Raising a Daughter in Scary But Hopeful Times

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend whose family was expecting their third child: a daughter, after two sons. [Actually, I started this post more than a month ago, and as it happens, said daughter was born TODAY, early this morning! So read on, in honour of wee baby EC’s birth day.] This friend is from a two-son, no-daughter family himself. He said, “I should pick your brain sometime about how to raise a girl. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing.”

I’d like to say that I have all the answers, since a) I am a daughter and b) I have a daughter I’ve managed to get to age 5 relatively unscathed.

jean-jacket-mom-daughter
And we’re jean jacket buds.

Let’s see:

  1. Always wipe front to back
  2. Don’t over-clean and irritate those girl parts
  3. Keep a close eye on her interactions with her big brothers, because it’s easy for big brothers to abuse their power without realizing it.

Annnnd… that’s about the only straightforward advice I have. As soon as you’re past the diaper stage – and sometimes while you’re still in it – other things that differentiate raising a girl from raising a boy get sticky and complicated.

Once upon a time, I was a girl. (Still am, in some ways.) I was always happy and proud to be one, and never wished I were a boy – girls are the best! I was fortunate to have many strong, wise, smart female role models in my life, including my mom, my aunts, and my grandmothers. Also, I grew up between two sisters (with a brother as well), and my best friends were all girls (past about age 5).

Now I’m a grown-up woman, and I still wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are lots of awesome and basically magical things about being a female human. That being said, I have come to understand a lot more about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the status of womanhood today, and the breadth of the progress we have yet to make. I’ve thought and read and discussed a lot about what feminism means to me now, as a mother and as a teacher. Often, the process makes me mad, and always, it makes me feel fiercely protective of my little girl.

Obviously, girls, like all children, are individuals. The main things you can justifiably say about “Girls” as a group are not about their personalities, hobbies, habits, or tendencies. They are about the ways society sees and treats them. In my career I have taught literally hundreds of girls between the ages of three and eighteen, observing and getting to know them in many different contexts.

Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful – or they may just confuse things worse than ever. But I think they’re important.

Pretty is as pretty does

The wish to be physically appealing is extremely powerful. I believe that this is partly instinctive, but mightily reinforced by the media. Society teaches girls and women that making themselves pretty should be their top priority.

Not too long ago, it was our duty to be pretty for men. Nowadays, it’s ostensibly for “us” – the company line is that it’s empowering to feel beautiful. Frankly, this is often true. Most women I know do feel most confident when they know they look good. I’m sure most men are the same.

Where the empowerment argument falls down is that the standards for women are flat-out ridiculous. As in, the consumer engine is all up in our appearances, down to Every. Single. Detail. Not just the quality of our hair and the state of our toenails, but everything in between, including the consistency of our breasts and the look of our vulvas. (And when I mention hair, I mean ALL the hair, in EVERY place.) There is no part of the external female anatomy that is exempt from society’s opinion.

And the expectation is perfection, literally. Women’s products are designed to minimize or conceal “imperfections” – or even “correct” them, as though every unique quirk of our bodies is a MISTAKE. I feel the outrageousness of this as I write it, but sadly, it’s no exaggeration. Society’s collective sense of entitlement to judge female people on and by their looks is inescapable and crushing. The engine never stops, because there are people making obscene amounts of money off of women feeling bad about themselves.

Tiny girls are able to love themselves and their appearances naturally and abundantly. Sean was worried at one point because AB loves to admire herself in the mirror, strike cool poses and so on – is she too focused on her looks? Will she grow up vain?

But this time of a little girl being able to enjoy her reflection without self-judgment and criticism is fleeting. Due to the above phenomenon, a girl’s self-esteem is often extremely fragile. I was already worrying about whether my body was good enough by the time I was nine (ballet class did not help in that regard, even though I adored ballet) and I fretted about my crooked teeth as soon as I got them, which was even earlier. Every insecurity a girl can have is promptly and thoroughly validated by the media. I watch my daughter enjoying her beauty, and it squeezes my heart. I know all too well the self-consciousness that creeps in, so soon, on young girls.

So here’s a quandary: do I tell my daughter she’s beautiful to reinforce her confidence, or treat appearance as unimportant so that she will focus on her character and skills? (The internet is all over both sides of this argument, BTW. It’s no help.) Personally, I try to do both. I tell her she’s beautiful often, because I can’t pretend that Beauty isn’t an issue. She IS beautiful, and she will need this knowledge-ammo to fight off the counter-messages. Plus… we all know it feels good to hear that. (She tells me I’m beautiful too, with sincerity and delight, usually when I wear a skirt or something pink – or any outfit she chose for me.)

[Here is a wonderful blog post about a mom who learned, for her daughters’ sake, to agree with them that she was beautiful. This had a big impact on me when I first read it, back when my own daughter was baby. Since then, I try very hard not to be self-critical in front of my kids. And in general (though that’s harder).]

We also talk about her character on a regular basis, discussing almost every day what makes a good friend, how much we learn from hard work, what courage looks like, and other traits we want to foster. I only use the word ugly when we’re talking about certain behaviours (which could be another whole post). I want her to know deep down, as she grows, that in real life, inner beauty is the greatest determining factor of overall beauty.

Nurturing is for everybody

Society may have been telling girls that we want to play with dolls for generations, but it’s not out of the blue. The nurturing tendency among girls is not solely a learned thing. As my daughter already knows, girls are born with all their eggs already in place in their bodies (in fact, AB seems quite proud of this). It makes sense that certain instincts come with them. Even in families trying hard to avoid gender-norming their kids, you often have tiny toddler girls pretending to be mamas (and tiny toddler boys who freak out with excitement around construction equipment). Many’s the kindergarten girl I’ve seen taking a random object – like a block or a chalkboard eraser – and mothering it.

I guess it’s not surprising that so many of the vocations dominated by women – child care, education, nursing, veterinary medicine, home health care, social work, not to mention parenting – are those in which the nurturing instincts are an asset. I am proud of the skills and accomplishments of these women, as well as those of the women who pioneer in male-dominated fields, who deal with chauvinism every day in order to pound their boots on that glass ceiling.

At some point, my daughter will have to contend with all this. Particularly divisive are the many perceptions that complicate a woman’s choice to mother – or not. “Parenting isn’t real work”… “Working mothers can’t fully succeed in their careers”… “A woman isn’t a real woman until she’s a mother”  and many more, often in conflict with each other. For now, though, I encourage my daughter to nurture (as well as to build things, play with trucks, and so on) – and I encourage the caring tendency in my son, too. We all need comfort and care, at every age. The world needs more nurturing, always, from everyone.

little_girl_puppy

Pink is STUPID… Or AWESOME

I looooved pink when I was little girl. Then, around age 12, I went off it and didn’t start to enjoy it again until I was an adult. That’s partly because I came of age in the 90s – grunge and pink didn’t mix well – but partly because I saw it as a dumb, girly colour. Which is awful. I hate that I internalized that message for so long. Pink is fun. It’s happy.

It might also be a little bit of a trap. When my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to choose pink as the be-all and end-all of everything. But of course, people love to buy cute pink clothes for girl babies (and they are adorable). Although I dressed her in all the colours, as soon as she began choosing for herself, she overwhelmingly chose pink. These days, purple and turquoise (thanks, Frozen) are also really popular, and she loves multicoloured things… But nothing can sway her love of pink.

The part that makes a protective parent mad is when you go to the toy section of a department store and find your totally-pink aisle and your zero-pink aisle. As though there’s no middle ground, for anyone. Really?? In the 21st century?

Here’s a question I can’t answer: is it good that they’ve started making “girl” Lego? Because it seems like you shouldn’t have to – Lego is for everyone (with strong and able fingers). But then… I’ll be honest. I probably would have done lots more fine-motor play-building if I’d had more colours and shapes to work with. When we gave AB a Lego set with all sorts of colours (including pink and purple and turquoise) and lots of random wheels and windows and funny parts, BOTH kids got really excited and built like crazy. More variety = MORE FUN.

[On the topic of pink, dolls, and many other very pertinent things, I highly recommend “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“, by Peggy Orenstein, to be read by EVERYONE with girls in their lives.]

little_girl_art_paint

No means No. Except when it doesn’t.

Girls start out quite knowledgeable about their physical boundaries. Society blurs that line for them, however, from a very young age. There are a million insidious messages about how a woman should be, permeating a girl’s psyche as she grows. We should be kind, gracious, altruistic, polite, agreeable, generous, accepting, and friendly. All great qualities – I aspire to them myself, and encourage them in all the children I know. The problem arises when they are so  ingrained, to the exclusion of other qualities, that they affect a girl’s protection of her boundaries.

Even in 2018, there are potent forces telling girls and women to avoid being confrontational, defensive, or inconvenient. I see ALL THE TIME our tendency to sacrifice ourselves and enable other people – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. On the one hand, you have the professions I mentioned earlier in which women care and give every day in extraordinary ways. On the other hand, you have millions of women becoming recipients of unwanted sexual attention, language, and/or contact, from men who exploit that politeness, friendliness, acceptance, and the desire not to make a fuss or be a pain. And please don’t misunderstand: I do not blame the women. This stems from the burden of centuries of misogyny.

[Here is an excellent article about sex from a woman’s perspective that I honestly believe every woman who’s ever been sexually active, no matter how good her sex life may be, can relate to on some level. And here is a post I wrote when AB was a toddler about managing the complexities of the physical relationship between her and my son.]

My Hubbibi and I have had many earnest conversations about the word NO, especially regarding our kids. I know that sometimes no doesn’t really mean no… Sometimes kids screech and giggle “no” during a physical game when they actually enjoy it and want to continue. BUT. I don’t think it’s up to me or anyone else to decide which Nos are real and which aren’t. Not even if parents (for example) traditionally have that leeway. Some words MUST mean what they say. I always tell students: “When someone says stop, you must stop.”

If “Stop” and “No” are open for interpretation, how does a person make herself clear? If people feel entitled to construe another person’s “No” however they like, then you have… well, you have the status quo. You have #metoo, in its millions.

Don’t even get me started on the folks who object to the new Ontario Sex Ed curriculum that finally takes on consent. Keep kids in the dark about sexual health and of course they will be blindsided.

The Herbivore’s Dilemma

To take the above idea even further, girls learn young that the dangers they face can be grave indeed. Consensus says that girls aren’t safe by themselves. Young boys are in a similar category – all children have to be careful of “stranger danger” – but as we get older, the understanding deepens for women. It is an extraordinarily strong (and trained) woman who is physically able to overpower your average adult male. In the Survival Game of reality, female humans are the Herbivores – for their whole lives. Depressingly, this is a biological and statistical truth. We are the prey. We are always aware of it. It is part of our everyday existence to avoid situations that leave us vulnerable to predators.

In my mind, this is the most deep-seated reason why so many women had a profound emotional response to Wonder Woman. We vicariously walked with her right into danger, and just dealt with it like a BOSS. The idea of being unafraid, of knowing you can protect yourself and your people… That’s the dream. it’s huge.

little_girl_joy

I wish it were unnecessary, but I will be teaching my daughter everything I know about personal protection. [Here is a pretty good article that covers many of the things I learned in a personal protection workshop I took a few years ago. We also learned how to put up our “fence” – guarding hands – and say loudly and aggressively, “Back off!” and if that doesn’t work, “Back the f*ck off!!!” Haven’t shared that with AB yet, but apparently it can help a lot.]

Contradictions, Hypocrisy, and Injustice

Last year at OELC iArts, it was my privilege to have an in-depth discussion with our group of Dance Majors, based on the question “What bugs you about the way society treats girls?” These junior high students know what’s up. They are angered by the impossible standards of beauty, and the way that all forms of media prey on their insecurities.

Even more, the double standards in their daily lives are infuriating. Boys get away with all kinds of things that girls can’t. Boys can, for example, wear basically whatever they want. Girls are not allowed to violate the dress code – it’s distracting (to boys) – always the girl’s fault… but short shorts are IN. It’s impossible to be fashionable and adhere to the dress code. Girls reported being made to wear random lost-and-found shirts to cover up visible bra straps – but god forbid they should propose removing the bra to solve the problem. Already, in Grade 7, the sexualization of EVERYTHING involving girls is rampant.

There’s a lot of unfairness. And a lot of pain. The unspoken expectations, the things that are just easier for boys, the things boys – and men – feel entitled to say and do around and to girls, the things that society says girls need to care about, the things it won’t let them do…. It’s a LOT.

Furthermore, the mixed messages start right away, and never stop. Girls can do anything boys can… but in reality, they are not treated the same. Girls should do everything in their power to be pretty, but they should not care or even really be aware of it. Women should own their sexuality, but not TOO much. Women should act more like men when they lead, but if they do they’ll be called cold and heartless – and people will still feel entitled to comment on their appearance.

As a family with two living children, a boy and a girl, things are sticky sometimes. Double-standards and mixed messages have to be dealt with, often on the fly as they come up. I try to be as honest as I can about how things are, within age-appropriate limits. We discuss how people grow up with different ideas about how to treat others, and then we think together about what we believe is right. My kids are already pretty thoughtful and astute people in many ways, and have some wise things to say. They know that we will never shut down their questions or invalidate their frustrations – and that we will love them no matter what. We hope that’s enough.

little_girl_smiling

Dilovely, didn’t you say “Scary But Hopeful”?

Okay, right. I acknowledge that this started out as parenting advice and became a feminist Di-atribe. (And I almost apologized for it, then backspaced. Because raising a daughter to live fully in this world = FEMINISM. No apologies.)

Yes, my understanding of, and frustration with, the status quo for women has grown with every year that goes by. It seems like, in this day and age, in a country like Canada, we should be over the silliness. Over the stupid beauty standards, the antiquated attitudes, and the misogyny so deeply embedded that some people don’t even see it. At times, it feels like we haven’t come nearly as far as we should, given the work that has gone into dismantling the patriarchy. Sometimes it even feels like we’re regressing.

However! I am also very grateful to raise my family in this place and time. Here and now, I do feel safe most of the time, and my daughter does too. Girls attend school – at all levels – in numbers that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago. We explicitly teach about consent. The pay gap is a household topic of conversation. The Prime Minister’s latest budget focused heavily on improving the lives of women. The Cabinet has gender parity. Awesome female heroes are more and more visible in movies and TV shows – and in real life too.

[If you need inspiration, news, resources, book lists, blog posts, or anything else to learn about girls or help girls learn about themselves, please mine the riches of A Mighty Girl. It is an absolute treasure trove and will make you feel better about the world.]

I’m grateful for the campaigns that mainstream companies are working on, because although they’re not without difficulties, they are highly visible and they do seep into the public consciousness. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has done some good work, bringing up issues mothers and daughters need to consider. And the original #likeagirl video made by Always consistently makes me cry.

Particularly the moment where a smiling teenage girl acknowledges she doesn’t have to accept “run like a girl” for its connotations. She says, “I would run like… myself,” putting both hands over her heart. She does know her worth, but the world tries hard to rob her of this. The woman asks her gently, “Would you like a chance to re-do it?”

Yes. Girls would like a chance to reclaim their self-compassion and take loving custody of their own value as people, please.  YES.

This can happen. The world is shifting. There may be a sexual predator slash nincompoop currently terrorizing the White House, but I’ll say this for him: he (unintentionally) rallied millions of women to take louder, stronger ownership of their feminist ideals. This is helping to put feminism where it should be: as the mainstream, default position for ALL non-misogynist humans. The #metoo movement has swelled past its banks on the power of women knowing they can’t let others just get away with shit anymore. Complacency is not an option.

I am also comforted by the knowledge that we have sisterhood to draw upon. We can bring our daughters into the fold as women who know the profound power of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We understand the strength of unity. The variants of our tenderness are blessings, sources of energy and healing. We know that daughters and mothers and sisters, joined with our allies, are already in the process of uplifting this chaotic jumble called humanity and making it better.

And there are lots of fantastic fathers out there, raising daughters with their own hearts and minds open to who those girls will become.

I am sincere when I say that I feel real optimism for our girls. It is truly exciting to be part of this new wave. We are in it together, all the daughters and all the sons, feeling the thrill of a changing, learning, evolving humanity.

We’ve got this.

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Photo credits, in order: 1. Auntie Beth, 2. Bess-Hamiti, 3. pikauisan, 4. yohoprashant, 4. cherylholt, 5. skimpton007. Photos 2-5 via Pixabay.

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The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline – Two-Minute Book Review

My sister gave me the award-winning The Marrow Thieves for Christmas, knowing how keenly I feel about Indigenous issues. I was about a quarter of the way through when I heard a snippet on CBC saying that Jully Black would be defending this book for Canada Reads! So I felt cool by association (with Canada’s national bibliophilic geek-out). Jully and The Marrow Thieves made it through the first day’s vote… I’m rooting for them to win!

Title: The Marrow Thieves

Author: Cherie Dimaline

marrow-thieves-cherie-dimaline

Other works by this author: The novels Red Rooms and The Girl Who Grew A Galaxy, and the short story collection A Gentle Habit, as well as the story “Seven Gifts for Cedar.”

Recommended by: My sister, I guess! And maybe the Governor General, considering that The Marrow Thieves won that award for English-language children’s literature in 2017.

Genre: Futuristic dystopian forest-trekking YA fiction.

Main characters: Frenchie (the narrator), and the cobbled-together family of fellow fugitives he travels with, including leader/Elder Miigwans and love interest Rose.

Plot intro: After the climate-change apocalypse, most North Americans have lost the ability to dream, and are hunting Indigenous people for their bone marrow, said to restore dreaming.

Opinions: I first heard about this book during a carpool, from a guy who kinda liked it but was rather dismissive. Since I found most of what he said during the ride to be arrogant and/or wrong, I had a hunch it would be a great book. 🙂 And I was right!

A quotation I liked: Most of my favourite moments in this book would be spoilers. I will say that Dimaline writes beautifully, treading the unlikely line between imagistic poetry and careless teenage speech. Also, this book contains what might just be the sexiest non-sex scene I’ve ever read.

What sticks with me: How much I want to shift this future. Not just the environmental catastrophe part, though of course I’m hoping we can avoid such collapse. And I’m not worried that the bone marrow harvest will actually be a thing. But Canada – and Turtle Island in general – are at a turning point right now, in which all of us need to understand what Canada did to Indigenous Peoples, so as not to repeat history. Not just residential schools, but extermination and marginalization of all kinds, the Sixties Scoop, the current child apprehension crisis, and of course the racism that has lasted from the moment of first contact to the present day.

Recommended to: All of us sharing this continent – but especially Canadian youth. We can take Indigenous-Canadian relations somewhere new and better.

To sum up: Gorgeously written with joy and tragedy, suspense and humour, and a lot of love for its beautiful characters. (I gave it five stars on Goodreads.)

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Paragon of Calm needs a reboot. Already.

In my last post, you may remember that I have made it my mission to be calm in the mornings with my kids. I’d like to tell you proudly that I made it through the week with exemplary calm! But I didn’t. Not quite.

I think it comes down to a sleep problem – one I don’t know how to solve.

There exist those families whose kids go to bed and conk out right away. (My sister-in-law’s son actually ASKS to go to bed when he’s tired. WHAT.) Similarly, there exist those families whose kids pop out of bed super-early on their own and are ready to go.

Not our family. I know that’s a blessing in many ways. My kids don’t get grumpy or whiny at bedtime – instead, they tend to be at their most hilarious (to each other) in that post-dinner period.  And they usually sleep in like champs while on vacation. Natural night owls, it seems.

The night-owl thing is tricky, though. Trust me, we do all the things. We have a consistent bedtime routine. We do settling-down activities like reading, all in the same order. We dim the lights beforehand. We use the kid-safe calming essential oils. We give the hugs and kisses and love. They just… take forever to fall asleep. Especially E. We’ve tried all kinds of bedtimes for him in the hopes that we’d find the perfect one, but he still seems to spend ages awake most of the time. His brain apparently revs high when he’s in bed. I have to remind him to close his eyes and whisper inside his head instead of out loud.

But this fact makes school mornings hard, especially now that their morning bell is fifteen minutes earlier than it was last year.

Please know I’m no morning star myself. (Hence that failed snooze-button resolution.) Once I’m out of bed, I start by opening the blinds in the kids’ room (which doesn’t help at this veil-of-darkness time of year) or putting the small lamp on. Then I’ll cue up some music or a meditation right by E’s head where it will (I hope) gently awaken him.

AB usually wakes up at this point, and betakes herself to my bed for our non-negotiable snuggle. [It has taken us a long time to get this part right. There have been countless times – and they still feel perilously probable – that she has begun the day with a sweet li’l temper tantrum because I happened to be in the bathroom when she came to my bed, or it took me too long to find E’s music, or I said the wrong word to her, or whatever other tiny random glitch she decides is insufferable that day.] She proceeds, almost always, to fall right back to sleep whilst somehow taking up almost all of my bed space.

So then there’s more waking up. E has been known in the past to wake up gently, as intended, but for the past month or so, the auditory stimulation hasn’t worked. I go in, talk to him, scratch his back, literally pick out his clothes for him and put them on his bunk so it’s easier for him… For AB I also scratch her back, kiss her cheek, carry her to the bathroom…

Ach. Written out like this, all the tender enablement is a bit nauseating. I can understand if at this point you’re like, Just rip their covers off already!! Or maybe just sneak headphones onto their ears and blast Van Halen without warning.

This kindly moderation would all be worth it if they then got up, sunny-faced, and put their clothes on with something resembling promptness. Instead, this is the part where they sit there like tiny stoned college kids: AB will open a drawer and just stare into it. E will sit there indefinitely with his shirt off and his splendid bedhead belying his torpor.

In the old days of 2017, this would be the point where I would start to get agitated and my voice would begin to sound stressed. For E, the second he detects annoyance in my voice, he feels entitled to go, “OHKAYEEEE!!” like I screamed at him. Which does nothing to lessen my annoyance, obvs. By the time we would get downstairs,  I’d be fully frustrated, so when the kids would start to bicker at the breakfast bar I’d just be like “NO WE ARE NOT DOING THIS.” And when breakfast was done and the slo-mo would start all over for getting backpacks and snow gear on… Blahhh. You can imagine the tears, the stomping, etc.

The kicker is, I know that when I get mad, I escalate the kids. I’m the adult. I should be able to fix this. Reflecting on the whole situation over the holidays, I said to myself, This is why I’m part-time. I am voluntarily making less money so that I have time to do things like take my children to school. If we’re late, so what? We’re late. It’s fine. Worth it to have a calm morning.

And it TOTALLY IS. The first four mornings of last week, I would say, just once, “Okay. Well, I need you to get those clothes on if you’d like to be on time.” And if I saw our window of punctuality closing, I’d just be like, “We’ll be a little late, okay?” And if I kept calm, the kids kept calm, in almost every case. This is in spite of it being the first week back after winter break, and the kids being overall quite tired. We were late twice out of four days, but whatevs!

Honestly, the rest of my life was better for it. I was calmer with my students, so they were calmer with me, and I had more energy after school to be nice to my family. I enjoyed them all way more.

Sadly, on Friday my calm ran out. Tiredness of kids + not a great sleep on my part  + not a great time fo the month for me + the voice in the back of my head saying We’ve been late twice already this week = I started to sound like my bad old self. So E started to sound like his bad old self. Suddenly AB was getting  tearful about something too. How quickly it all unravels. It wasn’t disastrous… I was just thoroughly disappointed in myself. And sure enough, we were late again.

exploding-kittens

We’ve had a nice weekend. Our Friday night was Gryffindor Night, which was awesome and I’ll tell you about that later. We have also cleaned house – all of us – and played lots of Exploding Kittens as a family this weekend, which feels very apropos in terms of the kinds of tempers we have and the abruptness with which they detonate, AND is very fun as a silly game we can all play and not stress about losing.

So tomorrow morning, Paragon of Calm will make a comeback. Now with even more panache.

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Random Acts of Generosity and other festive things

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Photo by Erik Scheel.

Last Friday morning, I walked home from the grocery store with tears running down my face. It had promised to be a very ordinary day: drop off the kids at school, pick up a few things from the supermarket, get some laundry done and some emails answered before teaching at noon. I’d be thinking about what needed to be prepared for a busy  weekend, what Christmas shopping is left, what assessments I need to cover with my students before winter break.

Instead, I got out my wallet to pay at the checkout, and heard the man standing there say, “I’ll take it.” He was short, with glasses, a navy blue jacket, salt-and-pepper hair, and a big smile. He said, “Merry Christmas.” The cashier twinkled at me – this person had just paid the bill for at least one  person ahead of me too, including the $120 coat in the cart. (I had caught the end of that conversation but not understood what it was about.)

I admit to having been stunned at that moment. Immediately my eyes filled with tears. Not because I am in need of this generosity; just because it was beautiful. It did not enter my mind to refuse, even as I was wishing the gift had landed on someone for whom it would make a bigger financial difference. I did not wonder at the motivation – this man was obviously just getting a great kick out of nonchalant supermarket generosity at 9 a.m. on a Friday. I waited until he had paid, then I shook his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas, meeting his eyes so he could see that I’d been moved.

My eyes are getting teary all over again as I write this. I can’t even fully explain why.

I know that generosity is all around me. As an elementary school teacher in a very supportive community, I see generosity in big and little ways all the time, from kids and parents and staff. The same is true at my children’s school. These are “have” communities, good at sharing.

I am lucky to live in a place where, as another example, one lovely (artist and blogger) friend of mine was able to rally a large group of women to give their time and money, creating enormous holiday baskets, full of items both crucial and fun, for our local women’s shelter.

Maybe my reaction comes from the fact that self-gratification, overconsumption, and narcissism are writ so large in the world right now. They wear us down, both individually and as a species. Sometimes, a person just needs to be thoroughly surprised by another human’s ability to defy social norms in the name of giving. I can tell you, I appreciated that shock.

Now, I get to benefit twice. My plan is to pay forward this gesture in my own ways, thus also enjoying surprising some folks with something nice, whether they need it or not… But also, it’s my good fortune to keep that moment I’ll never forget, a reason to weep happily over twenty-seven dollars and change.

For Christmas, I wish for you to witness a kindness that puts tears in your eyes.

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16 Things About Pixar’s “Coco”, Mexico, and Death

We took the kids to see Coco on the weekend – just as much for us as for them. Here are some notes (avoiding  spoilers, don’t worry).

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  1. We all loved it. Even with the high expectations I always have going into Disney/Pixar movies these days, they still impress. They are consistently worthy of the big screen, too.
  2. It’s not scary, in case you’re wondering about taking your kids. There’s the one moment when you’re like “Yikes! Lots of skulls!” and then everyone quickly gets used to the dead folks and it’s all cool.
  3. I had somehow managed not to know anything about this movie until a week or so ago, when I heard Anthony Gonzalez (who plays the 12-year-old protagonist, Miguel) in a CBC interview on Q. He’s (recently turned) thirteen, and just seems like the most earnest little cutie you’d like to hear on the radio. Sings like a wee Mariachi angel. (Even when crying, which is quite an accomplishment.) Aware of his talent but not obnoxiously so – and full of gratitude for the success he’s had. He began the audition process when he was nine years old, so he’s obviously learned something about patience and determination, too.
  4. Coco was released first in Mexico, and in time for Día de los Muertos. Appropriately.
  5. The movie is voiced by an all-Latino cast, and they do their own singing. Did you know that Benjamin Bratt can sing? I did not (I actually didn’t even know he was Latino, having not seen him in much), but was happy to find out.
  6. Imagery, imagery, oh-so-fantastic imagery. I have always loved the way Disney and Pixar go ALL IN with the beautiful details of cultural artistry. Land of the Dead? WOW. Obviously a ton of thought put into the visual feel of… everything.
  7. I adore listening to even the little snippets of Spanish in this movie. Makes me wish I had someone to practice my Spanish with. And I was thrilled to realize that the soundtrack (as streamed on Apple Music, anyway) has all the songs as sung in the English version, followed by ALL the Spanish versions!! YAY!
  8. The singers in the Spanish soundtrack for Coco are different, except for Gael García Bernal (who plays Héctor). This version’s Miguel is played by Luís Ángel Gómez Jaramillo. His voice is just as sweet (and stunningly similar) – and he also happens to be adorable.
  9. On that note (ha), the music is great. Exhilarating, actually. (Tons of thought and research put into this too.) As a person who deliberately finds Latin music to listen to when I need some musical/mental sunshine therapy, I relished every song. The kids loved them too and have been singing them at home. A child’s off-key-yet-earnest warbling of “Our love for each other will live on forever!!” is rather charming. (See below for AB’s renditions.)
  10. The big song, “Remember Me”, was written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – who also wrote “Let it Go” and other faves from Frozen. So you can imagine. (Other songs are by Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina and are wonderful also.)
  11. The one song that is sung only in Spanish is “La Llorona” (“The Weeping Woman”), a Mexican folk song about “the ghost of a woman who lost her children and now cries while looking for them in the river, often causing misfortune to those who are near or hear her” (according to Wikipedia). This song is like Cohen’s Hallelujah – it has one jillion verses so anyone singing it has to just pick a few.
  12. As usual with Disney/Pixar, I cried watching this movie. A couple of times. You’ll know which moments if you see the movie. I sit there thinking Seriously, Pixar?? YOU ARE DELIBERATELY DOING THIS TO MAKE ME CRY. LOOK AT THOSE TINY HANDS. But I still love it. Being moved to tears is something a soul needs every so often. And Pixar is great at grabbing themes that speak to so many of us: loss of loved ones, sorrow of parting, difficulties of aging, passion for art, and the highs and lows of being part of a family.
  13. I really appreciate the apparent facility of this movie in talking about death. Whatever one may personally believe about the afterlife and whatnot, it makes total sense to me for death to be seen as the part of life that it is. Not something to shield the kids from. Not something to fear, although we take the sadness into account and share it. It’s just the way things are.
  14. I’ve never celebrated el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, November 1st), but I wish we did. (Maybe we could? I do know some gringos who do…) What a great concept, setting aside a day to think about our loved ones who have died, and to feel the connection that is still there – simply through love and memories.
  15. I don’t know whether this movie includes any deliberate in-your-face defiance in terms of Mexico and its people/language/music/beauty/cultural significance, etc. versus those particular “pro-wall” Americans… but I sure felt it. As the movie ends (with the song “Proud Corazón”, a statement in itself), it’s all “Annnnnd Mexican awesomeness FTW.” *mic drop* (Or possibly *guitar drop*.)
  16. If it sounds like I’m gushing about Coco, so be it. It’s my prerogative to be childishly exuberant and uncritical on my own blog every once in a while, right?

coco-movie-land-dead-muertos

***


 

P.S. Just for interest, in case you don’t already know, I wanted to mention the big watery underground hole with the natural skylight that Miguel ends up in at one point in the movie; it’s called a cenote. It’s a natural sinkhole that forms when limestone bedrock collapses underground. I gave Sean a nudge when we saw it – we got to go into one in Mexico once. They’re tourist attractions, as you can see by the photo below. (Surrounded by tiny children who will eagerly sell you picture postcards of them.)

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Thoughts for a New Five-Year-Old

Dear AB,

Hi, bébé. I still call you that, now that you’re a five-year-old, even though you’re practically a teenager in many ways. As all mamas know: once your baby, always your baby. Happy belated birthday post!

 

You turned five… two-and-a-half weeks ago already. We’ve had five separate celebrations – two were on your birthday itself, and one was even on Fall Fair day. So it’s been pretty exciting! We gave you your first Lego set that’s all yours (though you’ve generously let your brother play too) and the other day you said, “I’m obsessed with this stuff!” Other gifts reflected the other things you’re into: animals, especially horses; art; books; and of course princesses and fairies endure.

 

 

To be honest, life with you was rather difficult right around your birthday. (Not that I was intentionally late in writing this! But circumstances conspire.) You got sick for a couple of days right after your birthday, and it took a while to get back to sleeping properly. You were quite a grumpy bear for a number of days.

With you, when I say grumpy bear, I mean screechy, kicky, yelly, and imperious, and impossible – sometimes from the instant you awaken. It’s hard to like you at those times. And super-duper hard to get you out the door in the morning.

But then, as has been true since you were an infant, you also have your easily-lovable side – the one that’s so cute it hurts. And despite certain adolescent tendencies, you’re still little in so many ways. You still insist on a snuggle every morning (which I accept if you aren’t Grumpy Self) and you still nestle your hand on my neck because that’s your favourite. You whisper “I love you, Mummy,” and I melt every time. Your wardrobe choices are usually full of clashing colours and patterns – there’s no combo you won’t wear, and with total confidence to boot. You are still innocent enough to accept and own your dazzling childhood beauty. You are still awesome at pretending. Still unfettered by inhibitions when moved to dance. Still inclined to sing – sometimes inspirational ballads you make up, sometimes the same misheard lyric over and over, and sometimes words we don’t recognize at all. You still believe in all the things a little kid should.

 

This past summer, you learned to ride your two-wheeler without training wheels. With the practice on your balance bike, combined with watching your brother magically learn a year earlier, and of course your natural mettle, you just did it. You and your bike looked so tiny, yet there you were, pedalling away. We are so proud.

When I try to picture your future self, I feel sure you’ll be a strong, opinionated woman who speaks her mind. You are already perfecting the eloquent, self-righteous shout-rant that’s very convincing during an argument even though it’s usually baloney: “Well, YOU should have known that I need TIME to put my CLOTHES on!!!” I doubt that many of your peers would try to best you in a verbal wrangle.

You also have compassion that runs deep. (Just this morning, you cried real tears over a story I told about having my favourite brand-new jacket stolen during a high school band trip. Golly, I’d never have told it if I’d known it would make you truly sad.) Your daddy and I are learning not to talk within your earshot about the news that’s so awful all the time – aftermath of superstorms, racial violence, sexual predators, the threat of nuclear war, and so on – because you are listening, and your heart already breaks. You do not need to be beaten down by these things before you get a chance to use your strength and spirit for good – and for yourself too.

Sometimes I wonder whether you’ll be able to shoulder the burden of your sympathy – especially along with the fierceness that will probably compel you to act on it. It can be rough being a passionate person who hurts for others, and who feels injustice keenly. It can also be rough being a strong girl or woman who knows her worth and finds it contrary to what the world reflects. I’ve recently been realizing that I don’t have the confidence I wish I had that life is getting better for women and girls.

So here’s my plan. I will teach you everything I know about valuing yourself, asserting yourself, defending yourself, knowing yourself, taking care of yourself, and being your best self. In the meantime, I will value you, be assertive for and with you, defend you, know you as best I can, take care of you, and see your best self as clearly as my Mama-eyes can see.

I already know you love yourself. One of your regular sayings (during happy moods) is, “I love you, and I love Daddy, and I love my brother, and I love myself, and I love everyone in the whole world even if I don’t know them!” Your all-encompassing love is precious, real, powerful. We promise we will also wrap you all-over-really-tight in layers and layers of love, to make that feeling last as long as possible.

***


 

 

 

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Breaking the Ice with Words and Grief

Dear Sebastian,

Forgive me. I know you need some attention. You’ve been persistently reminding me for more than a year, but somehow I haven’t managed to sit down and contemplate you properly.

Last summer, your days were rushed into the beginning of Family Camp. I thought of you all the time, but couldn’t grieve or cry thoroughly. In response, I’ve found grief leaping up at me, unanticipated, all year long.

I clearly remember the summer you died, the way crying would insist upon happening (at inconvenient times)  if I didn’t deliberately fill a certain allotment of mindful grieving. The Crying Quota is a lot smaller now, but I’ve clearly been sidelining it too often. It persists.

There have been those random mornings when I’d be having a nice quiet coffee alone and suddenly find myself spilling tears on the table. Times when my mind would suddenly conceive, for no reason, that instant when your tiny heart stopped beating and your perfect soul broke away. Moments when I feel the phantom pain of your head pressing against my side, uncushioned by fluid, as it did for those last weeks.

There were also many reminders of your cherished existence in my heart – like you’re tenderly poking me from your place in the universe. Conversations I’d overhear – with weird frequency – about ultrasounds, sage tea, and even the salmon. And that day at school when I opened up a storybook I was given years ago, and caught sight of the author’s inscription for the first time since we’d received it: “To the Stephens boys.” It knocked the wind out of me for a moment… but it also made me glad. Proof of your realness.

Some days, I deliberately drive past the hospital on the way home. Which might seem strange. It’s a place I am tied to for its witness of the joyous births of your siblings, as well as the only time I spent holding you. It makes me feel closer to my babies. But sometimes that memory, of arriving at the dark street in front of the ER in unearthly pain, pops up more jaggedly than I anticipate – almost as if it were recent.

And while I try not to dwell on it, I can’t help but feel regret about that last morning. I wish I had kept you in my arms for longer – even half an hour longer. I don’t know why I wish this so hard, since it would change nothing, and it would all still be just as over as it is now… It was just too short. I know we usually want pain to be short, but in this case – I would give a lot to go back to that pain for a few minutes.

This grief is more than six years old now, but damned if I’ve figured out how to navigate it.

Another difficult time this summer was when our midwife died. We hadn’t seen her in a couple of years at least, and she had been working out of the province, but that didn’t make the news easier to accept. All our midwives have been excellent, but our primary midwife was a particularly amazing person and an expert in her profession. She was the one who was with us for the non-stress test where we last heard your peaceful heartbeat. She bravely broke the bad news to us the next day. She caught you and told us what a beautiful baby you were. She visited me for weeks postpartum, even though there was no baby to check on, just to talk and make sure we were managing. She vowed to help me deliver my next baby, who would be born healthy… and so she did. Having been through a lot of grief and pain herself, she was caring and empathetic and optimistic in a way that was inexpressibly reassuring. And she was one of a very small handful of people who met you in person. This summer, we grieved for her family and friends and colleagues, but also selfishly: it hurts to think that that handful is now even smaller.

In July, when Skye very gently nudged me about blogging (as she does when I haven’t written for a while), I was acutely aware that it had been more than a month since my last post, and that I blogged not a word about you on your days. The more days that passed after that, the more I couldn’t write – because it was your turn… But I needed to write you something real.

I tried breaking the ice some other way, nonchalantly. There were several attempts. I tried to make a post featuring one of your brother’s artistic masterpieces: an instructional page he created for your sister to teach her how to make fart noises with her armpit. The written steps are pithy and the diagrams utterly, utterly luminous.

But it wasn’t right. My blog even scolded me for this irreverence by refusing to upload photos. (Still not sure what that’s about… sigh.)

And now you won’t be put aside any longer. It’s the last weekend of summer before school starts. Life is about to go back to scrambly busy-ness. Here I am, still working on this post. And especially for the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with the confluence of love and grief – because right now, they’re seemingly inextricable. I’ve been weepy so many times – missing my kids when I’m apart from them, saying goodbyes to people I love, listening to my favourite music, seeing beauty, feeling the endings of many things… It’s all harder because you’re so present in everything.

But when I think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad you’ve been so close to me all summer. You were there in the forested Appalachian hills on our trip to North Carolina, and in the joyous cacophony of the family we visited there – especially the smallest people. You were there at Family Camp, just as much in the boisterous play as in the brilliant silences. You were there on our trip to the Ottawa River, in the crashing whitewater as well as the tranquil ripples. You were there at OELC, in the gathered voices of more than a hundred people, singing this beautiful song written for a beloved little son.

Thanks for the reminders, sweetheart. I needed them. Your heart and my heart are always together, thank goodness. I miss you always and love you forever.

Mama

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Stress Is Just How We Roll These Days

Doesn’t it seem like stress has been trending for too long? Like it’s a bit ridiculous that feeling hassled is not reserved for crunch times – that instead it’s just a way of life?

kid-drawing-happy-sad
This picture AB drew really captures how I’ve been feeling.

Last week a colleague, who also happens to be my friend and neighbour, asked me, “Do you ever feel like you’re just barely scraping by?”

Fervently, I replied, “Ohmigosh, of course. ALL THE TIME.”

This friend of mine is one of the nicest people you can imagine, smart and hardworking and very compassionate. I’ve never seen her seem anything but serene, even when we’re talking about stress.

We were discussing the ever-tricky work/life balance. She told me about a recent incident in which she’d felt unreliable because she couldn’t remember whether or not she’d completed a particular task. This is something I can definitely relate to. The not-so-shining moments of things falling through cracks because… there’s JUST TOO MUCH.

It was, I think, surprising and comforting to both of us that we feel the same about this. I guess we’re both good at seeming fine when we’re not actually that fine.

The truth was, the previous week had been one in which my undulating perspective was rather more vertiginous than usual. My 39th birthday was on the Thursday, followed by Mother’s Day on the Sunday. My birthday was great – I felt loved and celebrated and worthy.

Things fell abruptly into focus for me on Mother’s Day. It was a lovely morning, with pancakes made by my Hubbibi and sweet little cards from my kids. In spite of this, a few hours later I was grouchy and yelly with those same kids. The little darlings had not taken the bait when I told them my dearest Mother’s Day wish was for them to clean their room and/or the playroom. In fact, both kids have arrived at a stage where they feel entitled to A) not do what I ask, like AT ALL, and B) give me attitude about it.  And I just felt bitter.

We did clean up, but I basically had to threaten them. Great mothering right there. (And great childing too.)

The day got better later on, and everything was fine. It’s just that it happens more than I’d like that I get grumpy and raise my voice – and I hate that. I feel myself using guilt as leverage, and I hate that too. But why don’t they see how much work it is to parent them? Why don’t they want to help out? DON’T THEY LOVE ME??

That’s when I start to fret. Are my kids just lazy and selfish? Is it permanent? And if they are, isn’t it muchly my fault, as their mother?

Sean says I worry too much, and I’m sure he’s right. He generally doesn’t worry – but I have no idea how such non-worrying is accomplished. Case in point…

Examples of Things I Worry About

  • My kids are spoiled beyond all help
  • My house will never be clean or even properly tidy for more than 17 minutes
  • I’m not a good mom
  • I’m not a properly nice person anymore either – I’ve just got people fooled
  • Teaching is not my true calling
  • My “undulating perspective” is actually something wrong with my brain
  • My energy oscillation is actually some weird disease
  • The frequent headaches I get are actually cancer
  • E’s melodrama is actually depression
  • AB will grow up to be a Mean Girl
  • My husband will die young and I’ll be a single mom
  • My mind is disorganized because of all the thoughts that want to much to be written down but can’t be because NO TIME
  • Work/life balance is a pipe dream. Period.

I swear I’ve never been a pessimist or a hypochondriac. I never used to stress out about little things, and it used to take a lot more for me to lose my temper. If I remember correctly, I did not used to be bitchy.

*Sigh.*

When I think about it at this moment, with the kids asleep in bed (no doubt looking like gorgeous innocent cherubs), I can convince myself that it’s probably not that they’re inherently or permanently lazy/selfish/evil. It’s probably just that they’re four and almost-eight, and they’re figuring out what they can get away with.

And maybe I’m not done for, either. I often have those moments where I look at my healthy children, my brick of a husband, my incredibly comfortable bed, my pretty house, my friendly neighbourhood filled with trees… And I’m completely dazzled by my good fortune. I can hardly believe I get to live this life.

As long as I keep coming back to some semblance of equanimity once in a while, I’m sure I’ll be fine. And get some fracking sleep, for crying out loud. (Or for not crying out loud. One would hope.)

Tomorrow I leave for OELC for a week. Experience tells me it will be one of the busiest and most exciting weeks of my year. It does include stress – but it’s all temporary, and all focused in one place. It’s a place to get centred and come back tired but refreshed. And by then it’s June! So EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE PEACHY.

That’s the plan.

***


 

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 5: Dance

I’ve saved Dance for last in my 5-Day Artist Challenge, because my relationship with dance is both of utmost importance to me, and hardest to describe. (So hard, in fact, that apparently I had to wait for ages, forget that I still had never finished the post, and pick it up with renewed fervour.) You may have forgotten, in all this time,  about the Café Bakery of the Artist Challenge, but it’s official. Writing is sourdough, Drama is French toast, Visual Art is sandwiches, and Music is cookies. Therefore: in thinking hard about what the Bread of Dance would be, I’ve decided that it’s flatbread.

Seems counter-intuitive, maybe, but this is how anciently foundational I know dance to be. Flatbread has existed for thousands of years. It is essential to cultures all over the world. It is as sacred as communion wafer, and as celebratory as focaccia pizza. Flatbread is important whether you have everything, or almost nothing. It can be crisp or soft or stretchy, or basically whatever you need it to be. It’s tortilla, it’s naan, it’s lavash, it’s chapati, it’s matzo, it’s pita, it’s roti, and so on. And any of those types can be consumed in simplicity, or filled with all kinds of delicious details.

communion-bread-sacrament
Communion bread via tvo.com
foccacia-pizza
Focaccia pizza via gratednutmeg.com

And another thing: flatbread is very often round, like the dances in so many cultures. A circular creation that underpins and supports many aspects of culture. I make this point because for me, dance is not just a joy, but a necessity. It is not just a practice, but a basis for community.

It always makes me sad to know there are those who believe they can’t or shouldn’t dance. I’m lucky to have been encouraged in dance ever since early childhood. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have that instinct squelched. The urge to manifest a rhythm or melody, to let yourself be literally moved by the music, especially for young kids, is a powerful one.

The Groove movement, made known to me by my amazing Dance co-facilitator at OELC iArts, insists that we can ALL dance. That if we think we can’t, all we need are few building blocks to help us find our own style. That, and a safe space to move. Dancing is for everyone. It counts whether you’re dancing with thousands at a rock concert, or by yourself in your bedroom. We all need that whole-body thrill of letting the music become part of us.

My dance journey has been through many phases:

  • Dancing as a preschooler, wearing whatever dancey costume I could get my hands on, in our living room with my sisters – mostly to dances by Brahms or Dvorák;
  • Taking my first ballet classes, realizing I would not wear an actual tutu or pointe shoes for many years, but still adoring how sublime I felt doing it;
  • Taking up figure skating as well and loving the transfer of dance onto ice;
  • Going through puberty and suddenly being less-good at both these forms of dance (where being petite – not to mention short-waisted – is a huge natural advantage);
  • Attending Wilfrid Laurier University and taking ALL the dance classes offered (i.e. ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern, swing, jive, and Latin);
  • Attending the University of Toronto and joining the Only Human Dance Collective, which gave me more experience in everything, plus Irish and African and – finally – bellydance.

The meet-cute between bellydance and me occurred while I was working on my Masters in Toronto. The hip-hop class I wanted to sign up for was full. I thought, Hm, I’ve never tried this! I was hooked the first time I saw my teacher do a maya. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do that.

Once I began learning, I fell straightaway in love. It was all so fascinatingly beautiful. And finally my body had found a home. Finally it could be itself – long waist, large ribcage, prominent butt, funny-shaped feet and everything. Finally I was teaching it to do things that felt natural.

Since then, I have discovered that bellydance, in Ontario at least, is not just a hobby but a community – one full of diversity, creativity, and caring.

This past November, the dance troupe I belong to presented its biennial professional show called Mosaic. In this show, bellydance techniques are fused with all kinds of other dance techniques to create wonderful, unique choreography. There are a dozen of us who form the main troupe, and we worked really hard to bring the visions of our choreographers to life.

There is no way to adequately describe the rush you feel when combining the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of movement, the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience, and the bond of a loving community working their tails off together. I am incredibly grateful to be part of it.

Here is a piece we did in November. It took the most work of any of our pieces, because it required the most intricate synergy. It is chock-full of empowerment symbolism. No performance is perfect, but we are proud of this one.

Here is another piece that we did at the previous Mosaic two years ago. This is a favourite piece of the troupe in general because it’s so much fun. I adore it because it makes me feel like a kid: whooping and hollering, being unabashedly noisy with an instrument, animating a big swishy skirt, and especially dancing the big circle at the end where we skip and gallop – just pure candid joy.

Now my daughter is taking creative dance classes, and she loves them. Her excitement when she emerges from the studio is a sign that she is getting the joy I wish for her. And both my kids, when we put on music at home and just boogie down, have fun and smile more afterwards. It’s a shot of happiness to the body and soul.

***


 

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Let’s have Sisterhood take over the world – boys, girls, and all.

Let’s talk about Sisterhood. It’s a much bigger concept than simply having female siblings. I believe that Sisterhood, big S, encompassing millions of diverse humans, is what today has been about.

I’m aware that there was a big, braggadocious, depressing, basically unthinkable event going on yesterday. It was my day off. I studiously avoided all exposure to it. Instead, I’ve been ruminating on more worthy things.

you-can-be-anything-be-kind
Image via The Master Shift

In November, I weighed in about the political situation and how it must be combatted with courtesy and civilized conversation  and critical thinking and especially LOVE. I felt the need yesterday to focus on that. Love is what we use to fend off and neutralize hate. Love is what we’re here for. But what does that look like on a grievously upsetting day?

Sisterhood popped up as a theme as early as breakfast. One of my wonderful, gifted American cousins – who happens to be an only child – had written a beautiful Facebook post that included these wise words:

Sisterhood shines brilliantly when we lift each other up, giving tough love when our sisters aren’t reaching their full potential… and celebrating each other’s successes from a place of abundance and admiration instead of envy. 

Sisterhood is about collectively raising and empowering the young girls in our lives. 

Sisterhood is sharing in the flawed, exhausting, pressure-filled, body-centric, mysterious, perfectly imperfect experience of being a woman. Sometimes we are violated, silenced, overlooked, or underestimated. Too often, we are our own worst enemies. 

Sisterhood is turning into our mothers, taking care of our mothers, and becoming mothers. 

Sisterhood is coming together in the hundreds of thousands, all over the world, to be heard.

This prompted me to re-read one of my favourite Momastery posts, in which the carpentry term “sistering” is explained. It’s kinda perfect. It’s all about getting close, locking in, being there and supporting where support is most needed.

It occurred to me that Sisterhood, in its greatest sense, is not just for women. It can embrace the people of all genders who sister each other.

Yes, I know that brotherhood is a thing, and a good thing in many ways. I firmly believe boys need more bonding experiences. Brotherhood connotes standing united together, leaving no one behind, knowing who’s got your back, and no doubt much more. It also connotes frat parties, army platoons, and street gangs.

Sisterhood, on the other hand, has gentleness. It is strong and fierce, and gentle. It can get angry and still be kind. It is brimful of compassion. Sisterhood is open; it confides; it listens; it feels deeply. It is not afraid to be vulnerable, nor to give tough love, nor to speak its heart.

It has been my privilege in life to know many men who understand and participate in this kind of Sisterhood – including several who are related to me. One of them had his 30th birthday yesterday, which made all of us who know and love him feel comforted on that date.

{Thank you for being amazing, Sistermen – the world needs you more than ever.}

And today is another birthday, that of a faraway sister-of-my-heart whom I rarely see, but with whom I can always fall into step when we meet.

I have many Sisters, Canadian and American, who have been marching today in various places, including Washington. It has made me really happy to check in with them and see Sisterhood governing. Wise words spoken – incisive wit – reverent listening – peaceful gathering – pink pussy hats – acknowledgement of privilege – generosity – joyful solidarity. Humans supporting humans in our imperfectly human way.

sisterhood womens march on washington
Image via cbc.ca, Julia Pagel

Last night, I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Guelph Lecture On Being Canadian, presented by Jeannette Armstrong, Okanagan knowledge-keeper, professor, researcher, writer, protector. She spoke of the importance of listening to and understanding the exact opposite of your own perspective, in order to achieve balance. She spoke of coming together to heal the world. The unity in the room was palpable. Sisterhood.

It seems to me that in these past two days, that balance of opposites is exactly what the world has seen.

To all Sisters: we know there are tough times ahead. We know that to provide the balance for what is coming, we will have to use extra measures of patience, warmth, empathy, and understanding – for each other just as much as for those on the other side of the scales. We need to think hard, check ourselves, and use the most love that we can muster.

We are meant for this challenge. We’ve got this.

 

***


 

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