Sunday, June 28, 2015

Say Her Name

“Ugh, I hate when people call me that. That’s not my name.”

For some reason, people think it is ok to be wrong sometimes . . . all the time. I am guilty of saying, “I am bad with names,” just as much as the next person, however there is a difference between acknowledging our weakness – poor short term memory – and just giving up on even trying. I know I am bad at remembering names after hearing them only once. I am bad at remembering anything I hear. I know I am not an auditory learner. Over the years I have had to come up with tricks to try to help me be better. I do not like not knowing someone’s name. I do not like feeling rude.

That is what it is. It is rude. It is rude to tell someone his or her individual identity is not important, not worth the effort to remember. Our names are the most basic outward signs of who we are. They are our branding, our labels. My first name sets me apart from my three sisters. Being called Emma rather than “Fox Girl” makes a difference. Am I proud of the group I belong to? Sure. But I am more proud of the individual I am within that group. When people ask me, “Which Fox girl are you?” I’m ok with that. That means they are acknowledging they don’t remember my name, but want to be better and want to identify me as me. I’d rather answer the question than be called the wrong name or just called “nameless member of a group”.

For my daughters, they struggle with being called the right names because in one case people want to presumptively adjust a nickname and in the other people want to dismiss a name they find too ethnic.

Embracing her namesake.
My older daughter has a hyphenated first name. We were fully aware when we named her that people would struggle with the hyphen, and we call her by a nickname – Sofi.  For some reason, though, people take it upon themselves – no matter how much we tell them what her name is, even spelling it out for them – to call her Sophia. That is not and has never been her name. I understand Sofi sounds like it could be short for Sophia, but it isn’t. Once we have said it isn’t, the mistake should end. The mistake made once is understandable, and we honestly don’t mind the first time we have to correct a person. HOWEVER if we clearly fill out a form spelling her name the correct way or if she makes an effort to speak up and say, “my name is NOT Sophia, so please do not call me that,” then it is rude to use that as her name. To do so is to say, “Even though you put a lot of thought into what you named your daughter, and there are many very emotional reasons for her name being what it is, I am going to decide that MY way of spelling her name is better and that I know what is the best name for her. Also, I am not going to listen to her request to be called something else because, again, my desire to have a name sound and spell the way I am comfortable with it is more important than her individual identity.” Really. That is what is being said. 
Her name is hyphenated because she is also named after this amazing woman - Margaret. Dropping the Margaret hurts.
My younger daughter has a name which is not unheard of in other parts of the world and is in no way “made up” as people like to ask us. In the US, though, it is unusual. Again, we knew when we named her that people would struggle with it at first, but we liked the name. Considering we are the ones who say the name the most, really our opinions are the ones that matter most. Anyway, people had trouble with my name when I was growing up and now it is in the top 5 most common names in America. You never know. In the hospital, the woman who came to fill out the form for my daughter’s birth certificate actually insulted the name and criticized me as a mother for choosing that name. I pointed out to her that her opinion was narrow, the name has significance not only culturally but also IT’S NONE OF HER DAMN BUSINESS WHAT ETHNICITY OUR DAUGHTER’S NAME IS AND WHETHER OR NOT A RANDOM STRANGER LIKES IT. Since then, most people ask us to say our daughter’s name twice, then that’s the end of the conversation. They just accept it, call her by her name, and we all get on with our lives. Most people. About 5% of the people say, “I can’t say that,” and then give up trying (it is pronounced the way it is spelled – Yas-ya), make rude comments about ethnic/made up/uncommon names, or call her Yasha (which is actually a completely different name and is more commonly used as a nickname for boys translating-ish as Jake). Does this bother just me as her mom? Nope. Does she notice? Yes. You better believe it. She has an easy to pronounce third-option-name (Yasya is actually her nickname . . . her real name is longer and is what the lady in the hospital had a hissy fit about) which she offers to people she thinks won’t be able to handle her real name.
Looking up to the man she was named after.
For some reason, the people who can’t pronounce her nickname also tend to be the ones who think her real name is too intimidating, so they won’t use that, and they also refuse to call her by her third option name which is super easy to say. So what is left for her? With that group of 5% she has to deal with being called the wrong name or no name at all. While other people get the dignity of an individual identity, she does not. Not because of anything she has done, but because of that 5%’s comfort level. Have I ever been uncomfortable saying someone’s name? Sure. But I push myself. I need to be better. People deserve better.

I am not just being an overly sensitive woman about this and do not need to just get a thicker skin or accept people will be rude or people will change my daughters' names as they see fit. It is rude. Really. Imagine if someone changed your name and flat out refused to ever spell your name the way you do or call you by the name you prefer to be called. Would you just shrug that off? Really? Not be even a little bothered? At the end of the day, this is about dignity on a small scale. It is about pushing ourselves to do a tiny thing – whether it is easy for us or not – to recognize people as individual human beings. We look them in the eyes, we call them by name. Whether we have heard that name before or not. Whether we would have chosen that name for our child or not. Whether we would use a different nickname or not. Whether that name is from our ethnic group of not. Because opinions should not affect the amount of basic respect we show people. We should be better than that. People deserve better.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When You Sit Right Down in the Middle of Yourself

“Wow, she looks amazing. I hope I look that good some day.”
I see the imperfections; they see the Mama.

“Don’t be silly, Mom. You already look that amazing.”

I love my girls. They are good for my ego (most of the time). But we do live in a tricky world where figuring out this whole self-image thing gets pretty complicated really fast and can be devastatingly destructive. I know it is an issue both males and females battle (my husband doesn’t go to the gym just because he likes to wake up early and smell other people’s sweat), but as a female raising females, the female battle is the one I am more familiar with and the one I have been trying to figure out how to talk about.

When I was younger, I did the whole mall modeling thing. I even had an agent. I exercised in my bedroom in the mornings and before bed, doing sit ups and leg lifts then measuring myself. I always knew my size. I also always knew every single flaw with my appearance. Eyebrows were waxed and plucked, skin was inspected for any blemishes, and I would spend hours pacing back and forth in front of a full length mirror. Then I’d go to school and hear someone say, “Sure Emma’s pretty, but then she opens her mouth.” Bam! And if people heard I was modeling, the comments were, “Seriously? Her?” Yeah. Their skepticism really rammed home my knowledge of my short comings (including my shortness . . . I’m only 5’8”).

Now as the size 2 mom people love to bash in blogs and songs, I wish I could say things are better, but people still love to be snarky. It is up to me to ignore the “skinny bitch” comments I hear from random strangers when I am shopping (wish I could say I was joking) and in songs (can’t love “All About That Bass” if it is calling me a bitch because I am not overweight). It is up to me to hold my head high and not feel responsible for people obsessing about their thighs just because mine don’t touch. Honestly, I don’t look at or measure other people’s thighs and didn’t know “thigh gap” was something to talk about until people started making such a fuss about it on facebook. I only think about my thigh gap when I drop my phone while I’m on the toilet. I cannot let other people’s visions of themselves define my vision of myself.

That is what I try to teach my daughters. They already get bombarded with pressure to look certain ways. Don’t believe me? Let your second grader shave her head. Count how many people tell her she is no longer a girl or no longer pretty or that she is weird, wrong, etc. Let your first grader wear shoes from the boys’ department. Less extreme action, but she’ll get similar comments. The pressure to look one way and fit a generic mold of “this is what little girls are” is intense and destructive. Not every person fits the same mold and trying to force them to breaks them. As parents, my husband and I decided our goal was to help our girls express themselves and be true to themselves - even if that means coming home from school and shaving their heads in the bathroom then rocking a Star Wars t-shirt and one of my blazers in the pediatrician's office. Looking fierce, Tuna!

My girls and I (and my husband, too!) watch America’s Next Top Model or Star Trek as our evening tv. These two shows were chosen intentionally because they help us teach our daughters to be "fierce" and embrace their differences (and remind us to do the same in our own lives!).  Their dad and I can say over and over, “you are beautiful as is,” but it doesn’t have the same impact as hearing a super model or star ship captain with perfect hair tell them that being true to themselves makes them strong and gorgeous.

Here are some of our favorite lessons the girls can take away from those shows to help them battle the pressures to “look perfect” all the time:
  • ·         Confidence is Beautiful – The judges on ANTM say this all the time. They send girls home for not being confident. They tell girls that beauty comes from within and that they must BELIEVE they are beautiful.
  • ·         Compassion is Powerful – This lesson the girls see on both shows. One of their favorite episodes of Star Trek is “Plato’s Stepchildren” because it shows Cpt Kirk and the other crew members showing compassion to a man, Alexander, who had only experienced bullying and abuse before he met them because he didn’t look the same as the other people. Alexander’s transformation is a result of that compassion and helps to defeat the bullies. The compassion was stronger than the hatred showered on him. We talk to the girls not only about the need for them to act as Kirk did to others, but also act that way to themselves. They must show themselves the same compassion.
  • ·         Diversity is Necessary – This is a Star Trek lesson that is evident just by looking at the make-up of the bridge. The crew comes from all over. Each character brings different strengths to the table, and Captain Kirk relies on all of them to help him.
  • ·         No One is Always Perfect Looking – ANTM is great for teaching this lesson. Every girl has something she doesn’t like about herself, including Tyra Banks. Plus, by watching old seasons and comparing them to new ones, the girls also see how the trends change. If a girl from season 20 made herself look and dress exactly like a girl from season one, she would be outdated and wrong. There is no point beating ourselves up to fit the idea of perfection of the moment because the moment changes. Also, the fact that the judges don’t always agree drives home the message that this idea of perfection is a myth. Perfection is an idea that varies from person to person, minute to minute. We should not change who we are or sacrifice ourselves to a false idea.
  • ·         Be True to YOU – Both shows teach this well. Captain Kirk and Tyra Banks in their own very different ways encourage the people around them to be strong by being true to themselves. When the girls do that, they can be more confident, embrace diversity, show compassion to themselves and others, ignore other people’s definitions of perfection, and – most importantly – be happy.

As Ani Di Franco, my other go-to for shareable wisdom for my girls, so nicely says, “when you sit right down in the middle of yourself, you’re gonna want to have a comfortable chair.”

Why I am ok with my daughter shaving her head.