by Risa Green
My daughter has discovered Martha Stewart and loves her – please, mommy, can you TiVo every one of her shows? – which just goes to show you how totally different my daughter and I are, because I really can’t stand Martha Stewart and all of her damn craftiness. I mean, if I had to pick one person in the entire world whom I would describe as the total antithesis of me, it would have to be Martha Stewart. But maybe that’s why my daughter likes her so much. Maybe she’s just fascinated by the idea that there is a woman out there who can restore furniture and bake cute cookies and make her own wrapping paper, simply because it is so incredibly foreign to her. I mean, maybe Martha Stewart’s daughter would be equally as fascinated by someone like me, who tells her kids that putting pre-made cookie dough into the oven is actually baking from scratch, and whose idea of making a homemade Halloween costume is cutting two holes into a white sheet.
Well, I need wonder no more. Because after watching yet another old episode of Martha Stewart Living on the Fine Living Network (FLN if you have DirecTV), I noticed that the show immediately following it was called Whatever, Martha! Intrigued by the title (Whatever, Martha!? What could this possibly be? A show where Martha tackles whatever? But then why the comma, and why the exclamation point??), I left it on, and to my wonder and delight, I found my new favorite television show of all time. Really. You see, Whatever, Martha!  is not a show where Martha does whatever. It is, instead, a show where Martha’s daughter, Alexis (beautiful, blond, monotone, sarcastic voice; picture one of the Gossip Girls fifteen years later), and her best friend, Jen (slightly overweight, not nearly as cool, but deliciously snarky), sit on a couch and watch old episodes of Martha Stewart Living, and make fun of everything that Martha says and does. Oh, and then they try to follow one of Martha’s cooking/crafts segments, and they totally fuck it up just like any other normal person who tried to follow it at home would (e.g., Alexis and Jen try to blow giant bubbles using paint, soapy water and straws. Alexis utterly fails, but Jen figures it out, yelling victoriously that all of you crafty people out there can suck it!).
As I watched, marveling at how completely different Alexis is from her mother, I was reminded of the new Drew Barrymore movie, Whip It, which is awesome and funny and stars the perfect-as-always Ellen Page, and if you haven’t seen it yet you should, before it disappears. In it, Ellen Page plays a combat-boot wearing teen whose mother forces her to participate in beauty pageants, and she goes along with it only because she knows how important it is to her mom. I won’t give anything away, but she falls in love with the sport of roller derby, which you can probably imagine does not exactly fit in with the pageant lifestyle which her mother so desperately wants for her. The moral of the story is that you need to accept your kids for who they are, and, more importantly, you need to accept that your kids might not want their lives to be a re-do of your own.
Which takes me back to Martha and Alexis. I mean, I’m sure it must kill Martha Stewart to know that her daughter doesn’t have a crafty bone in her body, and that she prefers to “own nothing” after having spent her childhood living in a house with antique dishes piled up in every corner and knick-knacks covering every surface. Indeed, in one episode of Whatever, Martha!, Alexis and Jen watch as Martha refinishes eighteen old chairs that she’s collected, prompting Jen to wonder aloud how Alexis turned out the way she did. But Alexis just looks at Jen like she’s crazy for even asking – like the answer is so obvious that it needs no explanation. You just go the other way, she says, matter-of-factly. You just go the other way.
It stung me though, hearing her say that. Because as a parent, it’s hard to remember sometimes that we need to let our kids be who they are, whether or not it fits with who we are. And I think it’s even harder when you’re the mother of a girl, or the father of a boy. We’ve all seen the former high-school sports stars who push their sons to be better players than they were, whether the kid enjoys playing or not. And we’ve all seen the former beauty queens, well, force their tomboy daughters into wearing dresses that they hate. Yet as much as we objectively know it’s wrong, I think it’s just a natural tendency. I mean, of course I want my daughter to like the things that I like, and to be interested in the things that interest me. It’s what you dream about when you have a little girl – doing girly things together. And even though I know, intellectually, that she is her own person, and that she’s entitled to like the things that she likes, it’s still hard, sometimes not to be disappointed when she hates getting her nails done, or when she gravitates towards things like, say, Martha Stewart Living.