I told Mini she looked cute this morning, and that she’d done a good job of picking out her outfit. And then I paused. We’re not supposed to tell them they’re cute anymore, right? Because we don’t want our girls to grow up thinking only their looks have value? But then I thought of all the other things I’ve told her in the last day or so: That I was proud of her for getting a 100 on her spelling test. (And that maybe we should ask about harder words. Pointlessly, since she can usually spell something perfectly once she’s seen it written.) I told her she’s hilarious. Odds are good I called her a drama princess. (Not a day goes by without a pratfall from this kid. She did her first spit take last week.) We’ve talked about the kind of scientist she wants to be, and if she was ready to start guitar lessons up again. (Her teacher found a full time job and isn’t doing lessons anymore. Small Town does not have a lot of guitar teachers in it, and the ones I’ve heard of don’t take kids her age.)
I told her I liked her outfit because of an argument we had early this week, while getting ready for school. We hadn’t picked out her clothes the night before, so I had to trust her judgement while I made her lunch. Always a hit or miss prospect. That day was a miss. A really cute watercolor-y floral chiffon top all flowy and girly, and camo print basketball shorts. All the important bits were covered. The shorts came from the “boys” section, so they went down to her knees instead of barely covering her butt. The shirt wasn’t sheer, and even had a little built in shrug thing. But I couldn’t do it. I pulled out the leggings that actually came with the shirt and a regular tshirt.
“You can change the shorts or you can change the shirt,” I said.
Mini threw herself to the floor screaming, “WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY?” in a way that would put Shatner to shame.
So, you know, how most of our conversations go when I ask her to do something. Eventually, she changed into the leggings. And that’s why I think it’s important for me, as her mother, to tell her when she’s cute, when she picked out a good outfit. She has to learn about picking out clothes that are appropriate. And sure, chiffon and camo are probably perfectly fine for Montessori. But someday she won’t be there. Someday she’ll be trying to figure out what the fuck business casual means. She’ll be trying to pick something out for a dinner, or a date, or just to hang out with her friends at the mall. That should not be a painful or difficult choice. This is why I fought for her right to not wear a uniform. We don’t live in some dystopian military society, not yet. Picking out clothing is a skill, and it can be a hard one to learn. (Especially for girls, given the higher expectations for them when it comes to fashion.) So yes, I’ll tell her she looks cute, but that’s not all.
Y’all, I screwed up. Not like the worst screw up ever, but it’s a dumb mistake that could have been avoided with like two minutes of thought. Mini’s class is studying Asia, and so they all had to pick a country. Of course she was out the day they picked, so her first choice of Japan went to another kid. Which, fine, whatever. She loves Japan and is fine learning about it all on her own. There are only six kids in her class, so there’s still plenty of Asia to go around. Japan, China, Russia, Turkey and India were all taken. Her teacher told me to just pick something cool with her. My heart said Thailand. My stupid stupid brain said let her do her own picking. Then, for some god awful reason, same brain steered her to towards Mongolia. What was I thinking?
I was thinking Mongolia is a really cool place with ponies, and yurts, and falconers who hunt with giant eagles. I was thinking about how there’s a like 5% chance everyone is related to Genghis Khan. I was not thinking about how these cultural appreciation lessons usually work. We have to bring in a meal from her country, or at least inspired by the food they eat, on Friday. And it turns out Mongolian beef isn’t actually Mongolian. Go figure.
Do you know what they eat in Mongolia? That’s not a rhetorical question. I really need to know. We watched the Bizarre Foods episode where he goes to Mongolia. Not super helpful. It’s all forms of milk curd and intestines and sheep head. Not a lot of dried cheese curd to be had in Small Town. Shockingly low on sheep heads as well. The internet has been less than helpful, giving me the same three dumping recipes over and over. They’re potsticker-esque, but filled with ground beef and nothing else. I’d go with those, except for the part where I have made potstickers before and oh man is it tedious. The lazier bit of me is thinking of a cheese plate with some crackers and cured meat of some kind. You know, really lay on the “inspired by” wording of the assignment. Add some pickled veggies, because apparently a lot of their vegetables are pickled due to the whole largely nomadic lifestyle thing. Or I make Mongolian beef because obviously it must have been inspired by Mongolia at some point, right?
This is a difficult parenting impasse. Basically I can do something authentic, something “inspired” by, or something that I know is utter Western bullshit but is easy. How much does it matter? I’m doing the research and cooking here, not Mini. Okay, not entirely true, she watched Bizarre Foods with me, and then sat on my lap while I googled Mongolian recipes. But there isn’t exactly a grade on the line here. (Yay Montessori schools!) I don’t know what we’re going to do, but I pretty much have to decide tonight. I have learned one thing though: never listen to my brain.