Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Coming of Age

My oldest daughter turns 11 a week from tomorrow. Her elementary school has Open House that evening and the next week is Spring Break. So we plan to celebrate her birthday tomorrow, without competing interests and before her friends flit away for snowy peaks or sandy beaches. I remember vividly the day she entered this world. And I remember the many joyful, painful, unbelievable days of growth I underwent in those first months of her life. The act of being a parent blows apart any expectations of being a parent that pre-existed the child herself.

I signed a note from school yesterday giving her permission to view THE 5TH GRADE FILM on the day after her birthday, at 2pm in the afternoon, on the Friday before Spring Break. Any chance that timing might be coincidence? I don't think so. The school has set everything up to show these videos, to segregated classrooms of 10-12 year old boys and girls, moments before they march out of school into the warm spring sunshine and promptly forget most of what they saw. The timing is meant to push questions toward home and suppress gossip and giggles with the hopes that the excitement of the topic will have died down by the time the students return.

I knew the film was on the horizon. Courtney seemed concerned when she handed me the paper. I assured her that she had my full permission to watch the film. And that I expected she would not encounter much new information there. We have covered everything in the film and more. As parents, the school permits us to preview the film. I don't need to do that. I know the more informed she is, the better able to make good decisions she will be. So I have informed her. In bits and pieces, ever more in depth, as the time seemed right. I have entertained her questions. We have had deep discussions. Some too early for my liking, precipitated by some conversation or event I couldn't control. But that's life isn't it? Encounters with awareness and information to be processed, not always at the time that might be the most convenient.

She has friends, coming to the end of their 5th grade year, who know NOTHING about the changes coming soon for them. Why? Because we are afraid. Because somehow we have internalized such shame about being a woman that we cannot even talk to our daughters about the beauty of the ability to give life. We certainly don't celebrate their budding sexuality, their feminine power, the inherent beauty of the divine within them. Instead, we separate and segregate, send home scary permission slips, and hide on the front edge of vacation. Even the school, trying to do the job no one else will do, sets things up in a way that hints at shame.

I say NO MORE. At least not at my house. We will honor and celebrate. We will talk freely. We will embrace and engage our feminine selves. Or at least I hope we can. I am scheduled to present similar information, although I will do it with a twist, for my daughter's girlscout troop in May. We have plans to party. We will meet the requirements for the badge, discuss the developmental, look at the pressure from society to look and be a certain way, entertain any and all questions. And then we will celebrate. We will pamper ourselves with pedicures and take pleasure in the delight of a good meal. We will even have dessert - and talk about how to enjoy food in healthy amounts with a healthy attitude, not with either indulgence or denial. I hope the event will be memorable, celebratory, supportive.

And yet, last night, my younger daughter announced while watching the election returns that the governor should be a man because men were taller, had better hair, shinier teeth, talked louder and were smarter. So, while I'm making ground on one front I seem to be losing it on the other. She said it with a grin, knowing her statement would push my buttons, and taking great delight in doing just that. Humor ruled the moment, as she intended, but the underlying message - accepted so easily - does bother me - even as a joke.

So I press ever onward, sometimes feeling like I'm fighting the battle alone. And then I ran across this post: I've been reading Julie's blog for a few weeks. I'm adding her to my blog roll. She touches the deep places in my soul. She makes me feel that the community I want for my daughters, might, just might, be possible.

And so, we move into a new year, ever closer to the teen years, with at least a little hope that my daughters will live in a world without shame about who they are. That they can spend their energy fighting new battles instead of the same old ones. That they will grow into their own voices and not need to find them, because they will have been there all along.


  1. Renae,
    I am deeply touched by what you write here - by your love and deepest desires for your daughters. You are modeling what you wish them to's the best way, isn't it. I didn't always do that for my daughters. I now know that the best mother I can be comes from my being an authentic woman.
    Your voice has a place in the chorus of women's voices that must be heard today. I look forward to hearing it spoken far and wide.

  2. Renae,
    This is marvelous ... I feel much of this longing for my daughter, who is 7. I feel her teen years creeping around the edges of her already. It is so hard for me because as much as I want to protect her from some of this cloak of expectation and fear I also know I still struggle under it some of the time. This duality makes me both identify with where she is going and want a better place for her. I don't know if that makes sense - perhaps not. I only wanted to say I'm grateful for what you have elucidated here. Thank you.

  3. Lindsey - it makes perfect sense. There are a few other posts on the site that sort of catch the same theme, it's a resounding one for me. Feel free to poke around. And welcome!

  4. My daughter is only 2.5 but these thoughts and feelings are already present for me. Thank you for this lovely post - it's nice to be here (courtesy of Julie Daley - another connection flowing from connection).

  5. wholeselfcoach - welcome. I just popped over to your blog. I want to spend some more time there. So glad you came over. It's always nice to have companions on the journey to ourselves.