A Family of Wild Hearted Girls

Ninety years ago an infant girl lay wrapped in blankets to keep out the chill from early winter in Connecticut. A girl born in 1920 would have seen a much different world than we do today. There would have been different expectations and allowances made to a girl of that time. But not this girl, with her deep blue eyes and rich brown hair, born to Scottish-Sweedish parents who had made their way from New York City to Connecticut to raise their new family. This girl was allowed to live from the wild heart that beat inside her chest. This girl would be sent to school to learn reading, writing, art, and history. She always listened to classical music and show tunes. She would fall in love with art, but prided herself on being a tomboy, climbing trees and balancing across logs. Her sense of adventure was great and lasted the length of her life. In high school she made the local paper for her strong swimming skills….when she and her girlfriends were caught skinny dipping in the river. She was beautiful and intelligent, and it was those shining deep blue eyes that let you see right through to her heart.

It is hard to tame a girl with a wild heart, not even the Great Depression nor the World War she sent her husband to could settle her. As I type I look at her wedding picture, sometime around 1942 or so, and she is beaming as she stands next to her love in his Navy uniform. She raised babies and lost babies and saw six grandchildren and five great grandchildren come into the world. Over time she had hurts, and she wasn’t as nice to everyone as she was to me.

But I was her raven-haired, dark eyed grandchild who inherited her wild heart. Not many people saw my grandmother the way I did, but to me, she was a queen. I was her untamed girl, and I hold not a single doubt that she favored me and spoiled me. I would tear into her house, chest heaving from burning across the front yard as my brothers and I raced home from the park, breathless with leaves in my hair, holding my hand out for a cup of water. Maybe it was that she sympathsized with me as being the eldest child, but I cannot recall a single time when she told me to ‘act like a lady’ or became angry with me for behaving like a hooligan with my younger brothers. Not the time we let the dog, covered with mud, into her house and onto the cream-colored Oriental rug. Not the time we melted Lego men all over her marble fireplace, or tromped through the house covered in wet sand from the river bank. Not the time I got gum stuck in my hair, or knocked a framed picture from the wall while wrestling with my brothers. Not the time we got marbles stuck in the track of her sliding glass door, or lost a golf club in the neighbor’s yard while hitting balls into the trees that led down to the river. And certainly not the time she was babysitting while my parents were on a trip and my brothers and I dug up the backyard as we constructed an 18 hole miniature golf course.  

She taught me life is a time to see and feel beauty. She taught me to see the beauty in things, and that the most beautiful parts of life are not things. She taught me when you hug a person, really squeeze them so they can feel your love. Oh my word could that woman squeeze you. Perhaps it was all those years of rose gardening, but her arms were freakishly strong, even as an old woman. She taught me when you laugh, to toss your head back and really let it out. And if the moment was a really good one, to clasp your hands and truly bring in that joy. She taught us to travel the world. She taught me that when family comes over for a meal, fill the table with as much food as it can hold, and feed them until they wave their napkins in surrender.

My grandmother honored my imagination, that most precious gift children have. As a girl, I was obsessed with unicorns. I truly believed if I wished hard enough, one would appear and it would be mine. I would tell my grandma my daydreams when I visited her, usually when we were in the kitchen while she cooked, or curled on the sofa by the fire. I would write down my stories and mail them to her. When we would stay at her house during the holidays, I would sleep in the far back bedroom, the Princess Bedroom. She would lay on the bed to tuck me in, telling me only true princesses can see unicorns. She and I would tell stories together, and then she would hum Brahm’s lullaby and I would drift off to sleep. One year for Christmas she gave me a book she had written and illustrated about a unicorn who saves a village from a horrible serpent. When my grandmother would travel to Europe, she would often bring me a doll from whatever country she had been visiting. But my favorite gift was a little blue tin that had the most majestic unicorn painted on the lid. What I loved most about the tin was that it allowed me to store my little childhood secrets – a ring, a sea shell, a locket…all those things little girls pick up and turn into treasure. I think my grandma knew this, as she always fed my imagination.

Most importantly, my grandmother taught me that I was beautiful. I’m not sure whether or not I was a beautiful child, but because of my grandmother, I felt like I was. I suppose I really never gave it much thought until I was about ten years old or so. I know that was the year I finally, voluntarily, brushed my hair. My wavy black hair my grandmother used to braid so tightly my eyelids would peel back and I could feel my forehead stretch when I chewed. She would comment on my widow’s peak and high cheek bones, saying that I was her Black Irish girl and reminded her of family in Northern Ireland. I’m not even sure if that is true, or if she was just allowing me to feel mysterious. She would grab my face and let out an “Oh!” that almost sounded like the beginning of a prayer, and she would tell me how gorgeous I was. She never told me what to do with my beauty, like “Oh! You’ll be a heartbreaker” or those kind of useless things, she would just simply comment on the beauty she saw and we would sit in that moment. That is what I treasure most about my memory of her, is giving me that knowledge that I was beautiful and could be beautiful for myself. I didn’t have to do anything with it or do anything for anybody, I could be my own beautiful creature. In the presense of my grandmother, I felt exquisite. That is a rare thing for a girl to feel, and feel it so assuredly. The legacy she left for me: that my beauty is mine and I am my own.

I now have my own raven-haired, wild hearted girl. Like her great-grandmother, my child loves art and reading and the water. She loves to be a hooligan with her own little brother. This child’s imagination is so rich you can see it in the air, dancing out of her head when she thinks and speaks. And oh, is this child gorgeous! Her great-grandmother would be so proud of her. My grandmother, my beloved Grandma Jean, allowed me to be a girl in the fullness that a girl should be allowed. This is a truth I fiercely protect for my own girl.

My grandmother, Jean Russel McAuley Marriott, passed away last night, holding my mother’s hand. She was 90 years old, our final grandparent, the last of her amazing generation.

Her last word spoken was, “Wonderful”. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Jean McAuley, 1920-2010. Our wild hearted girl.

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It would mean a lot to me if you would share something beautiful your grandmother taught you, or left as a legacy for your family.

Your Royal Highness

I don’ t mind the concpet of “princess” within girlhood. I mind when it is obectified and sexualized. We hosted two playdates in the last couple of days during which the little ladies turned themsevles into princesses. Princesses full of imagination and childhood sweetness? I can handle that.

Our house is Disney Princess free except for a Snow White book from when I was a kid. I’m not anti-Disney. For the most part. My shark/dolphin/puzzle/dinosaur/Dr. Seuss/art loving daughter would rather be playing outside with the dogs or reading books than playing princess. But every once in awhile she does enjoy it and since childhood should be rich in experiences, we play “princess”. She is certainly quickly learning that to be social with her little girlfriends, she has to understand “princess culture”.

We don’t have plastic kitten heels with feathers for her, we don’t have a tiara, we don’t have a princess vanity.  She does have play jewelry and barely-there play make-up, a drawer full of dressup clothes, ballet slippers and tutus. If she wants to play princess, I’m okay with that, as long as she wants to play ten other things during the week. But she won’t play Disney’s version of princess, or dress up with pre-conceived notions of how a princess should look. Or act. Or weigh.

Here’s how we do “princess” at our house:

The girls dressed up as "Spider Princesses", which involves running around and screaming. A lot. And very loudly.

 

The "Wedding Princesses", who took turns asking my husband to be their "wedding boy" and held multiple weddings with a 20minutes period.

My Childhood Was Full of Childhood

{Guest Post by Kristel Gillies}

Being not only the youngest but also the only daughter of my dad’s four children one might think I grew up spoiled… doted on and showered with all things pink and frilly, treated with kid gloves and always made to feel as though I was different.

One might think wrong.

Instead, I grew up not knowing I was different at all.  I romped through fields with my brother, dug holes with the neighbour’s boy and put grasshoppers in my pocket… only to find them months later, having been too busy climbing trees, fences and hay bales to perform the critical task of removing them from their new home.

I was, quite simply, ‘one of the boys’.

And although I may have been, by today’s standards, a tomboy I was still a girlie girl.  I screamed upon finding grasshopper corpses and I loved my shiny shoes and pretty dresses… they just got rather scuffed and dirty when playing kick the can and hide-and-go-seek.  I even had a Barbie.  But I found her boring.  After all, she only had one friend, Ken, back in those days and his hair didn’t even move.   Barbie, herself, didn’t seem very practical.  Any time I attempted to do anything fun with the blonde-haired bombshell, like playing in the snow or partaking in a bath, her limbs would fall off, her torso would fill with water and her endless array of ball gowns and mini-skirts left little to the imagination when on a ski jump or diving board.

Guest post author Kristel Gillies, age 4

While Barbie may not have been my favourite I just so happened to be the Angelina Jolie of my generation.  Having adopted six Cabbage Patch Kids, my ‘children’ were the spitting image of their momma… adorned in grass-stained overalls and pace-setters (hey, it was the 80’s) so we could easily navigate farmer’s fields, city lots and everything in between.  And if we lost a shoe (or two) in a muddy puddle so be it, at least we had the good sense to take a mid-day break so I could grab a snack and Adrienne Lulu (not the greatest Cabbage Patch name for a child with a speech impediment) could take a siesta in the deep freeze, allowing her melted face a chance to re-harden after a long summer day of playing outside with the best toy ever invented…. imagination.

Back in those days there was no Hannah Montana.  Instead, I used my Fisher Price record player to rock out to the Mini-Pops, all of whom were fully clothed and provided clean-cut, non-sexual entertainment. LEGOS were the same for girls as they were for boys with shades of blue, red, yellow, white, green and black and nary a pink, fuchsia, magenta or rose to be seen.   And when I built a LEGO house I wasn’t told that woman belonged in the kitchen or it was lacking a walk-in closet.  Instead, I was complimented me on my craftsmanship and told that I might grow up to become an architect.

From thereon in I drew blue prints before creating my abodes.

"I’m glad the world I grew up in was painted every shade of the rainbow.."

Back in my day LEGO sets weren’t segregated between equestrian stables and Indiana Jones; pre-fabbed dream homes (which, frankly, pale in comparison to my own) and pirate ships.  I had the same sets as the boys (and girls!) in my class and my room was full of hospitals, airports, gas stations and, my favourite, space stations.  My LEGO men (and women!) were doctors and pilots; mechanics and astronauts.  And I grew up believing I could be those things too.

The lessons I learned growing up were no different from that of my brothers.  I learnt about camping, carpentry and oil changes instead of makeup, hair and flirting.  That’s not to say I didn’t teach myself those lessons later in life, when they were actually age-appropriate but, instead, my childhood was full of… well, childhood.   Somehow I don’t think it would have been the same had I been in an apron instead of safety goggles, if I had been told “don’t mess your hair” instead of “go outside and play” and had I been reprimanded for bending my bike tire instead of being taught to accelerate through corners when going so fast.

I’m glad the world I grew up in was painted every shade of the rainbow, instead of just blue and pink.  Not just for myself but also for my brother (because even boys should be given the opportunity to love a good doll or two!).  And while the world may have become a place where everything is gender specific mine sure hasn’t… last Christmas I got what every strong, independent and resourceful woman needs… a compound mitre saw, 2 blowtorches (because, frankly, one is never enough), bubble bath and the special wedding edition of Sex and the City movie.  After all, I’m still that same little girl…  I love my skirts, I just tuck them between my knees as I ride my scooter alongside all the Harley’s and sport bikes.  And, no, I may not be the astronaut I had once hoped to become but it’s never too late.  After all, I did get a Physics degree. And while I do perform my own oil changes I’m always very careful not to ruin my nails.

Yes, I may have been one of the boys but I was also a girlie girl.  And it was, quite frankly, the best of both worlds.  And it is the only world each and every little girl deserves.

No less and definitely much, much more.