You Be Someone

“Mom, there is a lot of trash around the playground and in front of school. Somebody should pick it up.” -6yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia

“Somebody? Who is somebody?” -Me

“It makes me sad. Just someone should do it.” -OPP

“Someone like you should do it.” -Me

“But I…” -OPP

“No Ma’am. There are many things in this world that need fixing, Amelia. If a girl like you sits back and waits for someone else to do it, then you give away the chance to be a leader. How old are you?” -Me

“I am six.” -OPP

“Is six old enough to tell your friends about a problem you saw, and form a group of buddies that wants to help fix the problem?” -Me

“Yes. I could ask my friends at lunch.” -OPP

“That is called forming an action committee. I will meet your committee behind school today with the wagon. In the wagon I will have trash bags and a cooler of popsicles. I’m sure you folks will be able to figure out a plan for what needs to be done.” -Me

“I can do that!” -OPP

“Smalls, when you see something that needs to be changed, don’t look over your shoulder. Look inside yourself to be the someone to fix it. Just figure out what needs to be done, and then set about to do it.” -Me

“I can totally do that.” -OPP

“Yes, you totally can.” -Me

Girl’s prize-winning speech is some awesome unorthodox #STEM

A friend sent this to me earlier this week and I chuckled the entire time I was reading. While the subject matter may be a little unorthodox, how awesome is Sophie to have the confidence to stand up and give a speech on how her body functions. If only all little girls were that comfortable with their bodies.


Throwing Rocks With Girl Cousins

Amelia and my neice, throwing rock number 179.

If you ask my kids what the best part of their trip was, they’ll tell you, “Throwing rocks with the big girl cousins.” On the drive home, I had some quiet time to think about how my large extended family views and treats it’s girls. And I realized this has made all the difference.

We are still recovering from a sun-filled Fourth of July trip to Toledo, Ohio to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins. Lots of cousins. Cousins in the summertime is the perfect remedy when you need your kids to be drop-over tuckered out so that they sleep through Chicago traffic. This weekend while we were hanging with the cousins we had a full schedule of bubbles, sidewalk chalk, swimming, baseball, soccer, running through golf coarse sprinklers, and feeding the ducks. The action paused only long enough for us to eat popsicles.

During a family reunion at a city park, after baseball had been played and watermelon had been chomped, we took a break from the playground to go to the river and throw rocks into the water. My kids have been known to do this for hours. So down to the riverbank we marched, Amelia being incredibly excited that the big girl cousins were coming with us.

The “big girl cousins” are my first cousins, about eight years my senior. I worshipped them when I was a kid. I wore their hand-me-downs and named my baby dolls after them. And today they were teaching my little girl how to skip rocks in the Maumee River. The winning skip hopped the water seven times. The kids were becoming delirious from the heat and the excitement.

Amelia searches for the best rocks to throw.

A family a of ducks swam by, which caught the attention of Amelia and she noticed a sandbar. She asked how to get to it, so she and I hiked the hillside to hop across to it. A large sandbar to a five year old is like an island, and when our little brother and little girl cousin followed, it was a party. We looked for sharks (found none) and crawfish and frogs. We chased dragonflies. We threw 241 rocks into the river. Amelia kept asking me to pick up rather large rocks to toss into the deep water so she could hear and watch the splashing. This led to us realizing the deep water and big splashes were very close to where the big girl cousins were standing. Naturally, a battle broke out and the cousins on the shore started trying to splash the cousins that were on the sandbar. This was great fun, until the sandbar cousins ran out of big rocks to launch.

As we rested in the shade and watched my brother pick up and heave really huge rocks while the kids cheered like soccer hooligans, it struck me that no one had mentioned to my little daughter or neice that they looked pretty, or mentioned anything about being a princess, or asked teasingly if either had a boyfriend. No one said anything about ‘throwing like a girl’  when we were tossing rocks in the river. No one told them not to get dirty. No one told them to stop hollering and yelling.

And when we went exploring out onto the sandbar, no one questioned that the girls were leading the way.

Amelia leads the way to the sandbar.

One of the big girl cousins teaching Benny to skip a rock.

With big girl cousins in the background, the tiniest cousin hunts for crawfish with her uncle, Mr. Pigtail Pals.

How To Celebrate International Women’s Day From Your Comfortable Suburban Home

My view of a day spent in a Cape Town township, South Africa.

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  A day to celebrate economic, political, and social gains by women worldwide. Today we honor achievements, and remember the women before us who brought us to this day. Today. A day to celebrate women.

Sisters, wives,  mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, friends, schoolmates, and coworkers.  The women of our world.
Yet in many places of the world, today will pass without celebration. Odds are good somewhere a woman will cradle a starving or sick child. Somewhere a woman will receive verbal threats or a physical blow from an intimate partner. Somewhere a girl will be raped as she walks to school. Somewhere a woman will walk miles for the clean water she needs to feed her family the one meal a day they can afford.
Somewhere a woman will be informed she has lost her job because she had taken time off to birth a child. Somewhere a woman will take home a paycheck that is nearly 1/3 less than that of the guy in the office next to her, although they do the same job. Somewhere a girl will sit in a classroom and be too timid to raise her hand. Somewhere a woman will give up on political ambitions.
All of those things have just happened in the time it took you to read those sentences.
None of these stories have changed in the 100 years we have celebrated women on this day. But still, we celebrate. Because for over 100 years the voices of women have not been silenced, their dreams have not been swept away despite often times incredible odds, their ambitions have been fulfilled despite being met with resistance. Women have always been strong. We have to be. We bear the weight of the world.
Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, earn 10% of the income, and own 1% of the land.
70 million girls are denied access to education in our world, and another 60 million will be sexually assaulted on their way to school.
That all seems far removed from me, as I sit in my comfortable home, typing on my laptop and fetching my son snacks while my daughter is playing at her preschool. It seems as far away as the photo above, that I took during a trip to South Africa in 2003. The children in the foreground danced around us as we unloaded treats from our pockets, and clung to our hands as we talked to the women gathered around those cement basins doing their wash. Do you see the women just right of center, in the white shirt and jean skirt? She was my age when I was on that trip – 25. She had a baby with her, which she later wrapped to her body as she carried her bundled wash on her head. She invited me to walk with her, calling me Tante Melissa. Auntie Melissa. Within minutes we had become sisters. We had nothing in common. Our worlds so different we could have been from separate planets. But still, she offered me smiles and we held hands while we walked. She was proud to show me around. I was honored she accepted me as her friend. When the combi drove away late in the afternoon, she was standing there, waving goodbye to me. I pressed my hand to the glass as I watched her get smaller and smaller.  
That trip changed my life. Africa has a way of doing that to you. I have not been able to go back, as now I have my own two babes to carry around. I cannot leave them yet for several weeks at a time, so my return trip will wait. But my compassion does not have to.
Today I will celebrate the women in my world. I will send messages to the family members and colleagues who inspire me. I will thank the teachers at my daughters school. I will call a friend to say hello. I will inspire sisterhood in others. I strongly believe that sisterhood – the power of women coming together and working together – is the final untapped natural resource of our world. And it is continually renewed, with the birth of each new baby girl. We are all sisters.
There are only two IWD events in my entire state. But I won’t let that limit me. I do not believe in limitations. I will not let the comfort of my day-to-day routine in my predictable suburban neighborhood, in my cozy suburban home, make me blind to what we all need to be seeing.
So how can you change the world from where you are?
-Think globally, and donate to the amazing efforts of The Girl EffectCharity WaterKiva, and  Heifer International.
-Think locally and donate to a women’s shelter, food pantry,  Girls Inc, write a letter to a woman soldier, or offer assistance to a family you know that is in need.
-Write a letter and thank your mama.
-Give flowers to a friend or mentor with a hand written note telling her why you honor her.
-Over tip the waitress.
-Stand up and walk over to a nearby office or cubicle and tell a colleague you appreciate them.
-Cook a meal for a neighbor. Or get together with a neighbor and cook some meals for a single mom, a new mom, or a widow.
-Invite that single mom or widow into your home for dinner.
-Round up old toys and books and donate them to a crisis nursery.
-Send cards to your closest girlfriends, thanking them for having your back.
-Bake some cookies with the kids and take them to teachers or nurses on the maternity ward, thanking them for what they do for children.
-Sit down with your children and go through a book or website that shares the biographies of the intrepid women who brought us to this day.
-Draw self portraits with your girl, and help her write down her attributes that make her unique and wonderful.
-Send a note to a former teacher. Do you know how important teachers are?
-Make a commitment to offer more grace and kindness to other women.
-And finally, tonight, when all is quiet and you have your mind all your own, write a letter to yourself. Offer gratitude for everything you have in life. Write down those dreams you are too shy to say out loud, and acknowledge the dreams you’ve already made come true. Write down some happy memories from the last year, and new ones you hope to create. Take the chance to inspire yourself.
From me to you, Happy 100th International Women’s Day. Cheers to us, and let’s prepare to celebrate 100 more!

A Clarification on Sexualization, Predators, and Pageants

Small girl competing in a Glitz children's beauty pageant.

I need to make a very important clarification in regards to the child beauty pageant post about “Toddlers & Tiaras”.

When we talk about sexualization, our focus should and must remain on the emotional, social, sexual, and physical health of our daughters.

Our daughters are the center of this discussion, and we need to keep our focus on their intrinsic value and natural born right to a childhood. Our daughters (and sons) are the focus of this discussion.

Sexualization of childhood isn’t only about pedophiles.

But it has EVERYTHING to do with our kids’ healthy emotional development around gender, sexuality, body image, beauty, and self esteem.


(For those who want a crash course about the process of sexualization, what the four criteria are, and how it harms our children, go here.)

I saw numerous comments here and around the web in response to my post that questioned the validity of the show based on if sexual predators would see these girls. Whether or not that happens is certainly of some importance, but the emotional and physical health of these girls is the primary concern. Sexualization slides the bar of taboo around children and sex, but if the conversation moves to “pedophiles might see them” and “this feeds pedophilia”, we unintentionally objectify the VERY girls we are trying to protect. We take away our girls’ agency when we shift focus off of them and  onto the possibility of an outside party’s actions.  Our primary concern is what is happening to the minds and bodies of these girls in the present, what might or might not happen in the future is secondary.

I absolutely care about the victims of child sexual abuse, and with rational caution am wary of sexual predators, but that is a post for another day.

Child beauty pageants may be atrocious and offensive, but they are not child pornography. They do not fall under the legal definition, and to describe them as such undermines the potency and heinousness of real child pornography and the victims it affects. Whether or not the actions of some of these parents are cases of child abuse would vary from state to state and the statutes that govern that jurisdiction. Both claims need to carry a heavy weight of social condemnation with them, and should not be tossed around lightly.

I want to thank everyone who left comments on the blog yesterday, in social media circles where this post was widely shared, and in emails I received. Clearly the topic of children, specifically girls, participating in beauty pageants is a hot button issue.  The protection of our daughters’ right to a girlhood is a passionate issue for me, and I am touched that there are many, many people out there who are equally caring. The post and call to action came from a need for our society to curb the epidemic of the highly sexualized media and marketplace that surround and harm our children.