Tag Archives: being a mother

I hope gratitude is never tardy

shadow and light in Glen Helen

shadow and light in Glen Helen

Sorting through my office, confronting the hamster nests of papers in order to pack and move, I found a piece of yellow legal paper on which I drafted (but never ultimately sent) a note of thanks to send to friends after my daughter Merida’s accident in the summer of 2011.  (I blogged about her accident here.)  Because the world of people to whom I’m grateful continues to expand, I am posting it here.  (You know who you are.)

Here’s what I wrote back then.  Back then, I would have refined it before sending, but now, I won’t:

Dear friends,

This is a note of belated yet enduring gratitude.

Your compassion, company, cards, and meals collectively sustained us after M’s accident.  Today as I cooked a pack of Annie’s mac & cheese, I remembered when a friend who brought us a dinner of summer bounty (fresh veggies from the garden, quinoa) had also included a box of Annie’s–a thoughtful addition to the feast that might only suit grownups.  So many little things like this made such a difference.  And to everyone who’s become part of our lives since, teachers and friends at Antioch School…

As we celebrate Merida’s healing, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for the part you played in supporting us through it all.  Maybe one of the most important things she’s learning in this is how beautiful community can be.

It’s still true.  And gratitude, its physical feeling, feels good.

Something I can’t believe I’m blogging about

Hey Jessie, why is my child singing this cloying song?

Hey Jessie, why is my child singing this cloying song?

I finally remembered to google the lyrics that my five-year-old daughter has been singing lately: “Hey Jessie, Hey Jessie, it feels like a party every day!”  In this song, “Jessie” is pronounced with attitude: “Jess-say!”

We don’t have cable.  My daughter doesn’t watch the Disney Channel; she barely understands what a television Channel is.  She learned the song from another nursery schooler.  WHY ARE LITTLE GIRLS SINGING THINGS LIKE “IT FEELS LIKE A PARTY EVERY DAY”?  Okay, any day probably does feel like a party when you’re five, when you can wear your pajamas to school and draw on your skin and be silly.  I don’t think this song is about that kind of party.

And I’m not convinced that’s a human singing.  It’s probably a machine.  Part of the big shiny plastic machine that chews up the natural self-esteem of children, and spits it out in shapes that are no longer recognizable.

(p.s. to followers of my blog: I’ve not been blogging lately because I’m renovating an old house and preparing to move.  Lots to share, when there’s time.  Stay tuned!)

Weddings, and what they might be

Bride Role Play costume by Melissa and Doug

Bride Role Play costume by Melissa and Doug

Today I took my daughter to our local independent toy store, Mr. Fub’s Party .  We go there regularly for balloons and sometimes more expensive treats.  It’s a great store, and so precious in these days of the mauling malls and Toys-R-Us.  Today’s trip was so she could use the coupon they sent for her birthday (10% off any one item).  I told her I’d buy whatever she wanted as long as it cost less than $30.  (She already has three Groovy Girls but she’d been eyeing a fourth, and I assumed that would be her choice.)  Instead, she chose the Melissa and Doug Bride Role Play costume.  I walked around the store with her for a few minutes, repeatedly asking, “Are you sure that’s what you want?” and “Don’t you want something more interesting, or something to build?” and while she was tempted by a couple things that I consider infinitely “more interesting” than a white wedding dress costume (fits age 4-6!  Start them early!) I decided this dress was okay for several reasons:

1. I wanted to keep my promise to let her choose whatever she wanted.

2. At least this wasn’t another doll for the stable of a million dolls.

3. She loves costumes–loves all things theatrical, not only dressing as a princess.  She has four pairs of wings, and she wears them each, depending on what the occasion calls for.

I bought the white wedding dress for her.  (With the discount and tax, the total was still under $30.)

I’m comforted by a conversation she and I had afterward we left the shop.  I reminded her that brides can wear whatever color they want (and that her mother wore red velvet).

“I know,” she said, “I’ve seen your pictures.”

I named each color in the rainbow of colors from which a bride might choose, including grey and brown and black, and also mentioned stripes and dots.

“I want to wear stripes and dots and ‘giraffe blobs!'” she said.

And I was comforted further by another conversation we had, after she asked what the “he” is called that marries the bride.  I reminded her that there might  instead be two brides, or two grooms, and that if people choose to get married, they can wear whatever they want.   I told her that I know a woman who married another woman and they both wore white wedding dresses, because that’s what they wanted to do.

“I know!” she said, to all of the above, and then decided to marry me instead of the original plan to marry her father.

Oh, that the world of her world will continue to be so open and free, and moreso.

Rainbow on her forehead, sadness in my belly

This is not the kind of makeup kit I’m talking about.

After school today, my almost-five-year-old daughter informed me that two of her friends (very close to her in age) have “make-up kits.”  One of them, she said, brought the kit to school.  Soon after she got home, my daughter drew all over her own face, “putting on makeup” with her washable markers.  I didn’t tell her not to draw on her face.  I decided to focus on natural consequences–let her see how hard it is to wash even washable markers off her face.  (After her bath, there was still a rainbow on her forehead.  This made her happy.)

I know the markers will fade.  But it’s impossible for me to overstate how much I object to children her age having anything called a “makeup kit.”  These friends of hers are sweet and wonderful, and are dear to her.  Their parents are dear to me! Still, I’m feeling angry and truly nauseated at the thought of girly makeup kits for children.

Let me be clear: I’m working under an assumption that the makeup kits in question are not the harmless face painting kits that children use for dress up and Halloween.  I am assuming they are the Princess or wanna-be-a-woman-too-soon type.  I could be wrong.  I told my daughter I’ll get her a face painting kit so she can pretend to be a cat, and so on.  She was thrilled.  She loves fantasy play, and loves to dress up, choosing not just princesses and fairies but many other creative beings.  I feel a whirl of victory that, despite her being in the midst of a “Princess” phase, and being named Merida, she has chosen to be a dragon for Halloween.  I’m working on a homespun dragon costume.  We’ll see how it goes.  I studied theatre.  I completely support the budding actor/director/playwright that my daughter is.  Storytelling and imaginative play are crucial to her psyche, as they are to any child’s development.  Storytelling and imaginative play are crucial to all humanity, actually!  Theatrical makeup and play is not the kind of makeup about which I rant.

What’s making me feel sick is how  “we” undermine and curtail childhood in ways that might seem harmless, but are not.  I’ve worked hard to keep Disney Princess as gone from my daughter’s frame of reference as possible.  Those pink frilly whispers slip in, sure.  After all, we live in the commercial world that is the U.S., and plenty of her friends are allowed to access commercial media.  But my daughter doesn’t watch TV, and isn’t allowed piles of plastic,  soul-killing merchandise.  This afternoon as we hiked in the woods across the road, my daughter carried her beloved baby doll, and told me there are two kinds of Barbies: the kind one of her friends has, and the kind she was carrying.  Another small victory willowed through me.

I’ve sometimes written about these issues on my blog.  My daughter’s name is Merida, named well before the recent princess in Brave.  I know I will continue to face these challenges, in waves, as she grows up.  Right now, these chippings away of the important things of childhood make me want to cry.

Yes, I have a sense of humor.  No, I won’t release my power of choice when it comes to how I raise this future-woman.

Tomorrow I’ll buy her face paint.  I hope it will satisfy her need to play.

Essay on Open Salon

Inspired by a friend who’s gained an audience on Open Salon, I posted an essay there.  Read my back-to-school essay here, and let me know what you think!

Loving a school

Teacher Bev Price and students (including me) at the Antioch School sometime in the 1970s

Back in the 1970s when I attended the Antioch School, the building itself seemed to be alive and breathing.  (Here’s a piece about the school and the building by alum Tucker Viemiester.)  In the Red Room (now Art & Science) we dipped candles, sewed clothing, fired glass, made pottery, and fixed our own lunch.  My love of making things with fiber and words thrived.  One year, teacher Bev Price made each student a stuffed toy monster, each creation somehow fitting the child’s personality.  The Antioch School is a community nourished by the teachers.  The teachers respected and celebrated our humanity.  Being a child who was taken seriously by adults has resonated through my life.  I try to give this back by really listening to children.

Last autumn, my daughter began in Nursery.  Through the kaleidoscope of time and memory, I see the school anew, see what rare magic happens there.  I see what education should be.  In the midst of what looks like chaos, the teachers’ work seems nearly invisible, but with patient intention, they create a school where children are trusted to follow intuition, indulge natural curiosity, and take real risks.  The teachers provide safety and offer gentle, effective leadership, asking children questions rather than giving them answers.  They know children can–and should–find their own solutions.  It is a place that allows children to grow into creators, innovators, problem-solvers, and sometimes, teachers–a place that allows children to grow into themselves.

I look forward to connecting with alumni at the Alumni Reunion in July.  (For more information about the reunion, go here.)

“One of the savers”

Wilbur, Charlotte, and some of her work

I am reading my four-year-old daughter Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White.  I had forgotten how great the book is–easily one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

The first line: “‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”   Seriously, I can’t think of a better hook.  When I took it from the shelf last week, my daughter was hesitant to read what, a year or so ago, she had with odd prescience named “the bacon book.”  I said, “I’m just going to read the first line.”  I did.

E.B. White’s hook worked.

I love reading this book aloud because it’s so easy to read aloud.  E.B. White did his work well.

Today, after reading her the chapter where Wilbur et al prepare to go to the Fair, my daughter acted out part of the story.  She needed a spider, and I remembered my husband’s wonderful Steiff spider, now known as “Charlotte.”

My daughter (“Fern”) quickly made a tent for Wilbur and Templeton (because, she informed me, they were going to kill Templeton, too).  She said that Charlotte was “one of the savers.”  Fern and Charlotte were saving Wilbur and Templeton.

So another reason to love this book: from it spins the truth that it’s not only males who do the saving around the farm.  Females do, too.  Children who hear animals talking are taken seriously by most adults, even the medical establishment, in the form of Dr. Dorian: “Children pay better attention than grownups.  If Fern says that the animals in Zuckerman’s barn talk, I’m quite ready to believe her.  Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more.  People are incessant talkers–I can give you my word on that.”

I can’t wait until bedtime, so I can remember what happens next.

Sexism in a bird map?

In case you were wondering what an immature female Baltimore Oriole looks like...

This morning, my four-year-old daughter spread out her “bird map” (the Peterson FlashGuide to Backyard Birds–a laminated fold-out with illustrations of various birds), gathering characters for a play scenario.  She has lately been fixated on the name “Oriole” (which came about when she misheard someone who said “Ariel,” referring to the Disney Princess) and the name “Oriole” has stuck.  (If you’re new to my blog, I’ve ranted here and elsewhere about Disney Princesses.) It’s been a refrain for her pretend names.  So this morning, she perused her bird map for the Baltimore Oriole.  As she often wants to play that she’s the mama and one of her dolls or stuffed animals is the baby, she looked for pictures of the mama and “girl” Orioles.  She asked which picture was the baby girl.  There are drawings of adult male and female Baltimore Orioles, and an “immature” male.  But no immature female.  Quickly switching species, she asked if there were any other baby girl birds shown.  We looked.  There were none.  There were other youngsters listed as simply “immature” and a couple other “immature” males, but no females.  I told her she could pretend one of them was a girl (maybe it was, after all!) but she did not want to pretend, she wanted to find a real girl bird.

As she became increasingly frustrated, I told her I would look on the computer to find a picture so she could see a young female Oriole.  I did, and found the image you see above.

I assume the lack of immature females depicted on the Peterson FlashGuide has to do with conserving space, and most males birds being more colorful and showy, so the “before” and “after” images of males are more dramatic.  Perhaps male birds are more relevant for serious birdwatchers.  (Following my daughter’s lead, I appreciate and admire birds, in particular certain raptors, but I don’t go with binoculars looking for them.  Nothing against it, it’s just that I am not even a novice birdwatcher, so I’m ignorant about these nuances.)

I do not mean this post to sound humorless: Sexism in a bird map?  Is she nuts?  But ever since today’s pre-breakfast grapple for images of young female birds, I’ve been increasingly troubled by not being able to easily find an avian model for my daughter to cast in her homespun theatrics.  I’ve been reading blogs lately that deal with the incessant sexism young girls are subjected to (notably Reel Girl and Peggy Orenstein’s blog) and while I know it might sound far-fetched to claim that a bird guide can disenfranchise human girls, the thought has stuck with me today.

It’s such a tiny moment in my daughter’s life, and I know she’s getting plenty of other things that will not tear her spirit down.  But that I even thought about this lack makes me sad.  Bird guides aside, we have a long way to go, baby.

How can I can gratitude?

Maybe I can can some forsythia instead...

Because I know how life can be (nasty, brutish, and short) I want to can the end of last week and the anticipation of this week.  If I could, during harder times to come, I’d go to the basement shelf, perhaps having forgotten completely the dusty Ball jar is even there, and discover it.  It’s full of yellowness.  Open it.  Inhale it, taste a spoonful.  A few reasons for this urge, in mostly chronological order:

1) Serendipitous pizza lunch last Friday with my daughter and her friend and her friend’s mother, also my friend….the fun the children had, the fun their mothers had…

2) This ridiculous summer in March!…

3) Spontaneous last-minute plans to have dinner with friends Friday, the fun the kids had despite not getting lollipops afterwards…the portrait her friend drew of  most of us as sponge bob characters…

3) A playground work party at the Antioch School, where I did very little work, but being there with others, at one of the few places near here that still has a seesaw, caring about the place tangibly (I picked up a few sticks after all) talking about the importance of that place in the world; seeing the school with my dear old friend, also an alum, and her daughter, hearing from my friend how small the rooms are now…spending time with those friends later in the weekend, how our children play together like puppies…

4) A healthy and joyful daughter, a loving, gorgeous husband…

5) A birthday party of another of my daughter’s friends, where the sun shone like July and the kids ran up and down the beautiful Ohio hill, chasing chickens…

6) Anticipation of the new moon, and being in a circle with women I love…

7) Anticipation of seeing Julia Sweeney on Saturday night for a really great cause…

8) The iPod’s parting song this morning, during which my family danced our daily goodbyes…

9) Forsythia everywhere…

10) The ability to keep adding to this list as it grows…

What we are fighting against

What NOT to buy (Look for Corolle Mini Calins instead)

Here’s a video introducing “My First Princess” baby dolls by Disney.  I saw some of these dolls at Target today.  Oy vey!  I don’t even know where to start!  What’s next?  A Disney partnership with pharmaceuticial to develop and manufacture shots for each girl fetus in utero, ensuring her first word will be “Belle”?

Though my daughter loves her “babies,” Cinderella will not eat my daughter.  I just hope Merida doesn’t see these creatures at the store.

Want a better splurge?  Buy yourself Peggy Orenstein’s book.

And if you want a really cute baby for little kids, find a Corolle Mini Calin.  I think Corolle doesn’t make them anymore, but you can find them in various skin colors on eBay or other online shops.  They are machine washable and very sweet, perfect for small hands and imaginations.  Uneeda makes cute little babies, too.