Over the course of considering that absurdly trollsome and judgmental “woman child’ article a Girls writer posted on Jezebel recently (you can google it if you want, I’m not driving more traffic to it), my thoughts kept returning to my own primary female role model: my mom. A 63-years-young retired assistant attorney general for the state of CT and current legal volunteer with the ACLU, she embodies a combination of characteristics that would make that writer’s head explode. She is simultaneously tough and girly, serious and fun. She wears bright colors and loves to laugh. She has friends. She’s divorced, and does not intend to re-marry. She’s been known to dress up like Mother Earth to promote awareness of the environment, and she writes people raps on their birthdays. And when she’s not kicking ass in court, she is engaging in random acts of public belly dancing with her super-fun group of ripped ladies. I guess you could call her a manic pixie dream girl, if manic pixie dream girls were well-rounded individuals capable of taking care of themselves and others.
In an effort to figure out what “being a grown-up” really means, I chatted with my mom about feminism, clothes, the sixties, and politics. As always, she had some wise things to say.
Jamie Peck: Hey mom! Are you there?
Mom: Yup, just googling Nike Minaj to see what that’s all about. I mean Nicki.
Jamie Peck: hahaha
Jamie Peck: Where to start?
Mom: Up to you…I have no clue how to approach that article. Supposedly, she wrote a whole book about that shit.
Jamie Peck: We can do it. Let’s start with the most easily dispatched, like: is it okay to judge a woman’s competence/feminstness/grownupnness by whether she’s wearing a frilly skirt or a sensible blazer?
Mom: I hate the fashion police, they piss me off.
Jamie Peck: I think it’s one thing to say “I don’t like your outfit” and another to make character judgments based on someone’s outfit.
Mom: On a serious note, when dressing oneself for public appearances, messages will be taken from what we wear much more than for men. But for men. too, I think–they just operate in a narrower range of options, mostly. These woman-people are making their own choices. It really depends on context, you know…
Jamie Peck: or rather, the type of character judgments she’s making like, I try to dress appropriately for the various things I go to…
Mom: Like if I have a court appearance I’m going to want to take myself seriously and wear something powerful.
Jamie Peck: But fuck anyone who thinks I’m childish for wearing vintage dresses and rompers in my free time!
Mom: I cherish playfulness and so do you.
Jamie Peck: LOL, we basically said the same thing just now. This brings up another point: how do you manage to wrap your head around something as complex as THE LAW while also cherishing playfulness? Aren’t the two mutually exclusive??
Mom: Nononononono! Not at all. I always find fun. It adds an important layer to the drama. Court has a lot of drama. But enough about me.
Jamie Peck: No, go on! What are some things you do that are fun?
Mom: You mean now? At work? Well at work, trials are basically about telling a story in a way that is strong and convincing and appeals to the emotions as well as the brain–a lot like a play.
Jamie Peck: That’s interesting, I’d never thought of it that way. So creative thinking helps you do your job?
Mom: Totally, creative thinking rules.
Jamie Peck: What about outside of work?
Mom: Fun? So many things–OK, one really fun thing is clothes, which relates back to the article a bit. I love putting together looks on myself, as well as more extreme costumes for dancing and parties. Hair, makeup–all fun. Also shopping for all of the above, but bargain shopping, like resale stores (not for make-up, haha).
Jamie Peck: Are these styles girly styles or sensible pantsuits?
Mom: Honestly, there’s a place for everything. But the pantsuit better be sexy.
Jamie Peck: Good answer. So here’s a question for someone who came of age in the 60s…Do you think my generation is especially afraid to grow up?
Mom: Pausing and thinking—I think growing up is something we do because we have to do it, except the part where you take on responsibility for the society we live in—if people like you don’t stay involved, we all lose. My generation milked adolescence for as long as we could, and then we got haircuts and jobs for the sake of surviving or figured out how to be entrepreneurial hippies. You all have just milked it longer. But we are still very much more playful than our ‘rents.
Jamie Peck: I don’t know if we are old enough to know how long we will have milked it yet. I feel like a lot of people I know are grownups in some sense (have jobs, take care of themselves) but not in some stereotypical ways (marriage, babies?)
Mom: Marriage and babies figure prominently in the article, not sure why.
Jamie Peck: Like, I take care of myself fairly well and am even in a stable relationship, but I’m not in any hurry to get married.
Mom: It’s funny how gay people are so eager to embrace marriage and straight people not so much. This is getting awfully personal, shouldn’t we be funny or something?
Jamie Peck: That’s okay! And the idea that freezing one’s eggs encourages you to put off having children (rather than enables people who would normally NOT BE ABLE TO have children to have them) strikes me as rather absurd, no?
Mom: To each their own.
Jamie Peck: And remember that she is trying to come at this from some kind of feminist perspective. Which seems really odd considering feminists fought to NOT have womanhood be defined by heterosexual marriage/children.
Mom: I have heard myself saying on more than one occasion that we have a constitutional right to act stupid. The feminism didn’t really come through for me. I kept thinking about Mean Girls for some reason while reading.
Jamie Peck: Because she was attacking other women for making the wrong choices!
Mom: I don’t feel that womanhood is defined by those things anymore but more by our anatomy. Anatomy and autonomy. I thought it so I typed it, but is it an oxymoron? It should not be. Mean girls suck.
Jamie Peck: I think there are two separate arguments she is making. 1) You aren’t a grown up unless you do/buy x, y and z. And 2.) If you’re not a grown up by my definition, you are a bad feminist/incapable of caring about feminism.
Mom: So it’s the feminist police.
Jamie Peck: Pretty much.
Jamie Peck: So let’s leave aside the obvious absurdity of 2.) for a minute and talk about what it DOES mean to be a grownup.
Jamie Peck: Do you think it can mean different things to different people?
Mom: I guess but as i said earlier, first of all, being a grown up happens when you don’t have anyone taking care of you anymore. I guess it happens in stages, and the next stage hits when you have to or choose to take care of someone else. And I suppose it also means taking yourself seriously as a capable person.
Jamie Peck: I think that’s a big one.
Mom: Taking responsibility for your actions. Making decisions.
Jamie Peck: I agree.
Mom: But I also like to think that grownups have empathy for others and are not completely self-centered like babies are.
Jamie Peck: For me, deciding to be on birth control is me making a mature decision, because I know I’m not ready to care for a child yet.
Mom: Of course! So many children get born from unprotected sex by parents who have no resources or any desire to be parents.
Jamie Peck: Is taking care of someone else a necessary part of being a grownup?
Mom: No I think not, but it is a whole different level–an analogy to gaming, perhaps.
Jamie Peck: Like, it makes you into a SUPER grownup? Like when Mario eats a mushroom and becomes SUPER Mario?
Mom: Hahahahah and you get super powers, mwahahaha!
Jamie Peck: What super powers did you gain from taking care of me?
Mom: Wow, first, I learned about love and life in ways I never even knew existed. I saw the world full of beauty and joy and wonder and I experienced the mystery of life—that was just in the first few days. It got better and better.
Jamie Peck: I was such a blessing!
Mom: Yah man.
Jamie Peck: You’re welcome.
Mom: This is all good but off topic?
Jamie Peck: Brilliance lives in the margins. Okay, so a lot of people have talked about how it is bad when young people don’t grow up fast enough. But isn’t it also bad to try to grow up too fast and/or in a manner you’re not well suited to?
Mom: Oh yes I agree.
Jamie Peck: I am thinking about the partial nervous breakdown I experienced when I tried to fit myself into a life that I did not belong in. I didn’t quit my job, rather, I stayed and ended up doing something much worse. In retrospect, I really wish I had just quit, but I didn’t want to be weak/immature/MILLENNIAL.
Mom: I think children should have much more help in knowing who they are and that this should be part of their education and they should be accepted for who they are and guided in finding their true path. I am truly sorry for your pain. We both grew from the experience I think.
Jamie Peck: For me, I think I realized that being a grownup was going to have to mean something slightly different for me. At least for the time being. Maybe if “knowing who you are” was part of the regular curriculum, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time floating around in our early 20s…or late 20s, as the case may be.
Mom: You are quite sucessful and making ends meet–that’s not easy these days. I just wish you didn’t have to work so much. Sometimes I think you would have to work less in a job with 8-hour days.
[We talk a little about my job and that fact that I do work 8-hour days, I just do extra stuff all the time on top of that because I don’t make a ton of money, but also because I love writing.]
Mom: It strikes me that grown-up is more of a value-judgement in the article and as a construct, it bears examination.
Jamie Peck: I think so too.
Mom: I think we have done a good job of teasing apart that piece. Thoughts?
Jamie Peck: In the words of the great, Fiona Apple, “go with yourself.”
Jamie Peck: I think getting worked up about whether or not you’re a proper grownup can be damaging to your attempts to actually accomplish things.
Mom: Sure. Especially for creative people.
Jamie Peck: I know that I’ve still got some growing to do, but I’m okay with that because I have come this far.
Mom: In the words of Jefferson Airplane, “Life is change.”
Jamie Peck: Yes! Always be changing. But there are some “childish” things that I think are valuable not to lose sight of.
Mom: I totally agree. We used to say”Never trust anyone over 30″ and I think that’s what we meant.
Jamie Peck: That’s a nice interpretation. I am sure as shit going to have fun getting weird and silly with a child someday.
Mom: The best shit ever.
Jamie Peck: Which I will conceive using frozen eggs.
Jamie Peck: At the age of 40.
Mom: Kidding. Are you? I was.
Jamie Peck: We are both kidding. Although who knows? I think if I have kids, I will be close to 40 when I do. You were kind of close when you had me, no?
Mom: I was 35 turned 36 the next month, not close to 40.
Jamie Peck: Or else I will adopt.
Mom: Your choice, keep me in the loop! Love you, let’s wrap up?
Jamie Peck: Yeah I think that’s good.
Mom: Well, we forgot to talk about close friends. The statement that close friends=immaturity is ridiculous, nuff said. O.K. Final word from me, just remember an old blues song, loosely quoted, “If this is wrong, I don’t wanna be right……”