Some of you know that I have Wonder Woman all over my waiting room. Wait, scratch that. Some of you may know that I have Wonder Women all over my waiting room. I have artist renditions of different kinds of women — fat, thin, young, old, hip and matronly, different ethnicities — all as Wonder Woman. Some of them are very serious and dignified and some of them are silly. They are all awesome.
When I was first decorating my office I went back and forth about hanging them all up. If you’ve been to many therapist offices then you know that most of them are pretty neutral and I wondered if it would be too much of me there in the waiting room. I thought maybe I should go with a tasteful Pottery Barn neutrality or maybe just a touch of Ikea blank hipness. I thought about having, you know, a gentle beach landscape on my wall.
But then I decided that I am not really a neutral therapist. I mean, I crack jokes a lot. I’m not always all that dignified, much to my chagrin. So I figured that since the research says that our success depends on the relationship that we build together then we would all be better off if my clients knew what they were getting right up front and what they’re getting is someone who thinks it’s appropriate to have a comic book character all over her waiting room.
So why Wonder Woman? Why not Bat Girl? Or Buffy? Or some other out-sized heroine of justice and truth? Here is why.
When I was a kid my mom had a Wonder Woman picture hanging in our kitchen. (You can see it in my waiting room now — it’s the one on the wall you’re facing when you are heading into my play therapy room.) I wasn’t much for comic books and if I was reading a comic book it was much more likely to be Sabrina the Teenage Witch but I liked that Wonder Woman picture. I liked the TV show, too, and I liked the Saturday morning Super Friends episodes with her in them the most. I liked the idea of her. I used to run around my neighborhood pretending I was this character I made up, Shadow the Midnight Panther, leaping off my Huffy bike to fight the powers of evil. I’m not so sure that I would have invented Shadow if I hadn’t had Wonder Woman as an example. (The reason I was not actually Wonder Woman is that I really wanted a cape — Shadow had a cape — and I liked cats a lot and panthers are super cool.)
Later when I was a loud young feminist my mom mentioned that Wonder Woman was on the very first issue of Ms. Magazine. That’s when I realized that Wonder Woman meant something to a lot of women — not just to my mother and not just to me. I still liked her only now I liked that she was a touchstone. I liked that she reminded me of the terrible 70s fashion of my youth and of the specific feminism that I grew up with. (When I was little I would read Ms. and flip to the No Comment in back, then the “click” letters in the front and finally to Stories for Free Children.) That specific feminism taught me that it was OK to be angry, to be strong, to be outspoken and to have a sense of humor.
All of that is to say that Wonder Woman is hanging in my office as a way to share that I’m a feminist therapist. Now you don’t have to be a feminist to come see me — that’s the great thing about feminism, it very clearly says that we all get to be who and what we want and need to be — but I want people to know that they’re seeing a feminist therapist because, again, you should know what you’re getting right up front if you’re thinking about seeing me.
Very often clients will tell me that they saw a Wonder Woman thing — the book that just came out, a doll, a t-shirt — and they’ll say, “I thought of you!” But I’ll tell you the truth, I really hope that someday my clients will see Wonder Woman and think of themselves, of what they worked at and what they learned in our time together. I have all of these Wonder Women in my office because I want my clients to see their own strength and power and heroism. I want them to see themselves reflected in the Wonder Women on my walls.
I’ll add that while I do see men in my practice I mostly see women and kids — boys and girls. Someone — not a client — asked me why I don’t have male super heroes on my walls and my answer to that is that we get to see lots of male super heroes everyplace else. We get to see them at the movies and on television and on the shelves in our toy stores. I have nothing against male super heroes — I especially like Spider-Man — and you’ll find them in my sand tray toys. But I like to do my part to even out the representation in the world a little bit, which is why Wonder Woman gets the prime real estate in my office.
Note: I haven’t blogged the last two weeks because as some of you know I slipped on the ice and jammed my finger by sliding hand first into a curb. I think the technical term for what I did to my finger is “stoved.” It was my middle finger, which made wearing a splint super hilarious since just by wearing it I was inadvertently flipping the entire world off. The most annoying thing about it was not being able to type. Years from now when I’m filing away my client case notes I will notice that two weeks worth are all lower case, terse and filled with typos. I will see them and remember, “Oh yes, those were the splint weeks!” And I will once again be reminded to always be grateful for spring.
This post originally appeared on my old this woman’s work personal blog. I’m adding it to the site because I saw some people clicking an old link to it on a parenting forum and getting the 404 message that it was missing. I’ve now been parenting for more than one and a half decades and my toddler is now a tween, my tween is now a teen. Basically the message I have is the same: It’s OK. You’re doing OK. Go easy on yourself.
Since my kids are so far apart in age (seven years) I find myself with a whole new cohort of parenting peers. Instead of moving on to parenting a school-ager while having a preschooler like most spaced-sibling families, I’ve got a school-ager and a toddler. Unless my friends have more than two kids (kinda rare), I’m hanging with a new set of people at baby gym class, etc.
In my daughter’s rec center classes, most of the parents have kids that are younger than my oldest (not all but most) and for many of them, the toddler tumbling around is their oldest and so they are fairly new parents. Listening to them really brings it all back to me — the worry, the fretting, the rigidity, the belief that there’s one way to get it right. I remember. But in ten years of parenting and watching my friends parent their kids, I realize that all the things that used to get us worked up just aren’t as important as we thought they were. I hear them discussing the things we discussed with the same earnest conviction and it makes me … tired. I don’t want to live those debates again and I also no longer care whether or not people I like are doing things the way that I think they ought to be done. (In other words, when a woman leans across the child in her lap to speak urgently about the dangers of television I neither feel defensive nor passionate in agreement. I simply don’t care about anyone else’s television choices and I don’t care what they think about mine.)
I also have found (horrors!) that I am very much one of those women who tries not to say, “Wait and see” when someone is telling me that their child will never play computer games/eat fast food/own a Barbie. I try not to be but I can’t help it. (Never say never should be the theme song to parenthood.) I can’t help but raise an eyebrow when a passionate new parent swears s/he will never send their child to school or let them eat refined sugar. Or when they lecture another parent (as I was so happy to lecture) about the proper way to get a child to sleep through the night or learn to pick up his toys.
I hate to say it, but parenting the baby/toddler/preschooler? It’s easy. Well, easier. Why? Because their domain is so totally in your control. Yes, it’s exhausting and physically tedious and certainly a huge challenge but they get bigger and not only do they become more themselves (and less amenable) but also the rest of the world intervenes and suddenly you’re not dealing just with your inlaws, who totally don’t get this whole no refined sugar thing you’ve got going on, but with the birthday parties of friends or the Bratz fad that’s infiltrating the neighborhood. (Note from Dawn of the future. Bratz have fallen by the wayside. It’s all about Monster High these days.) I mean, when they’re preschoolers, you can keep them ignorant or else you can just come down hard and fast. Preschoolers mostly listen because what do they know? But bigger kids? They’ve got opinions and sometimes their opinions are absolutely at odds with yours.
Then there’s this other thing — people with a good kid think they’ve got the key to good parenting. I know this because I thought it myself. My oldest is a pretty good listening kid, a kid who wants to please his parents and who craves structure and I thought that was our superior parenting but the truth is, it’s him. He had and has his challenges — not sleeping through the night for the first 3.5 years, an inability to process change well or easily, a tendency to the dramatics — but he’s a pretty easy kid. We’ve parented our youngest exactly the same (mostly) and she’s a fireball of loophole seeking and arguments (but also slept through the night much earlier — go figure). We never had to childproof with him because one stern shake of the head and he’d immediately back off from whatever it was that held potential danger but our youngest has gone out of her way to find the most deadly things in our house and try ’em on for size. A “no” to her is simply a sign to wait until her parent’s back is turned and then try harder.
I love new parents. I love their shell-shocked pride and out-sized concern. I love their myopic devotion. I so remember how important every decision felt. Me and my friends, we were such intense devotees of motherhood. Oh the debates about flaxseed oil! About kindergarten curriculum! About toothbrushing and fluoride and non-punitive discipline! Oh the discussions about the right way to give compliments and the proper way to put a child to bed! And as it turns out? The choices are less important than the values that drive them. When they’re ten, no one can know that you used sun-bleached organic diapers or disposable. You can’t even tell the breastfed babies from the ones who got bottles. The homebirthed babies who ate nothing but organic for their first years are standing by the soda machine jingling their change. The daughters of feminists are putting on lipgloss; the baby boys who nursed their trucks are wrestling on the gym mat. It’s not that our choices have no impact, it’s just that the impact isn’t always what we expect.
I say this not to be discouraging but to be reassuring. It’s OK to let go of some rigidity — your good kids will be good kids even if you “slip” and let them eat jarred baby food instead of painstakingly steaming that organic potato before you run it through the food grinder. It’s the big picture stuff that matters, not so much the tiny decisions that we fret about. I’m just not all that convinced that baby signs or Ferberizing or infant toilet training are going to matter all that much by the time our kids hit their twenties. It’s more about why we do those things.
So I guess I’d say that in ten years of parenting I’ve learned that you do the things you need to do to get through the day with love and hopefully some laughter, you trust your kids (and yourself), and you let yourself have fun along the way.
I was reading Mary Pipher’s Writing to Change the World and I came across this:
Theologian Reinhold Niebuht wrote that to effect change, we need to practice “spiritual discipline against resentment.”
Pretty heady instructions, that.
Sometimes even recognizing another point of view feels like giving in, you know? Sometimes it feels scary to say, “I can see how you’d feel that way.”
When I was a young feminist taking my first women’s studies class one of my assignments was to interview a woman who worked for The Child Assault Prevention Program (“Living Safe, Strong and Free!”). I’m not positive, but I think she helped create that child abuse program, which is now used nationwide. In any case, she was a radical feminist and we were talking about activism and creating change. She told me that she used to not shave under her arms or her legs. She used to buzz her hair crazy-short (it was still pretty short but styled) and she didn’t wear skirts or make-up. Then she started working for CAPP and part of her job was development, which is the getting of money. And she discovered that these fancy-schmancy business guys in suits were more likely to listen to her if she wore some make-up (this was the eighties after all when we all wore at least four shades of eyeshadow) and if she wore a skirt and she noticed that her unshaven legs didn’t look so hot in hose (again, it was the eighties and we didn’t go around bare legged much then) so she started shaving her legs.
“I did this,” she told me. “Because I wanted the program to have money because I wanted to prevent child abuse.”
But some of her friends were angry. They said she was giving in. They said she was selling out. There’s no doubt that it was a sacrifice for her but it was a sacrifice she was willing to make in the interest of a cause that was more important to her than not shaving her legs.
I’ve thought about this off and on in the years since that interview. I’ve thought about how powerful it can be to change things from the inside out and how compromise, used with discretion, can be a good thing.
Sometimes it takes more strength to work with the perceived enemy.
Today I’m thinking about Grace Paley. Why should you love her? How can you not?
From here: “Whatever your calling is, whether it’s as a plumber or an artist, you have to make sure there’s a little more justice in the world when you leave it than when you found it.”
And from that same interview: “One of the things is — I’ve never really said this — but one of the things that has interested me is that women have bought books by men since forever, and they began to realize that it was not about them, right? But they continue, with great interest, because it’s like reading about another country. Now, men have never returned the courtesy.”
And not only is she a feminist, a “combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist”, and a mother (not to mention grandmother), she’s also one heck of a writer. If you haven’t discovered her yet, pick up one of her books (fiction, nonfiction or poetry) because you’re in for a treat. I’m going to go grab The Little Disturbances of Man off my bookshelf as soon as I hit save here.