Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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What if My Daughter Grows Up to be a Brat... Part II

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It was Norah and myself in the apartment the night she asked to watch Bratz. Norah was good about asking for permission when it came to watching new shows. In fact, both my kids were.
Mel was at the farmers market with Tristan. Norah showed me the cover of the show on our TV, and my kneejerk reaction was, Holy shit! Those girls look really trashy. One of them was in shorts that, from behind, I’m confident would’ve let her ass leak out. The other was in nothing but a sports bra and a pair of yoga pants. One wore a skirt, but it was cut much higher than I was comfortable with. All were in what appeared to be six inch heels. And yet, each had childlike faces and simple prepubescent bodies. These were children dressed like women.

For a long time I felt that women have the right to dress sexy, if that’s what they choose to do. I never thought that it was a crime, or even morally wrong. But I have to admit that my opinions changed a bit after having Norah. Maybe it was my Republican upbringing. Or maybe it was the fact that I was raised in the Mormon Church. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve known a few girls who dressed like the Bratz, and I know that many of my friends often had a lack of respect for those girls simply because they dressed sexy. I have to say that when I looked at the Bratz, I instantly imagined my daughter dressed as one of them, and I got a little sick to my stomach, something I cannot fully explain.  I think I just wanted her to be sweet and cute and innocent forever, something I know cannot happen, but yet I wanted it anyway. And I don’t think that desire was wrong. I think it is just what comes with being the father of a sweet little girl.
“Wow! There’s no way you are watching that show,” I said.
Norah looked me in the eyes. Her cheeks flushed, eyebrows narrowed, lips puckered, and fists clenched. She didn’t argue with me. She didn’t try to reason with me. She simply fell to the floor and screamed, long and hard. Loud enough that I am confident our entire apartment complex heard it. I looked at the TV screen. The Bratz were looking down at her, and I swear one of them winked. They were smiling with approval. They seemed to say, “You go girl.”
Go girl my ass, I thought. I’m nipping this in the bud right now.
I got really angry. Angrier than I’d been in a while.
I told her to stop. I told her to be quiet. I told her that she needed to understand what that show might teach her. I told her that I wanted more from her. I wanted her to be something special. That she was something special. “Stop it! Please! This is unacceptable,” I said. “You are being unacceptable. Stop acting like a brat.”
I don’t think I’d ever called Norah a brat before, or any name that was comparable. I’d told her that her actions were wrong. And I’d mentioned my emotions: “You’re really frustrating me,” or “You’re making me angry. Do you want Dad to be angry?”
Every time I say that I feel like Bruce Banner before he changes into The Hulk (“You won’t like me when I’m angry”).
But I’d never called her a name. And in fact, I’m not even sure if Norah knew what it meant to be a brat. Perhaps she assumed it was a good thing because of the show she wanted to watch so badly.  
Norah was still on the floor, screaming. I didn’t know what to do, so I put her in her room. She cried in there, with the door shut, for some time.

 And as she cried, I sat at the kitchen table really thinking about what I stood for. I reexamined what I wanted for Norah and wondered if dressing sexy and acting bratty was part of that equation. I have to admit that women who dress sexy present a level of confidence. And I wanted Norah to be confident. But I also had an understanding of how the world worked. I was aware of slut bashing, a term that was recently popular on my Facebook feed because of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the 2013 VMAs. It seemed like Miley changed in the blink of an eye from a childhood sweetheart, to a twerking sexual item that immaturely wagged her tongue in awkwardly seductive ways. It seemed like a perfect analogy for what Americans wanted from females: To be sweet little girls that mature into sexualized adults. Is that the way it happened? Do all little girls flip like a switch? I got chills just thinking about it.
            Thirty minutes passed as I waited for Norah to calm down. Eventually she was quiet for about five minutes, and then she called for me, in a sweet singsongy voice.
“Daddy. I’m happy now. I. Am. Happy. Now.”
Norah had a lot of these Jekyll and Hyde moments, where she’d suddenly realize that acting like a little monster wasn’t working, so she’d better turn on the charm. She told me she was happy as though her change in mood was supposed to change my mood, but it didn’t. I was still a mix of emotions: frustrated because she’d thrown such a huge fit. Tired from listening to her scream for so long. And worried that she was going to grow up to become a snarky little brat.
I knew that if I went into her room alone she’d just manipulate me. She’d place her small soft little hand on my face, look at me with her blue eyes, kiss my nose, and say “Sowrey, Daddy.” It would melt my heart, like it always does, and I’d let her out of her room without ever explaining to her why I didn’t want her to watch Bratz and why her fit was unacceptable.  I might even end up apologizing, and then end up giving her candy and letting her watch Bratz. Thinking about crap like this makes me realize that I really need to work on my parenting skills.
This leads me to another one of my fears. I am far too easily manipulated by Norah’s Cute Powers. She gets away with a lot more than her older brother ever did simply because I cannot help but find her adorable. And she knows it. Even at age four she knows how to manipulate a man with a simple smile, the touch of her hand, and a tender kiss.  I worry that I am teaching her a life skill that will lead to her thinking that she has the right to manipulate men. 

Norah continued to call for me from her bedroom. I went into the playroom and found Dr. Cow, a black and white cow hand puppet that I often use when talking to Norah. I don’t fully understand why, but Dr. Cow seems to bring out a more sincere, honest, and receptive side of Norah. 

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.