What Advice Would You Give Your Daughter As She Transitions Into Womanhood?

Women supporting women.

When I was growing up, I wish someone had told me to bury the past, to keep my eyes focused firmly on the road ahead, and to embrace the company of women.

An out-of-the-blue email from an old girlfriend prompted me to write this post. The first true girlfriend of my adulthood – ie. after kids – we were the only two mums in our parenting class with babies that refused to commit to the stepping stones of perfection outlined in the parenting manuals. Shamed by a smarmy group of other first-time mums whose kids were nailing them, we got through the shit show on wine, whinging and WTFs.

It took me a long time to connect with women. Raised through my teens by a single and unconventional father, it wasn’t until my late twenties and the births of my own children, that I was thrust among the fairer sex. Before that, the majority of my friends had been men. Sharing their black and white space, that felt devoid of emotional complications – other than those unfortunate misunderstandings about the status of our relationship – I felt calmer.

Since then, of course, I’ve come to terms with the bollocks to be found in the majority of self-help books about the search for happiness and personal fulfillment. Experience has shown me that the streets aren’t paved with gold, that life can be grossly unfair, and that the only way to make any sense of life is to make the best of what you have. And this newfound wisdom has helped me understand more about the differences between men and women, and the reason why friendships with men used to appear more attractive/straightforward. It’s because they have fewer layers.

Sounds derogatory, I know. Although, not as insulting as the word “depth,” which is the one I really wanted to use. But hear me out, because my employment of the word is not meant to be a judgment about men’s personality flaws or their shoddy housework skills (this time), I use it to champion women and the female experience of life.

I believe, that because the role of women requires so much more emotional labor and intelligence than theirs, (which I spoke about here), and we experience greater physical and emotional trauma – eg. during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – we experience a more visceral understanding of ourselves as humans and our place in this world. You only have to look at the women who have experienced near-death experiences in childbirth, or from rape, or those whose husbands left them on the poverty line, with nothing but the kids, for examples.

Whereas, men – and I’m generalizing here because this is not a discussion about the mental health of men or the stress some experience as sole earners of their family etc – seem more transparent, more easy-going, (dare I say) less judgemental than women. (Obviously, what I’d really like to say is “simple” – in the nicest possible way.) And while there are no doubt evolutionary and physiological explanations to why one gender carries the burden of more emotional baggage than the other, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the societal influence of male privilege. Perhaps, that’s why, (on a social level), men seem less confrontational than women – who are judged throughout their lives, making them complicated creatures.

While I’ll admit that many of my closest female friends have always secretly terrified me, fortunately for women, kids are a glue that draws us together. The uncanny ability of our offspring to extract emotion from the most determinedly cold hearts, to frazzle nerves, to provoke self-doubt and tears, and to force us to question just about everything as they chip away relentlessly at our resilience and turn our brains to pulp, are the main reason the coffee morning was invented.

In spite of the suspicions of certain men, the purpose of the coffee morning is (generally) not to discuss the latest fashions, the most energy-efficient washing machine, or the last time we had an orgasm. Coffee mornings are about support, about building resilience and sharing experiences. Men should try it, sometime.

Women are there for women on those days the dam bursts. When all those tantrums in the supermarket have finally worn you down; when the barrage of abuse at dinner time (each time you force their kids to eat peas) becomes too much; when you lose your job; or when you burst into tears in the vegetable section of Coles because someone took the last ripe avocado.

Who better to rely upon in those situations than someone who has got the tee-shirt, on those days you’re sobbing into your phone, wine in one hand, and the scalp of your third child in the other? The truth is, your girlfriends are the only ones who can help you make sense of the new, terrifying vulnerability that comes from having your emotions and hormones put through a spiralizer.

Because THEY’VE BEEN THERE.

Personally, I’m a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Over the years, my attempts to feign the habits of a worthy friend have improved, but alas, for the main part they remain superficial. I try to be better than the sub-standard set of female instincts that nature provided me with – to remember birthdays, special events, cards etc – however, an unhealthy obsession to overthink, a possible case of early onset dementia, and a natural scattiness have determined that I will never be that thoughtful, perfect friend that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. I can only hope that those friends who always make the first call or send the first text understand that my silence is unrelated to their worth.

Sadly – and yes, here comes the excuse – some people travel through life with the baggage of their past stuck as firmly to their shoulders as a backpack. And it has been easy to blame my detachment issues on any number of things – and I do. I am what they call an Olympian “victim”. The divorce of my parents, the loss of my mother (and some things that even I’m not ready to share) have been assimilated (rather than dealt with), to protect myself – a self-defensive mechanism that has had some unfair repercussions for our kids, in particular, our daughter.

NC has recently entered a phase of self-reflection. Like her mother, she has struggled to open the box fully on her emotions, but as she matures she is becoming more aware of the dangers of that choice. A bystander to the emotional carnage caused by the death of my mother, and our struggles with Kurt, she has inherited my need for control when it comes to her emotions. The concept of a free fall terrifies her, but she can’t ignore the logic of her scientist’s brain: that putting up barriers will prevent her development and thwart any positive relationships in her life – what she needs to reach her full potential.

Hence, there are two pieces of advice I wish to share with my daughter: the first is to surround herself and nurture relationships with a group of strong, intelligent, and diverse women who will challenge her and blow the wind in her sails when she needs it. The second is to put her heart on the line and to dare to love and trust.

What would be yours?

Empty Nesting: When The First Takes Flight

NC left for her trip halfway around the globe at 5.30am this morning. She looked somewhat out of place with her backpack and beanie on. It’s not that our girl’s a princess, but she’s not into roughing it either, like her mother. high-fashion-drag-queen-5104472

 

We celebrated her departure last night over much too wine, our favourite Japanese food and an unforgiving bottle of fortified wine that she brought for me ahead of my birthday because she won’t be here to celebrate it in August.

 

I remembered why I don’t drink unfortified wines at 5.30am this morning.

 

She won’t be here. The reality of her departure hasn’t really sunk in yet because in many ways we won’t notice that she’s not here, so rarely is she actually here, even when she is in Sydney.

 

She still lives at home, but NC is focused and has forged her own independent path for some time now. She works hard, our girl. She finished her degree in Advanced Science recently with one final unit to complete in Indonesia en route to Europe. At the same time, she has held down a part time job as the stereotypical, cranky doctor’s receptionist for the past two years, successfully scaring the living daylights out of any poor patient who dares come into the surgery a minute after closing time.

 

She has balanced her ambition with a mature and enviable relationship with The Astronaut, a match that is based on humor, intellect, a shared appreciation for alcohol and a mutual respect, that deserves to last the course of time in spite of her youth.

 

Apart from the sticky strands of grated carrot left on the kitchen floor to adhere to my socks each morning, her nightly scavenges for avocados and chocolate and her homemade concoctions of Bircher that remain in the fridge until they walk to the bin themselves, we won’t notice her absence. Because unless you judge someone by the state of their bedroom or their use of hot water, NC is easy to live with; indeed our daughter shines a ray of light into what can sometimes feel like a dark, unsettling void.

 

I’ll miss her loopiness, inherited from my side I imagine, the most recent example of which was the day before she left when she went to have her eyelashes tinted and came back with extensions. She came home and sobbed for hours afterwards convinced she she looked like a drag queen for the same girl rarely wears make up these days on the grounds of female objectification and unfair sexist expectations.

 

I’ll miss her daily comments about the state of her hair, the one unruly area of her body that she has never been able to control, the bane in the life of a self-confessed control freak and Virgo who has more important things to think about than hair straighteners and product.

 

But most of all I’ll miss her strength, that has lifted me up so many times when I should have been supporting her. I’ll miss the girl who we joke is our parent and who used to lay her full body weight on top of me when I was feeling sad because she read in Cosmo that it draws out tension. I’ll miss her honesty (even though sometimes I didn’t want to hear it) and her fairness when it came to her advice about her brother. I’ll miss the times sibling resentment slipped through to remind me of her age and vulnerability and that she is still a young girl with an annoying little brother.

 

I’ll miss her generosity, both spiritual and philanthropical, and selfishly I’ll miss the one thing that has got me through some of my most trying of this parenting journey, which is being able to look at my daughter and know that we got something right.

When Your Parent Abandons You

The other day NC was telling us about her plans for the next seven months or so while she has a gap between her degree and her Masters. More accurately, she gave us an outline of how her plans away from home will improve her continued personal growth trajectory. 

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Yes, that’s definitely igneous…

The old man and I sat there, mouths agape as we listened to this mature daughter of ours forecast her future in detail, and then he responded, ‘you should really be our parent, NC.’

 

‘I’ve been your parent for the past ten years,’ she shot back wryly.

 

It might seem ironic that I am admitting this after all those wailing, fearful posts about us leaving the kids alone a few weeks ago, yet it’s a harsh, nevertheless true observation. NC has been the tower of strength, the backbone of our little unit of four for a while now, braving and neutralising many a dysfunctional domestic storm with her indomitable common sense, dry wit and humour. She has been the light when there has been shade, and the cement foundation when ours have turned to sand.

 

I suppose it comes more naturally to her, being a scientist, because she sees things in black and white, looks at problems logically rather than emotionally and never gives up until she finds a solution.

 

And I will miss her…even though sometimes she’s fucking scary.

 

I should have recognised that she was a fighter from the moment she entered the world, dragging half of her placenta out with her. To be honest, I’m surprised she didn’t eat it afterwards in the Bircher muesli she methodically prepares each day.

 

I remember when she was 17 and about to go on her first trip to the UK with two friends. When the other two had a meltdown at the airport, I watched with admiration as NC spotted that some emotional shit was about to hit the fan, switched into control mode and assumed her role as captain.

 

Similarly, we were chatting on the family Messenger recently during our time in the UK, when NC had been given the rather odorous task of being a temporary charge to her brother, when Kurt asked the old man for a favour. When the old man dared to respond in the affirmative, this message suddenly exploded across the screen from NC, ‘NEVER undermine my parenting, dad!’

 

You don’t mess with NC.

 

So how will we cope when she goes?

 

Who will roast the old man for his sexist observations? Who will replace her as the only adult in the apartment that Kurt respects? Who will listen to me moan about my life, seemingly empathetically, then come back at me with some wise gem of an old cliche with the hidden meaning of ‘pull yourself together, mum’?

 

Who the fuck will remind us all to vote? Who will be our parents now?

21 – The Key To The Door And The Key To My Heart

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (film)
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NC turned twenty-one last week and although I keep tormenting myself with questions such as ‘where did the time go’ and ‘how can I possibly have a twenty-one year old daughter?’, there’s no escaping the fact that 1. Somehow we created a beautiful young woman, and 2. We’re getting fucking old.

She celebrated the key to the door on Saturday night, although much to the old man’s chagrin she hasn’t left home yet, nor has she any intention of doing so.

And her party wasn’t exactly the sophisticated glamor-fest I had secretly hoped for, with formal style dresses, up-dos and killer heels. That’s not NC’s style. It was a Marvel-inspired party, full of super-heroes, face paint, masks and dastardly comic book villains, and NC blew everyone else’s costume out of the park in an uncharacteristically raunchy little outfit that Miley would have been proud of, with NB at her side as The Joker.

The old man and I reluctantly wore capes.

By the few sober accounts that we have, a good night was had by all, and even Kurt held his own in a crowd of twenty-something crazies; although it was obvious to all our guests that his costume irritated his sensory issues and the sight of Batman continually rearranging his balls as his trousers rode up his arse and dissected his man parts all night was a hot topic of debate.

But he also put together a video for his sister – his special birthday gift to her – a thoughtful collection of all her fugliest childhood photos, which culminated in a video of her snorting like a pig. It was set to Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ and it proved a strangely emotional experience to watch your child grow up on television, in the space of three minutes; to relive all those good moments that it’s so easy to forget in the fast pace of life.

I should have recognized NC’s birth for what it was – the precursor to a journey of evolving dysfunctionality. The writing was splattered all over the wall.

For rather like the nativity story, where the family struggled to find an Inn, (Wotif can’t have been around back then), NC’s arrival wasn’t plain sailing and certainly not the model, parenting manual moment I had set down in my birth plan. Perhaps it was a foolish decision at the end of my last day of work, as a final fling and fuck off to a flat stomach, to go clubbing with friends – as you do when you’re 38 weeks pregnant. But don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t twerking and gyrating on the dance floor, but rather anchored to a bar stool all night by the sheer voluminosity of the smallest baby in the world, encased in the biggest belly in the world.

So when my waters broke at 2am and the old man was too pissed to drive, and I ended up behind the wheel and then labored while he snored loudly in an armchair beside me, it seemed a little unfair.

‘Let him sleep,’ said the midwife, as I planned the speed of his death with each contraction.

Our daughter has never held back since that day – she has always been determined to make her mark. The naïve who don’t know her well, mistake her for being shy, but she has always possessed an enviably scary inner confidence in her own abilities. She has always depended on logic rather than emotion and strives forwards, rarely looking back.

Kind of part human, part arachnid.

For she can be calculating in her judgments and acerbically accurate in her wit. It is fair to say that a pertinent comment from NC can knock you sideways quicker than a sudden bolt of lightening, yet, as she has matured into a young woman and experienced the trials and tribulations of her own relationships, her scientific mind has been forced to embrace the primitive concepts of feelings and emotions, and she has evolved into a thoughtful, generous and loving adult.

My best friend.

She will never be a graceful or elegant young woman; she is more a socially awkward Bridget Jones or the loose-tongued Elizabeth Bennet, her icon from Pride and Prejudice, than the stereotypical heroine.

She’s not really the touchy-feeling type, either – although she swears she is trying to learn and whenever she catches me stressed and prostrate in the comfort zone of my bed, she lies her full body weight on top of mine and pushes down REALLY HARD because she read somewhere that it relaxes tension.

NC reserves her hidden tanks of love for the few people she deems have warranted them in her life. The Princess is at the top of her list – they both count loyalty as the most important trait of any relationship. NC cannot suffer fools with her petrifying intelligence, she can’t even pretend to tolerate them, yet she can laugh at herself when she still struggles to spell easy words correctly, trips in high heels or stammers when she reads aloud. She is a confusing hybrid of the old man and I. She is the nerdiness of his Peter Parker and the silliness of the Dawn French in me.

She has the key to the door now but will always have the key to my heart.

My Daughter Has Entered Her Grey Phase Of Growing Up

My daughter has entered her ‘grey phase.’ I went through the same phase when I was a student at university. It’s that period in a girl’s life when she suddenly realizes that her power doesn’t lie with her body and her looks, but with her personality, ideas and intellect.

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It’s similar to what I’m going through now, but sort of in reverse. I’m going through what is commonly acknowledged as the ‘invisible phase’ for middle-aged women; a phase where we can no longer trade on our looks and need to pull out the bigger guns of intellect and personality.

I quite like being invisible and my nerdy daughter relishes not having to worry about body image any more.

But I do feel kind of sad for her, too. I feel sad that she feels the need to cover up her beauty and her sexuality to be taken seriously, although NC was never the kid that pranced around in pink tutus, fairy wings and silver Osh Kosh shoes, but rather the tomboy who was inspired by Thomas The Tank Engine and Harry Potter and who was toughened up by playing rough and tumble with the local boys.

English: The during a Thomas the Tank Engine w...
English: The during a Thomas the Tank Engine weekend. Thomas at Avon Riverside station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To this day she gets more turned on by rocks and environmental change.

I was never that girly as a child, either, but I’ve tapped into my girly-side more as I’ve grown older and become a mother, mellowed and started liking myself more. I remember my own style at university was very similar to NC’s androgynous look now; the main components of my wardrobe being a range of over-sized ex-army shirts, vintage jumpers and baggy boyfriend jeans that hid the curves that I felt hinted at weakness and betrayed my gender.

NC did try to conform once, towards the end of high school when the formals that she had always cynically judged as popularity contests, began to loom perilously closer. Overnight, all her friends became interested in boys and began to post up images of hot men and their prom dresses on Facebook, rather than the memes of Harry Potter that NC still identified with.

And for a short period of time there, she conceded that it might be easier to try and fit in.

But she developed an ugly, embarrassing rash on the day of her year 12 formal, which coordinated perfectly with the red dress we’d hurriedly picked out for the event at the last moment.

To this day I believe that rash was caused by some inner turmoil created by not being authentic to herself, and since then, I’ve noticed that her washing pile has slowly taken on a much more muted, grey hue.

The pretty, summer dresses, crop tops and slinky skirts have long gone and now every piece of clothing is a variation of grey and at least a couple of sizes too big, so she doesn’t draw attention to her natural, physical beauty.
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I am secretly proud of my girl for her insistence on being herself. I’m ashamed that I don’t tell her that often enough. She always did have an iron will. I remember trying desperately to persuade her to wear pretty dresses when she was little, and contact lenses in place of her thick glasses when she was a teenager, so fearful was I that she would remain a wallflower. But she was always adamant about who she was. I can still remember the day she patiently explained to me that it didn’t matter what was on the outside.

She was about ten at the time.

When she turns it on my daughter is a siren and can stop both sexes in their tracks. My dad still loves to recount the story of when they were in Paris together a few years ago and he asked NC nervously if she would dress up that evening for some posh dinner they were attending. When she entered the bar that evening my father almost didn’t recognize his granddaughter and apparently the whole area went silent, such was the transformation. He describes it as a Pretty Woman moment.

NC has always been who NC wants to be. She allows the world to see the parts of her that she admires most about herself; that is, the thinking NC, the NC who is an intelligent young woman and whom I have no doubt will go on to represent those women who demand equal opportunities, rather than ask for them.

NC’s world is not grey, really. If anything she is black and white. Her world houses ambition, promise and a rainbow of vivid colours. The grey is a veneer. She reserves her colour for causes she is passionate about, the people she loves and those who love her.

Teenagers And That Moment When They Suddenly Grow Up

Teenagers And That Moment When They Suddenly Grow UNC has picked up this new job working as a medical secretary in between her uni studies. It gives her the extra cash to get riotously drunk at the weekends on the sort of expensive wine that I couldn’t afford until I was forty and an alcoholic, as well as an outlet to vent her anger at all those poor, sick people who stupidly assume that they can book appointments at the last minute.

 

Not on my daughter’s watch.

 

Yesterday, she walked up to me in her VERY sensible professional outfit of fugly sky-blue nylon, fitted corporate work-shirt and pencil skirt, (which is way, way beneath her normal hemline of her vagina), and the sight of my beautiful girl looking all grown up brought a lump to my throat. Or at least that’s what might have happened if NC and we were in some over-sentimental family rom-com. What really happened was that I burst out laughing like some deranged hyena, because that’s what I tend to do when I need to conceal my true emotions.

 

She looked confused and perplexed by my reaction.

 

But I wasn’t laughing because she looked bad in any way – although pleated knee length skirts, thick granny stockings and black flat lace up shoes are not particularly flattering on a twenty-year old – no, it was because for the first time I realised, (and everyone had warned me), that teenagers suddenly grow up when you least expect it). And I still can’t work out when that final piece of NC’s development happened exactly, because I swear that it was only last week that I was writing back to her in the guise of the tooth fairy.

 

So our future together looks different now – soon she’ll be offering to pay for her phone, will stop arguing with her brother about flushing the toilet in their bathroom and, GOD FORBID, she may even LEAVE HOME at some point.

 

Which leaves me with Kurt and the old man.

 

FUCK!

 

Not only is NC’s life about to change dramatically, but so is mine. You see, part of that nervous psychotic laughter in front of my daughter was to cover up my sadness that NC’s childhood is almost over, as she moves closer and closer to the responsibilities of the dark side.

 

And her childhood has been an ride – although the only real reminders of NC ‘the child’ these days, are the woeful state she still leaves her bedroom, that neat vegetable pile she always leaves on her dinner plate and the fact that she will still fight her brother physically and scream uncontrollably like a banshee when he doesn’t do what she wants him to.

 

But it’s been kind of fun living with my bestie these last few years; since she stopped being so needy. So I’ll miss her when she replaces me with some godawful man who she worships like a God or a new and exciting career, or when she finally makes the call that sharing a bathroom with her brother is too detrimental to her sanity.

Parenting: That Special Father and Daughter Bond

kurt cobain and frances bean
kurt cobain and frances bean (Photo credit: seattlewhat)

Sometimes, I admit that I give the old man a bit of a hard time about his parenting skills on this blog.

 

Parenting doesn’t come naturally to anyone; it’s just that some people are better at faking it than others.

 

The old man took some annual leave this week and has had the opportunity to spend some quality time with his children. What he had forgotten, unfortunately, in his belated quest to bond with his children, is that teenagers don’t necessarily want to spend quality time with their parents.

Luckily for him, though, our youngest hasn’t quite reached that age yet and is still easy to manipulate still compliant, and if I’m honest, a bit of a daddy’s girl too.

 

We are lucky in that all of our kids have talents. Kurt has a talent for music, making lots of noise for no apparent reason and attracting trouble. NC has talents in science, creating unnecessary mess in her bedroom and an in-depth knowledge of rocks, as well as wine which she inherited from her mother.

 

But neither of them has ever shown any huge aptitude for sport. He denies it, but that must have been a bitter pill for the old man to swallow for he assures us that he used to play sport to an exceptionally high level.

 

Admittedly, NC did play soccer for several years and even won a trophy for breaking more bones than scoring goals and one of the highlights of her sporting career and a big bonding moment with her father still has to be the day she broke her collar bone and the old man insisted she get back on the pitch and ‘not let her fucking team down’. Kurt dipped his toe in the game of soccer too, and like the old man he was fast on his feet, but unfortunately he was a little too accurate at scoring home goals because he could never remember which was his goal.

 

The old man consoles himself by blaming me for our children’s allergy to sport.

 

Yet our youngest has not only demonstrated a natural aptitude for ball sports, we have discovered that unlike her siblings, she also has the right temperament to learn. She watches carefully, listens and doesn’t argue. And she is always desperate to please her dad.

 

So while I have been working my butt off this week, while the old man lolls about the house on holiday pretending to find a balance between doing fuck all relaxation and spending quality time with the kids, he has secretly been spending quality time coaching our youngest. You see, she hasn’t reached the magic 13th birthday yet, when like her siblings she will no doubt wake up and suddenly despise us for no apparent reason.

 

And I have to give the old man credit on this occasion. He has taken his parenting responsibilities seriously this time. Lucky third, maybe? That man has taken her out to the park every day and they have come together, united, and returned looking relaxed and happy with their new father/daughter bond.

 

He came back today with tears in his eyes to show me the results of this new-found parenting knowledge.

 

 

It seems there are some rewards to parenting after all.

 

 

 

 

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