Lena in

Are you planning to read Lena Dunham’s memoir? I’ll probably wait for the audiobook; that’s been my preferred method for witty female memoir lately. Notables over the past year include (n.b.: I included links to Audible, but to be honest I’ve been borrowing them from the library via these little loaner MP3 players.):

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (Anna Quindlen)
Bossypants (Tina Fey)
Wild (Cheryl Strayed)
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson)
The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)
Mom & Me & Mom (Maya Angelou)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling)
I Don’t Know What You Know Me From (Judy Greer)

I was impressed by Dunham’s film, Tiny Furniture (which you can stream on Netflix). I also like her HBO show Girls despite, or maybe because of, its flaws. But before we get into Girls, let’s talk about its obvious predecessor for comparison, Sex and the City. I devoured S&TC in almost one go in my early twenties. This was me at twenty-two: painting rooms in my mom’s old house and propping up her tiny TV/VCR combo on the nearest counter/toilet/stair so I could watch a five-season Blockbuster-rental marathon of S&TC.

Lena in - heirloom mothering
Me, right before we painted that kitchen, probably talking to my new boyfriend Nate on what is definitely my old Garfield phone. Check out those over-plucked eyebrows. As Lena says, “she is looking for it.” Or as Britney says, “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.”

Does S&TC lack luster in comparison to Girls? By today’s standards, S&TC is certainly less awkward and controversial than we might once have proclaimed it to be (“It’s glossy,” says every person everywhere). You could even argue it was a show by a man in his forties who mansplained a fantastical version of sex as a single woman. But let’s put aside Big’s deus ex machina in the final episode for a moment to consider the series as a whole. I contend it was controversial once, in an edgy, raw, and important way. I loved this critique in The New Yorker. Let’s just say Carrie probably paved the way for Hannah to exist as a character at all.

Whatever the pros and cons of Girls versus S&TC are, I give my own future twenty-something girls a thumb’s up to screen Girls some day (Screen on what is the question…on their phones? their watches? their contact lenses?). Maybe one reason I’m enthusiastic about Girls is I am just so ready to be over all the shows with a whiny male protagonist (Entourage, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, Dawson’s Creek, I could go on but you get it) and move on to a show with an honest—albeit yes, whiny—female protagonist. Lena Dunham has just the right mix of intelligence and self-deprecation I love. I agree with Meghan Daum, who wrote in NY Times magazine that Dunham’s “combination of extreme self-reference and extreme lack of vanity feels almost like a supernatural power.” She’s a mashup of Seinfeld‘s Elaine (“You think I have GRACE?!”) and Nora Ephron.

I know, I talk about Nora Ephron, like, A LOT. But I really loved her. She was an important figure in my life, a feminist bellwether, a sharp critic, and a lady every woman I know would have liked to have as a friend. A little over two years after we lost her, I find myself going back to my favorite stories and even my favorite eulogies (NYT’s Gail Collins, and oh yes, who could forget Dunham’s very own tribute in the New Yorker).

Cup of Jo featured a bunch of advice videos Dunham made in tandem with her book’s release, and I think they’re just as splendiferous as Girls, if not more so because they’re from a real girl to other real girls everywhere. Lena Dunham promotes my kind of feminism: the stumbling, unapologetic, earnest kind. If I had to choose between Dunham’s brand of feminism and Sheryl Sandburg’s, I’d pick Lena any day. I like to think Nora would agree.

Hey, you guys! I wanna be on your team.

In the spirit of trying new things, our six-year-old daughter asked to try a soccer class at the YMCA. She isn’t the most coordinated (she comes by that naturally), so I wasn’t sure how she’d do at soccer. But I figured if nothing else it was an hour that would guarantee me some laughs.

When we arrived on the field, I bent down, gave her a quick hug, and told her I’m rooting for her. I always try to pump my kids up when sending them off to school or a sport by reminding them I’m on their team. I handed her off to the coach and selected a quiet spot back from the sidelines. It was a lovely, crisp, early autumn day in Boston. The coach spent a few minutes getting to know the kids and warming them up. Within a few minutes she was already dividing them up for a game.

At the start of the game, there were a few loud parents, as I had expected. They were the ones who dressed their kid up for the first day in real soccer gear with cleats and jerseys and those shin things…not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ll admit it, I was a little excited about the loud parents. It was like, Alright here we go. (rubs hands together) Let’s see some action. I’ve been hearing about these people for years, and I was almost regretting my spot in the back where I couldn’t see what was happening at center stage.

My attention was quickly turned back to the field, where my daughter sped around actually kicking the ball. Say whaaaa? She even went up against a boy larger than her and almost scored a goal! Then she did score a goal! For the wrong side, but still! She was so proud and excited, she did a little gig. The spectators sitting near me on benches in the second row all laughed and clapped. I looked over to see a woman who was bent over in a fit of near-hysterical laughter over my girl’s end zone dance. I heard a few “Atta girls” from the sidelines, and I began to relax and join the laughter. It was a total Steve Martin ala Parenthood moment.

I appreciated the camaraderie. Those parents on the sidelines buoyed me up, and I’ve been riding on their shoulders ever since.It was a soccer game, but sometimes a soccer game is more than just a soccer game, you know? There are so many times I feel like I’m being divided from other parents on the basis of weird categories I don’t even understand, and that day it was like we all united, if only for a brief minute, in the hilarity that is pee-wee soccer.

The truth is that I’m not just on the kids’ team; I wanna be on your team too. We’ll call it team “Laugh at our children’s mistakes.” [NB: I’m also team “What’s that shit on the floor of my car?”] We’ll even laugh at our own mistakes! I’m not going to promise I’ll be the best teammate—this morning I paused to note I was scratching my head with a fork while I waited for the leftovers to heat in the microwave—but I will promise to root for you with enthusiasm. And I make a mean celebratory whiskey sour.

After last week’s lesson was over, when I gave our daughter a high-five for effort and asked her how it went, she said, “I regret my choice. I wish I hadn’t signed up for soccer.” Womp womp. A few thoughts simultaneously occurred to me. First, she said ‘regret.’ She is so totally six going on thirteen. My mom wondered, “If she says regret now, what is she going to say when she’s twelve?” Precisely. I have nothing to add to that question, I’m just putting it out there. Second, not wanting to play soccer is how I have felt my entire life, so it seems bizarre that I would push her into the sport given that she at least gave it an A+ effort on her first try.

This week, I asked her to try again.I’d love to be able to wrap this post up with a bang and tell you that we came back for an encore performance. But by the end of the lesson she was clearly not having any fun still. I’ll fast forward a bit to the end and tell you that we let her choose an alternative. Luckily the Y was nice enough to switch our credit to another class. She chose swimming, and I’m happy to report this is a sport she does really love. I can’t wait to see how she improves her ability this year. And if nothing else, I should be able to get some laughs from all those belly flops dive attempts.

I wanna be on your team - heirloom mothering

Mrs. Sandburg, bring me a dream…

Stubborn, pushy, aggressive, know-it-all, bossy. Our culture uses these words to describe girls’ behavior more than boys’, according to Sheryl Sandburg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign. We prize leadership qualities in boys, but in the same breath we admonish girls for bossing their peers around. Sandburg argues bossiness is a trait we should cherish in a young girl who could grow up to become a CEO.

I know what you’re probably thinking. This story came out in March, so it’s old news, right? Well, not for everyone; if you’ve got a Girl Scout, the beat goes on. But I’m not here to rehash all the #BanBossy criticism or lay out a new argument against or for it. Plenty of eloquent writers have done so already (my personal fave is Ann Friedman for NY Mag). I would, however, like to dish on what it’s been making me think about lately. Be warned, I have more questions than answers. If you find such a scenario off-putting, skip down to “tl;dr.”

Here goes. While I don’t agree with all aspects of Ban Bossy, some elements ring true in my life. With a natural leader as a child, I do wonder how much I should be controlling her bossy behavior. Am I stamping out what I should be cultivating?

If I had to sum up last year’s kindergarten classroom using a fire metaphor, I would say the girls were stoking their leadership bonfires all on their own. They were on top of their game. Meanwhile, the boys didn’t do much of anything discernibly constructive at all. Rather, they seemed content to start tiny chaotic fires (yes, we’re still speaking in metaphors, thankfully), follow behind the girls adding randomly sized sticks and logs to their carefully-constructed fires, or ignore the girls completely and return to their discussion of which is the best shark (not a metaphor; that’s literally what they did 50% of the time). Perhaps it would be a good idea to consider using a different word than “bossy,” but I’m confident these girls won’t be easily deterred; if anything, they could stand to learn a thing or two about fire safety being gracious.

Go ahead, call me old-fashioned, but I have some science on my side. Evidence shows women’s unique contributions in the boardroom—like empathy and a view of the big picture—are positive to the team. Thus, it stands to reason we should promote women in the boardroom to act like themselves, not like men. Assuming the data holds water, shouldn’t we continue with our womanly ways? Why must we encourage women to adopt the qualities of men? Wouldn’t we create a generation of women and men who both lack those unique and necessary qualities?

Ban Bossy also misses the point when it focuses on removing a word from the conversation instead of starting a new conversation. Telling people what they can and can’t say seems, dare I say, bossy? I do give the campaign credit for trying to start some new conversations, such as their suggestions not to interrupt girls as much and to encourage them to raise their hands more.

Tl;dr
Here’s what I wonder, in a nutshell. Is there a way to encourage our daughters to lead and boost their self-esteem while still teaching them qualities like empathy and grace? Or am I just programmed to think of Sheryl Sandburg’s own leadership as bossy because she’s a woman and lean away from her because of it? If a man were the champion of this cause of improving girls’ self-esteem, would I be more likely to listen to him?

IMG_0496-0
Letter from my kindergartner this summer. I submit it as Ex. A, evidence of a potential future role as the diplomat who gets the job done.