An whole new epoch has alighted on the barbed-wired-circumscribed environs that we describe as El Rancho del Broke-Ass: Baby Poodle has turned 10. Good lord, babydolls. What fun it is to be alive!
Now, Broke-Ass admires, but does not always agree with, Gloria Steinem (who obviously had no fucking idea of what she was talking about when she told women they could have it all, when she herself had no children). But in the feminist leader’s estimation that 10 is the perfect age in the life of a female person, she could not, in Broke-Ass’ view, be more perfectly right.
At 10, girls have achieved an exciting degree of intellectual confidence and mastery that is, as yet, un-be-deviled by the crushing paranoia and passive-aggressive competitiveness that invariably attends the hormonal shifts of adolescence. They have such freedom to enjoy themselves, and it is such a pleasure to enjoy them. It’s just the rockinest.
Now, Broke-Ass instituted a birthday policy when the first of the schmushkies was born, and it is this: You may do anything you wish to do on your birthday, so long as it is neither dangerous nor degrading. A person may not choose, for example, to enslave her younger sister and brother for the day because that is degrading. She is also not permitted to choose to scale the side of the house because that is dangerous. A person may, however, choose to wake up at five o’clock in the morning, help herself to an entire pint of ice cream, and watch “Good Luck, Charlie!” She may choose to take the day off of school. She may choose to take her younger brother’s babysitter up on an offer to visit the local Dominican hair salon, where stylists will gush over her glossy, paint-brush hair, entwine it around Mrs. Roper-style rollers, and spray it until it resembles a weird sculpture of melted vinyl 45s. She may wear this hair-do to the movie theater with her mother to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2, and enjoy an oil-drum-sized tub popcorn–and spray that popcorn out all over the floor when howling because the movie is, actually, really funny.
Baby Poodle did, in fact, choose to do all of these activities on her 10th birthday. And she had a very good time. Baby Poodle also intercepted her mother’s copy of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, which arrived in the afternoon mail. And she determined that she, Baby Poodle, was going to become her own Tiger Mother.
Babydolls, Broke-Ass is no push-over. But having been raised by an English Renaissance professor mother whose conviction that every competent two-year-old should be reading A.A. Milne, she is not a hard-ass either. Broke-Ass believes that developing grit–in mind, body, and soul–is the most important job of childhood. But shame and degradation? Not so much. Hell, it’s not even allowed on birthdays.
Baby Poodle, however, has chosen to stand in fierce opposition to this. She insists that she needs to download standardized tests and drill herself so that she “can have a chance of getting into a good college!” She insists that the digital piano, which is stored in the basement since the Rancho is 800-square feet, be installed in her 6 x 9 room so that she can practice Suzuki lessons. Which she will also download. She insists that she will be promoted to the next level team in competitive gymnastics by this fall, even if it means she must give up all hang-out time with her friends to practice. Broke-Ass was aghast to discover Baby Poodle still awake at 10 pm on a school night, meticulously jotting down the multiplication tables on flash cards because, she said, she is dissatisfied with the Montessori approach.
Well. This is a funny how-do-you-do. Broke-Ass is rather admiring of Baby Poodle’s Alex P. Keaton stance on self-advancement. But she is also concerned that such tight-gripped resolve may be the harbinger of some future eating disorder. Broke-Ass, Big Daddy, and Great Dad are all, naturally, keeping an eye on this.
But this tiger self-mothering has also raised some interesting questions in Broke-Ass’s mind. Underlying some of this impulse is the need for control and status, impulses to which Broke-Ass is resolutely sympathetic. Back before life knocked her to the low-lying steppes of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Broke-Ass’ machine was fueled by fear, status, and achievement. She worked her bum off and actually achieved a fair amount. This made her proud, even though fear is kind of a vaporous fuel, tending to burn way too quickly and introducing volatile situations. But that’s another story.
The parenting style of the moment is, obviously, not tiger motherish, which is why Amy Chua has found herself at the eye of this crazy, Gen-X parenting firestorm she set off. We’re the Blessing of a Skinned Knee parents, not the beat-the-snot-out-of-your-kid-for-shaming-the-family-name-with-your-retarded-A-minus parents.
Still, as she gazes wistfully about the Rancho–and notes that she is overdrawn $17.14 in her sole checking account, with nothing in savings–Broke-Ass has to wonder if such flinty self-discipline of the sort Baby Poodle is pursuing is so bad. Life is fucking tough. Really fucking tough. What if Broke-Ass didn’t have any fight in her? Game over.
To have a sense of order, consequence, and grit is kind of excellent, so long as an eating disorder isn’t involved. Baby Poodle’s mother is very proud. And watching. Baby Poodle is 10. And she’s perfect as she is.