View from the Swing

swings1After the long, cold winter, getting to go to the park this week with Emily has been a blessing. Finally, the wind doesn’t have the harsh chill, and the dirty snow piles are mostly gone. The play equipment at the park had been hosed down from the winter sludge, and all was in good shape when we arrived.

Yesterday, the sun was warm on our heads in the mid-50 temperatures. Up here in Wisconsin, that is a virtual heat wave. Emily exhausted herself running and sliding and swinging and spinning on the merry-go-round. Today we went back to the park, as I have vowed that, unless there is intolerable weather, we are getting out to the park daily.

There were more clouds today when we went, and the wind was not quite as warm, but the air was fresh and invigorating. Emily wore a hat against the chilly breeze which sent last year’s leaves flying every so often. Hardly any children were there today. A grandfather watched his grandson run around, and then a dad arrived with two little boys on pedal bikes. Em and I sat on the swings in a leisurely fashion. Or, I should say, I sat on the swing and Em flopped on her tummy on the swing next to me, going back and forth, back and forth, her thoughts in some far away place.

My own thoughts swirled like the old leaves in the wind. Our second youngest, Will, is ready for college in August. Wasn’t I just at the park with him? Where did all the time go? Our baby, Emily, will be five in July at her next birthday. She’s looking taller and lankier all the time and asks questions about “habitats” for animals (yes, she uses that word), about “migration”, “hibernation” and how a butterfly uses his “proboscis” to suck nectar from flowers. She watches science DVD’s for children and has a keen interest in anything in nature. I thought about the challenge of educating yet another child in this world that seems to have gone mad. One day at a time, one step at a time, one hour at a time, Ingrid.

Em’s ready for reading instruction, as she is already trying to teach herself. She narrated a story to her dad so he could write it down for her. I thought about how each child is unique in interests and gifting. It is fascinating to watch yet another child-person unfold.

Em does not have another child to play with at home normally, but as we were swinging aimlessly, a little girl in a white Hello Kitty hat arrived with her daddy. Emily jumped off the swing and went over to meet her. The darling child liked my daughter, and they ran around in the wind, arms out, soaring high over the park as airplanes in their imaginations. They played hide and seek under the slides and then played tag, seemingly never stopping in their running.

The sun finally went under completely and the wind suddenly felt downright cold. Emily ran over to her little friend and threw her arms around her for a good-bye hug. The dad’s face broke out in a smile, as did mine, at the two little girls, so briefly enjoying a few minutes of childhood together and parting in cheery goodwill.

As we drove away, the bare branches of the trees bent in the wind, waving their own good-byes.

Girls and Dolls

My little sister Lisa and I had a real little girlhood thanks to Mom.

I feel sorry for little girls today who are expected to leave childhood behind in about first grade. There’s not much room for innocence these days.

Ten years ago, our older daughter Mary came home from her private Christian school at age 6 and announced that her new friend had the Backstreet Boys on the cover of her notebooks and folders and asked if she could please have some, too. (She had no idea who the Backstreet Boys were, but wanted to be like her friend.) The boy band du jour was apparently considered essential for first grade girls’ school supplies. (This fall they were selling pink notebooks with the terms “Eye Candy” and “Love  Muffin” on them.)

Marketers came up with the clever term “tween” for purposes of making money. It’s what we once called childhood. Little girls are expected to dump their baby dolls by kindergarten and buy Slutty Barbie and Smokin’ Hot Ken dolls. Or maybe just the ugly and appropriately named Bratz dolls with their little hipster clothes and attitude. By age 7 or 8,  it’s time to actually dress like Slutty Barbie, which explains the summer clothing items, and I do use the term loosely, hitting the racks this spring in the girls’ department.

My mother didn’t have any use for Barbies for little girls. Not having a television when we were little, we weren’t inundated with ads promoting what everybody else was getting, so we didn’t miss them. At a school gift exchange once I got a cheap Barbie knock-off, but lacking any Barbie stuff, I was uncertain what to do with the skinny, straw-haired creature with the big bust. I don’t know what happened to it.

I had a sole baby doll for several years when I was little. Her name was Sally, and I lost her in a park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a very traumatic event for me, and I still remember the horror of not being able to find her anywhere. Mom replaced her in the toy department of the JC Penney at Capitol Court shopping center. Not having a room full of dolls, shopping for a new doll was a big deal to me.

I’ll never forget how thrilled I was to look into the glass case ( they kept the dolls in a glass case which made them seem even more special) to pick one out with Mom’s help. I spotted the lost Sally’s replacement immediately. She was a sweet baby doll lying on a white blanket trimmed with pink and white gingham ruffles. That’s the one I brought home.

When I loved a doll, I really loved her. Nobody else’s doll could take her place. Some friends of our family once delivered a huge box of battered toys and broken crayons from their 5 kids who had all outgrown them. I remember seeing some very rough looking dolls in the box, the objects of some other little girls’ affections. They weren’t for me, as they had already lived out their dolls’ lives. With eyes askew, hair half shaven off, minus any clothing, they couldn’t touch my heart. It was already taken by my new Sally doll, clean and pristine in her pink and white blanket.

When I was nine or so, I got a wonderful surprise. I may have loved Sally, but by then, my heart was capable of adding one more. I got a Crissy doll for Christmas. She was the size of a real nine-month-old and you could pull a long pony tail of red hair out of the center of her head. I was enchanted. Sally gained a sister that Christmas Eve, and Crissy and I had many hours of fun. Lisa got one just like it the next Christmas and named her Carrie. We played house for hours on end.

Girls are wearing make-up now at an age when I still enjoyed dolls. Little girls have their own pop celebrities they follow, wear fake tattoos, talk about their boyfriends and message each other about the latest gossip. Looking “hot” is a grave concern for little girls at an age when my sister and I were still oblivious to the concept. I pity little girls, some of whom will never have many memories of that time “before”—before advertisers ruled childhood, before the male-female dynamic and peer tyranny filled their thoughts night and day, before celebrity freaks in the music world and Hollywood imposed their values or lack of them.

Is it possible to provide a real little girlhood today? I would say yes, but only if you’re prepared to really fight for it. The power of peer pressure is toxic from an early age now. For that reason, Tom and I feel strongly about kind of influences we want Emily to have, and what kind we do not want her to have. Popular media is the enemy of innocence and little girlhood. Advertisers and show producers are only going to continue stooping lower and lower to make a buck. To put it bluntly, that trash is not welcome in our home, because it is antithetical to the values we are trying to instill.

Parenthetically, I stood at a store the other day and observed that Cosmopolitan magazine is now directly at eye level for little ones. “30 Sex Moves” said one headline. “Woman on Top” said another. I felt a slow burning rage hit me at what we have allowed our culture to become. How many children had read those headlines standing there while tired, complacent parents just shoved their stuff onto the conveyor belt to get home. It makes me sick to my stomach, because I have a little girl who deserves a childhood, and shopping with her mother shouldn’t be the enemy of her innocence.

Our girls will only have a chance at self-respect, decency and every other virtue if we are willing to carve out a safe space for them to be little for a while, jettison the entertainment media and toys that teach them wrong (yes, wrong) values and actively protect them from a culture that devours little girls and spits them out.

Emily is very interested in babies right now. She has a baby doll and a bottle with fake milk that she plays with a great deal. The doll fell out of her arms today and I saw her stoop down and carefully kiss the doll’s head. “It’s OK,” she murmered tenderly. “I take you to the doctor and get medicine.” Atta girl, Emmy. Enjoy your little girlhood while you can.

Toddlers, Tiaras and Terrible Mothers

I don’t mind at all if this post gets me labeled judgmental. Some things are worth earning a label, and when I read the latest this morning at a news site about the TV show, Toddlers and Tiaras, frankly, it made me sick. Reportedly, the mothers of these little girls are spiking bottles of juice with high amounts of caffeine to up their small daughters’ energy prior to these pageants.

That “beauty” pageants exist for tiny girls is in itself a commentary on the values in this country. That a “reality” TV show can be made out of the exploitation of these little children and not be shut down by child welfare authorities beggars belief.

One mother boasted recently that she regularly bleaches her little daughter’s teeth to make sure she is pageant ready at all times. The TV show frequently shows the slobby looking mothers calling out to their toddlers to “work it” up on stage in front of adults who will judge their sexy gyrations and score them. The tarty costumes these little girls wear is enough to make the angels weep.

It’s all a form of child p-rn. (I hyphenate the word because I don’t want filters to deny access to this post.) The Toddlers and Tiaras program must be pedophile heaven. The ghost of the raped and murdered Jon-Benet Ramsey hovers over these debauched pageants where little girls are sexed up for the viewing pleasure of adults.

Innocence and childhood is a very brief time in a girl’s life. It can be stolen so easily and so quickly. Our cultural Sodom in America takes this innocence ever earlier. As the mother of daughters, it enrages and terrifies me when I see the monstrous assault on all that is precious and good in girlhood. Toddlers and Tiaras is the crystallization of all that is wrong morally in our culture.

As a mother, my job is to love and protect my daughter by giving her what is good and wholesome and raising her to resist and abhor what is wrong and twisted. I am supposed to keep her away from filthy people who would use her for their own foul entertainment and pleasure. Mothers who participate in the pimping out of their daughters for fame and fortune are child abusers, simply put.

The entire culture is one of sexual abuse of our daughters. I stood at the checkout last week and witnessed the headline, “50 S-x Moves” on the cover of one of the rags for sale. My daughter will know how to read likely by age 5. What kind of people in a culture tolerate this rampant disregard for innocence? What keeps grown men, fathers, from marching en masse to the managers who run these stores and demanding that this kind of filth be removed from the eyesight of their children? (Believe me, I’ve tried enough times.)

What kind of Christian pastors have made peace with this culture of filth and stand in their pulpits in their lavish vestments, simpering out their latest devotionalette to their congregations while little girls are treated like meat?  Do you have anything to say, pastors? Anything at all about the source of all of this evil?  Their emasculated, impotent “gospel” is worthless. As Christ put it, the salt of our society has become worthless, fit for the dunghill. We’re certainly living in one.

Little girls drugged up with caffeine to have the maximum ability to titillate their adult audiences for a sleazy TV show. That’s our “reality” in America. We should be trembling.

*NOTE: I saw this article today on the petition to require Cosmo be put in a wrapper due to content. Apparently there are a lot of others who are fed up. If they must sell it, wrap it up in paper like p-rn used to be when you had to take the drive of shame out to the ugly store on the highway to buy such  magazines. Here’s the link to the page if you’re interested in signing.

From the Mom Files Pt. 1

fileThere is an unwritten rule of childhood that every boy and girl learns to obey shortly after they begin to walk and talk. It is this:

Rule: At the moment Mom turns the shower knob to the ON position, everything you did not discuss with her before she went in must now be addressed in copious detail. Remember, it cannot wait.

I always thought there was something rather mystical about this. Children, witnessed happily coloring on another floor of the house, would magically show up at the door brief moments later, desperately needing to ask something of earth shattering importance, as soon as the shower was turned on.

Conversations with children through the door run like this:

“MOM!” thump thump on the bathroom door.

“What?” comes the answer over the sound of the water.

“MRUMF BLEDLOOG RUMBOTU SIMMITAR!”

“WHAT? I can’t hear you.” Mom asks a little louder, lathering up her hair. Soap in the ears always helps with clarity.

“SITUDK BITTLE UM FRUMTIME WIGTOX!!!!”

Mom’s annoyed now because she doesn’t want to turn off the hot water.

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

Finally, seemingly audible words come through. “MARY ATE A GREEN BAY PACKER!!!”

Mom shouts back, exasperated. “MARY ATE A GREEN BAY PACKER??!!!”

“NO!!” shouts the child, thumping around at the door in despair.

In exasperation, Mom finally shuts off the lovely hot water and stands there dripping, soap cascading into eyes.

“WHAT IS IT THAT IS SO IMPORTANT? SAY IT NOW!” She hollers.

Long pause. “Never mind,” says a small aggrieved voice.

I find out later that the urgent report was, “Mary ate the box of crackers.”

The other rule of childhood is that if you are going to tattle on your sister, the shower rule also applies.

Wait, my child, until the water comes on…