How to Raise a Rebel
ⓒ christina starr
Xtra! March 26, 1999
                                                                                  back to Visibly A Parent           home  |  bio  |  filmtheatre/performance  |  writing  |  editing  |  upcoming  |  contact

I used to be quite conservative, mainstream, well-behaved. I even voted for Brian Mulroney once. I went to university, completed all my assignments on time, attended my convocation, got married and found a good job. I went to work at 9:00, came home at 5:00 and reserved the weekends for wild activities like cleaning the bathroom. My biggest legal infraction was jaywalking.
          Eventually the simmering sense that something was wrong in my life took over. So I began to experiment. I stopped shaving my legs and armpits. I reduced my make-up application. I jaywalked on purpose and not just out of convenience. I got my first speeding ticket. It was only a matter of time before I turned NDP.
          Now, bad girl that I am, I dress in men
s clothes, write dirty poems about women, file my taxes late and drive as fast as I want to. Im divorced, dont do much housework, have bared my breasts in public and can be downright rude to men who hold the door open for me.
          With every rule I break, my life feels lighter (though admittedly my earning potential has dropped considerably). Now, I have no intention to be socially acceptable or well behaved. And I have no intention of expecting my daughter to be the same. I want her to know the things I didn
t know, the things that nobody tells children. Like, the house wont fall down if you put crayon on the wall. You dont automatically get pneumonia from playing outside in the rain. Food is the same whether you stick it on the end of a fork or pick it up with your fingers. Santa Claus will still bring you presents even if you lose your temper in Loblaws.
          I want my daughter to trust her own judgement and decision-making. I want her to know the difference between rules that are for safety or the consideration of others, and those that just turn her into a compliant, quiet, obedient social citizen.
          It was easy when she was very young. She didn
t know right or wrong, what was appropriate or inappropriate. I could make the rules myself. I let her run outside in the rain, I didnt force her to say please and thank you before she knew what they meant. She didnt have to sit insufferably at the table if she was finished eating, she never had to stay clean, and if an adult was being rude or mean to her (even unintentionally) she didnt have to hide her irritation.
          I was so proud of myself. I
d nurtured a little girl who said what she thought, followed her own curiousity, made her own decisions and had no doubts about her personal importance. A charmed woman at a party gushed to me, Is that your daughter? Shes so much her own little person! And I thought, finally, a new breed of girl.
          But I should know that rebels aren
t born out of freedom. If I want my daughter to buck the system and come up swinging, I should have imposed every rule of good behaviour from the moment she first squawked. The way Ive done it, she has no desire to reform society because shes never felt much restraint. What she wants to reform is me.
          At nine years old she
s realized that there are, in fact, rules that most people follow and that, for some reason, her mother doesnt. Its embarrassing for her.
          If I say
Fuck! out loud because the situation calls for it and I dont care if she hears it or even uses it herself, she says Mommy! You dont have to swear!. If I park illegally because, well, theres no fucking other place to park in Toronto, she looks at me accusingly and says Are you allowed to park here? She wont wait in the car if its parked illegally because she doesnt want to answer to the parking enforcement officers.
          Once I did a u-turn on Spadina because when they were putting the new streetcar tracks in it was impossible to turn left. When we were safely going the other direction, I looked over at her and she had her head ducked under the dashboard.
Whats wrong? I asked thinking maybe she was suddenly car sick. She gave me a cutting look and said Are you supposed to do that?
          We tried to sneak into the Spice Girls concert last summer. Or, that is, I tried to. The best we could do was to find a vantage point where we could hear the music and almost see the videotron. But while I was off looking for a better spot, she confided to my friend that she was sure I
d been arrested and they should go immediately to Ontario Place Security to bail me out.
          Once I returned (much to her relief) we joined a crowd of other ticketless fans at the top of the mini golf course, which was supposed to be closed. Adolescent security guards in crisp white shirts couldn
t be convinced to just let the little fans enjoy the concert and worked hard at clearing us out. Who was the first to leave? My daughter, unconcerned now whether her mother ended up in handcuffs. She apparently wanted to keep her own record clean
          So now I see my mistakes and I know what I have to do. I have to steer her towards revolution by using reverse psychology. I
m not going to speed anymore. Im going to park legally even if I have to walk a couple of blocks. Ill forbid swearing and Ill keep my shirt on in public. Ill start teaching her how to be a proper lady, how to use her knife and fork, how to keep her pretty dresses neat. Maybe Ill try dating men. And if it works, she may just turn out to be more of a rebel than I am.

back to Visibly A Parent

The way I've done it she has no desire to reform society because she's never felt much restraint. What she wants to reform is me.