girls talk

there are some things you can’t cover up with lipstick and powder. – elvis costello

the shoe has officially dropped. ladies and gentlemen, welcome to puberty.

tonight, i am dealing with a teary, dreary young lady. she has been enduring cheerleading camp for nearly two weeks, and while at first it looked promising, i think it will knock any remaining desire to be a cheerleader out of her. not only do they make you do all sorts of exercises, but the young teen counselors have actually been rewarding girls who win different training competitions. rewarding them with pop rocks and other assorted candies, apparently.

BC has not won once.

all those years of experiences where everyone gets rewarded just for trying crashes down on your head at this age. i always wondered when that would happen, and here we are, odd girl out. its difficult to watch — girlfriend is just not terribly competitive – she really just wants to have fun. and the counselors are pitting the girls against each other.

sometimes, with disastrous results.

remember earlier in the week when BC said that one girl couldn’t be a flyer? well, BC is pretty much out of the flyer running, too. the girls can’t lift her now. one girl dropped the bomb to end all bombs: you’re really heavy, she proclaimed to my girl. you’re really heavy.

i could go fucking postal.

while i would never condone any sort of idiotic and lethal interactions, i can almost put myself into the shoes of that murderous TX cheerleader mother and see the sort of anger that could build up over time. no, i don’t give a shit whether my kid is EVER a cheerleader (i’m not a cheerleading fan, remember?) but hell yeah, i care whether my daughter starts to develop an obscenely-skewed view of herself because of what some pipsqueak twat said to her.

i know. it happened to me. not in cheerleading, but in gym class. i, too, had a curvy figure at a youngish age. most of the girls were blonde twigs with nearly non-existent boobage. if a stiff wind had blown, they would all have required nose jobs from the impact their faces would have made with the gym floor. somehow, the future stepford wives of america were accepted as the norm, and athletic, muscular me, was regarded as some sort of freak.

now, i look at pictures of myself from back then and think what the hell was this poor girl thinking? she’s gorgeous. sure, she’s not a twig. but she’s just right for who she is. she’s smart. she’s kind. she’s got a good heart. she’s even kinda cute. why did she try weight watchers when she was 9? why is she spending some days eating just fruit? why is she spending some days simply drinking water and nothing else? why is she running around the block all the time?

i spent time in college with someone very close to me who was bulimic. i wanted so very much to tell her parents, but i swore i wouldn’t. i did the very best i could at age 21: i took her to a weight management class that my college offered and tried to be her buddy, her support, her one-person builder-upper. i don’t know whether it helped her much, but eventually, it spurred her on to get professional help. (i’m glad to say that many years later, she is healthy and has conquered those devils.)

but i see the future. and that’s EXACTLY what’s afoot in this here household. mama, i’m FAT! she announced. the girls can’t lift me.

i said it before, and i’ll say it again: those girls need to get out, lift weights, and start doing something more athletic than twisting ribbons for their hair.

when i had a little girl, i vowed i would raise her without exposing her to my weight issues. in this house, i talk about exercise and eating right and striving to be healthy. not nicole richie-thin. not barbie-perfect. just be the best you and the best me that we can be, inside and out. it has been hard work, and i’m sure there are times i have not been perfect about it. but i must say that this has always been one of my parental lines in the sand: i disciplined my mouth and my behavior so as to not utter those immortal words in front of my child: do these jeans make my butt look big?

and all that hard work, all that painstaking process, is being undone by one snot-nosed little girl, a girl who has probably also gotten some weird message about herself and about bodies. where does it all end?

i was in tears, which is admittedly not a great place to be when you’re a mom and you’re trying to comfort your child as she hits a hard, brick wall of reality. honey, i pleaded, you ARE beautiful. you’re also kind, intelligent, and incredibly emotionally astute. you have no earthly idea how wonderful, how special you are. every parent i have ever encountered can’t say enough wonderful things about what a great kid you are. your brother worships you. and your father and i love you and are so very proud of the person you are.

please, please tell me you know how special you are!

blink, blink. a pause.

mommy, all those girls in high school with glasses, who are smart, they end up as dorks.

whoa, girlfriend. you’re getting personal now.

deep breath. sometimes as a parent, you have to pull strength from sources that come from seemingly out of nowhere. i called upon two: my oldest brother the doctor (BTD) and eleanor roosevelt.

honey, i said, when i went to camp, all the boys liked my friend. they didn’t like me like that; they thought i was too smart for them. it made me cry. that summer, uncle BTD had shingles, and he had to stay in bed most of the summer. i would come home from camp, and i would sit and talk with him. BTD, i cried one day after camp, i think i need to start acting dumb. none of the boys like me like they like [name deleted] because i’m too smart. they want dumb girls.

my brother, demonstrating amazing grace under probably annoying sibling pressure, looked my way. don’t you EVER start acting dumb to get liked. there will be boys one day who will appreciate you just as you are.

BC, i continued, you know i hate to admit it when either of your uncles is right, but in this case, i have to tell you: uncle BTD was right. what he said was that you shouldn’t change yourself to make someone like you, advice which has stood me in good stead even to this day. who wants to be liked by someone who doesn’t like the special things you have to offer?

she looked at me. and just cos i was smart doesn’t make me a dork, sister. she smiled, i think.

i continued, on my own personal mission. the quote i like to live by was said by eleanor roosevelt — you know, that lady who was married to a president we talked about that time? eleanor said something so wise, it still is something i think about as a grownup. her words:

no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

do you know what that means, BC?

she piped up: that no one can make you feel bad?

i augmented her thought: yes, that no one can make you feel bad about yourself unless you let them. don’t you let them, my girl. she calmed down enough to sleep.

i wonder what the morning will bring. eleanor, don’t fail me now.

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28 Responses to “girls talk”

  1. Oh, this sounds so hard. I worry about what the future holds for my daughter sometimes. Children can be so cruel.

    But I am heartened by the words of wisdom that you offered your daughter. I hope that she was, too.

  2. I must say that I am almost in tears reading this posting. I know that as a man I cannot relate in the same way, but I was always the outsider, misfit in school. I was the last chosen for teams in gym and had very few friends in school. Thank God for USY which taught me how to be me, but even so, I was still the loner in school.

    Now that I have children the one thing I want more than anything is for them to not be like I was. I plan on keeping this post and the Roosevelt quote in particular for the future when I need it.

    Thanks wreke!

  3. Oh, Wreke, I hear echoes of my own words in your post. DD had a similar conversation with me when her “friend,” the gymnast, made a snarky comment about DD’s shape. This gymnast weighs about 12 pounds soaking wet, and, at the tender age of 9, already looks like she needs a sandwich or ten. DS, who really DOES need to lose weight, does not seem to notice any issues. *sigh*

  4. Oh…I am so glad I’m not in Jr. High or High School anymore. Girls can be such B!TCHES!!!

    Hey… I don’t know if you are familiar with this site: http://www.respectrx.com/. But suggest you take a look, and maybe share it with your daughter.

    It can be helpful I think. This woman is pretty amazing and it’s all for teenage girls. 🙂

  5. thank you all so much. i am still so upset about this. having gone through it, i see the future, and i want to change the future before it happens. (yes, i feel like jacob marley’s ghost.)

  6. awesome post wreke! and well handled with BC! I can definitely wait for the day i have to deal with this kind of stuff.

  7. One of the most comforting things my mother ever said to me (because these are conversations mothers and daughters have had since the beginning of time, eh?) was that those girls who are concerned primarily with hair ribbons and cheerleading will go on to lead very, very dull lives, and probably never leave the hometowns that have been so comfortable to them. They will do all their dating in high school with boring high school boys and probably be married shortly after graduating. The smart ones, the outsiders, the dorks (and you know I’m talking about myself here — TOTAL dork) will travel and write and create and form friendships and experience love and a life that is richly varied and beautiful.

    Totally sappy, but on the whole totally true.

  8. so beautifully put. i have to add that to my repertoire for sure. it reminds me of a song by morrissey called “the ordinary boys” which buoyed me for awhile in my life:

    and you know i’m a dork, too 🙂 that’s why we get along so beautifully 🙂

  9. If only they would stay little, when a Dora the Explorer band-aid cured every boo-boo. If only we could shelter them forever from heartaches. Life lessons can be so hard.

    I would add to your wonderful guidence, that perhaps she learned a little something about what kind of child NOT to be – that some children will say mean or at least thoughtless things to classmates, and she will remember to choose her words and actions carefully. Having been on the recieving end of thoughtless comments, she knows now not to be on the “sending” side. Surely she wants to be thought of as a kind, friendly, smart and strong girl, not a “meanie” by her companions.

  10. excellent, excellent point, jen jen 🙂

    i’m sure i’ve said some dumb things to you over the past, er, 40 years (i know i was a smart alec as a kid.) so let me formally and publicly apologize now: you are a brilliant goddess 🙂

  11. it helps to remind yourself and your daughter that kids who say bitchy things to other kids have very little self esteem and make themselves feel better by telling others untruths. It is a sad commentary on life that good kids have to learn how to deal with this kind of thing.

  12. jillbraunstein Says:

    It’s painful for me to even read this post. Why, oh why does it have to be so hard and complicated for girls (or anyone for that matter)?! I truly believe however, that since she has YOU — that will make a difference. Your example, your words, your love *will* make a difference. I remember struggling with similar experiences, but didn’t dare talk about or share my feelings. She’s already a few steps ahead of the game.

  13. Yeah…this brings back memories. “The Daughter” wanted so bad to be a cheerleader too, but she just didn’t fit in personality wise. I watched her all the time with her weight because she would keep telling me she was “fat”. She’s a twig!

    She is nearly 21 and I still worry about it.

    Hang in there Mom – just keep at it. Just keep at it.

  14. […] wrekehavoc.com deus ex mama « girls talk […]

  15. These are the times that try moms’ souls, and you handled it so beautifully.

  16. thank you so very much for the support 🙂

  17. I was reading along and (I so admire you!) trying to figure out what I was going to comment to tell you that you write terrific and I heart you for your courage and wisdom in this situation, etc…. and then I read

    “whoa, girlfriend. you’re getting personal now.” and started laughing pretty hard!

    I think you must be the very best mom.

  18. i think i must have a lot of people in my corner, which keeps me going on days like that. thank you all so VERY much for the support, advice, and general good humor. you will all never know how much you have helped me.

    and i fly by the seat of my pants most days. sometimes, i imagine what my mom would have done (as i think she is the VERY best mom ever :-); sometimes, i just put myself in my kids’ shoes and imagine what i would really NEED to hear (need to hear and want to hear are two different things, of course. for example, they would WANT to hear that we can have ice cream every meal. they NEED to hear that ice cream is a great treat, and to really appreciate a treat, you need to have it only sometimes. not every day. not every meal.)

    xoxo to you all.

  19. I’m a former cheerleader and cheering coach of many years. And also a cum laude college graduate, master’s degree holder, and teacher. So I know whereof I speak.

    First of all, the automatic association of cheerleader=bitchy is not fair. Cheerleaders can be shallow, snarky, and backstabby, but so can the field hockey team. I’ve been around kids enough to see that cheerleaders are, in a strange way, almost encouraged to live up to that stereotype instead of being seen as performers and athletes. I found that the girls I coached were fairly “girly girl” but included a lot of girls who didn’t wear makeup, fuss with their hair, or act like the TV movie conception of what a cheerleader is.

    Also, being “heavy” as a flyer is not equal to being “fat”. A flyer has to be able to carry her body in a way that makes it easy for the bases to lift her. When a girl tells your daughter she’s heavy, it means that she feels hard to lift. I’ve had the teeniest, tiniest little girl you could imagine (a gymnast) go up heavy – she felt like a ton of bricks to her bases. It’s hard not to equate the two, but they’re NOT the same. I’ve had great flyers who were bigger than their bases, and weak flyers who were no bigger than a pencil – it’s not all about size. I’ve also had horrible flyers who worked and observed until they “got it” and were GREAT.

    As a coach of seven years, I can tell you this – the most important member of a stunt group is actually the back – she’s the one who controls the whole stunt. If your daughter likes cheering at all, tell her to train as a back. If she’s good, she’ll be the most indispensable member of the team!!

    If your daughter is demoralized by not being rewarded, encourage her to approach a counselor who seems nice and helpful and ask for some advice on *anything* – jumps, cheers, tumbles, whatever. That will get her noticed in a positive way as wanting to do well and improve, which is what makes camp bearable for the counselors. Remember, these girls are just young themselves. They aren’t there because they’re child development specialists, they’re there to teach cheering. They are totally out of their league when it comes to the group dynamics, and that’s not really their role.

    It’s too bad your daughter’s at a camp where she doesn’t know many girls. I always found the best camp experiences were ones we attended as a team – it’s hard to fit into a group as a random outsider. I hope she doesn’t give up on cheering because of this camp. If she likes dance, tumbling, performance, etc., this could be a great venue for her to be active in her school.

  20. Glad you sent me the link to this story. I’m so sorry BC had to deal with those crap girls. I was right there in her shoes. I was a cheerleader for many years, but always to heavy to be a “flyer”. But then I realized, those are the girls who end up with broken legs, and later down the road- they peak early, end up with no-name joe-bob from the gas station, and have no desire for life or self-esteem.

    Sure, guys are total dunces anytime before 20 (in my opinion) but there are a few gems out there. Heck, I got sick of waiting and asked the guys I wanted to to the school dances and proms. Darn it all.

    Walk proudly BC. You’re going to be SO thankful for those curves in a few years. 🙂 (And psst… the guys really don’t like those walkin-twigs anyhow!).

    Hugs to you,
    Jami

  21. I taught high school for awhile and saw a lot of girls unhappy with their bodies (and was friends with some in those shoes too) — and i agree, it’s something I really try to focus on as a mother and woman, what I am modeling for my child with regard to body image. You rock. Good luck with what is sure to be an ongoing conversation….

  22. Chasinash Says:

    Thank you for sharing this. My daughter is only 2, but I feel ill-equipped to deal with these issues when she hits puberty. Reading how other people are dealing with it gives me hope. Maybe I won’t be a bumbling idiot when the time comes…

  23. Wow, Caroline, that was an interesting peek into a world (competitive cheerleading) that I know nothing about. I’m glad you gave Wreke and BC some pointers on how to develop BC’s strengths.

    Wreke, you did an amazing job supporting your girl. Uncle BTD deserves kudos for being such a stand-up bro from way back when. And yeah, Eleanor Roosevelt just plain kicks ass.

    I read posts like this, I think about my own tween and teen days (*still* gives me the shivers) in the at times shark-infested waters of other girls, I see the “in-group/out-group” interactions among the 5-year old girls in the Unreliable Narrator’s class, and I want to give moms of girls today a medal. Because it is *way* harder to be a healthy girl and a neurosis-free woman than a man in our culture.

    Are you familiar with the book _Queen Bees and Wannabes_, by Rosalind Wiseman? I like how she breaks down “relational violence”–the way aggression and power among women/girls is played out using intimacy and emotional connection as weapons.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Bees_and_Wannabes

    Cuz i think the feminist “sisterhood is global” thing is a nice ideal, but we’re so clearly not there yet globally or locally.

    PS Wreke, so right that not only a 12 year old pipsqueak could TRY to make your daughter feel bad, but she pushed your buttons too. NO WAY 12-YEAR OLD GIRL, THAT IS TOO MUCH POWER FOR YOU. Not giving it away today, not nohow.

  24. Featured on Good Mom/Bad Mom on the Houston Chronicle:
    http://tinyurl.com/5ovhgd

  25. Wow.

    That was simply amazing. Now I must bookmark this for when similar things happen to my 7 year old.

    We’ve been having a similar conversation for the last year or so: don’t change who you are to be liked. You’ve absolutely nailed you.

    You and Eleanor Roosevelt.

  26. hey, I was a cheerleader and unlike alot of them I was smart but ended up dumbing myself down in high school. Thankfully I kept my morals and made it through those dreadful years. High School is a time when everyone wants to be Barbie, and if you don’t fit the criteria then you aim your distaste with yourself towards others. I’m not saying I’m not glad I cheered but it did sometimes injure my self esteem. But, also I have an ex-cheerleader for a mother who has always cared to much about what others tthink and has actually told me “I look like I have a 50 yr old body, and I don’t want to be the mother of the fat cheerleader…even though this was when I was a 5’6 muscular cheerleader that weighed 135. So honestly I think you did an amazing job, and just tell your daughter to stay true to herself and I’m praying for her…b/c mb if she can keep her self esteem there might be hope for the rest of us

  27. […] our magical day on wednesday, i granted BC a day off from cheerleading camp for good behavior. we ran errands, we chatted, we […]

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