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Bra Makers are Boobs

31 Aug

I was in middle school—we called it junior high back then—when I got my first one. My mother took me shopping, after enduring weeks of insistence that I really did need one. “What do you want one of those for, honey?” she said. “You don’t even need one.”

“Yes! Yes, I do!” I said. “I’m the only girl who doesn’t have one. They all make fun of me!”

So, off we went to my mother’s favorite department store for my first bra.

I was excited; the teasing and torment were finally going to end. I was excited, that is, until I encountered Brunhilda. I have no idea if the woman’s name really was Brunhilda. The German accent I recall is probably a fabrication of my scarred mind. But there she was, standing between me and the lingerie that would deliver me from the hell of changing for gym in a locker room full of growing girls.

Brunhilda was tall. Brunhilda was big. And Brunhilda had the biggest breasts I’ve ever seen on a woman. There are lots of names for breasts. Some are cute, like “titties” and “boobies.” Some are funny. Think “chesticles” and “sweater puppies.” But this woman had jugs, each about the size of my head.

My mother introduced us, noting that Brunhilda would be fitting me for a bra. Without saying a word, Brunhilda whipped the tape measure from where it was draped around her neck and lassoed me with it. She measured under my wee bits. She measured across my wee bits. She stood and announced, “You don’t need zee bra.”

Just as she was about to point us in the direction of the undershirts, my mother worked some kind of Southern Belle voodoo on her, which consisted of dressing a tart request in a sweet gooey accent. Suddenly, training bras appeared and I could undress proudly for gym.

Our current bra problem is not mine and there is no voodoo my mother can work to make this one disappear.

The cute little bralettes and sports bras my daughter has been wearing, off and on, for some time now have a fatal flaw: they can be seen under white shirts. Because nipples can be seen under white shirts when one doesn’t wear a bra, all of my daughter’s white shirts are no longer wearable and she has a lot of white shirts.

So, we went on the hunt for flesh-tone bras, the kind that blend with your skin tone and seem to disappear under a white shirt.

My daughter has skin the color of very expensive, very fine milk chocolate. I love her skin. In winter, it glows with a warmth that belies the frigid outdoor weather. In summer, it takes on deep cinnamon hues; she looks good enough to eat.

Flesh-toned bras are the color of some mythical Caucasian woman’s skin. Though they work well enough for me, they don’t really match the skin tone of any real woman I know. Still, we white ladies don’t have to toss our white shirts when the boobies start to appear.

There are no options for budding young dark-skinned girls. I know this because I’ve looked in every conceivable place for some kind of undergarment that will enable my daughter to wear her favorite white shirts again. I’ve looked at Nordstrom, Gap Kids, Justice, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Aerie, Amazon, Brasmyth and Target.

I’ve even been to Gilly Hicks—a store for girls—where “Push ‘Em Up” bras and thongs are displayed under spotlights in otherwise dark shopping environments. A virtual trip to their website was even more frightening. Again, the bras are displayed against a black background, but here they promised “perfect fit with lots of lift.

As a teacher and mother to a ten-year old daughter and a teen-age son, I’ve seen quite a few girls in the Gilly Hicks target market. The only lift any of them needed was to the mall. Aren’t’ perky breasts part and parcel of being a teen?

Lest you think young girls are going after a product marketed to women, take a peek at the GH Girls landing page, where you’ll see a disrobing man and an invitation to “become a Gilly Hicks girl.”

Image: Gilly Hicks

The message my shopping ventures delivered was loud and clear, wrapped in a package replete with hypersexualization and a side order of racism. It’s perfectly ok to acknowledge, even celebrate, my daughter’s burgeoning womanhood. She can, in fact, find any number of garments guaranteed to have her walking down Lolita lane. What she can’t have is a single article of clothing that will enable her to wear her favorite white T-shirt with the pink and grey horse on it.

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Battle Hymn of the Pussy Mom

3 May

In my continuing effort to assess the parenting book competition, I recently read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Lots and lots of people read the book; lots and lots of people thought the author, Amy Chua, a monster for how she treated her children. I’ll confess that I had an ulterior motive in reading the book, though. As the white European-extracted mother of a Chinese girl, I’ve been conflicted about how to raise her since the day I first bounced her on my hip. Maybe, I thought, I can learn something about raising a Chinese daughter from a Chinese mother.

Not that conflicted feelings about motherhood are something new. Second Guessing is the dirty little secret of every mother I know, right up there with buying print blouses not because they are pretty but because they can hide a boatload of baby spit up.

For me, Second Guessing started with giving my son his first bottle of formula. I remember filling the bottle, breast-feeding failure seeping out of me. The stuff smelled vile. How, I thought, could I feed this poisonous brew to my boy? What about his immunities? What about his IQ? Never mind his “failure to thrive,” which was obviously the fault of my faulty boobs, what about my mom cred? The little heathen sucked the stuff down like an alcoholic after a three-week dry out. Now, he’s seldom sick and his IQ is just fine, but I still feel like Bad Mommy every time I see a successful breast-feeder and her chubby offspring.

Bad Mommy still visits. Hell, I see her more often than I see my husband. She’s particularly active, where my daughter is concerned, around Chinese New Year. My husband and I have managed to cobble together a family life that incorporates his Jewish-ness, my Catholic background and a little sprinkling of Buddhism for flavor. We celebrate Passover using a haggadah we wrote ourselves that mashes together e e cummings, socialism and the traditional Passover stories. We have a Christmas tree that has some Chinese ornaments and Stars of David scattered among the bells, Santas and South Park characters. A statue of Buddha is the first thing you see when you enter our home. Well, that and a pile of shoes and backpacks.

But Chinese New Year? From an auspicious beginning of a party with like-constructed families, complete with dragon dance, we’ve devolved into dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Sure, the kids get some money presented in a red envelope and I hang a string of fake firecrackers on the front door for ten days, but I’ll be the first to admit that our Chinese New Year celebration is pretty hollow.

Maybe, I thought, it’s pointless to try to celebrate holidays that I’m only familiar with through what I read on the Internet. We’ll go to Chinatown. We’ll watch the parade. We’ll go to that big, expensive banquet the Families with Children from China puts on every year. I made all these virtual plans forgetting that Chinese New Year takes place in winter and we have no money. It’s freaking cold in winter in Chicago. We’re broke. Hello, Square One.

Taking a different tack was easier once we moved to Naperville. One reason I chose this suburb is the concentration of Asians, Chinese in particular, who live here. The only area with more Chinese than Naperville is Chinatown. Since we came here for the schools and our son isn’t Chinese, we decided Naperville was the better option, though it still feels pretty foreign.

What I immediately learned on moving here is that celebrating Chinese New Year and eating Chinese take out every six months aren’t the essence of growing up Chinese. No, if my daughter was to truly feel Chinese, she’d need some Chinese parenting.

Chinese parenting, as I learned from my neighbors and Ms. Chua, is as exotic—and distasteful—to American sensibilities as thousand-year-old eggs.

When she was three years old, my daughter became fast friends with a Chinese girl being raised by Chinese people. My daughter’s friend took piano, dance, gymnastics and pottery classes. All day on Saturday, she attended Chinese school. My daughter took piano.  She practiced about 15 minutes each day, per my mother the piano teacher’s instruction. My daughter’s friend practiced 45 minutes each day; she was four at the time. Chinese Friend’s father, on hearing that I intended to let my daughter enjoy playing the piano and grow into a more ambitious practice schedule, said, “By then it will be too late.” He never explained what it would be too late for, but I left with the distinct feeling that I’d been Chinese parented. Bad Mommy kicked my shameful butt all the way home.

While Chinese Friend’s parents had nowhere near the ferocity of Tiger Mother Chua, they all had the same approach to parenting. Pushing a child to excel, accepting nothing but perfection and perfect obedience, creates successful adults. Failure is simply not tolerated. In contrast, my own parenting skills were downright destructive, guaranteed to produce complacent slackers and, eventually, the downfall of American society.

So, I pulled up my Tiger Mother undies and got to work. As it happens, I teach enrichment in math and English to a population of largely Asian children. I enrolled my daughter in the math program. We doubled her gymnastics lessons to twice per week. We grounded our son forever or until he is no longer failing American Studies, whichever comes first.

The result? My daughter whines about how hard her math enrichment homework is. We blow off the mid-week gymnastics lesson on a semi-regular basis. My son is home all the time, constantly complaining of boredom and boredom-induced hunger.

I am a failure at Tiger parenting. I am a pussy parent. I let my kids play when they might be practicing an instrument or completing extra credit. They have computers in their bedrooms. They go on sleepovers and have play dates. My son has had two girlfriends.

I wish I had the Tiger Mother’s selfless ability to let her kids dislike her. I’m going to have to be okay with my pussy parenting, though. My daughter makes straight As without prompting and according to Amy, only the piano and violin are appropriate instruments. My son plays the drums, guitar and can still fiddle around with a cello. So, while Amy’s daughters are studying into the night at Harvard, they’ll be listening to my son, the rock star, on their radios.

 

I know I have readers from all over the world. Tell me: are you a tiger or a pussy? What’s the prevailing approach where you live?

Ann Romney and Hilary Rosen: Who’s raising their own kids?

23 Apr

Nothing like grinding an axe, particularly when two of them–politics and adoption–come together so neatly. I just know you were waiting for me to weigh in on the Ann Romney/Hilary Rosen mess. So, here it is:

http://naperville.patch.com/articles/let-s-adopt-a-better-attitude-toward-adoption

All I Ever Wanted

5 Apr

Photo from LA Times. Click it for an interesting article about Passover charity.

Passover starts tomorrow evening. This means that I am in the midst of being too far behind in preparations. For those who don’t know, Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrating the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt. There is a service that is conducted at home. There is a meal that is eaten as part of the service. There is a booklet that is written and printed out with one copy for each participant. Obviously, there is a lot to get done. Oh, and I really should clean the house.

So, I’m taking a vacation from blogging today. But I have a lot on my mind and am sorting through what to write about first. The U.S. Supreme Court sucks. Rush Limbaugh sucks. Being bipolar sucks. Shall I write about all of those things sucking in one blog post or give each suckiness its own time to shine? Then there are the things that don’t suck. My dad is in remission. My son is over his dysfunctional romantic entanglements and back to being obscenely hilarious. He appears to have even learned a lesson or two. I am no longer spending weekends with dad and don’t have three jobs anymore. My daughter is glad Mom’s around. My husband? Well, he’s still tired and worried, so that’s normal.

Happy Passover to you if you celebrate it. Happy Easter to you if you celebrate that. Happy weekend to everyone else. Oh, hell, happy weekend to everyone. Why discriminate?

Happy Boxing Day!

26 Dec

I have no idea why today is called Boxing Day, but I’m willing to take it as a reason for a day off. Many of you know that, in addition to writing this blog, I write a parenting column for Naperville Patch, an online newspaper that covers my city. Now, the idea of me as a fountain of parenting wisdom is pretty amusing and should be amusing to many who know me. Here, then, is a link to my column for this week: http://naperville.patch.com/articles/hanukkah-rebellion-smells-like-teen-spirit

Enjoy and Happy Seventh Night of Hanukkah.

Janice

Adoption–and Stupidity–are Forever

13 Jun

When my daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher developed a semester-long unit of study on Antarctica. Being the helpful soul that I am, I suggested the class sponsor a penguin. They’re cute, they live in Antarctica and they are endangered. The teacher agreed and the class collected money for the sponsorship. They sent the money off to whichever  “Save Antarctica” organization it was that was collecting children’s pennies for penguins.

Some time later, my daughter asked me, “ Mommy, when will we get the penguin?”

“What penguin,” I asked, having forgotten the penny collection.

“The penguin!” she said, vehemently, apparently believing that additional verbal force might force my brain into remembering.

“I’m sorry, honey,” I said, “I just don’t know what penguin you’re talking about.”

“The one we adopted, Mommy! When do we get to bring him home?”

My daughter wasn’t trying to be cute. The penguin-saving organization called their sponsorship an “Adopt a Penguin” program. In our house, when you adopt something, you take it home and then you care for it and love it forever. My daughter was thinking it was about time we flew down to Antarctica and brought that penguin home, just as we’d flown to China to bring her home. I’m relieved that my daughter’s school didn’t adopt a highway. I don’t think it would fit in our living room.

My daughter has been home for nearly eight years now and one thing I’ve learned in all that time is that people can be pretty darn stupid when it comes to adoption. Actually, people can be pretty darn stupid about a lot of things, but adoption really seems to bring out the insensitive jerk in a whole lot of people.

We may get more than our share of stupid adoption comments because my daughter is Asian; my husband, my son and I aren’t. If you have eyes that work, it’s pretty evident that our daughter was adopted. My son is particularly annoyed by people who, on seeing him with his sister, ask if she was adopted. “No,” he likes to say, “my parents converted to Chinese after I was born.” I will admit, with shame, that I have used a similarly smart-assed response to one too many questions about how I came to be the parent of an Asian girl.

Actually, asking if my daughter is adopted is annoying to me because no one ever asks me if my son is born. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? My son was born, of course, but I’m really glad he isn’t born over and over again. Adoption, however, is something that many apparently believe happens repeatedly, as if my daughter wakes up every morning and we have to become a family all over again. She was adopted. It happened once, just like being born. Let’s move on, people.

I’m pretty sure people who adopted children from the United States that look like their parents don’t get some of the super stupid questions that we who adopted internationally do. I was once asked if we planned on teaching our daughter English. English, for crying out loud! Chinese, I could understand. I don’t speak Chinese. My husband doesn’t speak Chinese. Our son speaks some Chinese, but didn’t then. I wanted to say, “Of course, we’re going to teach her English. Are you going to stop being an idiot?”

When my son was born, a switch in my brain was flipped and I became vigilant about protecting him. With my daughter, the protection factor went into overdrive. Perhaps it’s understandable, given the moronic comments adoptees must endure. Because society forces it on families built through adoption, we see potential adoption-related issues in every situation. Recently, a friend’s daughter confessed that she was very worried about being labeled different at her school. She was in tears over her anxiety. My friend assumed, of course, that her daughter’s adoption was at the root of the problem. Nope. Her daughter didn’t want the other children to know she doesn’t like pie.

The real stupidity about adoption comes out over reality. I like to think of myself as real. I’m pretty honest and down to earth. Plenty of people have complimented me on how real I am. But when it comes to parenting my daughter, I become an imaginary being. Apparently, some people believe my daughter was adopted by fairies because I keep getting asked where her real parents are. Her real parents are right in front of you, Ding Bat, and we’ve got the papers to prove it.

As put out as I get when someone asks the real parents question, it really ticks me off when I note that I am her real mother and I get, “Oh, you know what I mean.” No, I don’t know what you mean. I refuse to know what you mean. Because what you mean feels pretty mean to me. It feels particularly mean to me when it’s said in front of my daughter.

Imagine telling a little girl that her father really wanted a boy. Or walk up to a kid and tell him that his mother wasn’t really sure she wanted to have a baby. Even if you know that little girl’s father really did want a boy and that mother really wasn’t sure she wanted to have a baby. You can’t imagine it, can you? But children who were adopted hear how their real parents didn’t want them all the time. They hear it from adult strangers and strange adults. Those are the easiest comments to deal with because I’m usually there when it happens. School, however, is another story. So I’ve given my daughter words to use in response. She lives with her real parents; her birthparents couldn’t take care of any baby so they made a plan for her to be adopted.

I feel pretty good about my daughter’s attitude toward her adoption. On a routine car pool trip recently my daughter had this conversation with her best friend:

“What would you say if someone asked you who your real parents are,” she asked Best Friend. (I swear I did not prompt this discussion.)

“What?” her friend asked. “That’s really weird.”

“Yeah,” my daughter said. “My real parents are my parents.”

We’ll continue to get stupid comments about adoption. We’ve heard them all from “Didn’t you want your own children?” to “How much did she cost?” Usually, I ask why someone wants to know because there are lots of people who are considering building their own families through adoption. But, every now and then, I have to let loose with a snide reply, something along the lines of “She cost too much? Well, how much did your car cost?”

I hope you’ll excuse me now. I have to go feed the penguin.

© Copyright 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

Take that, Tull!

17 Jan

Probably fifty percent of my driving time is spent shuttling my children to where ever it is they need to be shuttled. Some would say I’m fortunate that I have only two children to shuttle and that they have relatively few activities to which they need shuttling. It’s not luck. We’re too broke for them to do more than one activity each. I’ve also carefully chosen their activities. I never encouraged soccer or swim team, both of which require parental shuttling to exotic locales, like Schaumburg, at ungodly hours of the day.

Still, it isn’t surprising to find me in the car with my son, taking him somewhere. Frequently, I will sing along with whatever is playing on the radio. This shouldn’t be a hardship. People have paid money to hear me sing, and yet, my son repeatedly tells me to stop, saying he wants to hear the original performance. I understand this and so I stop. Recently, the reason he shut me down cut a little too close to the bone.

I was singing along, with gusto and abandon, to a David Bowie song I love. I was into it. My son wasn’t “shushing” me. Life was good. When David and I came to the chorus, however, my son exclaimed, “Ewwwww, Mom!”

“What?!,” I said, looking in the rearview mirror for the squirrel I must have run over.

“God, Mom! You are too old to sing ‘Hot tramp, I love you so’!”

“Too old? Too old for Bowie?,” I thought? Mick Jagger is prancing his wrinkly old ass all over stages everywhere and I can’t sing David Bowie? What am I going to do in the nursing home, sing along with Perry Como? When I’d calmed down a tad, I realized my son might be on to something. Mick Jagger looks really bad prancing his wrinkly old ass these days.

It’s probably fitting that my son should be the one to point out the age-appropriateness of certain activities. When I married, people had long since given up the ever annoying “When will we see you walk down the aisle?” Soon after marrying, my husband and I began baby making. This went less smoothly than anticipated but more so than many people I’ve known.

At one of my monthly doctor visits, I looked over my records while I waited for the doctor. The file folder they were in was stamped “AMA.” Each individual page had “AMA” stamped at the top. Several little pieces of paper were stapled to the folder. Each of them was stamped “AMA.” I spent the time waiting for the doctor trying to figure out what “AMA” might mean. “American Medical Association” came to mind, but why would the AMA care about my little pregnancy? Then “Against Medical Advice” popped into my head, but I would have remembered being told not to get pregnant. So, I asked the doctor what AMA meant. “Oh, ‘advanced maternal age’,” she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

My AMA, and my husband’s APA, weren’t so obvious when we lived in Oak Park. Lots and lots of families in Oak Park were built through adoption, which tends to be a choice made by older parents. My son’s best friend in Oak Park was adopted. My daughter attended a daycare that was run by a woman who had adopted from China. Most of her little charges, like my daughter, were also adopted from China.

My best friend, who I met in church in Oak Park, has two daughters from China. One of them is my god-daughter. We’ll call her “Gracie.” One day, my friend was in her yard raking leaves. A boy rode his bike past the house once or twice, eyeing my friend suspiciously. Eventually, he stopped and said to her, “Does Gracie live here?” “Yes, she does,” said my friend, “I’m her mother.” “You can’t be her mother,” the boy said. “Why?” my friend asked, “because I’m white?” “No,” the boy said, “because you’re old.”

My son thinks I’m too old to call the woman in that story my best friend. “You’ve outgrown having a best friend, Mom.” I asked him what it was I was supposed to call my best friend, her being my best friend and all.

“You can call her your close friend. After you reach thirty-five, you shouldn’t use ‘best friend’.”

“What’s wrong with calling her my best friend?” I insisted. “She’s my closest friend. She makes me laugh. I make her laugh. She’s going to help me hide your dead body!”

She may help me hide my husband’s dead body, too. He thinks I’m too old for glitter nail polish. My niece, who owns the glitter nail polish and is twenty-two years old, does not believe I am too old for it. The night I put it on because it just happened to be there, I also just happened to be drinking champagne. It looked great! The next day, while I was drinking my morning tea, I decided my husband was probably right. But, I reserve the right to dig into my daughter’s polish supply on New Year’s Eve.

I know I’m too old for mini-skirts and leather pants. Never really wanted leather pants, but I wore my share of mini-skirts. I’ve watched enough episodes of “What Not To Wear” to know that I should not dress like my daughter, so the mini-skirts went to the Goodwill some time ago. I’m also aware that bikinis are out of reach for me. I never wore them when I was younger, believing the maillot to be much more chic. I’m still convinced a one-piece is the fashionable woman’s choice and I am nothing if not fashionable. Ok, I’m not so fashionable most of the time, but I’m rockin’ the one-piece at the Naperville beach!

My daughter pointed out that there are things that I am too young for, like a wheel chair. I’m also too young for gray hair. Fortunately, during this phase of monetary deprivation, my hair has been tremendously cooperative. Should too many grays begin to surface, though, we’ll be giving up meat to pay for my hair coloring. I’m too young for those AARP solicitations I keep getting, too. I’m glad that my husband isn’t, though. We could really use the discounts.

I am also, most definitely, too young to die and I’ll be damned if I’m too old to rock and roll. When you come to the nursing home to visit in 30 years, it’ll be easy to find me. Just look for the little old lady singing, “Hot tramp! I love you so.”

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