Wednesday, May 8, 2013

reviving ophelia, and why i'm afraid to raise a daughter

before jane, i was a lazy human being. 

sure, i had a full time job that kept me busy for 40+ hours of the week, but any time in between you would have probably found me in my favorite chair with red-welted thighs from the heat of my laptop. i had little to no worries.

occasionally i took breaks to shower or make an egg salad sandwich, but for the most part i did nothing in my spare time. 

absolutely nothing. 

now when i have the time (ha), i spend it washing dishes, or doing laundry, or studying for my upcoming local anesthetic course. for the most part, though, i spend that tiny, extra time staring at my brand new baby. and i think and ask myself a lot of questions, like: 

what will she be like? 

will she be tall? 

will she ever grow hair? 

is that smell coming from her, or me? 

how can something so tiny produce that much drool?! 

and sometimes i ask myself more serious questions: 

will she always know how much we love her? 

will she always know how beautiful she is? 

will she always be as happy as she is right now?

but the biggest question on my mind lately is: 

will she have confidence in herself? 

and then i get scared. 

i worked at my dad's office while going to university, and him being the child and adolescent psychiatrist that he is opened my eyes to an array of new and interesting literature (twilight had just come out..'nuf said). these books lined the shelves in one of the vacant rooms and some days, when things were going particularly slow, i would go and pick up a book to read. the human psyche has always fascinated me (like father, like daughter?) and i loved brushing up on my obsessive compulsive and attention-deficit disorders. one day i picked up a book entitled "reviving ophelia: saving the selves of adolescent girls" and i began to read...and read...and read...until i finished it in less than a week. 

saying that it was an entertaining piece of work would be a complete understatement and do no justice for the author dr. mary pipher, a clinical psychologist. 

it changed me. 

reviving ophelia talks about the increasing societal pressures on adolescent girls and the negative, lifelong effects it can create. mary pipher gave examples from therapy sessions that she had had with young girls, and for the most part all the stories started out the same: each young women was very beautiful, talented, smart, and confident. as certain events played out in their lives, though, they began to lose themselves (losing their self esteem). she likened them to ophelia, shakespeare's fictional female character in the play hamlet (for those of you who didn't take grade 11 english), who at the end of the story tragically dies by drowning in a river. 

there is a famous painting by sir john everett millais of this exact scene that has always evoked a lot of mixed-emotions for me; ophelia is in the river, flowers strewn about her, with her hands held in the air in an angelic manner. i really like the painting, and find it quite beautiful...but at the same time there is a lot of sadness and tragedy behind it. 

("ophelia" by sir john everett millais)

this painting, to me, represents what most women have to face in their lives, whether it be repression, abuse, low self-esteem, or short legs.

(yes, having to hem every single pair of your pants is a daunting task.)

after reading this book, i began to think of my own life and how i had overcome a few trials, but still had issues with others. when i was little, i was a very confident girl. i wore what i wanted and let my imagination run wild in our family backyard. i'm sure i gave my mom a headache or two, but as far as i recall i was happy most of the time. 

then, as if it happened overnight, that happiness was leeched from inside of me. i wasn't that happy, care-free little girl anymore and as i reflected on my childhood i wondered: how did i lose myself? 

i thought of a few reasons that may have contributed to my growing low self-esteem: 

i had to wear a bra in grade four. 

...and then a year later, i learned a whole new geography lesson when the monthly "red river" appeared after swimming one day. yep, by grade six i was 5'7 and 110 pounds. i hated being that much larger than everyone else in my grade of 50 kids, and really struggled with being "different". by grade eight everyone had caught up, and even some surpassing me, but those latter elementary days were horrible. boys would flick my bra strap. i had to trade in my barbie dolls for maxi pads. to this day i still walk with a slouch because i had done it for so many years to try and appear smaller than i really was. these changes were obviously beyond my control, but once puberty hit with a fiery force i really thought my childhood had died. 

i have always worn my clothes one or two sizes bigger and contributed it to the fact that i hate trying clothes on in the store and would rather have them slightly roomier than too small. but the other day ben pointed out that it may have more to do with being self-conscious about my body, and trying to hide it. the more i thought about that, the more i realized that it may hold some truth since that's exactly what i did when i was younger...and just haven't kicked the bad habit quite yet. 

we moved around...a lot. 

ok so maybe three times isn't a lot, but for our little family it proved to be plenty. i realize now that my parents were just trying to give us the best quality of life, but our last family move to magrath was hard. when you're living in a small, farming community where everyone is related and you don't know what a combine is, you're bound to get teased from time to time. 

(note: i still don't know exactly what a combine is used for). 

the first few years in magrath were hard, from bullying at school to not really fitting in anywhere. if there's one thing i regret from those early years, it's that i didn't have enough confidence to help those around me that were getting treated way worse than i was (in fear that i'd suffer serious repercussions if i intervened). it's been 17 years since we first moved there, and although it has become our hometown and we love the friends we have made, i often feel that people still look at us as "outsiders"

my parents were...weird! 

they only paid for things if they had the cash for it (going into debt was totally unheard of)

they used a compost, and reusable containers (all i ever wanted was a brown paper bag to put my lunch in like the rest of my friends)

they encouraged us to read instead of watching TV (we had to pull out the bunny ears to get any reception because we didn't have cable or embarrassing!) 

they fed us odd things like fresh fruits and vegetables (wagon wheels in lunches were like golden tickets) 

...and don't even get me started on the rules and limitations they set for us (so weird, right?!)

(note: obviously i am kidding, and appreciate everything my parents have done for me, but as a little girl this was something i was really self conscious about: having a family who recycled, was responsible with money, and enjoyed reading good books. why couldn't we just be normal, right?)

boys (do i really need to continue?)

i never thought my nose was big until a boy in grade six told me so...and years later that same boy became my very first boyfriend and continued to tell me everything that was wrong with me. after three hellish years i decided i had had enough...and although it was hard, i moved on...and vowed to never be with someone who made me doubt my own self-worth ever again. although this experience made me the girl i am today, i wish i had been strong enough to walk away when things first started going south.

but, c'est la vie...

i didn't have a best friend.

...this was a big deal for me. ya i had a good group of girlfriends but all of them seemed to pair off and i was always the odd one out. 

"i can be your best friend!" my mom would say to try and cheer me up (but remember, this was the lady who made me eat strange things like spinach and bell peppers)

i felt so alone at times, despite my best efforts in finding a "bff". i remember asking one particular friend why she didn't like hanging out with just me, and she said it was because she "got jealous." for those of you who know/knew me, i have always tried to make people feel welcome. i sincerely apologize if i have ever made you feel jealous, or unworthy; it was/has never been my intention. 

my last year of high school was brutal. i didn't hang out with anyone, and resorted to my crappy boyfriend. i remember wondering if it would ever get better. it wasn't until my second year of university where i truly understood what a good friend was, and am forever grateful for those who showed me.

...and it wasn't until three years ago when i nervously sat with a boy as he stumbled to find the right words and finally asked me to be his wife, that i had found my best friend.

it took years for me to regain what had once been lost in my self esteem, but when i held my little girl for the first time in the hospital, i felt that happiness again that i thought was gone for good. 

yes, as a new mom i sometimes feel ill-equipped, and am not too sure what i'm doing most of the time...

but i'm enjoying the journey. i fear for my daughter. when "reviving ophelia" was written, it was before the days of facebook and kim kardashian. how will i teach jane to be confident? 

how will i teach her that it's ok if she doesn't have the dirtiest mirror for kissy-face bathroom shots? 

that she's still important even though she only got "10 likes" on her last instagram photo? 

that the sun will still rise if she doesn't have a boyfriend? 

that respecting yourself is more important than gaining a man's admiration? 

that saying no to drugs and illegal activities is DEFINITELY the right thing to do? 

that standing up for those who need a defender is probably not going to win you a lot of friends, but will make you a better person for it? 

that she will always be loved, and at the least by her weird parents who make her eat strange things like spinach and bell peppers?

that she is beautiful, big nose and all (cross your fingers my genes are recessive!)

that she needs to find a man who is as good and kind-hearted like her father, who treats her mother as an equal and not like a prop? 

the more i think about this, the more i realize that the only way jane is going to learn to love herself is through example. sometimes things can happen in life that leave you hopeless and alone, but i'm living proof that you can overcome it and find yourself again. 

ophelia's been revived. 


Ladybird Ln said...

You are a beautiful writer. Thank you always, for sharing.

Kristen Ruiz said...

This is so beautiful, I have to come out of blog-hiding. Long time reader, first time commenter, Sarah, this was so amazing to read. I've often figured raising a daughter would be harder than a son, you finally put words to it as to why. And I'm baffled that you were self-conscious growing up - you are so beautiful. Jane is lucky to have such an intelligent and beautiful mother.

Erin said...

All I can say is WOW you put every mothers fears into words. Loved reading this post

Mamasmart said...

i really, really, really want to be your bff...even if you think i'm weird. you, sweetheart, are fantastic and amazing and jane is lucky to have such a smart, lovley mom.

The Dudleys said...

This is exactly how I feel everyday. I'm slightly terrfied to bring another little girl into the world. Great post!

ashley walker said...

amazing post sara! this needs to be published in some parenting magazine because I think anyone raising a child can relate. jane is lucky to have such good parents

Tina Wilde said...

All of my fears of raising a daughter put into words. I am totally on board with having all sons, I think it would be hard to watch a daughter go through high school knowing how horrible it was. I think we can relate in that the same boy ruined our self-esteem forever (I recall said boy telling me I talked like a man, had cankles, a fat face, and calling me a beached whale while at the pool). I can't imagine what it was like DATING him, but just know people are jealous of you because you're stunningly gorgeous. And so is your daughter. Thanks for the post.

Elaine Hearn said...

Loved this. And I'll be your bff. Move over ben.

lo.bennett111 said...

Dear Sara, I like your nose. I inherited a large shnoz and suffer from the same insecurity. However, as I told Erin the other day as she mocked my son's large nostrils, "if Barbara Streisand can rock it, so can I." (Don't listen to those Welling-ites ;) ) I also hunch over as well- for the complete opposite reason. I wore a training bra in grade 9 just to fit in... i didn't need it. To make matters worse, a boy told me I could have been "hott" I just needed a lil' something "there". Really, you and I should have joined forces. The best we can do is work from the inside out and hope our daughters glean the good stuff from us. Well written. Touche'.
Check this out:

Megan Hollenback said...

gosh i loved reading this. thank you so much for sharing! just keep being a wonderful example and your daughter will learn from you. i wish i could meet her!

kylie said...

this is beautiful. you're incredible. you're an amazing mother, and your daughter is so lucky to have you. love this.