I Shaved My Daughter’s Hair

AellynshairEvery month my kids see their Daddy shave his head. Last week my younger son wanted his shaved off too. When Daddy was shaving Boston, Aellyn said she wanted him to shave her head too. Daddy said she’d have to ask mommy since I wasn’t home.

She asked if we could and I said sure. We weren’t home so it was easy to say yes. I decided I wouldn’t bring it up and maybe she would forget.

Wrong.

She talked about it the rest of the day and the next. So, last night, we shaved her damn near bald.

First, let’s talk about this from Aellyn’s perspective. This wasn’t a hard decision or even a big deal to her. She’s never been told how “girls are supposed to look/act” because we parent outside of sexist stereotypes whenever we can* (I wrote the book Gender Neutral Parenting if you are new here). We talk about sexism a lot and I told her the morning before we cut it that some people think girls shouldn’t have shaved heads. She said, “no way. Girls can have their hair anyway they want.” I said I know but some people might say something about it or call her a boy. She said, “That’s ok mom, I’ll just tell them I’m a girl.”

Look at this video I took during the cutting.

It’s amazing to see her nearly blasé attitude about it. Isn’t that how we should all be? I mean it is only fucking hair!

I, unfortunately, was very much indoctrinated by my culture to put great importance on my appearance and my hair in particular. I had very long blonde hair as a child. Other girls in my class would fight to stand next to me in line so they could play with my hair. The adults in my life always told me how beautiful my hair was.

For my tenth birthday I cut all my hair off. The stylist kept asking me over and over, “are you sure, honey?” As she began cutting I felt this nauseating sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. When she was done I bawled my eyes out.

No big deal. I’ve overcome much of the “laws of femininity” that society tried so hard to force on me. I’ve had many a pixie cut and just last year I buzzed my hair with a 1″ setting.

And yet my deep, gut feeling about my daughter shaving her head sounded something like this: “DEAR GOD NOOOOOOOO!”

Yep, really enlightened, huh?

That’s the thing about this cultural conditioning I talk so much about. It forms roots so deep in our psyche that I know I’ll never be completely free of them. But I can always try to observe my gut feelings and NOT MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON THEM. To instead question my assumptions. Peak behind the curtain of cultural conditioning.

I really, really, REALLY wanted to talk her out of it. I wanted to fawn over how beautiful her hair is. In fact, I knew I had that power of my daughter. What I think – as her primary caregiver and friend – has a huge impact on her. I could have used just the right words to talk her out of it.

Or, maybe not. Maybe she would have put her foot down anyway and cut it.

Either way, I would have told her that her appearance is important TO ME and that she exists for the consumption of others. That how others view her is more important than her internal voice, sense of adventure, and inherent value. That her decisions should be made based on external “rules” and not her own sense of what is right or wrong for her.

Even worse, I would show my daughter that manipulation is something that people do to control someone else. That love means power.

Hell no. Not even remotely worth it. I will take the discomfort of seeing my daughter without hair over teaching her that she is a doll to be dressed up for others’ pleasure or that any future relationship she is in she should allow someone to manipulate her or dictate her appearance.

But, guess what?

She looks beautiful with her head shaved. Not just beautiful in the way of aesthetic beauty (although she’s that too. Have you seen eyes and cheek bones on a shaved head? Swoon.) but beautiful in her complete purity of self. She knows herself without the layers of rules, expectations, and worries that most of us carry around every day.

As Pete shaved her in sections I was so worried she’d hate it and regret it. I was waiting for her to experience that sinking feeling in her gut as the hair fell. I didn’t want her to experience the crippling fear of change or “being ugly” that plagued me as a child.

Nope. Not for her. The idea of regretting something as stupid as hair would probably never cross her mind. To her, this was FUN!

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Once again, these tiny people in my life teach me so much. Parenting has, bar none, been the best personal development class in my life. I try so hard to remove my conditioned sexism from my parenting and they remind me how easy it is. They show me who I am under my conditioning. What a gift!

I still hold worries about what others will say to my daughter about her hair. I’ll write more about our experience with her having a not-traditionally-feminine hair style in the coming weeks. I’ve already had one person tell me to “keep it private” and I was happy to tell her how marginalizing that is and how telling people to hide is how the status quo keeps its power. Would we tell gay people to “keep it hidden”? /facepalm. Well we shouldn’t.

We should encourage people to be true to themselves and who they feel they are authentically. Then no energy would be spend crying over cut hair in a beautician’s chair. Energy that can be spent making the world a better place for all.

Are Parents a Friend or Foe?

1010206_802204776492736_3804007470436320531_nThe meme was making its way around Facebook yesterday to a chorus of “hell yes” and tagging teen offspring so they know you’ll “hunt them down.”

I’d like you to try a thought experiment with me (suggested by my friend Ginger). Replace parent with another relationship in your life like your husband/partner.

I am your husband.
I will stalk you
Flip out on you
Lecture
Drive you insane
Be your worst nightmare
Hunt you down when needed
Because I love you.

Does that sound like a healthy relationship? When someone says they love you is it ok for them to treat you like this meme suggests? Of course not! We recognize if your “love” holds such control and conditions that it is not in fact love at all.

For children we throw all the normal rules of healthy relationships out the window. This is a particular crime because kids learn how relationships work from watching their primary caregivers and the way the treat others.

As parents we model relationships for our kids. Everything they take into adulthood about how relationships should be come from their earliest formative experiences with the adults in their lives. Do you want this to be the message your kids hear?

This meme isn’t about loving your kids. It is about controlling them, wielding power over them and teaching them that life is a hierarchy and they need to submit to those above them and force submission from those below them. This meme is about a non-consensual relationship where the object of “love” has no say in their treatment. It is one sided.

There is another way. And guess what? It works better. Lectures? Anyone who has a preschooler knows lectures work about as well as spanking. Which is to say it may cease the behavior but it never lasts and carries the scars of knowing mom only loves you if you “behave”.

Luckily Joni over at Tales of a Kitchen Witch created a much better version of this meme.

11026039_921735471180943_1973685582210676202_nNow replace this one with “partner” or “spouse”. Does that sound like a relationship you want your daughter to have one day with her significant other?

Instead of stalking, lecturing, and being a nightmare how about we listen, guide, and be a cheerleader.

That is the definition of love I want my kids to see when they think on our relationship. I want them to know from this example that ANYONE who treats them like an object by lecturing, stalking, and hunting them is a predator and they should not have a relationship with that person because they deserve unconditional love and always a consensual relationship.

Matisyahu to Krishnamurti

The past decade has been a real spiritual journey for me. I moved through several Christian sects before finally moving beyond Christianity as most people know it. At the same time I began studying Buddhism. For a long time I was both: A Christian Buddhist. Not really impossible and many people (including prominent Christian clergymen and women) practice Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism is non-theistic and non-dogmatic. The Buddha is neither god nor final decider of the rules. He tells his followers to ignore what he says and find out for themselves.

After I moved out of Christianity (I don’t like to say I “left” or “turned away” or “renounced” because I really feel like Christianity was part of my path and that it was the thing that pointed me to my current place. I didn’t “Leave”; I followed where it led) I called myself a Buddhist and an atheist. I thought it was important to differentiate myself from people who believe in god, especially the christian “Father”-type god. I was still practicing Buddhism so that title seemed fit.

I still use Buddhism in many setting because it quickly gives an overview of some of my core values. But it isn’t really true. Buddhism isn’t a fit label for me and the concept of the labeling is itself damaging. This is the journey I’d like to describe for you.

Do you know this song? 

I first heard this song in 2006. This was before kids. Before my worst bout of depression (2007). Before I moved out of Christianity but just shortly after I began actively studying Buddhism.

I LOVE this song. From the very first time I heard it there was something so compelling about it. I used to listen to it multiple times a day or even have it on a loop in the background while I worked. The words moved me. The music was both soothing and rousing. It never got old for me. I felt the same powerful emotion each time I heard it. No matter how many times I heard it.

I bought the rest of Matisyahu’s songs (and still do). He is really talented mixing beatbox with reggae beats and soaring, passionate lyrics. I shouldn’t really need a reason to like his music. But my friends considered it weird that I was so moved by the lyrics when it is so overtly Jewish. I tried to put it into words: When he says,

What’s this feeling?
My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
Givin’ myself to you from the essence of my being

You really BELIEVE he means it. If I put the passion of every Brittany Spears song together it wouldn’t equal the raw passion of his words.

The song moved me they way my religion moved me. Not all the time, of course, but when I wasn’t defending the faith to the world against those twisting it to sanction hate, I really felt my religion. The words Matisyahu spoke were how religion was supposed to feel,

You’re like water for my soul when it gets thirsty
Without you there’s no me
You’re the air that I breathe

Religion, when it felt right to me, was like air and water – everything I needed for perfect contentment. Peace.

When I look to the sky where my help come from
And I’ve seen it circling around from the mountain
Thunder!
You feel it in your chest

Yes! You feel it in your chest. A brief moment, in the words of the Christian bible, of a “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

That’s the Thing. The single anchor of desire that kept me searching. Seeking for answers to spiritual questions. Or, rather, THE spiritual question: Who Am I?

The answers Christianity gave me: I am a child of god, a sinner in need of a savior, on trial for my every behavior with punishment expected for behavior deemed bad were becoming incompatible with my inner “truth” meter.

If you’ve known me at all you know that, as a parent educator, I point out not only the benefits of non-punitive, gentle parenting but I also share what science is learning about the human design for non-punitive, gentle parenting. We are literally biologically-primed for freedom and choice and to resist coercion or control. Like a plant deprived light, humans deprived of freedom and choice wilt. Plants need water to thrive and humans need to be free.

In the public sphere of my life this looked like my talking about feminism (the right of women to thrive without the control of patriarchy), racism and colonialism (the right of brown people to thrive without the control of white colonists) and parenting (the right of children to thrive without the control of their parents).

What I had was cognitive dissonance – discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values (source:wikipedia). Everything I believed about secular life – freedom, choice, absence of violence was in direct opposition to everything I believed about my spiritual life – that I was constrained by rules, my choices could be judged “evil”, and a religion both founded on and perpetuated by indescribably horrific violence and genocide.

Cognitive dissonance must always be reconciled. It isn’t possible to live in your mind with two opposing views. You can read on wikipedia if you want to read some of the ways people resolve cognitive dissonance (trigger warning: their examples are fat phobic) but I believe this is what kept me searching. I knew where I was wasn’t comfortable. I had to keep looking.

Of course by this time I’m learning more about Buddhism and experiencing the amazing affect of meditation and particularly, metta meditation which is like body building for your compassion muscles. I had experienced that my mind wasn’t me and was, in fact, kind of a pain in my ass. Telling my brain to shut up became a new mantra. (Now I love my mind even when I tell it to shush. I say, “old friend, you aren’t trying to pull that again are you?”).

The Buddha said,

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

This began to coalesce with my studies of feminism in the context of cultural/social constructs. In my book, Gender Neutral Parenting, I spend some time explaining how to step outside our cultural constructs like “gender” by thinking of the compass. There is no objectively described “north” or “south”. We collectively decide to label these places with these words to helps us communicate about our environment. There is no north (or spoon, ha!).

In The Teaching of Buddha by the Japanese Buddhist organization, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, it says,

In the sky there is no distinction of east and west; people create the distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.

Here the beliefs of my secular life combined with the beliefs of my spiritual life. I will probably write much more about spirituality and feminism since this is an area that I’ve received much push back from other feminists. For now though I’m going to focus on my journey.

So one day, I’m listening to King Without a Crown again and I notice this line,

Strip away the layers and reveal your soul
Got to give yourself up and then you become whole
You’re a slave to yourself and you don’t even know
You want to live the fast life but your brain moves slow

This captures the practice of Buddhism well: pick through all these thoughts. Quiet them and see who you are underneath all of your cultural constructs and conditioning.

Looking up to the sky and searchin’ beneath the ground
Like a King without his Crown
Yes, you keep fallin’ down
You really want to live but can’t get rid of your frown
Tried to reach unto the heights and wound bound down on the ground

And how hard it is. From the moment of our birth we begin to layer ourselves with words. Words aren’t all bad – they help us know each other, love each other – but without understanding that they aren’t you, words can be dangerous.

We say I’m Paige.

I’m a girl.

I’m intelligent.

I’m an American.

I’m white.

And we forget who we really are without all the words.

For me, Buddhism is a great practice for removing the words. It isn’t religion. I don’t “believe” in Buddhism. I practice it. I find the suggestions that are credited to that ancient Hindu man name Siddhartha Gautama really work for me when I practice them each day. I do metta meditation and I see tangible results in myself. I see a grouchy bank teller and I feel love not annoyance.

I know there are people who have taken the words credited to the Jewish man named Jesus and interpreted them in a much different way than the mainstream Christians and they use them to practice what Jesus taught. The same is true for nearly every mainstream religion. It is a thread connecting all religions and it is spiritual not religious.

When the philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, broke away from the Theosophical society of white colonizers he said,

I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. You must climb towards the Truth. It cannot be ‘stepped down’ or organized for you.

This was even stronger than what the Buddha said. There is no way to go, no directions to find bliss. Which, let’s face it is the primary purpose of all religion. Buddha said to find out for yourself. Krishnamurti expounded that finding out for yourself is the only way. There is no path but the one you are on.

bella RIPThe problem is that we have all these ideas. Religion gives us ideas. Buddhism is an idea for how to find bliss. It has worked for me but it also tethers me. If Buddhism is a label I wear that creates an anchor to my thoughts then I’m not really free to move past the circle of my beliefs.

Like a dog on a chain is “free” only in the circle allowed by his chain (please don’t do this). When we label ourselves as Buddhist or Christian we drive a tether into the ground and cut ourselves off from understanding.

Matisyahu says this too,

You want God but you can’t deflate your ego
If you’re already there then there’s nowhere to go
If you’re cup’s already full then its bound to overflow

If you are identifying with a religion, or any label, then your are filling yourself (your cup) and it is no long open to receive new understanding. Krishnamurti again,

Psychologically I think it is true, because self-discipline implies a mind that is tethered to a particular thought or belief or ideal, a mind that is held by a condition; and as an animal that is tethered to a post can only wander within the distance of its rope, so does the mind which is tethered to a belief, which is perverted through self-discipline, wander only within the limitation of that condition. Therefore such a mind is not mind at all, it is incapable of thought. It may be capable of adjustment between the limitations of the post and the farthest point of its reach; but such a mind, such a heart cannot really think and feel.

EmilysQuotes.Com-nationality-violent-reason-separating-mankind-belief-tradition-violence-understanding-religion-politics-wisdom-amazing-great-intelligent-Jiddu-Krishnamurti-500x323If you can completely untether yourself from all thoughts and identifications (Buddha calls them distinctions), you will know the real you, which Buddhists call enlightenment. Although I think it is a horrible thing to focus on. Spirituality shouldn’t be goal oriented. That’s what religion does. It says do xyz and avoid jkl and you will receive bliss.

It isn’t about the answer or the goal. It isn’t about rules or a path. It is about questioning, seeking, and remaining open.

And see, I lift up [in] my eyes where my help come from
And I seen it circling around from the mountain
Thunder!
You feel it in your chest
You keep my mind at ease and my soul at rest

Read more: Matisyahu – King Without A Crown Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Gently,

Paige

Why I Love Facebook

good-vs-evil facebook eggs-resized-600Facebook gets a lot of grief in my circles and rightly so. Their sexist double standards about how breasts can be used (selling beer? ok. Nursing a baby? not ok.) is a huge sticking point. There is also much talk about how “bad” facebook is for us and our kids. Everyone is always “trying to cut back” or “taking a break” from facebook.

Don’t get me wrong being able to balance our use of technology is important but there seems to be this general feeling that facebook is primarily a vice. A silly diversion at best. I’d like to argue in favor of the great wonder of facebook.

(I’m going to talk about facebook specifically because it is by far the largest social network in the world but the same could apply to twitter or pinterest or any other person-to-person connection tool.)

Five Reasons I Love Facebook:

  1. I meet great people that I’d never have the chance to meet otherwise. I have friends from San Diego to Maine and every state in between. These are people I’ve never been within 100 miles of physically but who add to my life in indescribable ways. And that’s just the US! I got a Christmas card last year from a favorite blogger of mine who lives in Belgium. I have friends who give me hard time by posting sunny, summer pics from Australia when I’m under ten feet of snow in Ohio. I hate them. ;) No I don’t, I love them so much. I am unbelievable grateful for facebook putting these people in my life.
  2. Making enemies usually ends in making wonderful friends. Like getting kicked out of a feminist group because I don’t vaccinate my kids (ouch) and then having five people friend me because they agree with me and thought I was treated unfairly. Or when my long time friend and neighbor comments negatively on my son wearing a “girl” shirt (ouch) and then having twenty people friend me because they too are gender non-conforming or transgender and want other parents to know you *can* support your kids. That’s some serious silver lining there.
  3. I can cultivate whom I am influenced by. Facebook often gets slammed for changing the word “friend” to mean non-hostiles. I get what they are saying. Many of the friends I mention in #1 and 2 aren’t the people I’d call in a crisis. They only know one slice of who I am and I only know one slice of who they are. This is usually seen as a bad thing but I like to look at it a different way. Facebook is a place I can nurture my passions and share my struggles. I have tons of friends filling my facebook feed with social justice, peaceful parenting, and generally, positive, world-improving views. When I’m feeling frustrated with parenting I know that I’ll be getting advice from people who share my values. My facebook feed is carefully cultivated by the “friends” I make to be a place of safety and nurturance for my journey. I’m so grateful.
  4. I cultivate my own news channel. These friends I’ve made because of a single issue (like they liked my post about my “cross dressing” three year old) are people who’s views I respect. So, when they post something outside my wheelhouse I am apt to listen. Social justice is a HUGE arena and none of us know everything. The diversity of my friends list exposes me to ideas I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. Like my vegan friend who posts about animal rights or my Jewish friend from whom I’ve learned a great deal about Israel/Palestine. Instead of relying on one news outlet I have this great network of people sharing snippets of news from every corner of the independent news world.
  5. My worldview is larger. I grew up in a tiny little town in Ohio. I was 18 before I ever met a black person. I know, right? Sometimes I think it isn’t any wonder that so many white people are so ignorant about racism. They’ve literally been shut off by their own homogeneous environment. Even though I dream about living in a diverse city circumstances have kept me here. I try to embrace that since middle america needs awakened people too. For people who live in all-white areas and aren’t in the tax bracket that can travel, facebook is an amazing window to differing views. It is hard to understand your own subconscious assumptions when everyone you interact with daily has the same subconscious assumptions. Facebook connects me with people who share my passions and yet are very much different from me because of differing backgrounds. I’m no longer bound by my place or financial status. By hearing non-white, non-american, non-middle class views I can better challenge my own lens on the world.

Facebook has its downsides – ads, sexist rules, and horrible marginalization of pages that don’t have million dollar budgets to “boost” their posts – but it is only a tool. And YOU control the tool.

If you get on facebook and feel worse then change your facebook! Unfollow family and friends you can’t “unfriend” that fill your feed with hateful things. Join topical groups about the things you like and friend request people you have synchronicity with. Unlike any page that doesn’t enrich your life. Like, share, and comment on threads you appreciate. It will help facebook show you more things you like.

Facebook isn’t static. It is what you make it. As your passions migrate, change your news feed by unliking old pages and liking new ones. Make it work for you and you’ll feel less guilty when you use it.

And remember the days before facebook (or ask your mom, lol) when our worlds were smaller and with it our minds and ideas. I’m a better person because of facebook. Hands down. I’m grateful for facebook and what (and whom) it has brought into my life.

Namaste.