Can Girls Get Dirty Anymore?

When my first grandchild was announced, I started paying more attention to the world of children.  I noticed how adults  presented the world to children.

I shopped for baby clothes as soon as we knew it was a girl.  Carter’s is at Friendly Shopping Center, right down the road from us, so I started there.  The layout of the store jerked me to a stop in the doorway.

GIRLS   on one side:                                

PINK!!!!!!                                                                      

LAVENDER!!!                                                            

So many shades of

PINK!!!!!!!!!                                                                  

Embroidered jeans                                                     

Denim skirts                                                            

BOYS on the other side:

BLUE

TAN

ARMY GREEN

BROWN

Overalls

Jeans

Adaline and Atticus have two sets of grandparents.  We all get along well on special occasions like births and birthdays.  But we are very different.

I buy jeans and overalls, t-shirts and sweatshirts for Adaline to wear outside and get dirty.  Grandma Jude buys exquisite dresses for each holiday and takes pictures that I love to look at.  Adaline likes both.  She is a lucky girl.  (Atticus is only 3 months old and it’s hot so he mostly sticks to soft cotton onesies.)

What happened to primary colors like red and green and yellow?  Toy stores have separate girl and boy sections—pink princess stuff and tutus (which are really cute) for girls or blocks and trucks and trains for boys.  Adaline likes the train display at Toys and Company.  Lego now markets sets for girls in pretty colors (click here to see them).  Adaline plays at our house with primary-color blocks and toddler-size Lego’s.

I don’t dislike pink.  I think the headbands with flowers for girl babies without hair are adorable.  And I am sure I will eventually paint Adaline’s toenails pink.

I want girls to have choices.

Her mother never really played with dolls.  She only wanted to wear dresses for a few months when she was 4—I think her knees are still scarred.  She didn’t walk then, she ran.  And fell.

She liked to dig in the dirt all by herself.  (Whoever lives there now probably still finds my spoons in their backyard.)  She had a stable-full of Pretty Ponies and stuffed animals.

She grew up to be a zookeeper.  Now she and her husband are terrific parents.  Adaline can look at animal pictures and name macaw and hippopotamus.  One of her first words was dog.  She cheers for West Virginia University when they’re on tv.

You can see why I’m perturbed by the following quote from Entertainment Weekly about Brave,  the latest Disney movie with a girl named Merida in the lead part:

“But could Merida be gay? Absolutely. She bristles at the traditional gender roles that she’s expected to play: the demure daughter, the obedient fiancée. Her love of unprincess-like hobbies, including archery and rock-climbing, is sure to strike a chord with gay viewers who felt similarly “not like the other kids” growing up. And she hates the prospect of marriage — at least, to any of the three oafish clansmen that compete for her hand — enough to run away from home and put her own mother’s life at risk. She’s certainly not a swooning, boy-crazy Disney princess like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel or Snow White. In fact, Merida may be the first in that group to be completely romantically disinclined (even cross-dressing Mulan had a soft spot for Li Shang).”

Are you kidding me??

(Click here for a link to a good commentary on the Entertainment Weekly article.)

Published in: on July 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm  Comments (12)  
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The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Time Out

Adaline is learning about Time Out.  She is 2 1/4 years old with a 6-week-old baby brother.  It took a few weeks for her to start acting out.  Normal temper tantrums now erupt and she throws stuff.  (Directed at her mom and dad, not Atticus, thankfully.)

They consulted Dr. Sears’s Discipline Book.  (Yes, that’s the guy in the Time magazine article.) In our family, we solve problems with information.  Knowledge=Control, you know.

Dr. Sears suggests one minute of Time Out per year of age.  At first, her parents felt so bad about punishing her that they hugged and babied her after the Time Out.  I gently suggested the Time Out might not work well that way, since in the end, Adaline got the attention she was looking for, sightly delayed.  It’s all going better now, I hear.

I’ve spent the last week recovering…slowly…from pneumonia.  Dr. Green told me to stay away from my grandchildren.

Dr. Green put me in Time Out.  Or maybe God did.

“You’d feel awful if you got one of them sick, you know,”  say my daughters and my friends.

I know they’re right, but I’m in withdrawal!

Dr Green told me today that people our age (what??) can take a month to get our energy back after pneumonia.  Great.

My daughters consulted and asked me to please slow down because they need me.  Odd to be on the other side of care-taking.

I feel mortal today.  Angry and disappointed with my body, once again.  My vulnerability shocks me.

It is clear to me that I must stop “doing”.  So I am taking these days of healing to assess how I balance my commitments and my energy.

I have a book called The Extreme Art of Self-CareIt is time to practice what I preach.

I want to my limited energy to matter.

Change is next on my agenda.  Damn it.

My Friends, Anne Lamott and Bonnie Raitt

When I first heard that Anne Lamott (my favorite author) wrote a new book about being a grandmother (Some Assembly Required), I got excited like a five-year-old on sugar on December 23.

I bought the book, but waited a few days to read it.  It was dark chocolate with toffee bits waiting in the chair in my room.  I prolonged the anticipation.  I wanted to slowly and lovingly savor and devour it.

As I read, I underlined the good parts with a turquoise-ink pen.  (I think Anne would like that.)  There’s a lot of turquoise underlining in my book.

I know Anne and I are good friends because we think each other’s thoughts and then put them in words for others to read.

Bonnie Raitt has a new CD (Slipstream) out, her first in 7 years.  She is my other imaginary friend.

In my imagination we are buddies chatting at a sidewalk cafe on top of a hill near San Francisco with a view of the water.  Wine and coffee are not good for any of us anymore, so we drink tea.  We do eat, each of us, a decadent pastry.

All three of us–Anne and Bonnie and me–with our crazy hair, are having the best time laughing and telling stories.

Want to come with me?

link to Bonnie Raitt:  www.bonnieraitt.com

link to Anne Lamott:  CNN interview

Published in: on April 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm  Comments (14)  
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What about me?

Before grandchildren, I created a business:  Spirit…Rest.  (www.spiritrest.org)

I offer spiritual and 12-step retreats (1- 3 days), spiritual companionship/guidance for individuals and groups, and labyrinth walks using a 24-foot portable labyrinth.

Spirit..Rest has been on sabbatical for a while.

My daughters each had a baby this year.  Maggie was born January 11 with a heart abnormality that will be repaired later this year.  Atticus was born April 2 with a penis.  That’s new for us.  He has a 2-year-old sister, Adaline.

Our girls are terrific moms, but they are both still trying to figure out when to shower.  And eat.  And breathe.

Sometimes they need to express their emotions.  Historically I’ve been the one to listen.  They are just beginning to learn that their father will listen, for a bit, if he has to.

The emotional energy in my house stunned me last week.  Maggie and her mom were here while we had Adaline for 3 days.   So were the three dogs we all own.  Atticus was born by planned C-section that took longer than we expected.  And I had the worst back pain I’ve ever had (why??).

I know that all I can really do for my family is to be present and emotionally available, love them, and pray for them.  That can still feel, at times, like a full-time job.

“What about me?”

I feel weird asking that question out loud.

Grandmother  and mother heresy–that’s what that question feels like–“a belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.” (according to dictionary.com).

Wife and mother/grandmother is a comfortable, familiar role for me and I’m good at it.

Spiritual guide, retreat leader, writer–those challenge me.

And complete me.

“Only a well-fed soul can offer sustenance to others.” (Peggy Tabor Millin)

Balance.  Forever a challenge.

Published in: on April 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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Strong, Perfect and Capable of Anything

One of my favorite pictures of my daughter, Kristin, was taken at her kindergarten Field Day.  She was the anchor on a relay and the picture shows her running full-out with people cheering in the background.  Nothing could slow her down and she was  joyfully and un-self-consciously in her body.  That Kristin went into hiding sometime between 8 and 14.

My friend Lisa (at Cheap Therapy Blog) has been writing about The Naked Face Project.  One of the women involved, Molly Barker, is the founder of Girls on the Run for girls 8-14.  She targets the age when girls begin to think they must fit into what she calls “The Girl Box”.

Molly Barker says “…there once was a 5th grader (or maybe it’s 3rd grade now??) in all of us who, at one point, KNEW that she was strong, perfect and capable of anything.”  Girls on the Run is about “making sure we don’t lose this pure essence of our girls”.

“How can I stop the slow hiss of that joy, bliss, and essence escaping from the balloon of her soul??”

I have 2 daughters who are good athletes.  They both were competitive swimmers from age 6-16.  At some point, they both decided they couldn’t run well.  Where did the joyful girl-child go?  Into the “Girl Box”, I guess.

Now they each have a daughter.  We all agree that girls can wear any color, not just pink. (Pink is the dominant color in anything for girls these days.)

I love watching 2-year-old Adaline run and climb and get sweaty and dirty in the backyard.  (We do bathe her and send her home clean.)  And Maggie, at 7 weeks, sailed through heart surgery.  I call her Baby Badass.

Will these little girls be pushed into the Girl Box?  Time will tell.

(PS:  Kristin is expecting a boy any day now.  Another side will be heard from!)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

–Marianne Williamson

Baby Whisperer

My first blog post, in June, 2010, a few months after my 1st granddaughter was born, was an explanation of “Amma”–

It’s my grandmothering name.

According to Mary Earle, author of The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness, “these women lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, C.E. The ammas, as they were called, help us to find ways to gently pay attention to God’s presence with us…The word means mother. It came to refer to those women who were spiritual mothers to many. Their insistence on practicing silence, solitude and stillness provides a kind of medicine for our over-heated, frenetic culture.”

That’s what I want to be for Adaline. Her Amma. I don’t think I’ll be running through parks with her or climbing jungle gyms. But I can be a quiet, restful, peaceful presence in her busy and stimulating world. I’m already good at getting her to sleep, so I think I’m on the right track.

My older daughter and I have had a tempestuous relationship over the years.  When it was good it was really good, but when it was bad, it was pretty bad.  Normal stuff, but unpredictable and inconsistent.

Last week I got to be Amma for Maggie–“a quiet, restful presence in her busy and stimulating world.”  I was able to give Stephanie several breaks (long enough to take a shower) over the three days I was in Raleigh.  Maggie was content when I held her.

Stephanie called me “the Baby Whisperer” and told me she was grateful for my presence.

I asked her to tell me again.  She laughed and repeated her sweet words.

Parenting is hard work from the 1st day.  And, if we’re lucky, it doesn’t ever really end.  The rewards and thank you’s, however,  can be rare.  (My girls did thank me a few years ago for teaching them manners.)

I was not the mother I wanted to be when my girls were small.  Almost 25 years ago, I made a tough choice to work hard to change myself and my behavior.

With God’s grace I became a better mother.  My daughters think my guidance is worth listening to.  They trust me with their daughters.  I am so grateful for their respect and love.

Now, with God’s help, I’m learning how to be Amma.  I (try to) wait until I’m asked to give advice.  I listen a lot and say, “That’s normal.”

I’m taking better care of myself–eating healthy, exercising, washing hands, getting enough sleep.  I am determined to live long enough to see my daughters parent teenage girls!

And I will pray for all of them.  (And then giggle from the sidelines.)

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm  Comments (7)  
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“Her eyes are homes of silent prayers.”

(Alfred Tennyson)

Margaret Jane was born January 11, 2012.  Maggie and her mom (Stephanie) and dad (Will),  are all doing well, except for that newborn-exhaustion-that-can’t-be-described.

…everyone is a hero at birth, where (one) undergoes a tremendous transformation, from the condition of a little water creature living in the realm of amniotic fluid, into an air-breathing mammal which ultimately will be standing.                 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Stephanie read recently about “The 4th Trimester”–the 1st 3 months after a baby is born.  Human babies are born immature and dependent because otherwise the head (brain) would be too big to slide out.  Swaddling by the dad and cuddling with the mom, being able to hear her heartbeat and smell her unique odor, all mimic being in the womb.  And make for a content baby.  (A full stomach and a dry diaper help, too, of course.)

I choose to welcome the daily ups and downs of my daughters’ lives.  I treasure the conversations we share.  And I am often surprised and touched when they want my opinions and suggestions.  (I never thought my mom really cared.  What if I was wrong?)

I am thankful for the nurturing my daughters and their husbands are giving my grandchildren.  Love and joy and wonder are being written on their little souls.

Those words were written on our souls once.

Our lives are defined by what we pay attention to.  “Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.”  (Hebrew prayer)

Thank you, Adaline and Maggie, for opening my eyes and my heart to the wOws.

Published in: on February 5, 2012 at 9:21 am  Comments (5)  
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She Did What??

Gramma Reaugh liked the boys (my brother and two cousins) better than the girls (my sister and me).  Especially my brother.  I remember crying one time, asking my mom why Gramma was like that.  I doubt if she had a good answer.

Gramma used to give my brother Coke in a baby bottle long after he was a baby.  My sister and I got Coke in cups.

Mom never let us have soda pop so I wonder now if Gramma did it just to annoy my mother.  That would make that stupid bottle even more wrong.

My cousins probably resented my brother.  They lived in the same small Iowa town that Gramma lived in.  She saw them all the time.  We always lived far away and dropped into their lives twice a year.  So, not only was my brother a boy, he wasn’t around enough to bore or annoy Gramma.

My brother and I talked recently about her favoritism.  He just grinned when he told me this:

Gramma let my brother pee in a can she kept in the kitchen so he didn’t have to go upstairs to the one bathroom!

Are you kidding me?

He was old enough to run up and down the stairs.

What did she do with the pee??

And how long did this last?  Did all the boys get to do this?

I am now a grandmother.  I remember how it felt to be neglected by Gramma.  And I saw one of my daughters favored by a grandmother.  With only one grandchild, it has been easy.  She is the unquestioned star!

Now both daughters are pregnant.  One is due in the next few weeks.  Adaline’s brother is due in early April.

Can we give attention to two more grandchildren without breaking Adaline’s heart?

I’m damn sure I will try.

Published in: on January 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm  Comments (6)  
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Stop, Look, and Listen

Last year I wrote a post about Christmas titled “Whimsy and Wonder.” (click here to read).  Recently, I read in The Sun magazine this quote from a Rachel Carson excerpt titled “The Sense of Wonder”:

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.  It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength…

I am a besotted grandmother of an almost-2-year-old.  She lives her life mindfully, in the moment.  She is thrilled to find sticks in the backyard.  She is stopped in her tracks by airplane noise and then says “We’re ok, we’re ok.”  Going to Earth Fare or Costco is always an adventure (and an opportunity to flirt, especially with men).  I learn so much from her.

I like to people-watch sitting on a bench surrounded by plants and flowers at Bicentennial Garden.  Christmas decorations delight me as much as they do little kids.  I’m learning to savor a cookie rather than gobble up as many as I can.  And to really taste the first tomatoes of summer.

I walk around the Natural Science Center with my zookeeper daughter.  She tells me about Bear, the coati, her first mammal love, who is aging.  We watch the lemur moms and dads;  she says they are her parenting models.   (She could do worse.)  And we check out Ruby the multi-colored parrot who isn’t responding the way she used to.  It might be my daughter’s pregnancy, but more likely the male parrot who moved in with her a while back.

My holiday hope and New Year’s wish is that we all slow down enough to feel wonder and awe, to sigh and relax and say “Thank you.”  It’s good for our souls. Maybe we can change the world.