Wednesday, July 26, 2006

While I'm in Farmers-Market Lala Land, Life Goes On

I had my first real and honest lesson that parenting is about controlling- protecting-guiding-hovering-teaching-controlling-informing (not stifling, God, not stifling) AND THEN gracefully letting out the control line at very exact and all-knowing moments so they remain or become thoughtful, independent and well-adjusted people. And we parents are just supposed to know how to do this perfectly.

Maya is in Las Vegas for the rest of the summer. And from a distance she pressed the issue to shave her legs with me. We've had the discussion before, a few times, which ended with me deciding she was too young (she's 11), explaining it's a pain in the ass to do, it's a commitment and she is too young to have this matter. But if you haven't noticed, young kids are the new older kids. She accepted the decision at the time -and not begrudgingly -- but she made the pitch to her sweetheart stepmom, Sanne, after Maya arrived in Vegas. Sanne probably didn't realize all the discussions that Maya and I have already had on the subject. She told Maya she would help her shave her legs for the first time, but only if BD and I said it was ok. So, Maya pitched me on the phone, in front of other people. It came across as jokey and lame, undermining all our previous conversations.

We are a hairy people. Our hair is not light or inconspicuous and one of my big embarrassments as a preteen was my hairy legs which my mother did not let me shave until I was about 14. If anyone understands Maya desire right now, it's me. She's at the age where it bothers not necessarily her, but those around her. Of her friends, she is one of the only ones that doesn't shave her legs. I asked her if this was solely about what her friends were doing. She said no, but she was distracted, focusing only on the inflection of my voice that was swaying her way. I said, I've been telling you since you were three years old to always use your own mind and not blindly follow others. She said, Yea, yea, yea (can I shave 'em?).

And I realized that this was the precise time to let out some of the control line. I realized I had to save my strength for more important battles to come with her. I said, You can shave your legs, and have Sanne help you. I told Maya that if she realizes that it's a total pain that she can admit it without any I Told Yous, and we can take a break from shaving in the winter. Maya was stoked, not hearing anything after Yes.

I'll tell you, it was really hard to let go and make a decision against what I wanted for her. I want her not to care about her hairy legs right now. I want her to stay a carefree kid for as long as she can. I want her to be less concerned about her looks than the average woman. But I know these might be unrealistic wants. It's ok to want and push for these things, I know, but I also understand that it's not ok to keep her in my box of wants. She's growing up. Shaving her legs is really not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. I guess I was mainly tripping on how parenting is always hard. It never lets up. I don't know if I always make the right call, but my calls will be full of thought.

Our apartment butts against and overlooks an alley. It's great because of the occasional alley drama. And it's bad because of occasional alley drama. Two nights ago, around 10pm, I heard a loud, drunken confrontation. "FUCK YOU!" And then all-out, loud male sobbing. Peeking from the balcony, I realized the scene was between a teenage boy and his father. The boy was resisting getting out of the passenger side of the car. "I HATE YOU," he yelled. Sobbing. More slurred insults. I think his mother was in the driver's seat. I saw the dad remove the man-sized kid from the car as the kid jellied about, flopping and crying and yelling. The dad was quiet and sort of calm and he half-dragged the boy into the alley-entrance of an apartment building. I said a lot of good thoughts for that family as I stood on my dark balcony, invading their tough night.

All I'm saying is parenting is hard. And Maya can shave her legs -- though I don't want her to --because there’s probably harder battles down the road. And I'm thinking easing up on some control and not fighting her on everything may show her how to give in on some things too.


In other news, I commute three days a week to work now. The trip takes an hour and twenty minutes each way whether I drive or take a train. Today I took the train for the first time. I loved every minute of the ride. I loved not sitting behind a wheel in congestion and contributing to the destruction of the planet. I loved the chill time to read or write, and I loved the scenery. There is something about the industrial backside of East Los Angeles, where the train tracks rein, that is visually breathtaking to me. I'm not saying I want to walk around in the yards and the factory lots alone, but as an invisible observer in a comfortable train seat, I think the scene is gorgeous: Large shacks made of wavy, grey metal with bright-orange rust lining the door frames. Massive electrical sculptures in a power-grid yard corralled like huge, sleeping cranes. Concrete walls/trains/buildings embellished with angular and hard graffiti made soft by their range of color. High, jalopied cylinder structures laced with rickety, zigzag stairs that lopsidedly still serve a function for a factory. Small, old houses that back the tracks and where clothes are strung up on a line in the yard, like prayer flags (Wind, bring them good fortune). All these things are artistically honest to me. They move me. Behind all the tagging and the broken-down structures and the wash on the line there are people trying to make it through. Just like anywhere. There are lives -- soft, fleshy, feeling lives -- behind the entire area that looks abandoned as a morning train passes.


HollyRhea said...

I think it was the right decision. I mean, you don't want Maya to do things just because other people do them - but in a way that's unavoidable, especially at her age. So much of our identity is how we're reflected by those around us. It's just part of being human. Unfortunately, there's just a lot of variation within our culture about what's acceptable and what's not. So - it's hard to figure it all out.

My mother told me not to shave above my knees for all these good reasons. But all I saw were my best friend's slick thighs at the pool, and my hairy thighs next to them. Now that I'm older and more certain of who I am (and how little the details of my appearance truly matter), I don't shave my thighs. But we all go through it, huh? Just prep her so she GETS through it.

(says the woman with a TODDLER. geesh.)

Alexandra S said...

What an extraordinary post in every way. You must be some wonderful mom. No right or wrong answer but it certainly sounds like it was the right one in your gut, even while I can so relate to wanting her to be a kid a little longer before being thrust into the world of womanhood where its all too easily to be picked apart by oneself and everyone else. Being from LA, I also was so moved by your last paragraph. I can imagine where you described and it encouraged and inspired me to see my own birth city with wider, deeper eyes.

Maddog said...

Madness - I am another madwoman, new to your blog [and blogging in general] and really digging it. I wish I had never shaved my legs, because I am la rubia, and my people are not especially hairy, so what was I thinking? No kids, rather step-kids, and I cannot believe how the worst of my own upbringing creeps into my head at times and yet the best of me comes out of I-don't-know-where at other times. Sure you're doing great by giving everything its due, no matter how transformed it is at the end of the day than how the day started. Anyway, just wanted to send you some good vibes for all that you put out there, and a recommendation, too. I don't know if you have this book, have seen this book, have seen and done and am already over this book, but if not, check it out. Not totally vegan but a must for the basic knowledge it imparts anyway. "Grub" - Anne Lappe and Bryant Terry. [They have a blog, too: and a website:]

Maven said...

This is so good, and I think it just inspired today's blog entry.

I hope your commute--on the train, anyway--keeps on being a thing of beauty.

Irene said...

you are such a wise mom.

Rebel Girl said...

I learn SO much from you!

and then again we have that strange synchroncity - I jsut - JUST - shaved my legs after, oh, let me see, 25 or so years.


Hang in there.


acumamakiki said...

I tried to comment earlier, something funky with blogger......I always love to read how you parent. I think you are a wise and loving mama and your girls will grow into remarkable young women, with their legs shaved! I had a little taste of it with getting ears pierced and I relented even though my own childhood experience was different.

Melinda said...

What a great post. I think it's perfect that included in your permission for Maya to shave was an "out," so she knows she can take a break (or stop completely) whenever she wants to, with no I-told-you-so's to fear. I, like you, am blessed with dark, braidable leg hair -- I've always hated shaving, but it took me *forever* to figure out that I didn't HAVE to do it. I know it seems like that shouldn't be something you have to be told... but it would've been nice all the same.

Michelle Fry said...

I take the train to work too and it's makes for a bit long commute than driving but I feel proud that I'm not wasting money on gas and parking. Plus, it makes for good people watching.

Maya reminds me of my little sister who is 8 years younger than me and much darker haired. She's my half sister so we don't share my thin hair. She decided to shave both her arms and legs when she was about 11 because she was emberassed by her hair. She got over it and eventually stopped shaving altogether in the winter.

andrea said...

parenting never EVER stops. that was the first (and very difficult) lesson I learned. it's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and that is no joke. my challenges are currently different than yours but man, do I hear you. and I do believe you made the right decision, I really do. not that you need to hear it from me, but still.

and girlie, that last paragraph was a most delicious thing to read. I devoured it whole and am going back for seconds.

madness rivera said...

Thanks everybody for your thoughts and support.

Rebel Girl! For reals?? What prompted that? The heat? Because that was one of Maya's pitches to me . . ."The hair makes my legs hotter!" Hard to argue that especially when she's in Las Vegas for the summer. Weather outside: 110, on the hairy legs: 175.

Rebel Girl said...

what gives is this: Rebel Girl is now approaching an age where, ahem, she is noticing that she is becoming hairier. Ahem. This happens I guess. I claled msyelf a Mexican hairless for years but then it wasn't trueanymore.

so - there you have it. Middle age.

I must admit though - once I got used it it - I like them.

Bethany said...

You're a nice mama! I didn't give in until my girl was 13. She's lighter skinned and haired than I and I really didn't think she needed to shave even at 13, but, what the heck. So I bought her a good razor, some shaving gel, and some scrubby gloves, and wrote out instructions on how to shave your legs properly, to avoid ingrown hairs etc. It's a skill that I didn't learn until I was in my 30s!

But you're right. It's only the beginning. It seems as they become young adults there is this avalanche of things they want to try and do and it's all a parent can do to keep up. I sometimes feel like we're riding this huge wave, and all I can do is hold on to them and ride it out with them. The important thing is to not let go. Someday they will kiss us and thank us for it.

Bethany, formerly known as hickmama

ecm said...

I remember the moment (around eleven) when I realized I had these hairy legs and all the other girls didn't. My mom made me wait till thirteen, and I survived, but I shave my legs now (minus the winter) so I wonder what the big deal was. Sounds like you're a good mom. :)

Marigoldie said...

I can't remember actually asking my mom, but I started shaving my ape-y legs at age NINE (a tomboy, even) because I was uncomfortable, and I've shaved them pretty much every single day for the past...I guess that would be twenty-five years. I can't explain it; I just find stubble unbearably uncomfortable so I zip it all off every day. It's part of me that doesn't match the rest.

I so feel you on the last part; those are the most beautiful landscapes to me too.

Anonymous said...

girls and shaving their are right to realize there will be other battles along the road and this one is not worth holding out for. It really is about their self esteem and taking control of their own bodies even at the tender age of 11...good luck. Christine