You Don’t Tell Me What to Do

Oh, you want me to get out of this chair? Hilarious, lady. It's not gonna happen.

Oh, you want me to get out of this chair? Hilarious, lady. It’s not gonna happen.

My girls are, for lack of a nicer word, “spirited”. Maggie has been a humdinger since day one. When she was a baby we thought her attitude was cute. Look at her all sassy, we’d say. Little Miss Sassypants. Now nearing five, cute isn’t always the word I would use. Now, refusing to comply with even the simplest, most sensible of requests has become a hobby of hers.  “Well, you don’t tell me what to do,” she’ll say, hands on her hips. “So, hmp!” As if she really thinks she’s had the final word. Just tonight, as Miss Sassypants was sassing it up, I told her that when corrected, she needs to stop answering back. “No well or butYes ma’am is all I want to hear.” She was silent a good five seconds, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “Ya ma’am.”

To a certain degree, I get it. It must be hard to be a kid and have someone else’s will constantly overrule your own, someone telling you when to get up and when to go to bed, what you can wear and what you can eat, controlling where you can go and who you can spend your time with. I mean, I feel for them. Especially because a lot of the time, I wish that I had a little more sass in my pants. (That didn’t come out sounding quite the way I thought it would…)

See the thing is, my eldest child and I aren’t that different. I don’t like being pushed around either, but I feel that way often. Not by any particular individual, but by society, that elusive force, impossible to blame or confront. Sometimes I just want to scream “I hate you society!” into the void, but then I would sound mental, and my children need their mother.

I, a woman of strong principles and clear-cut opinions about how I want to raise my daughters, feel acutely the pressure that society puts on me to violate those principles. It tells me, for one, that I can buy their happiness, and by extension, my own. Clothes! Snacks! Toys! Technology! I try to resist, my arguments ready-made. Why buy my child an $80 monogrammed, smocked dress when every time she plays outside she sprinkles dirt in her hair and calls it “fairy dust”? Because she would look so goshdarn presh? Not good enough for me. And then there’s the gauntlet of kid-targeted branding I have to walk through in every location where goods are sold. One day in Sam’s Club, Maggie begged me to buy her a twelve-pack of Star Wars Kraft macaroni. “Honey,” I responded, to the amusement of nearby shoppers, “That’s called marketing.”

Sorry, society, this is how my kids look when they play.

Does this look like a person who needs to wear anything that costs more than $5?

But it wears me down, the feeling that I’m up against something much bigger than I am. For example, let’s talk about activities. The word alone makes me shudder. I swore that I wouldn’t get sucked into the vortex of organized anything until my kids were old enough and aware enough to say, “Hey mom, I’d like to try playing the bassoon. Can we look into getting me lessons?” I wasn’t going to pay for them to go to a dance studio at age two and stumble around in circles while wearing an adorable tutu. So here we are, and my oldest, just about to turn five, is enrolled in both soccer and gymnastics. Which is fine, until it’s all three of them and four years from now we’re eating dinners in the car at Sonic in between dance recitals and play practice and basketball games. All because society told me that everyone is doing it and I didn’t want my girls to feel like the only weirdos missing out.

If you can’t tell, I’m kind of tired of society. I’m tired of being told that more stuff means more happiness, that busier is better, that I should be wearing burgundy this season because somebody important decided that it was “in”. The fact that my four-year-old already thinks she needs to be pretty in order to be somebody breaks my heart. I didn’t teach her that. I wish that I could sit my children down and tell them, “Here is what the world is going to try to make you believe. Don’t believe it. Do what you want to do because you want to do it. Wear what you want to wear because you want to wear it. Buy what you need, not what somebody else says you need. Don’t let society tell you what to do.”

So I guess it’s good, in a way, that they are stubborn pains in the ass. (We all know that’s what I really meant by “spirited”.) Maybe they’ll have more backbone than their mom, who can’t help but compare herself to the other moms – What are their kids doing? What are their kids wearing? How are we keeping up? – and whose steadfast principles are turning out to be shakier than she had once thought. Maybe they’ll be brave enough to give society the finger and say, “I’m not going to be what you expect me to be. You don’t tell me what to do.” Only society, though. If they ever did that to me, they’d be grounded for the rest of their natural lives. Because, you know, it’s the principle of the thing.

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