She’ll be a woman, soon. A hairy, hairy woman who can reach anything she wants in the whole wide world.

Shower Power

Shower Power

“Is this for the shower?” Emma asked.

I was going through my morning “get ready” routine while she and Devin waited patiently for me to take them to school.

“Yep,” I replied.

“What’s it do?” she asked.

“It takes your hair off,” I told her.  And causes chemical burns like a motherfucker, I thought.

“Ohhhhhhh,” she nodded, impressed with her own understanding, “so this is why Lil’ Papa doesn’t have his hair anymore.”

Devin sighed and I tried not to giggle.  “Well, no, actually,” I said.  “Sometimes when people get older their hair just comes out on its own.”

I watched in the mirror as a look of horror flashed across her tiny face.  She instinctively put a hand up to her own blond head.

“It’s usually just men,” I assured her.  “And not all men,” I assured Devin, who was failing miserably at hiding his disdain for the ridiculousness of this entire conversation.

“So you put this on your head?” she asked, obviously confused.

“No, not my head.  It takes the hair off my legs,”  I told her.  And the skin off my cooter, I reminded myself.  Never.  Again.

She was sitting on the edge of the tub now beside her brother.  She held out her arms and I watched as she swept her gaze up and down each limb.

“And your arms, too?”

“No, not my arms.  Just my legs.”

“But I have hair on my arms,” she insisted.

“Emma,” Devin couldn’t stand it anymore and his exasperation burst out of him in a huff, “look at your legs.  You have hair.  On your legs.  When you grow up, you’ll take the hair off your legs.  Nobody cares that you have hair on your arms.”

“Devin,” I cautioned.

“Mama, I don’t wanna take the hair off,” Emma said.

“It’s OK, baby.  You don’t have to take the hair off anything.  That’s just for Mommy.”

“But, do I have to when I grow up?  When I grow up do I have to take my hair off, too?” she asked.

Her voice was confused and whimpering and pleading.  I looked at her and saw a little girl trying to resign herself to marching down the path towards womanhood, a path that had already been laid out, built and decided for her.  She looked scared and unsure, and looking to me to tell her if this was the way.  I had the unnerving sensation that she was embarking on a death march.

“No, baby,” I turned to face her, determined to make my words etch themselves into her soul.  “No.  You do not ever, ever have to take any hair off at all if you don’t want to.”

“Not even when I’m a grown up?” she asked again.

“Not even when you’re a grown up.”

I thought of Emma and my bizarre surge of feminism while I showered this morning.  I felt the prickle of hair under my arms and instinctively reached for my shaving cream.

What am I doing? Why am I doing this?

I thought of how many decisions I made – big and small – because the rest of the world told me that I should.  I thought of how I let strangers define my idea of beauty and sensuality.  I thought of how desperately I wanted to protect my little girl, my daughter, from the uncertainty of a predetermined path.

And then I thought about wanting to wear a sundress today and my tendency to lean back and put my hands behind my head.

I lathered up and grabbed my razor.

Yeah, I don’t have the stones to be a feminist, I thought.  Arm pit hair is gross.

******

I got out of the shower and put on the sundress.  I kissed Devin goodbye and sent him off to the bus stop before retreating back to my own bathroom to apply my makeup and blow dry my hair.

Emma followed me in, as she usually does once her brother is out of the house.

“Do you have makeup for me, Mom?” she asked.

“You have your own makeup up, Emma,” I reminded her, sliding my expensive brushes and eye shadow pots away from the edge of the bathroom counter.

“Oh, right,” she giggled.  She giggles for nonsensical reasons, just because it’s what she does.  “Do you have a thing for me?”

“What’s a thing?”

“A thing, like that,” she pointed at one of prized makeup brushes.

“Of course.  Remember?”  I pulled out the less expensive brushes I’d recently handed down to her and set them next to her bubble gum pink lip gloss and glittery face goo.  “These are just for you.”

“I’m going to make my face like a tiger,” she gushed.

“That’s fantastic,” I gushed back.

“Why do you put this in this?” she asked.

“I don’t know what this is.”

“This,” she waved a tube of squeezable lip gloss in my face.  My God, we have a lot of lip gloss in this house.

“This what?” I pressed.  “Use your words.”

“I am using words!” she insisted.

Well, yes.  There was that.  I laughed.  “Then use better words,” I said.  “I don’t know what this is, or what this it is in.”

She sighed and I watched her brain work behind her eyes.  “This… stuff.”  I said nothing.  “This… lip… stuff.”

“Lip gloss?  That stuff is called lip gloss.

“Yes!  That!”

“Why is the lip gloss in what?” I asked again.

She tapped on the plastic tube with her tiny fingertips.  “Here, see?  This thing that you put it in.”

“The tube?  The bottle?”

“Yes!  Why do you put this lip gloss in a tube?” she asked, finally.

“I think so you don’t have to get it on your fingers.”

“Ahhhhh.”

I walked to the mirror that hangs on the wall to apply my mascara.

“Mommy, I can’t reach.  I need a thing so I can reach my makeup!”

“You can reach,” I said, watching her stick her fingers into the pot of pink goo.

“I want to reach better.”

I want to reach better. Her words bounced around in my head.  I thought of telling her she could reach just fine, and my stomach turned at the idea of condemning her to adequacy.  It was so easy for her to insist that merely reaching was not enough.  I rolled her clarity and determination around in my mouth and tested how it would feel to hold them as my own.

“Then you need a step stool,” I said.

“Yes!”

“Go get one,” I nodded my permission and she bounced out of the room.  I rolled a Q-tip across my eyelids to remove the tiny black spots my mascara had left.

She reappeared with a clang in the doorway of the bathroom.  She held in her arms the biggest, baddest fucking step stool we had in the house, the three stepped one whose metal frame was as tall as she was.  She hoisted it up against the cabinet, unfolded it, and marched to the top step.

She turned to me and smiled, at once triumphant and waiting for permission or disapproval.

“There you go,” I said.  “Now you can reach better.”

**************

I’ve written 1200 words here thus far, and I know that a better writer would split these stories into two separate posts.  I’m sure you started reading this and thought “oh, lighthearted kid humor, got it”.

And it could be just that and nothing more.

Except that it’s not.

For the last few days, everything I say to my children, and to my daughter especially, has been thrown against a mirror and reflected back at me.  I’m suddenly hyper aware of what I’m teaching them and what I want to teach them.

I feel like I’m teaching them and me at the same time.

Like when I told Emma that we had to brush her hair, even if it hurt.  “You can’t leave the tangles in just because it hurts to get them out,” I said.  And I said it slowly and carefully, choosing my words with purpose in the hopes that someday she would understood just how much they meant.

I want to prevent them – and especially her (only because she will be a woman someday, and not at all because I love her more) – from ever getting here.  I want to prepare them for the eventuality that they might.

I want to give myself permission to reach better.

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Comments

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  1. avitable says:

    And they will absolutely reach as far as they possibly can and then even a little further, because someone like you is their mother.

  2. Vicky says:

    A few months ago I decided to stop shaving. Well, just my legs. At first it felt wierd and I felt self-conscious, but then I realized that no one noticed or cared. I wear skirts/dress/shorts and have dark hair on my legs, but once it got past the stubbly part, it was alot better.

    But I still have to shave the arm pits, cause that’s just gross.

  3. Well having boys does the same thing to you. One day you’re hugging your little boy and tickling him and the next you’re noticing he’s getting hair pits. When I look into his face I only see the baby who fell asleep on my chest not this tween full of hormones and using more deodorant and Cologne than any human person should. Gah–they grow so fast.

  4. just reaching isn’t enough. FUCK YEAH! i love that you encourage your kids to keep reaching. you are lucky you aren’t here or i would hug the stuffing outta you!

  5. Poppy says:

    Quit putting tears in my eyes when I’m at WORK!

  6. A wonderful lesson. Maybe I can combine both stories and teach my wife to reach better when she’s shaving.

  7. Finn says:

    This is off-topic, but I’m really seeing you grow as a writer. I read the line, ” I rolled a Q-tip across my eyelids to remove the tiny black spots my mascara had left,” and practically swooned. That’s the kind of thing that separates a good writer from a great one.

    Reach better indeed.

  8. Jenn says:

    What a lovely piece you’ve written here. The responsibility of children always sort of terrifies me, but it’s experiences like these that make me look forward to watching a child grow and change, and knowing I will grow and change as a result.

  9. Nanna says:

    owie.

    Good for you, darling. You’re doing fine

    ((((HUGS)))))

  10. SciFi Dad says:

    Well said, Britt. Everything we say to our children is a lesson to them. They literally hang on our every word, and it’s up to us to make sure the messages they receive are the ones we want them to hear.

  11. Kristin says:

    This brings tears to my eyes, because I remember when you first found out you were pregnant with Devin and you were SO worried about what kind of a mother you’d be. You are doing a fantastic job! Love you!

  12. laprimera says:

    I just love you. That is all. :)

  13. lceel says:

    I remember the first time LM (Love Muffin) came back into OUR bedroom and said “I can’t wake him up.” I said, “What’s wrong, is he sick?” She said, “You go wake him up.” So I did. #2 Son was laying on his back and had a tent growing in his blanket. “Aha!”, I thought to myself. “No wonder.” And then I thought, “I hope they make condoms that big.” I closed his door and knocked loudly – which we did until he got married and moved out.

  14. Sybil Law says:

    They will, thanks to you.
    You will, too.

  15. This is a really beautiful post. Makes me excited to be a mom someday…tangles and all.

  16. Mrs Soup says:

    Choosing to shave your pits and other hair away does not make you less of a feminist. Not only that, but by sharing those points with your daughter, it makes you a wonderful woman.

    I’m proud of you, especially being able to learn yourself. It’s amazing how much we can learn from our children, when teaching them.

  17. NaysWay says:

    Motherhood is tough. The fact that you’re even TRYING to give them aspirations in their reach shows you’re doing a bang-up job.

    And, hey. Shave them pits! Real women shave. (Especially black women because Nair doesn’t work on us. True story.)

  18. kristin says:

    HA! I was just clicking on various links and here you are! You’re too funny. Thanks for making me laugh. In a cyberland full of self-obsessed BORING mommy blogs, yours was SO NOT BORING!

    heh. (well, all bloggers are self-obsessed)

  19. Kelsey says:

    I started shaving my armpits when I was about 17 and the hair got annoying. I’m almost 26 and I still don’t shave my legs. I figure that folks who would judge me on that aren’t the type I want to hang out with anyway.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Kelsey, I think if you never start shaving it’s a lot easier to stick to than trying to go back to it.

      But yeah – anyone who would judge you for leg hair is probably best filtered out early on.

  20. muskrat says:

    Our kids watch and listen to us? Uh oh.

  21. Dee says:

    I read your blog daily, and never comment. I’m one of the unknown bloggers in cyberspace. Not the Superstar you, and a few others are.

    But I had to chime in. This post made me cry. The love for your daughter is so clear, and how you want her to reach better…I wish I’d had a mom like you!

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Dee, I’m glad that you commented!

      And believe me – everyone is known and unknown to someone.

      ANYway, it kind of makes me sad to think of a post making you cry, but I’m going to just assume it was a good cry. :-)

  22. whall says:

    The Zen of parenting is that of the eyes that can see, but cannot see what contains the eyes. Can the eyes know of it’s own existence? Such as it is with parenting. There is no worry. There is no society. There only exist that which exists.

  23. Suzy Voices says:

    God, you are so good! Truly, such an excellent writer.

  24. Tonz says:

    This is one of the things that freaks me out about being a mum. The day I watched my 15 month old niece wipe down all the surfaces with a piece of coloured wrapping paper, I realised that they really do watch and listen to everything you do and say. They absorb it all.

    But what a gorgeous girl you have!!

  25. Lynda says:

    I remember in third grade girls were shaving their arms, and my mom said I was too young for that, and later I might want to shave my legs or what have you.

    But it was the girls in middle school that influenced me to shave when I got older. So, you might want to consider that too. :)

  26. Bre says:

    I LOVE that you said ‘cooter’.
    Because I’ve said that word to Jay before and nearly caused him to choke.
    hahaha
    Also?
    I love love loved this post. I think you’re a great teacher and a fantastic mom, Britt.
    Devin and Emma are lucky to have you :)

  27. I’m in a constant state of worry that I’m never doing enough, never encouraging them enough. “Do it yourself, I know you can.” When I say that, are they learning self-reliance or that their mother is lazy? If I primal scream in the closet or kick a bag of diapers to work out my anger rather than yell or hit them, am I teaching them to take out their anger on things or am I teaching them bad tempers? And when I hold them too tightly, do they understand I’m just trying to suck the love out of that moment because there will be a day they won’t want me anywhere near them or am I just pissing them off?

    God, this job is so fucking confusing.

  28. DemMom says:

    Crazy! This morning my 5 year old was asking me why I shave my armpits, and why her Papa doesn’t. Hard to explain, for sure!

  29. ali says:

    oh my god, can we talk about them using “this” all the damn time? I am constantly asking Isabella for some “what do you mean by THIS?” clarification.

    also? yes. just yes. to the teaching them and me at the same time. I love this. LOVE.

  30. Robin says:

    I spent the day with a good friend of mine who actually has a son and a younger daughter like you. It amazed me, truly, how natural she was. I know some of it just comes from experience but I found it really beautiful to see how she was. I’m not saying she was perfect and some of it was quite amusing but the interaction was amazing. I’m still afraid of kids though, don’t get me wrong.

  31. Faiqa says:

    I loved this post, and have so much to say.

    Unfortunately, I’m typing with one hand (the other is holding a baby). And I haven’t slept more than two hours straight taken a shower longer than ten minutes in more than four days.

    But? The hair on my head is blow dried to perfection and my legs and armpits are shaved.

    Beauty before life.

    And I am STILL the consummate feminist.

    Hmmm, a person can type a lot with one hand if they want…

  32. Emma and Devin are amazing children – I’m pretty sure that has a lot more to do with you than with Jared so good job!

  33. Maria says:

    Lately, when I come across pearls of wisdom from real people and in fiction, I realize how Not Wise I am. I want to be giving my childre great life skills and I don’t feel like I do that very often.

    S has hit that questioning stage now and it’s crazy. The pressure! How strange to be a source of authority when I feel like I need guidance every day.

    PS that shower power stuff is awful. AND it only lasted through one leg-hair-removal and two nethers-hair-”removals” for me. I wasn’t a huge fan.

    I feel ya, lady.

    The fact that you are THINKING about all this means you’re doing a good job, to me.

  34. Jennifer says:

    Good for you for realizing that the words you say to your children have more meaning to them then we realize at first. I forget that, mostly all the time.

  35. Marian says:

    What a HUGE delight your children are!

    This was fun, while being really thoughtful.

    Kudos.

  36. Al_Pal says:

    Awww. LOVE that you are teaching them to keep reaching, and that she can be hairy if she wants to.
    Sometimes I let my pit hair grow for a bit [like a week or so], cuz it’s not often hot here, but yeah — the smelliness requires the shaving.
    & yeah, great writing.

    I want to give myself permission to reach better.
    I think we all need to do that, sometimes. My life is wonderful and comfortable…but sometimes I feel like I should be doing more. Thanks for the reminder to reach. ;p

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