Tuesday, March 06, 2007

An Angry Girl

The Princess fell apart today. It wasn't the first time, of course, but it hit me particularly hard. I think it began with cleaning her room which is no easy task. The child is a pack rat (not unlike others in the family) and simply can't manage all the stuff that she feels is important, to the point that her room is often so cluttered with "treasures" that it's nearly useless as a play space.

She has a friend coming to play in a couple of days but I simply couldn't face the cleanup this time so I talked her brothers into doing it in exchange for a great deal of unrestricted computer time. They didn't do a bad job at all, but they had quite a different idea about what was important than she did. It wasn't long before she was in tears, worried that they'd "throw everything away". I called for a time out to examine the pile of , well, junk, that had been swept up and even I failed to see what the problem was in tossing it away. She wasn't able to find what was important or articulate what she needed at all. She just lost it and was in various stages of breakdown for quite some time.

Just about anything would set her off, including a comment about Barbie and how no one ever lets her have what she wants. I tried, helplessly, to explain why I didn't want Barbies in the house. Her brothers even attempted fairly coherent feminist argument with her but she was having none of it. At one point she turned to me with her face all flushed and teary and said, in a shaky voice "Can't you see, Mom, Barbie's just a toy, and toys aren't even important!". Except, obviously, they are and to both of us.

I've lowered my once-high parenting standards more times than I care to admit over the years. It turns out that my boys regularly watch terrible movies, read comic books instead of literature, and play computer games, really lame ones with no educational value whatsoever. I feel like there's this .... something....that boys need that I, as a mother, can't possibly understand but if they have to have their battles then who am I to stand in their way?

So why can't I let my daughter have the same freedom to play as she wishes? Why is so damned hard for me to let her wallow in her girliness? Sure, her brothers roll their eyes at her ballerina tutus and her princess drag and the dolls and fairies.....but honestly, so do I. I don't know what I'm worried about--the kid is strong and sure of herself. I was so proud of her today because even through her anger she was able to stick up for herself and try to make me see things her way. There's no way that a plastic Barbie doll is going to shake that.

Or will it? What is it that we fear so much that we've fought so hard to keep Barbie and Disney and McDonald's and TV out of our home? Why do I feel so strongly about keeping them out of school? I wonder what's wrong with letting them be "regular" kids. The Princess so wants to go to kindergarten next year and I know she'd have a great time. She'd wait her turn and color in the lines and do what she was told all day long if she could be around a bunch of other little girls. I know she'd love it, but I think the experience would change her in ways I don't want her to be changed, ways that might well prevent her from growing up to be herself.

But what kind of mother am I if I won't honor her desires, be they for Barbie or school? No wonder the poor kid is angry. Maybe she needs to throw some plates.


beth h said...

Well, gosh this is hard stuff.
What if part of the equation is the part the parent doesn't have control of, the part that happens when the kid goes out into the rest of the world and interacts with other kids, bad movies, comic books, junk food and Barbie dolls?

In my case, it was GI Joe dolls, tree forts and bicycles. The GI Joe doll did not turn me into a war-monger (though the Kjng Tut's Tomb play kit did give rise to a fasciantion with archaeology and paleontology).
The tree fort gave me a chance to express myself creatively (until I fell out of it and broke my collarbone, and the homeowners' association made me tear it down).
The bicycle gave me a chance to spread my wings at a mangeable speed and encouraged me to be more independent.

My sister and I both played with Barbie dolls as kids. Barbies never taught me how to use makeup or work a curling iron, and they sure as hell didn't make me girly; but they did encourage me to learn to sew; I thought the skimpy store-bought outfits simply wouldn't do in our Philadelphia winters and made warmer clothes for my Barbies from my mother's sewing scraps.

Elizabeth said...

Hoo boy, you raise some difficult questions. Did either of your boys want to go to school? Hibi did....she *insisted* that she was *going to school* when she was the Princess' age. I kind of wish I'd been more open to what she wanted then. I think she would have attended for maybe a week and then opted out. But who knows? And yes, I like who she's turned out to be--she has kept her own sense of identity, never even thought about losing that.

No answers here. I hope you can find the path that is right for both you and P.

RedMolly said...

Have you read "Hold On To Your Kids?" I'm not a parenting-book kind of person, but I think the authors speak really well to some of the same tough issues you've raised and others are discussing here.

I can sympathize with your Princess issues. We regularly ride the same roller coaster here with Fisher, our household drama queen. I'm trying to learn not to make it worse, just to hold on and finish the ride. (Tough freakin' lesson, tell you what. Especially for a natural-born yeller.)