The Long and the Short of It

canstockphoto3510855Spring is blowing in and that means two things: we will be confused by what time it is for the next couple of weeks and everybody in the family has gotten haircuts. I realize that as a woman, hair is supposed to be my crowning glory. If I were the ruler of Half-AssedLandia where “otium in aeternum” (idleness forever) is emblazoned on the royal crest, this would be true.

My family with the best haircuts $11 with coupon can buy.

My family with the best haircuts that $11 with a coupon can buy.

When a friend suggested we get a family portrait, my husband wryly remarked that the caption would read “Remember that time we got deloused?” He was referring to the fact that we all had nearly identical short haircuts. The women in my family have beautiful, thick hair. Or at least most of us would if we liked to buy hair doo-dads, goop and real estate in front of the mirror. Instead, my daughter thinks personal hygiene is an affront to her humanity and I am not interested in any activity that involves looking at myself. Short haircuts rule the day.

Still, when I sent my mini-K.D. Lang off to school today, I worried. Life is starting to get a little meaner for my almost 11-year-old. She sits next to a girl on the bus who describes genitals in vivid detail. She gets told repeatedly that she’s in the wrong bathroom, because she looks like a boy.Β  She gets into arguments when teams are split into girls and boys in gym. And now, she decided to go with a haircut that even makes me do a second take. I am ashamed of the antiquated thoughts it triggers.

I’ve written before about gender issues in regards to raising a daughter who is way cooler than I ever was. My fears are mine and it’s a constant fight not to project them onto this entirely different, mint condition human. I read a lot online about the range of issues impacting gender and I’m late in the game. Raised with a binary gender narrative, I spent a lot of my life trying to fit. As a middle-aged woman, I’ve finally gotten to the point of not giving a shit. Except, apparently, when it comes to my daughter.

These moments crop up that knock me flat. A haircut. A choice of clothing. A misplaced pronoun. In my head, I have the thoughts of an elderly, misguided aunt. She’ll get made fun of. She had such beautiful hair. She’d look so much better in a pastel color now and then. It’s embarrassing. I’m a smart person, capable of imagining a world where the human experience is complex and rich, where sexuality and gender coexist along a massive continuum, where appearance seems to have little to do with who we are as people.

I work hard to be a fair and diplomatic person. Work being the key word. It doesn’t come naturally. I think a lot of shit out in the world is pretty damned weird and that people need to get a grip. I was raised with the specter of biblical judgment hanging over my head and conservative values. I wear matching clothes, use my turn signal, try to live under the radar. I don’t drink or smoke or park in handicapped parking. I am a dreadfully uninteresting human.

Still, my brain is like this ungainly toddler reaching for every new idea and concept, hungrily taking in ideas that contradict the ideas that it took in yesterday. My old brain says “wow, that haircut really makes her look like a boy”. The elderly aunt shakes her cane and makes some remark about how boys won’t like her. My new brain says “Holy shit, look how much bigger the world is getting – all these ideas, all of these artificial boundaries evaporating – this is an exciting time to be alive.”

And it is. We humans keep trying to trap ourselves with labels and ideas about how things should look and be and yet, the human spirit continues to defy categorization. There are a lot of ugly things happening in the world right now. There is suffering and torment and inequality and loads of shame. And we’re seeing horrific backlash, as boundaries are challenged. But it all starts in our heads, with our imagination – I can imagine a world where people fully realize their potential, a potential that relies on our differences as much as our commonalities.

It’s Monday, I started writing about haircuts and ended up in a chorus of “We are the World”. I might need to cut back on the coffee.

Wishing you a week of discovery and imagination!

36 Comments on “The Long and the Short of It

  1. I love how much bigger the world is getting and how much more interesting it is. But, I’ve got to say that I’ve got that elderly auntie living in my head also. My son loved loved loved to wear my daughter’s bright pink barrettes in his hair every chance he got. He was also Mr. Mud Man with his trucks in the yard. He got a lot of double-takes, but he was happy and so was I. However, that bad old auntie was in my head. I let him be, since all I ever wanted was for my kids to be happy. I’m glad to say that both he and his sister are pretty well-adjusted, happy and slightly odd young adults who love to do their own thing. That’s all I ever wanted. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I think the challenge for boys is almost greater now – with a shorter continuum of what being a boy or man is supposed to mean. The fact that my daughter is confident, happy and well-adjusted is all I need to remind me that I can keep the old auntie thoughts to myself.
      I go back and forth between excitement and fear for her out in the world, but I think she is better equipped to deal with things than I ever was and has gained some resiliency sooner than I did.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. In my humble opinion, your daughter sounds fabulous! Honestly, I never gave a rat’s ass about what people thought and I survived just fine. And while bullying wasn’t as prevalent (and maybe as out in the open and noticeable) when I was 11 as it is now, it did exist. She is not defined by the length of her hair, and I think it’s grand that she already knows that.

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    • I think that’s one of my biggest fears – the bullying, since I’ve already heard and seen signs of it beginning. Still, we talk a lot and she is open about incidents that have occurred. I just have to stay plugged in and help her figure out solutions to problems. She is a pretty cool kid with a level head, so I have to believe she can weather adolescence successfully.

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      • I think you’ve just listed all the reasons why you’ll both be fine. You’re a great, loving mother and your daughter sounds like a really smart, grounded girl with the potential to turn into one helluva woman.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. My new brain says β€œHoly shit, look how much bigger the world is getting – all these ideas, all of these artificial boundaries evaporating – this is an exciting time to be alive.”

    True, but there is another truth. Most new ideas are bad ideas. Think about evolution, only the good ideas survive.

    This is not the voice of a conservative clinging to a by-gone age, it’s the lament of a 1970’s survivor. Remember powder-blue leisure suits, helmet hair and sex without consequences?

    Sure, most of life exists beyond binary definitions.. but then most of life exists beyond our ability to understand it – no matter how much we convince ourselves we do.

    The trick of raising well adjusted happy human beings is not so much in knowing of what to do, but in knowing how to recover from silly mistakes and how to pass that knowledge along.

    In short, I draw the line on anything that leaves a mark….either to the body or to the reputation.

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    • I guess I would differentiate between biological, cultural and social ideas. I didn’t really do that here, as it was an unorganized writing free-for-all. I believe firmly in personal ethics, resiliency and compassion. Everything else seems like dressing. And let me just say, as the person who wore stars and stripes bell bottoms in 1976, horrendous fashion is timeless.

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  4. How wonderful that you and your daughter share the gift of communication with each other. I think it will see the both of you through much in this wonderful, fearful world.

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  5. Both my girls grew up with beautiful flowing locks. Strange thing is they named it their mothers revenge. I would brush it to death and take extra delight it brushing out the knots. Cruel, I hear you cry.
    So bringing home a coat that stood up by itself as the mud dried solid wasn’t enough, the bruises that my eldest sported from her rugby tackles wasn’t enough. The torn knees, the hospital trips from the latest disaster. Yes I had the tomboy from hell. She even came home with a boyfriend at 15 who’s hair was longer than hers!
    It seems that gender specifications are merging, short hair doesn’t mean anything anymore.
    I loved this piece. Thanks for sharing, made me smile first thing in the morning.

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    • I grew up with waist-length hair and it was a source of misery for me, with all the combing, braiding and various elastic or plastic doo-hickeys. The first wad of gum that got stuck took care of some of it!
      When my daughter was younger, with longer hair, I did pigtails maybe twice, but she ripped those holders out before I could even turn around. Kids know who they are pretty early on and it’s on us to respect that, despite our own upbringings.
      Glad I could make you smile!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think most of us have that old biddy in our heads. Which may not be a bad thing, since some people speak and act from that biddy place. i think it’s prudent to know where the attacks might come from. Forewarned and all that. Then you can let your daughter be the fabulous individual she is and watch from cover with your Uzi.

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    • Ha! Since I eschew weapons, I’ll have to tap into the black belt within. She had a good day yesterday – her only complaint was that people kept wanting to touch her hair and that there was a big argument on the bus about whether or not she was a girl or boy. She hates not being believed when she clarifies, but if that’s the worst of it, we’re doing okay.

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  7. Your daughter sounds fabulous and strong! Just keep supporting her as you’ve done to date.

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  8. It sounds like your daughter is quite comfortable in her own skin and her hair.

    My hair is actually incredibly nice — thick and curly. I get comments on it all the time. But as a kid I kept it very short too — it got in the way. It broke my mother’s heart every time I cut it, but she let me. Now it is long. I still don’t fuss with it though.

    Your daughter will be just fine. No matter what!

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    • I’ve tried numerous times to let my hair grow out, but it makes me irritable and impatient. Unlike Samson, getting my hair cut makes me stronger – or at least less unpleasant to be around.

      And my daughter agrees with you.

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  9. That’s quite a trail of thinking you’re doing there in the space you used. The brain ignition key was on and I hope you are now feeling a little more relaxed because of it. I like the phrase “mint condition human,” though I doubt one hitting puberty is one. Still, I understand your concerns though we both know those years mean trying on many costumes for sizes and comfort. My own was all black way before it was popular. My classmates were wearing calico prints and something they called “angel blouses.” Well, now I have rambled, and I do feel better.

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    • The Time Travel on Facebook post got so much traffic that it made me nervous, like the expectations for anything I post would be so much higher. I needed to just hit the gas and go, regardless of what came out. So you’re absolutely right – I’m a little more relaxed now.

      And I thought the phrase “slightly used human” would sound creepy. I know we all go through the trying on of costumes and personae at this age. I went through a phase of men’s suit jackets and unlaced high top tennis shoes (a weird cross between Miami Vice and All the Right Moves). And how many girls were trying to imitate Madonna, confusing under and outer clothes? I had to look up “angel blouses”. Um, I think they might still be in style. Glad you feel better as well!

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  10. I loved this post as a fellow mother of girls. I particularly connected with the line on working at not projecting fears on our mint condition kids. Perfection! I want my kids to grow up embracing their individuality whatever that looks like, but as you say, the older they get the more judgement comes their way and it sure ain’t easy to be a passive fan up in the bleachers. All the best, Lisa

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    • Thanks, Lisa. One of my challenges, especially as the social issues crop up, is encouraging my daughter to find her own solutions. Sometimes when she comes home upset about something, I want to storm the barricades and fight her battles. But I also want her reassured that I won’t overreact, so that she will continue to talk to me about problems.

      We talk a lot about issues where adults need to get involved (when someone is getting hurt or threatened) and times when kids need to negotiate a solution for themselves. I just keep reminding myself that my job is to give her the tools to be a strong individual on her own, while letting her know that it’s always okay to ask for help. So far, it seems to be doing the trick.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My girls are a bit younger so a good snuggle still goes a long way. In my heart I know that ship will sail at some point in the years ahead and I am not looking forward to the shift. It sounds like you are doing a great job. Thank you again for sharing your journey.

        Liked by 1 person

        • A good snuggle still goes a long way in our house! But as logic and reason grows, the habit of conversation becomes critical, especially as friends take on more importance. A little more challenging, but still enjoyable.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Good to hear. My eight year old is HUGE cuddler and I feel/hope/pray it will always play a role. Now to sharpen my tough conversation skills. All the best sweet thing!!!

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Been there, thought that.

    My youngest, Gwen, has the most beautiful thick, wavy, auburn hair. I used to put it in an adorable braid that hung halfway down her back. Then in 1st grade she wanted it cut short, and there it has stayed.

    We wrestled back and forth with hair/clothes issues for years. Then in junior high we (meaning her dad and I; I assume she knew earlier) discovered that she is gay. I still had a hard time with the outward appearance stuff, but our main concern switched to helping her stay mentally and emotionally healthy.

    Junior high is rough at the best of times. For anyone who is different, it is twice as bad. It was NOT an easy time for our daughter, which means it was not easy for us, because we want what’s best for our kids and we want to shield them from pain. Most of her classmates were cool with her, because she was a cool kid. But there was a boy in the neighborhood who bullied her, kids she didn’t know who made fun of her, teachers and family who didn’t understand, etc.

    Cut both sides of your brain some slack. While you love your kid for who she is, you can’t help wanting to protect her from what can be a cruel world.

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    • Thanks Peg for generously sharing your story. That last bit “While you love your kid for who she is, you can’t help wanting to protect her from what can be a cruel world.” is so perfect, because that’s what it boils down to for a parent.

      I just remind myself that given the choice between being who she is and dealing with random cruelty from others or trying to conform and being miserable with herself, well, it isn’t much of a choice. But one hopes that with supportive family and friends, there’s a resilience and confidence that can serve as great insulation against dumbasses.

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  12. It’s nice to know what you are going thru is very similar. My daughter turns 11 this year and Middle school is next year. I’m so not ready. She is a very sweet girl and hair is not the issue with her as much as her clothes are unique as she is and I worry about her being picked on and want to change her clothes, but I know that isn’t the right thing. She has such a gentle soul and I so want to protect her from anyone being mean or hurting her feelings. The pain of parenthood. Thanks for sharing and know many of us are right there with you.

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    • I think all of us with kids heading into middle school are filled with a little bit of dread! This year, I forced myself to let go a little more – she started riding the bus, activities became more drop off (mom not hanging about). I know that it will be a huge change for her (and for me).
      The thing is, anything that my daughter is staunchly weird about is one more thing that builds her resiliency and sense of personhood – and the less likely she will bend to peer pressure just to fit in. I am enjoying our conversations, though – it’s a really great age.
      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience!

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