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Ladybug among bees

I’m impressed by my 8 year old. She has a different take on other people and fitting in which is years ahead of where I was at twice her age. I’ve written about girl dynamics before (Girl drama); my daughter has learned to handle these situations.

M has been at her school for 5 years, since Pre-K.  She has been with the same group of children for that time with a few moves or transfers. M is her own person. Her dad and I appreciate that. and we also know it’s who we have shaped her to be. We are a non-traditional family so we have a non-traditional daughter. While she is experiencing anxiety and insecurity, M is independent. She is clear about how she likes to spend her time and what she likes to play or discuss. Things that would have hurt her feelings in the past don’t affect her in the same way.

She was recently part of a clique. I had trepidation because cliques have a tendency to exclude and/or break apart; these situations tend to get worse over time. Every day, we talk about who she sits with during snack and lunch and who she plays with during morning and lunch recess. I’m less interested in weekend events like sleepovers; I’ve outgrown my concern about that. In the past, I would feel heartbroken if she wasn’t invited to a birthday party or a sleepover. In part, that’s on us. We have a busy schedule. That hasn’t changed and won’t be changing any time soon. If she doesn’t get invited, I don’t dwell on it.  M is aware and honest about the social configurations. I directly asked her how she feels about the clique’s breakup. She was hurt when it first happened. She has noticed that part of the original group is hanging out with former rivals but that’s so typical of girl dynamics. First of all, those grudges aren’t as deep as we make them out to be. Secondly, we want so much to belong so we compromise. She’s gossipy or rude but she’s fun or she takes risks. We weigh the pros and cons of each person.

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M is definitely more like K.C.(as portrayed by her idol Zendaya on the left)

My daughter is a cheerleader but she’s never been part of the A group. That may seem strange to admit as a parent but I’m comfortable with that fact. She has always been part of another group. Now that group has broken apart, she is hanging out with her best friend. M says it bothers her to see her other friends hanging out with different girls but she accepts that they are doing what they want. She shared with me what she has in common with her best friend and the ways in which they differ. Her explanation was mature and wise beyond her age. I reassured her that popularity is not everything. I told her I want her to be true to herself. I did tell her popularity is a reality that she will dealing with for at least 10 more years. I explained that it loses its importance in college for most. M asked if adults care about popularity. I wanted to laugh because those issues certainly come up in work or in social circles, even in my beloved dance communities. I said, “Unless you’re on a stage singing “Candy Girl”, popularity is not that important.” (Yes, I’m still talking about New Edition non-stop.)

I also shared that I found being unpopular a blessing. It hurt in the moment but it gave me appreciation for myself, for my true friends, and it kept me from engaging in unsafe behaviors. M and I have open, though age-appropriate,  conversations about my concerns.

M went to school in a great mood. It’s important to tell her it’s ok to be different. I told her I was a weirdo and proud of it. I’m grateful for the sense I developed of myself as an artist and a person. It hurt at times.  The queen bee is always going to look at you funny because you’re a yellow jacket or a mayfly or a ladybug. You ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing but you have to be true to yourself. M gets it.  You got this, mija.

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Like mother, like daughter: say it with your tee

 

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Our child, her father’s daughter

4a79ea48c20f9d5210e1cb5225b451ddAs usual, Rambo and I are five to ten years behind the cultural zeitgeist so we are halfway through Season 2 of Game of Thrones.  We are both impressed with Arya Stark because she reminds us of M.  We would never allow M to watch the show with us. But I definitely see the similarities between the two girls.

Arya is strong-willed, physically strong, and fearless. Her older sister is the traditional “princess,” wrapped up in beauty, popularity, and romance. Arya is not interested in typical activities nor do her parents restrict her to these goals.  In Season 1, Arya aspires to wield a sword. As we watched an episode, Rambo said, “That is our child. She is our child.”

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M is a strong girl and has been from the get-go. When I was pregnant and before I knew my child’s gender, I was convinced she was a boy. She was active. Though I identify as a feminist, I had accepted the notion that activity, motion, and physical strength must mean a child is a boy. When I had my ultrasound, we could not see her gender. We could see the child kicking and punching. I was amused. (At that time, fitness and strength weren’t priorities: I was more focused on being mentally and emotionally strong to parent.  The commitment to physical fitness came much later. ) I immediately decided I was expecting a son. Via blood test results, I found out she was a girl. It was a thrilling moment because I had a sense she would be the kind of woman I like.

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As a woman, I understand we have interesting dynamics. I find strong women inspirational. I am uncomfortable around more traditional stereotypes of women. I had an opportunity to raise a girl in a different way than I was raised. My mother wasn’t huge on making me a girly girl (thank goodness.) If anything, my mom was the “bad cop” disciplinarian. She was my role model of a strong woman.

My daughter has always been physically active, physically strong, and fearless. As she gets older, she exhibits some anxiety but a lot of that is social or emotional. She is not afraid to fight and is intrigued by martial arts. She’s physically unafraid. She’s not intimidated by boys. She is comfortable in the company of all kinds of people of different ages, ethnicities, and genders.

Rambo and I often play fight about whose child M is. I argue that she’s more like me; she is attracted to the arts. She loves dance, music, reading, and art museums. She admires photographers and painters. Rambo believes she is more his child because she is strong, fast, and good at math. We go back and forth on who M resembles more. She is the wonderful amalgamation of her two parents. She is the daughter of a writer and a soldier, a peacemaker and a professional warrior.  Basically she is Wonder Woman. Rambo says, “She is all mine.” I reply, “Did she spring from your head like Athena from Zeus?”  Rambo likes that image since Athena is both intellect and war.

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Zeus “birthing” Athena

To further strengthen their bond, my family attended their first father-daughter dance. It took some doing. When it was initially brought up, we were declined. I told M to accept her father’s decision. We were both so excited when he became open to the idea. I was told they would not dance but was pleasantly surprised to hear they did grace the dance floor. They bond over building projects, technology and math. Now they have made a new memory together.

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My family

 

Failing into first place

Yesterday I went to a dance competition with M. We were up at 5am. We struggled as usual to get her thick beautiful hair up into a bun. She had four dances (tap, hip hop, and jazz) and four costume changes. I could tell she was stressed because it would be the first time competing with her hip hop team. She’s been with her competitive team for three years so she’s much more confident about those routines and that group. Because of the competition schedule, there wasn’t any time for her to be backstage with her hip hop team doing run-throughs. She took to the stage for a tap number that had previously won a platinum award.

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Before 

As I watched her tap number, I thought she looked distracted.  She wasn’t focused or smiling.  I was disappointed because she usually has great stage presence and confidence. I was irritated because I felt I had allowed her to take on too much and now she was overwhelmed. “Her head is not in the game” I told a fellow dance mom. I sounded like a crazy dance mom which I’m not. When M came off the stage, I could see the tears in her eyes. I immediately became worried. Maybe her teacher had seen something go awry and had admonished her. It’s unlike her teacher to do so; however my daughter is getting older so expectations could and should be higher. M told me she had made a mistake and she had cost her team “tons of points.” As I have previously mentioned, M has started to exhibit symptoms of anxiety. I knew in that moment she needed to breathe. I held her hands and looked into her eyes. We breathed in through our noses and out through our mouths several times so she could calm down. I reassured her she looked great on stage. She said she had forgotten some of the choreography. I told I hadn’t noticed her footwork. The teacher came over and said she had seen the mistake and that my daughter had looked over at her in panic. The teacher had nodded at her. My daughter quickly got back in formation and carried on. We headed backstage to get into her hip hop costume with minutes to spare before performance. Competition went on. She recovered her composure and performed with yet one other team.

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Keep smiling 

Then it was time for awards. I was pleased when they received a platinum award for tap. I knew she had done well. After giving each routine an individual score, the competition handed out trophies for the best performances.  When “American Beauties”, their tap number, was announced as the first place overall for their age group, I literally screamed.  It was like I was watching New Edition or New Kids on the Block because I sounded like a hysterical fanatic. I was thrilled.

 

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M is 2nd from left. Photo by A. Castillon. 

Seeing M and her dance sisters receive that trophy was a wonderful moment. Though she underestimated herself, I’m grateful she received the reassurance of her talent and recognition for their hard work.  I’m especially proud of the fact that she strives for excellence.  She sets high standards for herself and that reaps rewards.

Mothering a warrior

“…But in this country

there is war.”  Lorna Dee Cervantes, from Poem For The Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, An Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe In The War Between The Races 

Within the hour, I will have to wake her.  Last night, her closing prayers were “Bless this mess. Fix it Jesus. Amen.”  My daughter asked, “Who won?” at 1 in the morning, and promptly rolled to her other side so that I could not answer her. Today, like so many other madres, I will have to answer to her and for her.

Mija, like so many little girls in this generation and those that came before her, her own mom included, idolizes Wonder Woman.  We are excited for the movie which premieres in June 2017.ew-ww-39

My daughter has Wonder Woman t-shirts, hats, headband, dolls, and books.  She identifies closely with this character, a woman who is brave, independent, and strong.

I am drawn to the character of Queen Hippolyta, Wonder Woman’s mother, and an amazing woman in her own right.

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In the first movie trailer which debuted this past summer, Hippolyta tells Diana, aka Wonder Woman, “You have been my greatest love.”  In the most recent trailer which debuted last week, Hippolyta calls out “Be careful, Diana” as her daughter embarks on a mission to go to war. Those two soundbites speak to what I’m feeling.  How will I keep the person I love most safe in this world?  How will I protect her?  How will I prepare her to do battle?

The events surrounding the election are no surprise to me.  I have seen the old ways of thinking and hating fester and spread; they never stop doing so.

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While I grieve the harsh truths the election reveals about many people in our nation, I accept reality.  One of the things I told my daughter last night was that now would be our time to fight for what is right. 14938157_1366372526736820_5038582823904846037_n

So our mission begins.

The battle against girl drama

Hurt that’s not supposed to show
And tears that fall when no one knows
When you’re trying hard to be your best
Could you be a little less

Do you know what it feels like for a girl
Do you know what it feels like in this world
What it feels like for a girl

Strong inside but you don’t know it
Good little girls they never show it
When you open up your mouth to speak
Could you be a little weak …”What it feels like for a girl,” Madonna


During the early weeks of my pregnancy, I was convinced my baby was a boy. I immediately began referring to “him.” When I went for my ultrasound, I saw my baby’s face but not gender. My baby kicked and rolled quite actively.  While at work a few weeks later, I received the phone call revealing my child’s gender. She was a girl. I sat at on my desk and wept for several minutes. I wept with joy, fear, and sadness.  I would be parenting a girl.

I call them girl mommy woes. I know parenting is tough work and can sometimes be emotionally exhausting, whether you’re a mother or father, whether you’re raising daughters or sons. As a woman, I struggle with raising my daughter to face the challenges in dealing with other girls.

The infamous holiday talent show from _Mean Girls_ 
“Girl drama” is a problematic term for me. I know it’s real and yet I wish it wasn’t. Those struggles hurt M and they hurt me.  I find myself talking about other girls and women with vicious judgment and even rage. Rambo helps to balance out those moments. Though he is quick to communicate with teachers if he senses any pattern of bullying against M or other girls in her class, he also reminds me that M has the power to respond(or not) to these situations.  Me ha costado mucho trabajo, I have worked my tail off to calm down, breathe, and not let M see how angry these situations make me.

What my daughter is experiencing isn’t anything unique.  Almost all women have faced and continue to face gossip, exclusion, and verbal harassment. It’s especially difficult when your closest friends are involved. That’s what hurts M the most, when her “besties” opt to leave her out of activities or make mean comments to her. Like many women have and do, M has to contend with the mean girls. Earlier this week, M wore a pair of sky blue short shorts to practice. I had initially purchased them for her use at dance, specifically for the dance convention workshops she will soon attend. Rambo and I have complained about the hemline time and time again pero mija es muy hardheaded (wonder where she gets that?).  She has worn these shorts to practice at least three times with no negative feedback from either coach.  One of her friends proceeded to tell her in a rude voice, “You shouldn’t be wearing those because you’re going to get kidnapped.” The girl then added, “Everyone can see your butt.” Two other friends, including one of M’s closer friends, chimed in with “you look naked. You’re naked.”  M chose to move elsewhere in the practice formation and near three friends who seldom or never get involved in altercations.  M didn’t cry until she was safely in my car on the way to dance class. I reassured her that she had done the right thing and I offered other options such as informing the coach and letting the girls know she did not like their comments.  By the next day, those same girls were being nice and sought out M during meals and recess.  M shrugged it off by observing “they are not my bffs” and that “they need to stay in their lane.” She also pointed out that she knows which friends are truly best for her.  
Mean Girls antidote: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 

M is 7.  What will be like when she is 11? 13? 16? I admire M’s strength, her confidence, even that hard-headedness that frustrates me at times.  I’m no longer in control of the people spends her time with and definitely not in control how she interacts with them. I know these issues will continue over the years; shoot, I still deal with this kind of nonsense at work (grown women upset over Halloween costumes!) 

50s gals; apparently this group costume theme caused a negative reaction

I will continue to provide M with opportunities to be part of positive communities such as her dance studio, with SambaFunk, and with our extended family of lifelong friends.  

Dance sister silliness 

Rambo and I will offer advice on how to be proactive when dealing with interpersonal challenges. I will continue to check myself, to not let my anger and resentment over my own girl drama scars hurt my daughter unnecessarily

"The more things change…"

“Sal de mi camino..make way for the funky bilingual…” Latin Lingo, Cypress Hill

Over a decade ago, I had the power of women(or lack thereof) at my mental forefront. A self-proclaimed gritona, I took it as my personal responsibility to be a mouse that roared, to speak for all the women I knew and didn’t know about whatever issue I felt needed some thought. It was a role I embraced proudly and I weathered every criticism and controversy I sparked.

These days, I lead a quiet insurrection, much more personal in some ways, maybe a little more private than my days as a college journalist. My insurrection is still about a woman’s power but my role is now one of the greatest personal duty most humans can have, that of parent. As I make choices about my daughter’s future, I know I will be her guide in how to be a woman and a powerful one at that.

Already I can tell a lot about her personality. She is willful, assertive, energetic, responsive, aware. Whether she’s kicking and punching up a storm on ultrasound or samba dancing across my body, my little girl is her own person. Still she is protected from the world at large, both by my body and by her innocence. I’ll fight this first fight for her.

There are a few people who have cut off all contact with me. Sadly, they are associates I have met through my work in Catholic ministry. Most church friends have been compassionate and understanding. They realize that, dogma aside, I am a mature adult, completely capable of raising a moral child as a single mother. But I am ironically saddened to have been cast aside without so much as a well-intentioned lecture of cliches and warnings. I tend to be very aware of society’s shortcomings and parameters but I thought my friends might be above judging me. Most were. Some are not.

If I were a man, would it be different? Then I’d have the luxury of not telling anyone about this child’s imminent birth. Men don’t get pregnant out of wedlock. But given the choice between a shotgun wedding to save face and my current life, I’d choose my life as it is today. I am happily pregnant, happily looking forward to motherhood, ready to face the challenges of being unmarried and Catholic. No se como ser otra.