May 27, 2010
My mom is a retired kindergarten teacher. She's a great kindergarten teacher. She relates well too young people, she has a closet full of Winnie the Pooh jumpers and ABC sweaters, and she knows how to draw and spell xylophone so she can teach the alphabet. (Let me also add, to paint you a picture, that when my mom once received an obscene phone call, she had no idea whether the call was actually obscene bceause she'd never heard of what the caller described & had to call my dad to confirm the call was actually obscene - it was).
But even though she loved teachin', mandates from the state to "teach to the test" became more overbearing, and she kept saying "I'm too old for this!". Additionally, parents demands were more outlandish and again the Murtaugh reply "I'm too old for this!" led her to retire 3 years ago.
But, she missed teaching and a year later and returned to help out in the school. One thing she did was help out with the talent show. She loved helping the kids sing, do "I'm a little tea-pot" and dance to various Disney-related songs. She agreed to do the talent show again the next year and it was going well until she called me to ask, "Karin, have you heard of this song 'Soldier Boy'?".
Me: "Sure - it's actually Soulja Boy - I just learned that."
Mom: "What's it about?"
Me: "I have no idea, it took me a week to know it wasn't soldier boy but soulja boy, but I use it teaching at the gym, it's got a great beat."
Mom: "Is it appropriate for the elementary school talent show?"
Me: "I'm gonna go with no. What did Dad say?"
Mom: "'Oh boy' and he'd only heard of 'Soldier Boy' by the Shirelles"
Mom: "I'm too old for this!"
She informed the parents delicately that this probably was not the best song choice for school - better for home - and could they pick a new song. The parents came back and told her they'd found a "clean edit" and demanded the girls be allowed to dance to the song.
This led to call #2.
Mom: "They said they found a clean version"
Me: "Mom, the only thing I can make out that he says is 'crank that - soulja boy' and something about superman- and I assume he's not cranking anything good. Call Rob (my 16-year-old cousin)."
Mom: "I am too old for this!"
So the next day my mom had to pick up my 16-year old cousin at school from track practice and when he got in the car she told him she needed a favor. She explained about the talent show, the soulja boy song, the dancing, and finally said, "So, the clean version - that one is okay?" Rob looked at her and said, "No, Aunt Jane, a clean version is not good. The whole song is about sex and sex acts, there's no way to 'clean' it up for elementary school." My mom turned bright red and mumbled thanks. Rob later told the story to his sister who gleefully called me to relay the story of the interaction - and I called my mom to, well, to laugh mostly.
The parents finally consented to nix the song and the night went off without hitch. But afterwards my mom asked me, "Why didn't they just know better?"
I don't know. Stage parent syndrome - the music was good and they looked good - so nevermind the lyrics, ignorance is bliss or just a failure to delineate what's age appropriate and did these kids understand what they were mimicking? Then again, my mom didn't let me watch MTV until I was 16 and even then it was a battle.
Thanks Robin for letting me guest!
I’ve been pondering the nature of sexuality lately, and in particular what that means to me as the mother of three adolescents.
Recently, one of my daughters brought her laptop over to show me a video of some eight- and nine-year-old girls dancing to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring on It)” by American singer Beyoncé. The video went viral on Facebook, attracting the attention of many adults and major news networks as well as the attention of my friends and the friends of my teen daughters. Good Morning America picked up on the video and attending controversy, bringing in parents and a child development expert to comment. You can view clips of the video here, as well as clips from GMA.
My daughters and I had an interesting conversation after watching the video. We talked about how the dancers were dressed, particularly suggestive dance moves and our overall impressions from watching the dance. Opinions were decidedly mixed in our house, and a healthy argument ensued.
One daughter loved the precision of the dancers (they are skilled, absolutely!) and found the negative parental reactions incomprehensible. “That’s just the way people dance now, Mom,” she told me. Another daughter reacted with discomfort. “They’re too young, they shouldn’t be dancing that way … they’re not in high school, they are younger than [my youngest daughter]!” The third daughter was confused, not understanding all the nuances of the moves, the costumes, or even why we would be talking about it, an appropriate reaction given her age.
We talked about whether it should be okay to dress one way for dance and another way for school. We talked about how other people view girls who dance or dress the way the girls in the video did. We talked about appearances, and how others judge us based on outward appearances. And we agreed to disagree about the appropriateness of that dance for young children, since none of us were changing each other’s opinions.
That same evening, a friend forwarded a news report about the resignation of Indiana Representative Mark Souder, an evangelical Christian who promoted abstinence-only education, over news leaks of his extramarital affairs. The juxtaposition of a “Just Say No” advocate caught NOT saying no, on top of a viral video causing all kinds of controversy, was just too delicious to ignore.
We push our children into early sexuality, before they even understand what they are broadcasting, teach them how to attract attention by dressing in revealing clothing and suggestive moves, and then expect them to repel all advances until marriage. What kind of mixed message are we giving our children?
I wonder what life would be like in the US if instead, we cherished the innocence of childhood by not promoting sexualized behavior, and then talked honestly with them about sex? Would American teens be more like European teens who delay intercourse until later in adolescence than American teens, who more consistently use condoms when they start having intercourse? Or would the world come to an apocalyptic end? I vote for honest conversations, a realistic acceptance of adolescent sexuality as normal and healthy, and less fear over all topics sexual in nature. It’s a normal, natural, healthy part of our lives, and our teens would be a lot healthier and safer if we could accept sexuality as a natural part of our being human, instead of making it secret and hyper-sexualizing everything in our society.
For information on how sexuality education works in some European countries, check out Advocates for Youth.
May 18, 2010
On Sunday I visited a local Swedish library in search of some free wi fi. It was difficult to find an open table where I could work, since the library was packed. I was surprised, because it was a Sunday. Now that I think about it, I suppose I am surprised that a library was even open on a Sunday. Ever find a library open on Sunday in the United States? Religiously influenced “blue laws” carried from previous centuries still prevent many public facilities in the U.S. from operating on Sunday.
Not a problem here! I plugged in and fired up my laptop, my complicated set of international electrical adapters signaled “tourist” to anyone who was watching. My Swedish colleagues weren’t watching, though --- they were immersed in their own work. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in hooking up to wi fi. I received a full page of Swedish instructions, presumably for signing up as a library member, which would entitle me to use wi fi. It was a Catch-22 of sorts. I needed to access Google Translate in order to figure out what the instructions were asking of me. And, in order to access Google Translate, I needed wi fi. With my brain spinning from this paradox, I decided to go explore the library.
My first thought was to look up what Robie Harris’ book It’s Perfectly Normal --- the wonderful book about puberty ---to see what it might look like in Swedish. I’m pleased to say I successfully navigated the Swedish version of the Dewey Decimal system, and, in fact, found several titles by Robie Harris. The one that had the same cover as It’s Perfectly Normal was titled Pä Tal om Sex. Of course I was able to translate that last word pretty easily, but then it struck me…hmm…there’s no “sex” in It’s Perfectly Normal. I walked over to a librarian and asked, “What does this title mean?”. She replied, “Speaking of Sex.” It seems the Swedes need no convincing at all that puberty and sex are perfectly normal --- it’s a given here. The American title would not have made any sense, even if translated.
But that wasn’t the only thing that was different about this book. There were hundreds of nicks and tears on the cover. It looked like it had been checked out a bazillion times, much in contrast to the pristine copy in my local library. Some libraries don’t even have a copy! It’s been on conservatives’ list of banned books for years, despite the innumerable awards and accolades the book has received from leading book journal reviews. In Maine a few years ago, a patron stole the library’s copy, and refused to return it, declaring that she was saving children from the book’s “sexually graphic, amoral, abnormal contents”. I suppose she thought she was doing the ethical thing by sending the library a check for $20.95 to cover the cost of her book banning spree. But the library returned the check, and demanded the return of the book. See the story here: http://www.wmtw.com/news/14139329/detail.html
I told the librarian, “You know, this book is controversial in the United States.” She replied, “Not here. Here it is very popular.” Later, I told my Swedish colleagues about the controversial nature of the book, and the story of it being banned in some places. They sat in stunned silence. You see, it's perfectly normal here.
May 8, 2010
By Colleen Lord
“If I could just get rid of this pooch."
This is me, circa 1990. It’s after a sleepover with my two best friends who I’ve known forever. My fourteen-year-old self is analyzing my body in the mirror. I was 100 pounds sopping wet at the time, yet that pooch was a huge part of my teenage world.
Twenty years later, I want to scream at that girl. “Are you kidding? You never looked better, sweetie!!” I imagine myself sounding like an old lady living in Florida that has smoked one cigarette too many. Two kids and a lack of enthusiasm for exercise makes for a much larger pooch these days. It probably needs a much bigger name- HUGEASSGUT is more like it.
It irks me that at 34 I still have body image issues. After all, I’m a sexuality educator. If I have issues with my own body—how can I be the ambassador of self-esteem for the young girls that walk in our doors every day?
Granted, I had a baby six months ago. A beautiful baby girl. She goes by many names: Sweet Girl, Miss Girl, and Divalicious are among my favorites. I see TV and movie stars bounce back from pregnancy in the wink of an eye. Unfortunately, I don’t have the means to afford a personal trainer and nutritionist to monitor my daily workout schedule and food intake. Plus, I value food and sleep way too much.
I saw an Oprah recently where the star of the movie Precious, Gabourey Sidibe, talked about how she accepts her weight and loves herself where she is right now. Here’s a very powerful quote from this precocious, sassy gal:
“I learned to love myself, because I sleep with myself every night and I wake up with myself every morning, and if I don’t like myself, there’s no reason to even live the life. I love the way I look. I’m fine with it. And if my body changes, I’ll be fine with that.”
Nearly 10 years younger than me, and she has achieved self-love. I’m seriously jealous. I WANT that.
Tonight, as I put my baby girl to sleep, I felt that desire to achieve peace with my body much more deeply. I don’t want to see my Divalicious standing in front of the mirror in her tender years analyzing every minute detail of her body. My heart will break if that future is realized.
I am my Sweet Girl’s role model and mentor. If I am preoccupied with my body and weight, chances are she will be, too. According to womensheatlh.govBody Image: Loving Yourself Inside and Out - Body Image and Your Kids, a girl who has a mother who is overly concerned with her weight is more likely to have concerns with her own weight and develop unhealthy eating habits.
So, this Mother’s day, my gift to myself is to commit to self-love. I’m affirming that my body is okay as it is. I make this commitment in honor of my beautiful baby girl, and all the young girls that walk through our doors each day. They’re worth it, and so am I. I’m challenging all the beautiful women out there, moms or not, to accept and celebrate their bodies. Happy Mother’s Day to all you gorgeous ladies!
For more information on self-esteem and body image, check out the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty for great information, resources and videos.