Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Age, Style, Music, and Memory

This week I have been spending a lot of time looking at my hands (the hands in the photo are Johnny's hands, not mine). I look at them as I unpack Thora's things, hang up her clothes in her new closet, hold her, rock her, feed her, stroke her hair, let her suck on my pinky (I swear I have cursed myself with the whole pacifier thing: now she flat out refuses to take a pacifier even though now that she is beginning to fuss from more gas and early teething, I have buckled and tried several kinds), trace circles on her face and forehead to get her to relax and close her eyes, and so on. People always tell me I look younger than I am and whether they are saying that to be nice or because they mean it, I don't rightly know, but my hands definitely betray my age. I have never liked my hands because they are big and not very feminine looking. I don't like the shapes of my fingers or my nails. But my hands look very different to me now. Older, somehow. More used? Or maybe put to a better use than ever before. They are a new mother's hands. They have always been big but now they look strong, too. They are hands that have not had time for a manicure since way back in the third trimester of my pregnancy. They are hands that are not afraid to touch baby drool, pee, or poop. They are hands that carry twelve or so pounds of the most precious load for hours at a stretch, safely and securely. And that's all wonderful, but seriously, what I wouldn't give for at least five seconds to put moisturizer on or to cut my cuticles!

Anyway, looking at my aging hands makes me think about aging in general. Most of the time I am okay with my age (I'm 37) but the other day I realized that I will die someday. I mean, I always knew that I would die someday and it never really scared me, but now that means leaving Thora on this planet motherless. That's certainly better than the opposite, of course, but the idea of not being there for her whole entire life is a strange one to swallow. If I believed in an afterlife of any kind I would be sad, because I know I would miss her. So I guess it's good that I don't.

Then I got to thinking about my age in general and what it means for Thora. Am I a cool mom? I hate the word cool more than I can tell you but I'm using it the way she might someday if the word cool is still cool. Now that it's 80 degrees every day I get stares everywhere I go in this new neighborhood. People don't know whether to comment first on my adorable baby or my crazy tattoos, so I get stopped a lot and I hear over and over how cool I am. ("God bless the baby!" they say. "And you a cool mama too, I love them tattoos!") But when Thora is 13, I will be 50 and definitely not cool at all. When she's done with college, I will be nearly 60 and approaching retirement. When I was younger I remember asking my parents all the time "What was it like when you were my age?" and they always said they couldn't remember. That was hard for me and I remember concluding that my parents must both have been born at age 35. They just could not have been children. How can you forget how hard it is to be a child? Now I know that sometimes you choose to forget some things and my parents are no exception... but me, I remember everything, every single thing about growing up. The good stuff and the bad stuff. I had a particularly tough time with adolescence for no good reason, so for me there was a fair amount of bad stuff. I remember it all because I wrote everything down in painful and lurid detail. I kept journals from the time I was able to write and I have every single one of them from age 12 on all packed into a big army trunk. I keep them just in case I want to revisit something, remember something, share something with Thora. Most of the time I am happy the past is in the past because of all the stupid and dramatic things I've done, from stuffing cotton balls into a bra I definitely did not need when I was ten or eleven and telling everyone who would listen that I was growing to showing up at my best friend's wedding with pink hair, shaved eyebrows, platform boots and a black-and-white gingham minidress when I was 27 looking like a hideous pink version of Marilyn Manson, and a whole lot of other embarrassing things in between. All the same, I think it's important to remember how tough it can be to be a child, a teenager, a young adult, and how this needs to be validated, taken seriously. There are so many emotions and new situations to navigate. I really wanted to know that they had been there too and that it wasn't easy. Being laughed at or hearing you'll understand later or some other condescending equivalent was completely unhelpful to me when I was growing up. Without someone to say "this is what I was like when I was a teenager" or "this happened to me too" or "I remember the time when I felt that way too..." I had no choice but to believe that I was mature for my age and knew everything and was right about everything. Looking back, I can say with absolute certainty that I was almost always wrong, knew almost nothing and was the furthest thing from mature for my age. In fact with 20/20 hindsight I am now the first to say that while I might have been intellectually ahead of kids my age, emotionally I was definitely a late bloomer. But you couldn't tell me that when I was growing up - I really was a bossy, obnoxious, combative know-it-all and while I thought my parents were boring and out of touch (sorry Mom and Dad, I love you both!), I know that I was definitely not very much fun for my parents to be around either.

I definitely do not want to have this kind of disconnect with Thora.

I've already written about how my age really formed me musically. By extension it's going to form Thora too. She has her own iPod and it's set up in her room. Right now it's playing Siouxsie and the Banshees. In the seven weeks she has been on this earth she has danced happily with me or with Johnny to Siouxsie, Autechre, Aphex Twin, Alien Sex Fiend, Bauhaus, AC/DC, Bjork, and of course Sigur Ros and the Cure. She loves to dance, especially with Johnny, who sings with her and makes faces that she smiles and coos at. Although I am not opposed to it, there really isn't much "children's music" on her iPod at all, unless you count the Rockabye Baby stuff which I personally think is more amusing for Johnny and me ("Whoa, do you recognize that one? It's Teenage Lobotomy!") than for her, and stuff like the Muppets and Really Rosie, which was on my iPod before I even got pregnant - I still love that.

And because of my age and my taste in music and my own personal style, I think it's cute to dress Thora in black or in skull patterns or in band shirts or whatever. Not always, of course - she is a baby and has a closet full of pink baby things that I love. I don't think I have the right to force my kid to look like a third Addams child, at least not all the time. But sometimes I indulge. Her room is a combination of styles: typical baby girl with her parents' touch: purple instead of pink, black shelves, weird art on the walls (well, weird art will be on the walls when we get around to it).

So I sometimes worry that Thora will as a result grow up to be the 21st century equivalent to Alex P. Keaton. Will she resent us? Will she carry a briefcase and vote Republican? Will she get into Barbies and whatever other horrible pink plastic toys that little princesses want to play with? Will she become a label whore and refuse to wear hand-me-downs? Will she be embarrassed of her mom's tattoos, dyed hair, and funky clothes? Will I care?

Ultimately, I believe that if I work hard to stay in touch with what it felt like to be a young person and thereby continually validate Thora's feelings as she has them, I can help encourage her to blossom into her own person naturally, and not in defiance or reaction to us or to anything. I don't care if she doesn't think our music or our style is cool, in fact I sort of expect that. But I definitely don't want her to go to the opposite end of the spectrum just because I am rigidly set in my ways. I want to talk to her and share with her and listen to her and let her be Thora, even if that's different from how I was. And I definitely don't want her to feel like she is going where no man has gone before. If there is one thing I was good at, it was being a difficult kid. I hope I can turn that into something positive and use my experiences to make Thora feel like her mama knows what she's going through and is in her corner no matter what.


  1. I have the same concerns for Xavier--will it be a bummer for him that his parents aren't the same race? Will he be embarrassed that his dad has long dreadlocks and dresses in black? Will be think his mom is too silly? Will he wind up being ultra conservative? Will Avy and I be "cool?"

    I don't know... but he will be well aware that we love him and always do our best to give him everything he needs and most of what he wants... and plenty of support. I think that's probably the most anyone can do. The rest is just a matter of luck.

    But seriously, I can't see how Thora wouldn't love you and Johnny to death.

  2. You really do look young. I thought you were younger than I am. And damn, you have a cute kid.

  3. When you raise your child with respect, you don't get that disconnect. Rebellion is about separation...the harder you hold on to control, the harder they have to is about finding their own identity. So, give in to them on things that don't matter, and they will listen to you when it does matter.


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