Our values + high school values = conflict … really?

I was particulary taken by this post by Rev. Thomas Perchlik this week.  In particular, this paragraph struck a chord with me:

One of the significant moments in my life was when my eldest daughter came home from school with a new vocabulary word that had provided a revelation.  “I just realized why our family is so different” she announced, “It is because we are ‘intellectuals.’”  Ah yes, it was so true.  Later that day I remembered when I was a teen and a young woman left UU-ism in tears after proclaiming (at the end of a youth retreat weekend) that we proclaimed we were so tolerant and open minded, but we were intolerant of people like her who liked shopping for the latest fashions, and cheer-leading, and pop music. We did not accept a girl who wanted to wear makeup at a youth retreat and who was smart enough but not at all intellectual. 

Earlier this week, my husband, eldest daughter and I sat down to talk about … school shopping!  Eldest starts high school next week.  Her initial proposal to me was that she would go through her clothes and the number of items she either handed down to her sisters or gave to Goodwill would be the number of items I replaced for her.

Imagine my response to THAT!  My counter-proposal was for her to go through the ad pages and decide how much money she thought she might need to replace key items for the school year and then we would talk about a clothing allowance.  Of course, I made this proposal without first talking to my husband.

Long story short (yeah, like I’m capable of THAT), we ended up having this discussion of my husband firmly rooted in the practical and the sensible and my daughter equally (if not more so) rooted in the desire to fit in–perhaps even to look like she could stand near the cool kids without feeling like a complete dolt.

Me?  I stood firmly between them–understanding each of them perfectly well, and trying to mediate a response we all could live with.

My husband has this idea that our children should be living what we say are our values, although we are not living them either.  I do not shop at thrift or resale shops–and neither does he.  He buys catalog clothing that fits him well and wears for ever.  He thinks our daughters should do the same–and has even purchased them catalog pants (cords, even) thinking he was buying such great value.  I reminded him that those pants have NEVER been worn.  There is no value there.

I don’t know what the deal is between these two, why everything has to be a battle of wills.  My husband wants my daughters to be beyond labels and fashion.  The truth is, for the most part, they are.  We don’t–and never have–had the budget to afford them labels.  We have dressed them from hand-me-downs from cousins and neighbors as well as from our favorite dept. store and catalogs.  They have (usually) been shod and covered.  They have complained very little, and asked for even less.  That our daughter is entering high school and asks for enough money to buy a few shirts that will be identifiable to the “in” crowd that she shops where they do, is fine by me.  That she plans on supplementing her wardrobe by shopping at thrift stores and continuing to receive hand-me-downs from the “cool” older kids she knows, this is the icing on the cake to me.

So what does this have to do with Rev. Perchlik’s blog?  There are times when I feel “less-than” in the UU context because I:

  • wear makeup;
  • buy new clothes (hard to find cute clothes in my size on the racks, let alone in the thrift stores);
  • eat meat–the redder the better; drive an hour each way to a job that I mostly love from a community I truly love;
  • sometimes throw away a container that could be recycled because the cleaning of it would make me retch and heave;
  • watch television with a vociferous appetite and prefer hearing Jim Dale read Harry Potter to me than listening to NPR these days.

And there are so many other reasons I feel “less-than.”  I consider myself to be smart, but not intellectual.  There’s a difference.  If I was intellectual at some point in post-college career I would have seriously entered a post-graduate degree program.  I have not.

But not being intellectual does not mean I do not love truth, justice, love, beauty, and, dare I say it, God. It means I come at these things differently.

I just left a comment on The Chaliceblog about the movie Mamma Mia!  People so want to hate it because they think it ought to make sense.  But the truth is that there are a great many of us in the world who very much like it when things DON’T make sense–but when they make fun.  And that is what Mamma Mia! is about.  Making fun.  One thing I remember from my English Lit career was what Shakespeare did is what I still look for in my entertainment:  a suspension of disbelief.  When I am able to enter another world and not point toward the ways it doesn’t make sense, I know that someone has created something magical. (Though, I must say my disbelief was suspended–albeit briefly– in Mamma Mia! as I did the age math and the incongruity of the flashbacks with the ages.  But I got over it, quickly.)

So here’s what I’m trying so very hard to get at (and, as I said, I really can’t get at anything really quickly, I can only hope you are enjoying the detours): I wanted my husband to understand my daughter’s desires and not belittle them.  I also wanted my daughter to understand my husband’s concerns and not scoff at them–but she is 14-nearly-15, and I expect her to rebel and scoff and yell and be unkind.  Almost as often as I expect her to comply, understand, be quiet and be kind.

It’s a mixed up world we have, with people relating to it from all different angles.  What I thought I was stepping into when I entered Unitarian Universalism is that same understanding–that not everyone is going to agree with me and not all “other” ways are “bad.”  (Thanks to Karen for this understanding.)

Bless me, sisters and brothers, for I am different.  But I am also trying to be better than I am and I attend this church, am a part of this faith denomination, because I truly believe that I am better with you all than I am without you.  I ask forgiveness for my “less-than-ness” and an understanding that not all ways are direct ways, not all ways are your way.

This is what I wanted my family to get to, and I believe we mostly did.  We ARE living our values when we recycle, eat locally, and generally reduce our footprint, but I think we are living them best when we can look at difference not as “wrongness” but as “otherness.” 

What I wish for my daughters is that they are welcomed as easily in their designer shirts as they are in their thrift-store finds; that there is room at the welcome table regardless of whether they brush their hair or don’t, wear make-up or don’t.  Just as I wish there’s room at the table for me, whether I eschew television or chew it up.

More importantly than that, though, is I want my daughter to understand that she does not have to renounce our family because she wants a shirt with an eagle on it–and we will not renounce her for that desire, either.  In time, she will understand better who she is without the label.  That’s our job, to help her get there, and we won’t if we continue to make her fell “less than” because she wants what she wants.  Our job is to let her know that she is loved, utterly and completely, regardless of what she is wearing. 

Oh, and to remind her that high school is not the end of life or the culmination of “cool.”  But what do I know of that?

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7 comments

  1. “There are times when I feel “less-than” in the UU context…”

    Wow uuMomma… it’s like i’m looking in a mirror. well, except my face would not be wearing makeup and would have whiskers and be dark brown skinned. : )

    I struggle with the same thing down here. Being overtly Texan, I salivate in a Pavlovian way to barbecue, I like to go fishing and dove hunting, i drove an SUV for 10 years and when it finally died i bought another SUV. I actually had a couple of people ask me why i bought that gas guzzler instead of treading lighter and buy a Prius. I’m more libertarian than democrat… maybe that’s why.

    Despite these aspects which are viewed by many fellow UUs as un-UU, (like you said) “it does not mean I do not love truth, justice, love, beauty, and, dare I say it, God.”

    good post.

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  2. Hi Momma! Boy, do I remember these “discussions” about clothing with my kids… Our family’s solution was to give each kid a monthly clothing allowance, and tell them they could buy whatever clothing they wanted – as long as the outer clothing met minimum decency standards (no bustiers, for example). M1 was pretty good at it from the beginning – he’s a guy who doesn’t think much about fashion.

    As for the girls – I think M* spent her entire allowance on a pair of “cool” jeans once – then decided she’d rather comb the racks of Goodwill, get 3 or 4 pairs of jeans there, and have money left for something else. Her “cool” clothes often came from thrift stores, too. She became adept at sifting through racks to find the barely worn shirts from American Eagle and other popular stores. R bought a pair of boots that cost a whole month’s allowance that I was sure would be worn once and discarded – but she surprised me by wearing them consistently for over a year (and still does, but not in summer).

    As for the rest – Didn’t we give up Calvinism a long time ago? I’m in there with Ms. Kitty. I tossed out a Rubbermaid container this week because I couldn’t bear to scrub the mold out of it. I love silly YouTube videos. I even get my coffee in disposable cups sometimes. I do what I need to do – and celebrate when I have time to pack the reusable coffee mug, and water bottle, and lunch from home. Life should be a joy – and we need to be gentle with ourselves.

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  3. I think many of us are in the same ratty old boat with you, Momma. I’ve quit worrying about it. I just do what I need to do and don’t agonize over the yogurt container with the blue fuzzy (unwashed) interior that I threw in the garbage instead of the recycle. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one!

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  4. Amen, sister. I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in as a UU because of the make-up and decent-looking clothes. . . and just yesterday, I went to create an avatar for my Twitter profile, and after doing so realized that the cartoon version of myself looks 100% sorority girl (which I am not) and that my avatar looked nothing like the avatars of my Twitter friends, many of whom are UU. . . . and when we bought our new big screen TV a few months ago, part of me thought that we probably couldn’t have CareRing or small group ministry meetings at our house any more, lest we offend traditional UU sensibilities . . . but really, I see no inherent contradiction in loving Survivor and Top Chef while simultaneously loving my neighbor . . .

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  5. Not to side with your daughter, but there’s a reason some say “‘Those who study Greek must take pains with their dress.”

    It’s a lot easier to be yourself (and indeed, to be a little nerdy) when you superficially fit in.

    CC
    who grew up a middle class kid in a wealthy neighborhood, so she’s sensitive on this issue, though your daughter will probably be fine either way.

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