It’s been weeks since the VMAs and the tsunami of responses, armchair diagnoses and moral commentary around Miley Cyrus’s infamous twerking, jerking, foam finger wagging performance. Everything that can possibly be said about it has been said. Like everyone else, I’m sick of hearing about it. Yet I can’t stop thinking about her: why is Miley Cyrus under my skin?
It’s not because she’s a train wreck; it’s not because someone mentioned she could be the new face of feminism; it’s not because her brand of sexy is somewhat disturbing; it’s not because I’m worried my 11-year-old will suddenly start twerking at the Middle School dance.
Then it hits me: it’s because she scares the crap out of me. If wholesome, goofy Hannah Montana is now a hyper-sexualized 20-year-old grinding her bootie up against an older, married man in front of millions of people, what’s in store for my three girls when they cross that line into the hot and messy limbo-land between childhood and adulthood?
No, don’t tell me. I’m not ready for that and I don’t know if I’ll ever be. Big sigh.
Yeah, okay, I know. Too bad for me because what Miley’s doing right now is exactly what so many young women do on their way to adulthood: They test their mettle. They see how far they can go, what they’re capable of, how much they can dish out and how much they can take. They find out exactly how powerful their sexuality, their brains and their voices can be. By pushing the envelope, they discover their desires and passions, their gifts and their limits. They uncover new parts of themselves then decide which ones are for keeps and what can be trashed. They skip around in skimpy outfits; they challenge the system; they talk dirty; they sing loud.
I know it’s going to happen – the experimentation, the self-discovery – it’s just really scary to think of my girls out there in the wide world, out on their own when they’ve barely begun growing up. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.
The first month of my freshman year at college, I dressed up like a sexy, glittery angel for a Naughty or Nice fraternity party, drank about a gallon of grape grain alcohol punch, puked all over some guy I was making out with and woke up alone in a totally unfamiliar dorm room, lights on, desk fan blowing like a tornado, wearing someone else’s jeans and not my t-shirt. Turns out a friend from high school was also at the party, saw me puke, cleaned me up and put me to sleep in his bed. I was lucky.
I had no idea what I could handle. I didn’t really understand all the different ways a boy could respond to me (aggression, blind lust, indifference, cruelty). I had no idea how much alcohol my body could hold. I didn’t know what would happen to me if I drank too much other than a headache at the other end. I wish I could say I learned my lesson that first time, but I didn’t. I had to shed my skin – the way I dressed, the cut of my hair, the words I used, the songs I liked, the books I read – again and again before I finally loved it enough to keep it safe.
So yes, I’m scared and I’m wondering if I’m doing all that I can to prep my girls for the confusing, overwhelming thrill that comes when you step out of your childhood and into the world. I worry: am I being proactive enough here?
It’s my oldest one, the 6th grader, I’m thinking about the most. It’s already becoming a struggle for me to stay involved even though I desperately want to be. Her friends and their opinions are taking on more importance and with texting and Instagram, they are constantly buzzing. Most of the time she still welcomes my words with a smile and a hug but I know that soon what I have to say will fade away to low hum. Not because we don’t connect, but because everyday she’s becoming more and more capable of making choices for herself – both good and bad. I’m mostly in observation mode with Ella and so far, it’s been fine. She has sweet friends, gets good grades and isn’t afraid to speak up. Not so much for me to tend to.
This makes my life much easier since I’m constantly distracted by Lilah climbing the shelves or experimenting with a pair of kitchen scissors (how did she get a hold of those?!) and Ruby commandeering my complete attention as she gives me a full accounting of an incident on the playground or her day at school.
Watching Miley reminds me that fine is not good enough. I need to recalibrate my parenting and engage, not just count my lucky stars that nothing majorly traumatic has happened. There’s so much I want to tell and teach my oldest girl, so much I want to know about her and we haven’t got much time left. In seven years she’ll be out of the house. We all know it will go by far too quickly.
It’s time for me to delve into parenting a fully forming human. I’ve been distracted by my toddler’s dirty diapers, developmental milestones and near misses, but now it’s time to get to work on the tween end of the spectrum. I can’t leave this stuff to the Miley Cyrus’ of the world. While there are some things I admire about Miley – her talent, her confidence, her willingness to take a risk, to explore body image and sexuality – I still don’t want my girls blindly following in her cowboy boots-turned-spiky-heels footsteps. They need to know that they have options. They need to understand why, in most circumstances, it’s a good idea to keep their tongues in their mouths and their butts out of other people’s crotches.
This is, of course, tricky. I don’t want them to repress themselves. I’ve seen what can happen to women who don’t get a chance to experience themselves fully before settling into their lives: there is resentment, there is heartache and there is a deep yearning to understand themselves better.
I just want my girls to be safe, to love and respect themselves, to make smart choices that are right for them. I want them to be bold and bright, I want them to go out into the world and own it. I want them to know that they will make mistakes, but also get it right; that they will look and act ridiculous, but they’ll also be amazing and inspiring. They’ll soar, they’ll come back to earth then they’ll do it all over again.
I’m not exactly sure what parenting a tween-then-teen, girl-then-woman is going to look like or if seven years is enough time for it all to click. All I’ve got is what I know from my own triumphs and mistakes plus a whole lot of love, good intentions and a healthy fear of young women in shiny, flesh-colored underthings wielding foam fingers.