Earlier this year, I learned about ASMR videos on YouTube, and they have become my guilty pleasure. Guilty because I feel like the time Chandler Bing was listening to tapes to stop smoking, and became a strong, confident woman. Pleasure because those things knock me out into a good night’s sleep better than anything other than that coedine cough syrup I wanted to develop a lasting relationship with a few winters ago.
My favorite ASMR content creators are Heather Feather, ASMR Massage/Dimitri, and Psychetruth/Corrina. I skip around to sample other content creators, but I’ve developed imaginary Therapist/Patient relationships with those three (safer than with a narcotic.) I lie still, and they tell me to be quiet, relax, and that everything is going to be okay, sometimes with accompanying Tibetan singing bowls, light brushing sounds, and some laughing–because those Psychetruth content creators can barely take themselves seriously sometime, much less convince me to.
After a few rough days, I decided some positive affirmations were in order, and I pulled up a video labeled as such and settled back. Five minutes later, I was too frustrated to relax. It was worse than the time I tried to meditate. I kept mentally answering the affirmations.
“You are a good person.” Mostly. Yes. Good. I try. Trying is good.
“You work hard.” Yes. That’s true.
“You deserve a break.” I need a break. I don’t know that I deserve one. Coffee is for Closers.
“You deserve to take time just for yourself.” Mmmah…unless it interferes with family.
“You deserve to be happy.” That’s not exactly true. I deserve to be able to pursue happiness, but happiness isn’t owed to me.
“You deserve to do whatever it takes to feel joy.” Uh, no I don’t! No! That is wrong!
“You deserve to do what it takes to make yourself happy.” Is this a justification track for Dexter?! No, no I don’t!
“Everything is going to be okay.” Also not necessarily true!
“You deserve for everything to be okay.” I’m out.
And I was.
I was telling B about it earlier, and he suggested I needed a Demotivator affirmation track. I thought I should do my own. Honest Affirmations by Lane. They would go:
You are a Human Being.
You deserve to be treated with basic respect and dignity.
You deserve to be able to work for a living.
You deserve a safe, secure worksite, with reasonable accommodations.
You deserve to be served by a capable, conscientous government.
You deserve to serve your community.
You should treat everyone as you want to be treated, regardless of the outcome.
You should take care of other people because it is the right thing to do.
You deserve affordable health care.
You deserve affordable food.
You should derive joy from service.
You have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Coffee is for Closers.
I’m not thinking anyone is going to want my track.
You see a lot of fashion at the roller skating rink.
Last night, some college-age kids were there in their best approximations of 80s gear. One girl had on shimmer-fabric, neon pink leggings under a pair of multi-colored neon shorts, with a neon green tank top, and a hot pink headband. It was very 80s-Barbie, and also awesome.
Another girl skated around in a snow cap, with this amazing anime-purple hair spiking out from under it. My kid was in gray cargo pants, and a “Creepers Gonna Creep” t-shirt. I wore black leggings under a black, swing tunic. Then, a couple of young teens came in wearing some shorts that make people ask the question, “Would you let your child out of the house like that?”
When the question came up, I barely swallowed the reflexive, “Hell no!” It went down like a hard lump, but I managed to burp out an, “I don’t know?”
And, I don’t know.
Let’s hop in the TV time machine for a second and travel back to those halcyon days where everthing was about Marcia, Marcia, Marcia, and girls wore dresses so short wicker furniture posed a very real threat to thighs. The Brady girls, That Girl, Buffy and Sissy from Family Affair, even Shirley Temple were all legs–all the time. Short skirts and matching spanky pants were the stuff, and it wasn’t a sexualized thing.
Long hair, short skirts. Cover the ears, reveal the knees!
Let’s switch the channel to ESPN. Tennis. Figure skating. Volleyball. Cheerleading. Soccer. Swimming. Gymnastics. LEGS. Everywhere. Firm, fit, bare legs (and some barely covered crotches) on women who are jumping, running, kicking, spinning, flying, and falling all over the place. I defy you to tell one of the Williams sisters they are dressed immodestly. Champion level skaters would probably sooner put a toe-pick in your forehead than entertain the notion that they need to cover up.
So, why am I so shocked when I see a pair of Daisy Dukes on a fifteen-year-old? What is it that makes me want to throw a blanket over her, and hustle her off to a corner for a lecture on propriety?
My buddy and I were talking that over. Both of us are moms. We asked each other what we would say to our daughters–hers real, mine imaginary–about shorts-like-that.
I want to say first, that it is very easy to judge a stranger. It is very easy to look at a stranger’s shorts and assign all sorts of meaning to them. Fashion becomes shorthand to reading a person’s character. 80s Barbie? Fashion shorthand for a vapid twit. Anime snow cap? Fashion shorthand for outlying subculture. Creeper t-shirt? Fashion shorthand for a kid who spends all his time on video games. Short-shorts? Fashion shorthand for attention-seeking.
Shorthand doesn’t even tell a tithe of the story, though. It sure didn’t when I was the fifteen-year-old in short shorts.
As we talked through scenarios, we both agreed that the one thing we didn’t want to do was frighten our daughters. We didn’t want to scare them that a pair of shorts could be the reason someone hurt them. Shorts don’t make rapists rape. To paraphrase my son’s t-shirt, Rapists Gonna Rape. Molesters Gonna Molest. Just ask those Duggar girls, whose thighs haven’t seen daylight since they were in diapers.
We didn’t want our daughters to feel funny about their bodies, like something was wrong with them, or dirty about them. And neither of us could figure out a context whereby we could explain that it was okay to show your thighs at the beach, or in your cheer uniform, or when you were competing at a sport, but not when you went roller skating with your friends, or to a movie, or to a barbecue.
We couldn’t figure out a way around the fact that it is perfectly fine for those high school track boys to run the streets wearing nothing but a pair of tiny, tiny running shorts, socks, and sneakers, but the double standard was that our daughters would be stoned for trying the same thing.
In short, we didn’t come up with any answers. Ultimately, I said I’d have to know my daughter. I’d have to know the girl, to know what was the right conversation. My buddy said it came down to intent, and until you could understand the intention of the child, you couldn’t know how to approach it. And that took me back to how easy it is to judge a stranger.
It also took me to how easy it is to be jealous of a stranger. How dare she come in here, all youth and legs, looking like a million dollars worth of desirable, when I’m fighting a losing battle against gravity? How dare she be so young and beautiful, taking more than her share of the Male Gaze and the attention that goes with it? The arrival of a younger, more biologically attractive, more seemingly available woman can make the hide crawl off a middle-aged buzzard like me, even when I’m not after the attention she’d be receiving.
Those long, pretty legs are a reminder of my mortality. Her desirability reminds me of my impending invisibility. If I could get her into some Mom jeans, at least I could feel better about how my physique turns every pair of trousers into Mom jeans. If I could wrap her in a blanket, at least I could feel maternal and nurturing. If I could lecture her on how she’s sending inappropriate signals, and how her thighs are an invitation to danger, at least I could feel like I was doing a public service while I scared and shamed her.
That’s an awful lot of Me projected onto a child, who just wanted to go roller skating.
I am navel-gazing enough to care more about why her shorts bother me, than to worry about getting her into different pants. I care more about the root causes of my visceral reactions to things like that, than the catalyts for them. I know the problem is me, not the kid, who is out having fun with her friends.
And, if my projections are sometimes right–if she is out using her thigh meat as boy bait, well? So? I was fifteen once. I haven’t forgotten how that felt. Even in my top-button-done, Haiwaian print shirt, with matching capri pants, Capezios, braces, and bad hair, I just one quivering, hopeful lump of boy bait. I was normal. So is she.
So, I decided that the conversations have to be with my real son, not my imaginary daughter. The conversations have to be about respect, consent, empathy, kindness, and self-control, not dress codes.
The onus isn’t on me as a woman, to warn girls. The onus is on me as a mother, to raise a good man.
Being a kid is hard work.
When Thor was tiny, and losing his little mind because I had picked the wrong color spoon, or had cut his banana into seven, rather than five pieces (or had cut it at all), or because the wind had blown, I tried to keep that in mind. I tried to keep in mind that he was still developing, and that if you had taken me, stripped me of my motor skills and ability to communicate effectively, rendered me helpless, unable to feed myself at whim, or even manage my own entertainment, I would have been under so much stress, I’d have been losing my mind over spoon color, too. I mean, how hard is it to get the green spoon?!
I used to say to him, “I am so sorry that you live in The World of No.” Because he did.
No, you cannot ride the dog.
No, you cannot eat the bug.
No, you cannot climb the table.
No, you cannot have every toy you see.
No, you most certainly cannot bite me.
No, you cannot scream.
No, you cannot be awake at 3am.
Yeses come few and far between when you are a two-year-old.
I muddle through as a parent, striving, and correcting when I fail, and being quick to apologize to my son when I’ve made a mistake that affects him. I think that’s one of the things I do well because I am modeling the behavior I want him to have. I want him to try, I want him to succeed, and I want him to own up when he makes a mistake. Then, I want him to course correct, and try again.
I wish I were a perfect parent. I’m not. But I love my kid. I make sure he’s fed, clothed, protected, feels secure, and knows how much he is loved, so I hope that goes a long way toward padding for my failures.
As he has grown, his ability to manage coexisting complexities has grown with him. Now, if I give him a red, rather than green spoon, he can juggle the desire for the green spoon with the excitement of getting ice cream. He can make a split second decision about which is the priority: Spoon color, or ice cream. 99% of the time, he gets it right. The other 1%, we deal with because if I’m not perfect, I can’t expect him to be.
We’re creeping up on the Tween years, and I can see changes in how he processes information. I can see the inner struggle to choose between obedience and rebellion. And I see flickers of an incredible man emerging–a man I am going to be so proud to know. I also see flickers of the teenager who is going to keep me up for longer nights than the toddler ever did. We’re heading into a new World of No, but this time, he’s going to be looking down at my face, not up into it.
I should interrupt myself to say that Thor-watching is a favorite hobby. I love watching him. I love studying how he responds and reacts, and learning his thought processes. I’m always asking him how he arrived at decisions because I want him to be able to retrace the factors that drove him to a choice. I want him to understand how actions are born of thoughts, so he can police himself (thereby avoiding the police in later life.)
As I’m seeing this new growth in him, I’m also seeing a new tenderness and a vulnerability. He seems so exposed.
I think about a young tree. Saplings are on their way to strength, but for the moment a hard wind can uproot them. Too much water will kill them just as fast as not enough. Neglect and mistreatment might not kill the tree, but you’ll see the evidence in the grown body. You have to prune, but you can’t cut away too much.
Parenting is hard work.
We got him to age 5 without breaking a bone, and to age 7 before he needed stitches. Lord willing, we’ll get him to 10 before he threatens to run away from home, or starts yelling that he hates us. Having lived with the boy every day of his life, I feel like these are huge wins! I also see that the truly hard work is coming.
Protecting his body and keeping him alive and healthy has been the challenge of the first decade. The challenge of the next decade is protecting his heart and his spirit, so that he can keep himself alive and healthy. What we do in the next ten years will directly affect how he treats himself in life, and what he has left over for other people.
Right now, I am stockpiling snuggle-time and working to build in him self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency equals pride and confidence. Snuggles equal a feeling of security. I’ve got to get enough of both of those in there, that when he hits 13, 17, 21, and has his first hard failure, hard humiliation, hard heartbreak–because those are coming, whether I like it, or not–he doesn’t break. His heart might. His pride might. But he won’t.
I’m trying to build all that in so that when I fail hard in the future, he can reach past the moment and know that I made a mistake–not that he is a mistake.
I love that kid more than my own life. I’ve got to build enough of that into him, that one day, he can offer the same kind of devotion to his own parenting. So he can enjoy it as much as I have.
Because even on the Green Spoon days, that boy makes a World full of No feel like a Carnival of Joy.
“It was definitely a more innocent time.”
That’s what I said to someone when we were talking about cellphone technology today, and how my teen years were spent yelling, “I’ll call you when I get home!” Then, actually calling my best friend and sitting on the phone for hours saying absolutely nothing of value.
But, I’m not sure it was a more innocent time. It was the 80s–not exactly a decade remembered for its reticence. I’m not sure there is such thing as a less innocent time when you’re talking teenagers. Shakespeare* tells you that, at least in the 16th Century, between sixteen and twenty-three, the only things getting done were immoral, illegal, and idiotic. You want to go back further, and Socrates** was complaining about the mini Me Generation of his day, too.
Why does it feel more innocent, then?
For me, because all the mistakes I made, I made in person. There was a level of intimacy required for rejection that made a difference. If you were going to make a gesture, you had to really work for it.
Say I wanted to send nude photos to someone (which I never did, Mom!), I had to work for it. First, I had to own a camera because my teen years pre-date the easy availability of even the disposable Kodak, and I had to buy film ($8 to $35 a roll, depending on whether it was B/W or Color, and how many exposures I wanted.)
Back in my day, there weren’t view-finders to help you see and artfully off-center your subject, so I either had to enlist a friend to play Terry Richards for me (which I never did, Mom!), or I had to kind of hope I was holding the camera far enough away from my body, at just the right angle to capture more than just a blur of background and my elbow. Kids my age did generally own, or have access to remote shutter release technology (that’s an ancient selfie stick, teens, and the one I bought for a college photography class set me back close $80), so there was no pose-and-click your way to your very own junior lad’s mag spread.
Even if I had made it that far using mirrors to reflect what would have been my underdeveloped physique, I still had to get the film developed ($15–$50+ depending on B/W or Color, number of exposures.) That meant either the Photo Hut that used to sit in the middle of the Winn Dixie parking lot, or the film counter at Eckerd’s. Either way, I would have had to wait up to two weeks for my film to be mailed off for processing, and sent back for me to pick up. In person. There was zero anonymity.
Just to give a boy a quick, visual thrill (never did it, Mom!) I had to spend money, time, effort, and at least three layers of dignity (Layer One: The weirdo that worked at the Photo Hut. Layer Two: The nameless weirdos developing the film. Layer Three: The weirdo at the Photo Hut after he’d seen the photos.) As fleeting as teen romance can be, and as flighty as I was, I could have gone through a handful of boyfriends before I even got my pictures back. None of that is to mention the difficulty I would have had pulling it off!
So, even if my teenaged gerbil brain had thought nudies were a good idea at the time, the work involved to bring my idea to fruition would have been too exhausting. I’d have lost interest somewhere between getting my mother to drive me to the store for film, and trying to explain why I needed the film. And, if I’d managed to work up the nerve to walk up to the store and make my purchases, there is no way in the world I’d ever have worked up the rest of the nerve to go back to the Photo Hut.
Today? If I wanted to send nudes to my husband, all I have to do is turn on my phone, swipe, enter my pin, tap the camera, take a picture, tap the Message icon, enter his name, and send. I don’t even have to leave the room. I can do it in under a minute, if you don’t count the time I would take to put on makeup, do my hair, find a decent pose, and delete my way through 300 images before finding one that was close enough to not looking like me that I felt okay sending it***.
The 80s were hard!
I had a recent conversation with a 20-year-old, who asked me if I’d ever seen The Breakfast Club. Once I’d stopped crying, I explained that I saw it in the theater, with my parents (who were scandalized by it), when it came out. She went on to tell me how it resonated with her because it captured teens so well. “It’s my favorite movie of all time,” she said.
And I thought of this from SlowRobot.com:
You can’t remake it. And there isn’t a way to go back to the intimacy of a world that required at least the hearing of a voice to communicate your passion.
I have a lot of hope for the future. My kid is learning to do things I never dreamed of existing when I was his age. Right now, he’s watching from season 1 of Top Gear, using technology that was SciFi when I was nine. You know, back when I had to catch the episode when it came on, or wait til the season ended, and hope I caught the rerun.
I don’t need him to have 70s Summers, or 80s Dates, or 90s Music. I just need him to have his childhood and his teen years. He’ll have exactly as innocent a time as I did because he has me for a mother, and (like my mother) I watch, and listen, and act. I want him to enjoy his world, so that one day he can look back and complain about how it took, like, a whole second to send a text message.
*”I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.” (A Winter’s Tale, Act 3, Scene 3)
**”The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
***As a mother, I do not have time to do this. Only teenagers and celebrities have time to do this stuff.