One Rule

I’ll never forget the moment S. and I learned we were having a daughter.  We were in the darkened ultrasound room, watching as the technician performed all sorts of small miracles, measuring our baby’s heart, brain, arms, legs, the amniotic fluid, the placenta.  We were hoping to find out the sex of our baby that day but weren’t counting on it, by any means, when finally the tech told us that we were having a little girl, and that she was perfect.

The look on S.’s face was priceless, and indescribable. Until that point all of the old wives tales pointed to the possibility I was having a boy and so the surprise of finding out our baby was a girl – well, it was like learning I was pregnant all over again. Quite quickly, though, a solemnity settled between the two of us. A daughter. I am not certain if the same sort of feeling would have occurred if we found out we were having a boy – I am fairly certain it would have – but the responsibility of this child suddenly became very real for the two of us.

I’m not arguing, by any means, that a raising a girl is any more challenging or fascinating than raising a boy (I mean, how would I know?), but I do know it feels like a tremendous honor we’ve been bestowed with, one to be cherished and cared for greatly. Occasionally we mentioned some gender-specific thing we are grateful we don’t have to deal with – for instance, it’s unlikely (possible, but unlikely) we will have to struggle with whether or not to let her play football in her teenage years. Circumcision is another discussion we avoid altogether, for a time.  But these small concerns are almost immediately countered with other, faraway questions like, at what age will she be allowed to get her ears pierced (if she’s interested)? Wear makeup? Date? More of these questions come from S. than from me, which I think is natural. Fortunately we don’t have to deal with them until much, much further down the line.

I spend some of my time on the internet these days perusing pregnancy boards, although I’ve never found one helpful enough to actually join.  Between these boards and the reports my mother shares with me about her friends’ grandchildren, I’ve come to the realization that a lot of people spend a lot of time making up rules for their as-yet unborn children. There are going to be a whole lot of children born in 2011 who aren’t allowed to watch television, ever enter a McDonald’s, consume sugar or meat or cow’s milk – children who will spend their days listening to NPR and reading the Great Works, apparently.  My mom tells me of the different rules all of her friends have to follow with their grandchildren, most of them similar to the above, and these conversations leave me feeling bemused, and a little ashamed – while I certainly have no intention of feeding my kid from McDonald’s on a regular basis (I couldn’t even say where the nearest one is to us) or encourage hours of television every day, I also can’t imagine telling either grandmother she can’t give a cookie to her grandchild, or spoil her a little bit. I don’t, I realized, have any particular rules in mind for this child. I assume rules are something S. and I will establish together, over time, as we get to know our daughter and her various quirks and eccentricities.

As I thought through this, though, I did come up with one rule – one steadfast and determined rule that is going to take more work from me than it will from most other people in her life, and it is this: I do not want anyone close to her disparaging their own appearance in front of her. No “I’m fat” and no “I’m having a bad hair day” and no “I’m ugly”…you get the idea. Oh, I know she’ll hear all this talk the moment more of the real world intrudes on her but I am hoping it’ something she never hears from her parents, her aunts or uncles or her grandparents and my close friends.

There is a large variety of reasons for this, beginning with my earliest memories of my dad standing in front of the full-length mirror in my parents’ bedroom, frowning at his trim runners waist and asking my mom if she thought he was fat to time when I had chicken pox and my mom yelled at me when I scratched at one of the pox on my belly because it could scar and I wouldn’t be able to wear a bikini when I was older. I’m not saying my parents did me any sort of grievous harm – I don’t resent their fixation on weight and appearance because I know it wasn’t nearly as bad as many women had it growing up.  But it does make me sad, when I flip through photos from myself in high school, college and beyond and know that I didn’t believe myself to be as beautiful as I actually was, and that a good portion of my head space was consumed with thoughts of calories and weight.

In creating this one rule I think I am asking the most of myself – S. certainly doesn’t wander around the house griping about feeling fat or examining the calorie content in various snack options. But, with sixteen weeks left in this pregnancy and our daughter knocking around in my belly like it’s her own personal play pen, which, I guess, it is, and so many decisions left to be made, this one feels solid, achievable, and perhaps it will do me as much good as I hope it does her.

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11 Responses to One Rule

  1. It’s a wonderful decision. You can gift her your self-confidence and your love and teach her to cherish herself.

    While I have a personal weight battle (one that I’m growing to realise is more in my head than in reality), I have never disparaged my body or those of other people in front of my kids. I think our parents, God love them, fought on the body hatred battle lines so that we don’t have to.

  2. Abby says:

    Bravo! The rules about fast food and television are made to be broken. This one is wise and thoughtful and deserves adherence from all of us.

  3. Amy Whipple says:

    First — a girl!!!!
    Second — that’s one hell of an awesome rule. What a lucky little girl to have such amazing parents!

  4. scribbler50 says:

    Good rule, beautiful post… sounds like your little girl is going to be off to a wonderful start.

  5. Lizzy says:

    Congratulations, Courtney! Having a daughter is a joy, it’s a beautiful bond, very different from the one we have as parents with a son, although now that I am the mother of little boy I have to say that I’m loving that experience too, I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I am.

    I am sure your daughter (and doesn’t that sound lovely?) will be a confident, happy little girl, you sound like you and your husband are on the right track. I think self-esteem and contentment is the best gift we have can all give our children. It’s never-ending, back-braking work, but it’s perhaps the most worthwhile thing we can do as human beings.

  6. Cam says:

    Awesome rule!

  7. litlove says:

    Bravo! That sounds like a very sensible rule indeed. Worries about tv and the occasional cookie soon go out the window when the reality of the child breaks in. Let kids live, and have pleasure and most of all, make mistakes their own way. Rule-bound existences are very, very anxious ones. I can see you’re only interested in giving your daughter the strength of self-belief she needs – so much healthier.

  8. Stefanie says:

    If you are going to have one rule, I think you’ve landed on a good one!

  9. Zoesmom says:

    Congratulations on having a daughter! As a mother of a daughter, I can tell you it is a wonderful thing and I can clearly remember the day I found out I was having a girl too. Such a special moment.

    I like your one rule — I try very hard to follow the same at my house. Even when I was dieting all last year I told my daughter it was because I wanted to be healthier (true).

    I have one more rule for you which was one of the few bits of unsolicited parenting advice I held onto — tell your daughter she can’t have gum until she’s 5. 🙂

    Wishing you the best of everything!

  10. Charlotte – I don’t think I’ll ever fully conquer my own issues but I am hoping that for our daughter, she doesn’t struggle as much.
    Abby – thanks! Yeah, it seems like so many of the rules people make up have so little to do with real life, honestly.
    Amy – you are so sweet! Thank you!
    Scribbler – aw, thanks! And I am relieved to see your response to my martini/olive question.
    Lizzy – what beautiful insights into having a daughter – I am looking forward to it even more now, and I didn’t realize that was possible.
    Cam – thanks!
    Litlove – you are so exactly right. And S. and I are both anxious enough by nature -I don’t think we need to add any extra into the mix for our child.
    Stefani – thank you!
    Zoe – that gum rule? Very sage. Very, very sage.

  11. shoreacres says:

    I don’t have children or grandchildren, nor do most of my friends, so this is pretty strange territory for me.

    Still, I do hear some chatter about parenting, and much of it has a slightly panic-stricken edge. There seems to be a sense that, if only we make the right rules, prepare in the right way and have the right toys and routines, we won’t have to cope with the disasters we see all around us.

    Well, maybe. Maybe not. But it seems to me that it all boils down to love and acceptance, and a realization that whether you end up with tulip, a geranium, a dandelion or an iris, when your little flower begins to unfold, she’ll be beautiful no matter what form she takes!

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