The Problem with Pretty

The other day while making dinner I turned on Songza and chose an upbeat mix. Pearl was in her chair watching me as I made pizza dough and sang along to the songs I knew. This was how I came to hear Britney Spear’s new single for the first time. It’s called “Pretty Girls”.

It’s not the first song to celebrate girls being pretty and it won’t be the last. But as I listened to the lyrics and looked down at my infant daughter, the divide between what this song applauded and all that I want for my little girl as she grows up couldn’t have been larger.

First of all, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with celebrating feminine beauty. The Bible does this after all in Song of So fa. But that isn’t what “Pretty Girls” is about. I probably tell Pearl every day that she’s a pretty baby and I coo over cute she is. But I also tell her that she is strong and tough and brave. Sure she doesn’t understand these words yet but I want her to hear them. I want to be in the habit of saying them. I want her to always know that her value and power doesn’t lie in being pretty. And when I lay awake at night and pray for her, I’m not asking God to make her pretty.

A song like “Pretty Girls” celebrates only the physical aspect of girls. It applauds the power of getting boys to buy you drinks or getting to jump the line at a club. I have bigger dreams for my girl. I hope that one day if she influences those around her it’s with intelligence and compassion. I hope she learns to support herself and buy her own drinks. I hope she learns patience and how to wait her turn. And I really hope that she sees her own value and the value of others as creations of a holy God. Spears’ song reeks of entitlement and putting herself – as a “pretty girl” – above others.

I think my daughter is beautiful and I think I always will. But that isn’t an accomplishment. I would rather applaud the way she holds her head up all by herself, the smile she greets me with in the morning, and the sound of her chatter. And as she grows, I’ll tell her she’s beautiful but I’ll celebrate her accomplishments, not her looks.

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The Pout

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She’s had this one down since birth, complete with trembly lower lip. We laugh at it now but wonder what she’ll be like as a teenager!

And what biological force is it that makes me think even the sound of her crying is adorable? I’m torn between wanting to capture it on video and wanting to comfort her. She makes a little noise that reminds me of these guys. Her thoughts on shrubbery, however, remain unknown.

May Day

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I call this look “wonderment”.

We did the long weekend up in style this year. The weather co-operated and we participated in what festivities we could with a 12-week-old baby. To be honest, I was more excited about the long weekend before I remembered that Pearl doesn’t understand the concept and probably wouldn’t let me sleep in. However, I may not have given her enough credit because I slept in until eight on Saturday.

Saturday we headed up to Madeira Park. May Day is their big annual celebration (each community along the Coast has one). We wandered the booths, bumped into people to show off our girl to, watched the parade, and witnessed the crowning of the May Day Queen. Every year a girl from the local elementary school is chosen. When I first heard this I thought it was strangely archaic but it was actually pretty sweet. The Queen’s float was full of girls of all ages and having fun together, all dressed up. We’re gunning for May Day Queen 2027.

Pearl did great and slept through the parade – at least until the emergency vehicles sounded their sirens at the end! She and I went home for naps while Peter played in a volleyball tournament.

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Sunday was Pearl’s second restaurant experience as we introduced her to visiting friends. She was asleep when we arrived at the restaurant and I’m getting good at eating quickly.

After our busy days, we took Monday easy and enjoyed time just the three of us. The tides are low this time of year so we walked out on the beach in front of our place as far as we could. Then we crossed the creek and got ice cream!

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In the evening Peter took Pearl down to the water and dipped her toes in. There was briefly silence, followed quickly by a sharp wail. She may not be ready for ocean swimming quite yet. Maybe in June.

Sleeping Like a Baby

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Once you have a baby you realize how little sense that expression makes. I consider myself to be a good sleeper (when I’m allowed to be!) and my idea of a good night’s sleep doesn’t involve getting up for a snack in the middle of it.

Our girl is noisy in her sleep. She grunts and sighs. She sleeps best tightly swaddled because otherwise she startles herself awake with arm and leg movements. Sometimes she cries out in her sleep.

She sleeps like a baby. And, these days, so do I.

What I Read – April 2015

The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, 2008)

I once tried to read a novel by Ali Smith, lost interest part way in and returned it unfinished to the library. I did finish reading this short story collection but now, less than a month later, can’t remember much about it. I wanted to give Smith another try since her latest novel has gotten a lot of buzz but her writing just doesn’t grab me. This short story collection plays around a lot with narration and the art of storytelling but the stories didn’t stick with me or grab me in any meaningful way.

The Assassin’s Song by M.G. Vassanji (Knopf, 2007)

It took me a long time to get into this novel. It was probably not until two-thirds into the novel that I felt really excited to know what would happen next. I can’t say if this is a fault of the writing or on my part since I was constantly getting interrupted while reading it. It was different than any other book about India that I’ve read and I did enjoy what it showed of Indian history and religion. The “big reveal” at the end of the novel was disappointing (and pretty obvious) and, I thought, added very little to the story. I liked the back and forth between the 13th century history and the 20th and thought Vassanji wove mythology and history together well.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

This was obviously a re-read for me. While Pearl has many board books and I do read them to her, at her young age, the thing she enjoys most is simply hearing my voice and being held. So I figured I’d read her something more enjoyable for me. At least until she’s a little older. So we’ve started in on The Chronicles of Narnia.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (Random House, 2010)

I greatly enjoyed this book. I’ve read three books by David Mitchell now and each one has been superbly written. The Thousand Autumns plays with format and timelines less than Cloud Atlas or The Bone Clocks. Mitchell does do well with alternating narrators though and through multiple characters tells a compelling story of a time and place in history that I was very unfamiliar with – Dutch trade in Japan during the late 18th century. While Japan was extremely closed off to the rest of the world during this time period, a few foreign traders were allowed onto a small island called Deshima. Mitchell uses this setting to explore ideas of foreignness, home, and imprisonment. I appreciated how he told the story from a Dutch and Japanese perspective, giving weight to both sides and demonstrating both how similar and different humans can be. The story does veer towards the unbearably creepy at one point with a hint of the fantastical that Mitchell uses in his other novels but this one’s definitely a historical novel rather than a fantasy one.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (Vintage Books Edition, 1989)

I’d read a few of these short stories before – it’s hard to get out of any sort of University literature-related degree without reading the title story from this collection. Carver is one of those writers that I appreciate but when I sit down and read a whole body of his work, I find him very bleak. (I have the same problem with Alice Munro, actually.) These are stories of dying love, relationships ended. Carver’s style is very spare, rather stark. I found myself reminded occasionally of Hemingway, though I think Hemingway does description much better.

Small Island by Andrea Levy (Review, 2004)

This book suffers from a front cover problem. By which I mean the front cover has never appealed to me, to the point of putting me off from reading the novel for years. (I know, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but, let’s face it, we all do.) Fortunately for me, I finally looked past the boring cover and read the book. The main action of the novel takes place in London, in 1948, amidst the changing norms and social constructs of a post-war nation. There are also substantial flashbacks – before the war in both England and Jamaica, and some scenes set during World War II, both in England and overseas. Levy does an excellent job of maintaining third person narration while moving between characters. Voice is also terrific as she captures the sounds of Jamaican English. (There’s a continuing theme of Jamaican characters not being understood by the English that heartbreakingly captures the struggle of immigrants.) This is a book about race but it’s also about longing, a search for something bigger, and about ignorance – both chosen and accidental.

Currently Reading:

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks