we signed the contract we were told that that wouldn't be a problem, that the owners of our home had no plans to move back. This is why people buy homes, we now know. Because promises made over first-meetings aren't down-payments, even when they feel set in stone.

I fell madly in love with this house when we first came to see it and still feel the same way coming home as I did that first night. I feel lucky to be here. To have enough room for two children four children, an office with a foldaway for my mom. I love our neighborhood, our street, Francine who works at the deli on the corner. The vendors at the Farmer's Market we walk to on Sundays. I'm beyond heartbroken that we have to leave.

And then I look around at all these faces and think, fuck a house, THIS is home:
I told Archer immediately so that he could join us in visualizing our next place. Because that is what he does: he sees into a future we couldn't begin to imagine ourselves.

Archer explained he'd like to live closer to a stoplight. Someplace, perhaps, with more stairs. And pretty soon we all chimed in with ideas for our new-improved fantasy home... somewhere with a less splintery patio, a bigger bathroom, doorknobs that don't break.

Meanwhile Hal picked up his computer and started scanning Craigslist. And then my mother joined him and my Nana who stayed up into the wee hours of the morning sending real-estate listings...

Our first night together as a family working through our first challenge. Laughing between tears, cursing and then apologizing to the kids for bad language, rocking babies and hugging each other and thinking that someday we'll remember this night as the night we all came home, not to our "house" but to each other.

And Archer will laugh and say, "remember how I asked for stairs?" and Fable will hold her sisters hands in a new hallway, be it blocks or miles away from here and we'll all just be... somewhere else. And even though it doesn't feel like it right now, that will be okay. Because we'll all be there together.



Reverie came home Sunday and Boheme came home today.
All of us are very happy campers.
Especially Archer.
Life = grand.


A Few Quick Things (And some pictures)

Boheme et Reverie, 10 days

1. It occurred to me today that I hadn't randomized winners on the last two giveaways! Whoops! Here's an update on the HotWheels giveaway and the Wooden Teethers c/o Little Alouette. (Winners have already been contacted via email.)
2. It also occurred to me today that I have another blog, on which I had yet to announce the birth of the babes, so here is that (with a couple of videos because I can't help myself.)
3. We still don't know when the girls are coming home. I was hoping this weekend but the doctors have been incredibly cryptic. (Both babes occasionally choke during feedings... nothing severe but the doctors want to be absolutely 100% certain there are zero issues before discharging the girls. 48 hours after "no reported incidents" they will come home.)

...I'm trying to focus on the positive and even vapid aspects of postpartum life, like, for instance, losing thirty-five pounds in one week! And the fact that my incision was so expertly done it took me until today to realize where it actually was! (Side note: C-sections are the fucking WORST. Why mamas choose to have them over vaginal deliveries blows my mind.) More on that in the birth story which I swear is coming soon... preferably when I get the babies home so the story can end here, in our house, where it all began.
4. In the meantime... the only thing sexier than a man holding a new baby...?
...A man holding TWO new babies.
(Picture taken a few days ago, hence Rev's NG tube.)



Archer Knew

family portrait
"Family Portrait" by: Archer, dated July 1st, 2010

Thank you, leahlovelove for finding this in the archives of flickr. My mind = blown.


Boheme & Reverie, One Week

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I don't know that twins have ever been this fraternal
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Today the girls are one week old and for their birthday, the NICU nurse broke the rules and let them sleep together, side by side in the same basinet. It was the first time I didn't feel sad leaving them behind. The opposite, actually. I felt giddy, like I was dropping them off at their first slumber party...
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We still don't know exactly when they're coming home but Reverie's nose tube comes out tomorrow and both babies are steadily gaining weight. (Although Boheme is a full pound bigger than Reverie now... the majority of which appears to be in her cheeks.) I stopped thinking of the NICU as "the hospital" and instead refer to it as NICUniversity - a place for the babies to mature and learn and put on their "freshman fifteen"... ounces. A place for them to get acquainted with each other not as womb mates, but roommates.

Bo was actually scheduled to leave on Saturday but moments before her release, had a choking incident that kept her in the NICU. Clearly she didn't want to leave her little sister behind.

Already, in their one-week of life, it's clear to all of us that they have each other's backs.
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What a gift to have a partner in crime.


birth story coming soon...

only for a moment, an empty row of seats

I wrote the following post last Monday, planning to post it Tuesday, unbeknownst that childbirth was in the day's forecast. I sat down to post an update tonight but have decided to post this instead. Mainly because I'm exhausted to the point of delirium (we live thirty-minutes from the hospital and I've been driving back and forth for the last three days because I can't not be with my babies, hello) but also because, with the girls still in the NICU, this post is just as relevant as it was a week ago. Except instead of waiting for my babies to be born, I'm waiting for them to come home.


Last Wednesday was Archer's first day of first grade and our first time as parents packing two lunch boxes and backpacks and seeing off both children together. (Fable started preschool three months ago.) They stood by the door with their backpacks until it was time for us to go.

Hal loaded them into the back seat of the van one by one, seemingly a million miles away from us, two giant empty seats of separation.
"Hello back there!" we waved.

"Hello up there!" they waved back.

We dropped off Archer first, walked him to his room and then waved through the window... so different from Kindergarten when all the parents huddled with their cameras in the back of the class. Dropped Fable off next. Kissed her goodbye.

The house was empty when we got home and when Hal left for work, it was just me at home alone.

Lovely to have quiet, I thought. Quiet, glorious quiet! And then, after a few moments... Quiet! Too quiet! Painfully quiet! Stop the quiet!

Nothing feels more empty than a house at the end of summer when the children have gone off with their backpacks to school.

"Enjoy it while it lasts, Bec, because pretty soon..."
"...An endless summer."



Archer and Fable got to meet their sisters today. Both babies were done with their various antibiotics and light treatments and Archer and Fable's back-to-school colds had improved, allowing for us all to be together for the first time.

Hal and I were already with the babies when Archer and Fable appeared in the window with my mom, their eyes wide and smiles big. They washed their hands in the hallway and moments later burst through the doors, towards Hal and me and their babies.
I'll never forget the look on Archer's face when he met Fable for the first time, and I'll never forget the expressions Fable and Archer wore today - faces I did not recognize, new expressions for the sisters they'd been waiting for, pacing the house wondering aloud what they'd look like and how small their hands would be. New looks with new eyes on new faces.
"Her hand is the size of my smallest finger," he said.
"She hasda smooshiest cheeks."
"I think she must love me because she won't let go of my hand!"
"The baby eat her baba all up?"
"Baby Bo, I'm your brother!"
"I help you with Rev-ah-rie?"
...And just like that, we were six.


Thank you again for the support and kindness you've shown our family this week.

...with love from all of us.