Girl Rearing: An Excerpt

Wash your hands, brush your teeth, and comb your hair. Girl Rearing front coverPretend that you are in forward motion. Make your bed, fold your clothes, feed the cat, and clean the spoon. Stand up straight and pull in your stomach; don't be of unwieldy proporĀ­tion, there's chocolate at the corners of your mouth. Don't bend the spine of the book or write on its pages. Your words are not better than theirs. Take your feet off the table, stop smacking your gum like a clerk at Woolworth's. Knock before enterĀ­ing and enter seldom. Never interrupt the flow of conversation once it's going. Napkins belong more properly in your lap, not on the floor; cats do not sleep under the bridges in Paris. Wipe your shoes before coming into the house; you may usher in messengers of doom. Learn to wait in doorways. Cross yourself before all gods, cross your legs before all men. Don't make a spectacle of yourself. Position yourself somewhere between tomorrow and yesterday. Please and thank you, I'm not your slave. You may think you are a citizen of the world, but get used to the powder room. Fingers are not used to push corn onto forks, nor should you speak with your mouth full, a fly may lay her eggs on your tongue. No joke. No stockings till ninth grade, no lipstick till eleventh, one bracelet per wrist, one earring per ear. Trees belong outside, children quiet beneath them. Peas are to be eaten by half past five. Never talk back, never say "Shut up," and never leave food on your plate, for someday you will be hungry. Waste Not, Want Not was the motto inscribed on your baby spoon. Never suck your thumb or scratch your crotch, never need anything from anyone because you won't get it. Pinch your cheeks to look like you don't live in a tent. Don't cry, don't be afraid, don't fall from trees and require medical attention. You cost a great deal and will need to pay us back and back and back. Don't be too successful either. B's are fine for girls, even C's. A's make you noticed, make you stuck up, special. Don't overdevelop your muscles. You're too short too fat too tall too thin. What's wrong with you began before you were born, so you can see there's no fixing it. And don't entertain the idea that there is. The right man won't fix it, the perfect child won't fix it, money won't fix it, all the remedies of legend won't change the fact that you are too short too fat too tall too thin and what's wrong with you began before you were born. The question is, how will you lead your life? Take the middle road, compromise, bake chicken breasts, chin-length hair, sensible shoes, a thin gold wedding band. Answer when spoken to. Never order what you really want or say what you really think or do what you really feel. Don't talk about your unhappiness or refer to divorce. Forget the past as if it never happened. Change your name if necessary. Lower your voice until it is habitually soft. You will be passed from hand to hand, it is a custom and customs never end, so travel light. Don't talk about rape, you will only make yourself suspicious. Don't hang underwear on the line. If you stand in the path of a tennis ball, you deserve to get hit. Don't pretend to be something you're not, but don't be who you are. You can never say no, nor can you really say yes. You must keep everything inside. Life is a partnership: it talks, you listen. Learn to look like you're listening. Hide your blood. Think pink.