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Nov 11 2014

How Will We Navigate Orthodoxy As My Feisty Daughter Grows Up?

By at 9:42 am

nicki gilbert monkey in the middle

A boisterous game of “Monkey in the Middle” overtook our family room after Shabbat dinner last week. Astonishingly, nothing was broken and nobody got hurt. Laughter, happy yelling, and lots of good-natured teasing kept the blue-and-white beach ball airborne and away from the “monkey,” who in this game, was my daughter.

My only little girl is a feisty 8-year-old. She holds her own with big green-gray eyes, a smattering of freckles, a knowing smile, and a steely grip amid the three brothers who love nothing more than to give her a hard time about, well, everything: that she mispronounces “bird,” that she’s something of a busybody, that she prefers to keep her room testosterone-free, and yells “out” as soon as a male body, canine or human, places a smelly toe over the threshold. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 10 2013

On That Dustin Hoffman Video & What I Want to Teach My Daughter About Beauty

By at 1:52 pm

tootsieYesterday, a video circulated around the internet showcasing an emotional Dustin Hoffman being interviewed about his 1982 movie, Tootsie. I know, it sounds pretty strange for the guy to get choked up over a comedy about a struggling actor who disguises himself as a woman and lands a role on a soap opera.

In the video, Hoffman acknowledges that he did not transform into the most attractive woman. He explains, “If I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill, physically, the demands that we’re brought up to think women have to have to ask them out… There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.”  Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 7 2012

What Does Purim Mean For the Ladies?

By at 10:10 am

This is actually me, dressed as Queen Esther. Circa 1985 or so?

Purim has always been one of my favorite Jewish holidays. As a kid, I was so proud to dress up as Queen Esther and be savior of the Jewish people. Even at the young age of 8, I knew that it was rare in Jewish lore to have a woman be the true hero.

But as I got older, I started to really think about the holiday, and wonder whether Esther really was the kind of hero that woman should look up to. Now that I’m a mom, and constantly thinking about the message I’m sending my daughter in our society, I’m questioning how I should feel about Esther even more.

I don’t think it was until I was in college that I actually read through the whole megillah and discovered that it wasn’t just that Vashti didn’t feel like going to the king’s party that night–he wanted her to come to the party naked (well, she was allowed to wear her crown) and she said no. She’s kind of a badass. I loved how she didn’t let the king boss her around–because really, who wants to go stand naked in front of their husband’s friends? Of course the king didn’t like that. He banishes her, and holds a beauty contest to find the next queen. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 16 2012

Is My Daughter Doomed Because I Can’t Play Barbie?

By at 3:14 pm

barbie and friendsEvery weekday morning, after my husband and two older sons leave for work and school, my 5-year-old daughter and I are left alone for about 45 minutes.

And, every weekday morning, I promise her that if she eats breakfast and brushes her teeth and gets dressed and there is time left over, we will play whatever game she wants until it’s time to go to preschool.

For the last few days, she’s wanted to “play Barbie.” Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 25 2011

Streetwalker Barbie Has Invaded My Home

By at 1:21 pm

My daughter turned 3 on Sunday. She got a Barbie doll for a present.

She’s obsessed. I’m still reeling.

In the interest of full disclosure, we knew what it was, and we let her have it anyway. While she was napping, I carefully opened enough of the package to recognize that bright pink logo that was burned into my psyche decades ago. I paused for a moment as the voices of fellow hippie-progressive-feminist Mamas rang in my ears, warning me of all the dangers hidden in that box alongside the injection-molded-plastic threat to my daughter’s self esteem, body image, and future ability to establish and maintain healthy sexual relationships.

But those warnings were quickly replaced by memories of how much I enjoyed playing with Barbies as a young girl—my sister and I dressed our Barbies, combed their hair, and enjoyed tormenting each other by stealing and hiding each others’ dolls. And then I remembered my own daughter’s first encounter with a Barbie; she was about 14 months old, and there was one in the toy area of the local pediatric Emergency Room. Frieda was hopped up on inhaled steroids after a nasty bout of croup, and she fell in love with that doll with a passion I hadn’t previously seen. How could I deny her such love again? How bad could it be?

You have no idea. I had no idea.

This Barbie is a straight up streetwalker. Or at least she looks like one. I’m surprised she didn’t come with a tiny wad of cash. I was disgusted (but not shocked) by the bizarre proportions of her body, and stunned by how hyper-sexualized she is. I think that’s the hardest part about it for me. I don’t mind the pink and the sprinkles and the rhinestones that have captured my daughter’s imagination, but this Barbie isn’t about glitter and fairy wings. She’s wearing a low-cut halter top and a mini-skirt that is so short and tight that the tiny strip of Velcro barely holding it closed instantly rips open every time my daughter tries to get her to sit. Her hair is a long, tangled hive of peroxide, her makeup would rival Tammy Faye Baker’s any day, and her shoes are a bizarre mix of gladiator sandal and stiletto heel.

I’m horrified. My daughter is in heaven.

She’s not thinking about body-image and self-esteem and cultural norms and implicit messages about the value of women. She’s not worried about pre-marital sex and STDs and eating disorders and addiction and all of the dangers awaiting my daughters in just a few short years—threats that I like to pretend I can keep at bay if only I can keep the damn Barbies out of the house. She sees a pretty doll in shiny clothes. Barbie is her friend, she tells me.

And now Barbie is in our home. And my husband and I have to figure out what to do. Kicking her to the curb doesn’t seem like the answer, primarily because our experience with our feisty daughter (and the rest of humanity, for that matter) tells us that the more verboten Barbie is, the more desirable she becomes. So, instead of hiding Barbie and telling my daughter that she’s taking a really long nap, I’m trying to engage Frieda in an on-going dialogue about body shapes and clothing and sensible footwear. We’ll get to the body image and sexuality stuff soon enough.

We’ve had conversations about how Barbie is skinny and hard, which makes her uncomfortable to snuggle. We’re talking about how hard it must be for Barbie to walk in her high heels, and that she can’t run and play in those shoes. And although Frieda was willing to concede that Barbie might be cold and could use a sweatshirt, she refuses to let go of the slutty halter-top, arguing that it is a lot like a tank-top. My daughter’s obsession with sleeveless shirts predates Barbie’s arrival in our home by several months. She wants to wear a tank top every day (which is getting trickier as winter approaches), and feels an instant kinship with anyone (real or plastic) wearing anything that vaguely resembles a tank top. So, I decided to compromise on this one. Last night I went online and found some inexpensive, hand-made tank-top dresses that are fairly modest—no cleavage showing, the skirts are nice and long, and I suspect Barbie could run and play in comfort, assuming we could find some running shoes that will fit on her poor damaged feet.

I’m starting to feel better about the situation, but I also worry that a Pandora’s Box has been opened in our little home, one that we’ll never be able to fully contain it again. I suppose this is the nature of our children growing up, and of my husband and I growing into parenthood. We’re not raising our daughters in a vacuum, nor would I want to. I try to see these Barbie moments as grist for the mill, fodder for an ongoing dialogue about ourselves, our relationships, our belongings, and our values.

I still wish Barbie didn’t have to look like such a tramp, though.

Feb 4 2011

Sometimes You Just Want Your Mom Back

By at 2:52 pm

Fruma Sarah in a Miami production of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcu

Thank you, Susie Felber for your meaningful post on the Motherless Jewish Mother.

In my dreams, my mom and I have a dysfunctional relationship.

Sometimes, when I’m tangled up in sleep, she comes back from the dead–not in a comforting, gentle, loving way, but in a Fruma Sarah from Fiddler on the Roof rattling her chains and screaming obsenities in Yiddish way. Nevermind that when she was alive my mom never spoke Yiddish… in my dreams, she’s transformed into some sort of creature from the Shtetl of Doom.

But even though I don’t understand the curses flying out of her mouth, I know that she’s unhappy with me. Some sin, something I’ve done either now or a thousand lifetimes ago, has shaken her from eternal slumber, and… She. Is. Pissed.

It’s hard enough to reason with a Jewish Mama in real life (just ask Woody Allen) let alone a cartoon-nightmare Jewish Mama with maggots crawling down her chin.

And inevitably, I wake up with a gasp, staggering into consciousness, feeling as though the air has been sucked out of the room. So, I lay there in the dark, trying my hand at a little amateur-hour Freud.

My mother died before I became a mama, and sometimes–ok, a lot of times–I wonder what she’d think of my approach to parenting. In the beginning, I was this hyper neurotic, germ-obsessed, crazy person, terrified of life. I wouldn’t leave the house without–not one, but TWO–bottles of Purel Hand Sanitizer, and if anyone got within a foot of the stroller, I’d go all mama-lion on their ass. When M. got old enough to crawl, I covered the floor in sheets that had been cleaned in hospital grade bleach. I only played Mozart, and made sure never to cuss. Read the rest of this entry →

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