Her Bad Mother

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ashlee Simpson and Me

I regret to inform you that today I will continue to stray from my blogging to-do list. But the universe keeps throwing shit at me, and I must respond.

Today, the universe told me this: Ashlee Simpson got a nose-job.

More specifically, Ashlee Simpson went on record in Marie-Claire magazine as supporting quote-unquote real beauty and said things to the effect of "everyone is made differently and that's what makes us beautiful and unique" and helped some inner-city teenage girls make a mural celebrating real beauty while pumping her fists in the air and hollering "what tough mother-fucking bitches we are!" and just generally getting all hopped up on girl power - and then trotted off and had her nose done.

And, consequently, brought something of a shit-storm down upon her surgically-altered head.

Bear with me.

The shit-storm came in the form of, reportedly, some thousand outraged readers of Marie-Claire, who opened their 'real beauty' issues of the mag after Ms. Simpson the Younger revealed her new, better, altered face. Such was the shit-storm that the new editor of Marie-Claire (who was not editorially responsible for the Simpson spread) allowed extra space in the latest edition of the mag for reader letters addressing that matter and stated, on behalf of the magazine, that "we're dazed and confused - and disappointed - by her choice too!"

I'm not going to address questions concerning the hypocrisy of a fashion magazine - no matter how "progressive" that mag - criticizing a celebrity for fiddling with her appearance. Whatever. Marie-Claire has sniffed the armpit of the girl-power market and is going after it. Great. Better than going after the aspiring Pussycat Doll market. But still. It's a fashion magazine. It sells Maybelline (maybe she's born with it... maybe not!)

I don't care all that much about whether fashion magazines grow social consciences. I don't read them for their social conscience (in fact, I'd say that the more socially pious such a magazine gets, the less likely I'd be to read it.)

What I do care about: asking to what extent beauty is socially constructed and figuring out how to shield my daughter from the more pernicious aspects of that social construction. No, I'm not going to do that math here. (Yes, I felt that massive, collective sigh of virtual relief.) What I need to do here is figure out why and how such ideas about beauty matter to me. Figure out why that Ashlee Simpson story hit me in the gut.

To that end... onward to the cliffs of HBM's psyche!

(Deep breath.)

I have always hated my nose. In sixth grade, some tard named Donald nicknamed me 'Big Nose' and it stuck. That nickname had run its course by the time I entered seventh grade, but still, that year of rhino-mockery stayed with me. For years I did everything that I could to avoid being seen in profile: my hands fluttered constantly near my face, and I was ever pulling my hair down over my cheeks as a veil.

I hated how I looked. Hated it. I would have sold my soul, in some painful, angst-ridden moments, to change my nose. To my young, insecure mind, if my nose were smaller, everything would fall into place. My face would be a face, not just landscape surrounding a nose. My face would be a face. Maybe, it would be pretty.

As I got older, I relaxed a little about my nose. Sometimes, when I was feeling dramatic and confident and having a Diana Vreeland moment, I even liked it. But mostly not. Mostly, I thought, I'm smart and funny and maybe sort of pretty, or at least, I might be sorta pretty, if it weren't for the nose...

And then I'd beat myself up a little for obsessing about my nose. Because, you know, cool girls don't do that. Cool girls don't care. Cool girls are proud to be all jolie laide, yearn to emulate Charlotte Gainsbourg, take to heart Marcel Proust's dictum that pretty women should be left to men without imagination.

Cool girls don't care about tiny little cheerleader noses. Cool girls don't care. It's not cool, it's not progressive, it's not bad-ass to care.

But I did. I cared.

I get why Ashlee Simpson cared.

But I wish that she didn't. I really, really wish that I hadn't. That I wouldn't now, ever. And I wish, more than anything, that my daughter will never. Care about her looks, her face, her nose.

I wish this more than anything. That she not be Ashlee Simpson (on so many levels, but for now, let's focus on this one.) And that, in this singular respect, she not be like me. That she not care.

I have two conflicting dreams for my daughter. In one, she inherits most of her looks from her father, who is smashing handsome with a fine straight nose and who is blessed, along with rest of his family, with some serious Dorian Gray reverse-aging genes. In this dream, she never has to give her looks a second thought. In this dream, she never wonders whether or not she is pretty because she is never plagued by the concern that she is ugly. She will be blessed with the luxury of having no need of concern over her looks. She will not have reason to care.

In the other dream - the more powerful dream, the better dream - she inherits my looks, the good and the bad. In this dream, she has my eyes (as she already does) and my nose and my smile and they become her own, completely her own. And she loves her looks. In this dream, she recognizes, early and for always, that she has a beautiful mind and a beautiful heart and a beautiful character and a beautiful soul, and that this beauty radiates from beautiful eyes set within a masterpiece of a face. Her face, her beautiful, unique jolie jolie face. She will care - but she will care well. She will care for herself, her self.

In this dream, it won't matter what the Ashlee Simpsons of the world do or do not do about their magazine-cover faces. It won't matter whether or not magazines or soap companies launch campaigns for 'real beauty.' Because in this dream, speaking about 'real beauty' will mean speaking in redundancies. She'll be perfectly content, happy, to be real, beautifully real.

This is my wish for her, my dream. I'll do everything in my power to make it real.

I'll begin by loving my own beauty.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006


WonderBaby came into this world with her eyes wide open, silent but for a few obligatory shouts. There had been complications, so they whisked her away for a moment, but within a very few minutes she was pressed against my chest, a tiny, fierce life-force, clutching, grasping, straining for the breast.

She found it. Within minutes of having burst out of me in a gush of pain, she was latched to my breast, sucking hungrily, pulling from me what she needed. Eyes wide open.

This was our start. Skin from skin, skin to skin, tiny new body pressed to big strong body, tiny mouth, little bird mouth, clasped to swollen nipple.

I remember thinking, her skin is my skin, the very same skin, the very same flesh, where does my breast stop and her cheek begin?

With every tug and every pulse of every suckle my heart stretched. Is it really possible that we can love so much? So deeply? So primally?

And that such love can burn through pain?

Because, the pain. She ravaged me. She pulled at the breast, tore at my tender skin. She made me bleed. It made me cry. For days, when she nursed, I cried.

But we soldiered on. One day at time, Husband said. And: It's okay to stop.

I didn't stop. It got better, slowly. Finally, one day, it was easy. I rejoiced at the easy: she bent her head to the breast and suckled hungrily, suckled lustily, and it didn't hurt. I cradled her in my arms as she drank and it felt good. Easy. It was working. We were working.

I held my child to my breast and nourished her.

I held my child to my breast and I nourished her, night and day and day and night, and when she reached for me my heart sang because I could do this. I could do this for her. Nourish her.

I nourished her for months. Eight months. Eight months and 16 days. Give or take a day. Sometimes it was tiring. It was tiring. Often it was easy: pop out the boob and baby drinks. No fuss, no muss. But sometimes it pressed upon me, the weight of the thing, the need for me and only me. Me and only me at bedtime, at waking. The need for me, or, rather, my breast. Only me.

We knew that I was going to go away for a few days. I tried to express breastmilk; there was never enough. Hours I spent, dutifully pumping, hoping to store enough to sustain her in my absence. Every trickle of milk was a victory, and a failure. Liquid gold, captured in an Avent bottle! But not enough, never enough.

The coupons for formula were unearthed from the bottom of the pile of maternity propoganda distributed by well-meaning public-health nurses and prenatal class instructors and baby store salesclerks. The formula was purchased, and mixed, and offered to baby. She refused, refused, refused, refused, wavered, wavered, sampled, flirted, drank, welcomed.

And then I was gone. She took her bottles. I fought engorgement, she took her bottles. I struggled, she took her bottles, she thrived. And when I returned, it was over.

She came to me, she lunged at the breast, out of habit, and suckled, briefly.

And then she turned away.

She hasn't been back.

I'm free. Freedom's lovely, in its way.

But I miss it, a little. I miss her.

I clutch her a little more tightly every morning, and every night. And then I pass her to her Da and he clutches her tightly, and she opens her mouth, a little bird, and her cheek presses against his arm and they curl into each other, skin to skin...

It's good.


This post was not intended as any sort of response to or comment on the recent BabyTalk controversy, in which an image of a suckling baby caused the collective tits of untold numbers of repressed asshats to get all knotted up. That said, I was - I am - proud to bare my own breast on this page, and celebrate it as the miraculous, life-giving part of me that it is.


This elegy to the boob wasn't on my list of things-to-do. But it's what's happening, and, so. Here it is.


Been to the Basement lately? Lots of talk down there. Stories. Cookies...

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Please Stand By

This ain't no princess... there be a whole cup o' peas under that bottom.
(Dictators don't need mattresses.)


We're trying - trying - to get some sleep around here. Because, you know, what with all of the excitement of WonderBaby sleeping-through-the-night and napping-in-the-crib (as opposed to strapped down in carseat), it all gets to be a bit much. Tiring.

Well, that and Mommy's fucking insomnia.

There's nothing more soul-straining than being wide awake, as night stretches open to dawn, while your baby snoozes deeply. Wide awake, and knowing, in your tired, tired bones, that at the precise moment that your eyelids get droopy, hers will snap open and Happy! Busy! Daytime! will commence.

Real blogging will resume after I have caught up on some rest by knocking myself unconscious by smacking my head against the wall.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

A Writable Feast

My Husband's birthday came and went this year with little more than professions of love over Grey Goose martinis and exhortations to please put that shitty diaper in the Diaper Genie, dammit. In all of the distraction of BlogHer and blogthis and blogthat and diapers diapers everywhere (cast off from shitty bums), I neglected to acquire cards and gifts and cakes and all of the whatnot that usually attends birthdays.

Which would be fine, really, because the Husband is not a public-display-of-celebration kind of guy. Not particularly interested in gifts and certainly not interested the kind of hullaballoo that puts him in the center of attention. But he does like my attention. To wit: his inquiry, of a few weeks ago, into the whys and wherefores of my lack of attention to all matters Husband on this blog. Shouldn't you be telling the Internet how great I am? he asked. To which I replied, now I will be telling the Internet that you asked that I tell them how great you are.

See how this works? It's hard to be romantic on the Internet. This ain't no quill and quire.

Still, I do see love out there. I know that it's possible to communicate the force of romantic love through code. I love the Junipers in large part because they write their love so honestly, because they strut the beauty of love, because they show so clearly how it is that romantic love, marital love, is made broader and deeper and higher in becoming family love. I loved feeling the love slip through the giddy comedy of the story told by Liz about her Nate's love of animals. I feel all glowy when I stumble across random proclamations of love.

But still, I stumble when I try to express my love for, my gratitude for, my partner in crime, life and family.

I could, of course, simply list his virtues. I could talk about how, once upon an ancient time, virtue meant, simply, manliness, and that, to me, he embodies such manliness. I could talk about his beauty, his heart, his wisdom, his courage. I could talk about how the broad curve of his shoulders thrills me, and how sometimes, when he bends his arm around our daughter, I am nearly moved to tears by the tender strength of his movements, by the quiet ferocity of his love for her.

I could talk about how blessed I feel that we found each other so young, how fortunate am I to have shared so much of my life with him already.

I could talk about how he makes me laugh, and about our secret jokes and shared silly language, about how our humor is a like a pillow fort that we've built around ourselves for our amusement. About how that silly pillow fort keeps me safe and happy and secure.

I could talk about how amazing he is, about how wonderful we are. About how no words could ever really capture how amazing-crazy-wonderful my life is, with him, and, now, with our her.

So I don't even try. I whisper to myself, it would sound banal. And, who would care? Who wants to read it? Keep it private; put it in a card, seal it with a kiss, let him open and read and tuck it away in a drawer.

Except, except... I'm writing this life out loud, now. I write my love for her. I lay out this life, my feelings, upon this virtual table, a virtual feast, and make sweeping virtual gestures to say, here, world, see this bounty! See how rich and sweet and messy this life! Come, share, taste!

So why not share him, too?

A bit tough, and sometimes, maybe, sour... But, always, always at the centre of my table.

Happy birthday, Best of Men. I love you.

We love you.