Most of us remember at
least one moment from childhood when we were “corrupted” by an older girl.
I have many, all of which are crystal-clear in memory: There was the time, when I was 10, that my best
friend’s older sister first played for me Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes,” while
miming a strip tease (lyrics: Don’t
drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?); the time my babysitter typed
out every swear word imaginable on the Speak-n-Spell; the time my neighbor’s
older cousin escorted me to an R-rated movie I’d been forbidden to
Childhood is so fleeting (especially little girlhood), and isn’t it my job as a parent to keep her in it for as long as possible?
Do I shudder now, thinking
of these times? Do I think, “How dreadful that happened to me, at such a young
Hells no. I think—and
thought, for many years—that was awesome.
Not a scary moment, not confusing, not upsetting, just totally awesome. It was
the day I got a taste of independence, that I got to experience a world out
there apart from the one I’d been shown by my parents, and it was
thrilling. I don’t consider those older girls mean-spirited, or bad seeds, or
even terrible influences.
So why do I now, as a
mother, go on high-alert when my daughter is exposed to big-kid stuff?
Because I want to keep her
young, for one thing, and that desire is mostly about me. I also don’t want her
to feel alone, or pressured, or full of confused feelings about herself or the
world. And of course I don’t want her to leave all the innocent stuff behind—nursery rhymes and big hair bows and Mary Jane shoes—before she’s ready. Childhood
is so fleeting (especially little girlhood), and isn’t it my job as a parent to
keep her in it for as long as possible?
Yes, and no. This summer I
discovered a loophole that put my mind at ease: the Cousin Caveat. This is when
a cousin, or older sibling, or any relative for that matter, does the corrupting.
It makes it a little better for me. My 7-year-old daughter spent most of
July with my niece, who is 10. They listened to Top 40 music, gave each other
makeovers, read Tiger Beat magazine,
and talked about their favorite member of One Direction.
All normal for a
soon-to-be middle schooler, but for a 2nd grade baby? At first, it seemed a
little too-much-too-soon, especially when that baby is in the backseat of your
car belting out the lyrics, “Hot night wind was blowin’/Ripped jeans, skin was
showin',” reading about how “kissable” lead singer Harry Styles is, and
watching TV shows where girls get tarted up to compete for boys at the school
dance. Shouldn’t my 7-year-old still be throwing on a cotton frock, shaking
out her bowl cut, and running outside to climb trees and catch frogs?
Many mothers would say
that’s pure fantasy. And even as I observe my daughter succumbing to
sexualization before my very eyes, I also catch another transformation through
my rear view mirror: That of two girls’ faces breaking into smiles as the
latest hit song begins to play on the radio. As they start singing along, I’m
not even listening to the lyrics. Instead, I turn from a protective attack mom
into a beaming, sentimental auntie.
The Cousin Caveat definitely
takes the sting out of large doses of crass commercialism or tweener activity.
As does, for that matter, anyone close to home. The occasional sparkly nail
polish or dumb TV show never killed anyone. Maybe, when
you’re exposed to that stuff in a safe, nurturing environment, it makes you