Monday, March 25, 2013

Impossible Girls

In response to Reverend Evan Dolive’s Open Letter to Victoria Secret:

Although I have no idea what other values this man represents, I strongly share the beliefs outlined in his letter to Victoria Secret.....I wish it started and stopped with Victoria's Secret...Perhaps he hasn't perused his local Wal-Mart toy department lately, where the "girl" aisles are already amuck with sexy panties for 12 year olds, and toys that have more in common with porn stars than any other role model (hello, Bratz, Monster High etc). Maybe he doesn't have cable, where girls like Alex Rousseau value attitude and rudeness more than friendship and intelligence, or I-Carly  or any other "Family"(and I say that with the grandest sense of irony) TV show - where social currency is judgement, sass and making out with boys.

 I am a daughter, a mother of a daughter (and a son), a wife and a teacher of adolescents. I see the Victoria Secret effect every day (literally..., like, literally.) I get appalling amounts of saucy back talk from 15 year olds with their thongs on display; who spend more time preening in their cell phone cameras than contributing to classroom discussion. They are not vain or even shallow they are trying desperately and deeply to measure up. When every faux pas (fashion or otherwise) is instantly uploaded for all to see and pass judgement on (in 140 characters or less) they are exerting inhuman effort to look right, because that is all that matters, and even then, sometimes, that isn't enough. But screwing up on YouTube looking hot is preferable to screwing up on YouTube looking bad.

I am worried about my daughter.

Being a girl has always been hard. But now, being a girl is impossible. You have to be smart mouthed (not the same as smart), sexy, with a perfect physique, a perfect wardrobe, experienced but not skanky, and a long list of other superficial and contradictory characteristics. What if she falls into that un-navigable maze, fraught with an over inflated need to impress others and sub-zero self esteem? What if her kind and delicate heart can't endure?

And I am worried about my son, whose image of a valuable woman is one without pubic hair, who needs bigger boobs and smaller brains. My son, who may grow up thinking it’s Ok for women to be rude as long as they are sexy… because, "Who cares about personality...did you check out her underwear?" Whose peers don't even bat an eyelash at porn because it is everywhere...even the toy aisle at Wal-Mart. (Did I mention Bratz?)

I want a girl's beauty to be measured by generosity, leadership, capability, curiosity, intelligence, integrity, kindness, strength, independence, helpfulness, soulfulness, and heart....not her underwear.

But we don't make toys that look like Maya Angelou or Marie Curie or Indira Ghandi or Pearl S. Buck. We make toys that look like Lady Gaga and Sexy Corpses. ‘Cause dead girls are sexy...right? (Hello, Monster High.)  Our romantic role models are vampires and sexual submissives.... so our daughters are looking for suitors who are emotionally inaccessible and totally dominant. Lovers who value only their own pleasure and not hers.

Victoria Secret is just the tip of the iceberg.

It isn’t productive to lay blame or point fingers, but we must as parents … as consumers, evaluate our own responsibility in this. It is productive to recognize that we are responsible for our children. My husband and I raise our daughter and our son. Not Mattel or Hasbro, not Disney, not YouTube, not facebook, not MTV.  We do, her mom and dad. We lay the groundwork. I am not dumb enough to think that it begins and ends with me…but I am smart enough to know that it does begin and end with her.  So I will set a bedtime, and put 3 square meals in front of her each day, I will listen to relentless knock-knock jokes and kiss scraped knees. I will set curfews and I will enforce them, I will watch TV, even the Family channel and I will talk with her about what we see, the things we loved (even cute shoes) and the things that bugged us (the way Alex spoke to her brother ) and sometimes (many times) we will turn the TV off. I will creep on her facebook (if I ever let her on it) I will invite her friends to our home, I will drive them to and from and I will chaperone the semi-formal.  I will not buy toys that contradict my values. I will pin her art to my fridge and display her poetry in my workspace. I will brag about her imagination and her sense of adventure more than her beauty and her wardrobe.  I will tell her exciting stories about amazing women (real and imagined) and I will make her spend as much time as possible around the real women I most admire. And I will do my very best to live the way I want her to live. I will foster and cherish my relationships with women; I will speak to my husband and son with love and appreciation for the wonderful role they play in my life. I will nurture in myself the qualities I hope to instill in her, self-worth, personal strength, capability, positivity, integrity and generosity. I will talk about beauty with the conviction that it is not skin deep, that it is universal and all-inclusive. I will bite my tongue when I feel driven by harsh self judgement or negativity towards others. I will love myself in the very way I love her. In doing so I hope to teach her that she is already worthy, and the right doll, the right lipstick, and the right panties are accessories, not an indicator of her real value.
Emily Pittman March 25th, 2013.


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Wednesday, April 02, 2008


"Don't mind the rain or the rolling sea
the weary night never worries me
but the hardest time in a sailor's day
is to watch the sun as it fades away"

This is the first verse of the song I must sing for my son every night before he goes to sleep, even if it is over the phone.

My father also insisted on this song, on all occasions, and even over the phone. I remember a night en route to my sister's wedding; my then boyfriend, my divorced parents (both of them) and me, all in a tiny, dirty hotel room in the worst part of South Boston. We were warned not to walk from the hotel at night. So my dad called a taxi. As was always the case with dad, it turned out that the driver (transplanted from post volcano Montserrat) had a cousin in the village in Tobago where we lived as children. After laughing and exclaiming like long lost kin, my dad asked the man to take us to a pub. He told us he would take us to the best pub in South Boston, Molly O'Darby's. The driver dropped us off, didn't charge for the ride and told us to call him on his cell when we were ready to head back to the hotel. The pub had two sections, an eatery and a barroom.... my mum, boyfriend and I headed to the food, and my dad - to the drink. About three minutes later the waiter comes out and asks us what we'll have to drink...its on the house.

In the three minutes that we were perusing the menu my dad walked up to the bar and asked for a double dark rum and coke in a single glass...the bartender said "What part of Newfoundland are ya from?" It turns out that the bar is a favorite Boston watering hole for a particular Newfoundland band. This band had recorded several songs that my dad had written, so he knew them well. The bartender (who was also the owner) was so thrilled that we drank and ate for free until the wee hours of the morning.

Anyone will tell you that my dad's love of music was matched only by his adoration of his daughters. He was also tone deaf. Blind love of one's children combined with atonality is a dangerous combination. Throw in that he was also an artist of influence and you have me singing in places where lovely audiences had to grin through painful performances that they paid good money to see.

At least no one paid to hear me at Molly O'Darby's. My Dad kept me in an affectionate headlock all night and requested song after song. I obliged, embarrassed at first, unworthy...but song after drink after song after some point I was Pamela Morgan, Joni Mitchell, Maddy Prior...

I love to sing, I miss that part of my life that changed when dad died. With him I could embrace the song, appreciate being a participant in music, only slightly inhibited by my lack of talent. I loved to sing. For him. For others.

My son is on the stairs saying "Mom, will you sing me Grey Funnel Line?" It was his Poppy's most favorite. I sang it from Ireland to Arkansas, and all points in between. Sometimes in that loving headlock...and always of my own free will.

I sing it now, only in the darkened bedroom of my seven year old boy.

In hospital, just hours before he died (while I sang), Dad asked for Remy. He hadn't been lucid for days, but when I brought my infant boy in past protesting Intensive Care nurses, Dad sat up and held him. His thin arms clinging, his knobby fingers smoothing Remy's red hair. His only words after..."Ahhh, Remy." Itself a song.

So tonight, as I do everynight, I will go upstairs to Remy's room and sing "Poppy's song". On nights when his dad and I go out and are not home to tuck him in, Remy insists that upon returning I go straight to his room and sing The Grey Funnel Line. Like his grandfather he knows that songs, and goodnight kisses, transcend the deepest of sleep.

"The finest ship that sails the sea
is still a prison for the likes of me
but give me wings like Noah's Dove
I'd fly above her to the one I love..."

Goodnight Remy, Goodnight Dad.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


It is unseasonably mild today. The soggy weather suits my soggy disposition. I always find it hard to let Christmas go. We are two days past the traditional un-trimming day and you'd think it was Christmas Eve on Princess Avenue. The lights still twinkle on the perfectly trimmed (albeit somewhat needle-less) tree. There are candle-lights in every window and at sundown the multi-coloured exterior Christmas lights beam festively with no inkling of their own timeliness passed.

Last year, we got drunk and undecorated, that was such opportunity has presented itself this year. I can't decipher if it is emotional resistance, or laziness... maybe both...emotional laziness. Although that sounds more like a condition where you are too lazy to feel anything.
I think I am postponing the post Christmas blahs... although staring at the wilting tree is not really lifting my spirits... its just a sorry reminder of all the work left to be done.

Or maybe its about dieting!!!! As long as it looks like Christmas I can keep eating like it is Christmas, as soon as the decorations come down I have to admit the holidays are over and commit to my resolution....lose 20lbs for a family wedding July 4th.

I thought the New Year would bring in a sense of purpose and renewal.... a clean piece of paper on which to form the future...... maybe that is my problem, I have grandiose expectations, impossible.... like winning the lottery, huge and wondrous things will happen as long as I sit here and wait patiently....still waiting, 2o lbs heavier, much more in debt.... maybe my resolution should be about self determination. Working towards becoming more active in shaping my life, practically, physically, financially..... but My God, it sounds like so much work..... would I really feel more fulfilled if I stepped up and took charge..... or would I just feel more exhausted.

I think I'll curl up on the couch with a bag of chips and a workout video and mull it over.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rotten Mussels

It occurred to me tonight after eating mussels that had been dormant in my fridge for too many days that this would not be a good time to die. It may seem a somewhat elementary thought to most, or absurd. Is one day better than another when it comes to dying? How much time do I spend assessing the timeliness of my own death? Too much apparently.... or maybe not enough.

The reason I do not want to die tonight is because I have been fighting with my 6 year old for weeks. I don't want to leave him like this. I forgot in the heat of my swirling frustrations to tell him that I love him anyway, even, to some degree because he rode his dirtbike in the road without permission, even because he went to Zack's house for an hour without telling anyone, even because he chased his father's car on bike across the busiest streets on our side of town one night in the almost dark.... he doesn't know yet that I am yelling at him because his power and confidence frighten me. He doesn't know that when I dreamed him into being that I wished him to be independent and carefree, confident and adventurous, smart and free thinking. But now that he is more than a wish, now that he is vulnerable and prone, living outside of my dreams, my body.... I feel helpless and afraid. And the more I attempt to shelter him, to hem him in the greater is his need to prove that he can do all of it all by himself.

I want to live each day... end each night with my children already knowing exactly what I would want them to hear in the moments after my death. Not because I am overly morbid or suicidal or selfish enough to want them to live in well behaved guilt but because I want them to live carefree and foolish knowing that their mother never wants them to be anything but who they are. That all of their mistakes and misteps are my treasured moments. Those are the things I snap tight inside my sterling locket. Remy's dangerous forays to the street behind our house are the very things that I take out and turn over and over in my hand in my solitary moments. I have spent so much time with them that they are worn smooth like beach glass, shimmering and familiar; a remnant of something that used to be sharp. I don't want Remy to lose his edge. His wild tendencies are the very things that will make him a self sufficient and interesting adult. He is tenacious and magnetic.... he is unrelenting and unrepentent. He is frustratingly perceptive. And he has an irresistable pirate accent. I wouldn't change him....ever. I must remeber to tell him this in the morning.... right after I remind him that he is only grounded for another 5,475 days!

Saturday, January 06, 2007


My husband and I got drunk and un-decorated our house last night, or rather I got drunk and my husband and I un-decorated and our house last night, and although the 45 minutes spent puking in the toilet this morning was unpleasant and somewhat worrisome to my 5 year old, it was worth it. I flirted wildly and danced around "seductively" to Guns n' Roses (if you consider lame Axl Rose impersonations sexy). When I called him at work last evening, my husband was delighted at my suggestion that he pick up some wine and we stay in --- his libido makes him forget the fact that this always leads to me snoring and drooling in bed and nothing else. He is such an optimist.

We both felt melancholy at the thought of dis-assembling Christmas, but it was really fun and quite festive, somewhat moreso than the mad rush to get the damn tree up seconds before our 4th annual Tibb's Eve party began. We played all the CDs we had stuffed our stockings with for Christmas (I gave him all my favorites and he gave me his). And the alchohol helped. In our house it only takes the opening riff of Sweet Child of Mine to call it a party, we don't even need company.

I love my husband. It bears repeating in bold and with exclamation marks.... I LOVE MY HUSBAND!!!!

It may be surprising to you that there are days I do not feel this way. Like the months of October and November.
I mean I loved him, sure, but I wasn't feeling it, and beleive me when I say neither was he.
Its difficult to find love for each other between all the demands. Difficult to dredge up the energy and vulnerabilty and honesty that is required to actively love. Living takes so much out of a body, between organizing and mobilizing the family to do all the things we have to do, and the expenditure of personal resources at work. By the time our children are tucked in we are wasted, there is nothing left. nothing.

And then one night, folding laundry or scraping plates or un-decorating it drifts in like wisps of mist wafting through the house. It starts as a moment of peace, and grows to awareness, just realizing that the other adult inhabitant of the house is known to you, familiar and relied on, but also precious and significant. That awareness becomes gratitude, a sense of fortune, I am so blessed, and that is love, and it has nothing (and everything) to do with the kids, the house, the paid and unpaid bills. It is romantic and charged and splendid. And it is real and necessary because it offsets the demands. Its a trick of the mind really. I shy away, even push away from loving my husband because I think I am empty, depleted, devoid.....I have nothing left in me. But when I let go, of the tension, the day, the urge to run screaming.... then it drifts in and if I am open to it, or caught off guard - then it fills me up again, and I am replenished. I seem to have trouble remembering from one moment to the next that loving someone is a gift, and not another set of demands.

So my resolution this year is to love.
Indiscriminately (although this has gotten me in trouble in the past)
Physically (my husband will be so pleased)
and without hesitation, reservation or regret.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Coming Winter

The ungainly King Maples in the back yard have no modesty (nor common sense I might add). Every night is 10 degrees colder, and we are so close to November I can smell the snow, yet the silly trees are stripping down to their skivvies as we speak. One of the maples wears nothing but 3 purple leaves and a flying disc. (Stuck there since last July) The cherries are prudish though; every leaf is yellow and shrivelled but they won't let go until the January gales start. The roses are down right cheeky (who'd expect any different, mine are a pair of old harlots anyway, blushing and blooming from June to October...they'd put out for anyone those two) They've got nothing but their bright red hips on, swaying and bouncing with the slightest breeze, like a bush full of perfect nipples saying "C'mon and get it cause I know you want it!" And in February, the Bohemian waxwing swoop in and have their way, all-ways with my old bushes.

Soon the only flowers in the garden will be my children and their entourage of brightly coloured bundles, all giggles and squeals. Kaliedoscopic sumo wrestlers making forts, blockades, hockey rinks and angels in the polar belt of Princess Avenue. As they struggle, bums and elbows, out of their celestial relief, they will not think of the green that sleeps beneath them. My children, with their bright faces skyward, will exist only in the snow bank. Antartica. Everest. A distant moon.

And overhead the Bohemian Waxwing gather.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Night Girls

Number 1 husband and son are passed out from overindulging in bedtime stories. I teasingly call him "Number 1" to insinuate that if he's not careful there could be a number 2. He is completely unphased by my idle threats, so certain he is of my devotion...And he'd be right.

When we met, I was dangerous, reckless, even flip. He held on to me believing that a rogue breeze might lead me astray.
I was completely unprepared for the potency of my feelings. From the moment I met him I knew...I just knew.
In a perverse attempt at self protection I threw myself at every man who crossed my path. I genuinely tried my best to keep it casual, to not be in love. It was frightening to me to be so connected, so certain and so...happy. Our second date was in an isolated coastal cabin, no electricity, no plumbing, no people. On day two he dozed with a school book splayed across his chest while I waited out lamb stew on the old wood stove. At some point I realized we hadn't spoke a single word in hours... and it was fine. No anxiety, no I boring? am I pretty? I knew. After we went for a walk and had a snowball fight on a frozen bog. we laughed our asses off, went inside and he kindly ate the worst meal I have ever cooked. Six years, two kids, a house, and all the trimmings...

That night in the cove, listening to him sleeping and the awful stew simmering... I knew I would be here, 6 years later, 60 years later. And every day I thank my lucky stars that he locked his jaw against my early indescretions and held fast.