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

Yes! I Am Beautiful

“Be bold in thought. Be kind with words. Be meaningful through actions.” -Melissa Atkins Wardy, to the young women and girls on the internet.

Last week news channels and parent blogs were abuzz with the story of tween/teen girls posting “Am I Ugly” videos on You Tube for strangers to comment on. It was difficult to watch the young girls give away their power, as my friend, author, and girl expert Deborah Reber explains in her post. We want to see girls using social media for good, like this video from our friends at New Moon Girls.

As adults, as mothers and aunties and grandmothers and sisters and friends, we need to encourage these girls to act with more meaning. I think back to all of the activities I did in high school with my friends – sports, band, choir, cheerleading, writing for the school paper, Student Council, hanging out at the beach or basketball courts….not once, NOT ONCE, did it ever occur to us to stop what we were doing and ask strangers if they thought we were ugly.

Social media has changed the world for kids, and women need to mentor younger girls on how harness to power of social media for good, like my rock star of a gal pal Emily Anne does with We Stop Hate. Other young women have launched game-changer campaigns like Lindsay and Lexie Kite from Beauty Redefined, or the teens from Powered By Girl (PBG) who use satire and humor to critique the awful marketing messages girls take in. These are ladies who recognized their power, and run with it.

Let’s raise our girls that instead of asking strangers to tell you if you are ugly, they self-confidence to go to the people who love and care about them, and ask them to tell the ways you are beautiful. Let’s show our girls that beauty quickly goes past pretty hair and sparkly eyes, and gets right to the soul of who they are. And who they are is beautiful, if they allow her to be.

We’re going to keep updating the Pigtail Pals and New Moon Girl You Tube channels with videos submitted by you, reinforcing to girls that they are beautiful and to look deeper for their authentic self.
Encourage your kids to make videos, too! I like this video from Pigtail Pals Community Member Kate G. who celebrates the beautiful people in her life.  

Submit videos to info@pigtailpals.com.

DC Cabbies Make Great Daisy Scouts

Amelia and I are in Washington DC for a Girls Weekend to visit museums, meet my new niece, and attend my best friend’s baby shower.We are having a grand time. Last night we were standing on the corner of 16th and Corcoran hugging my best friend and her mom and saying our goodbyes. We hailed a cab, and thought we were headed home.

“Falls Church, please. We’ll be paying by card,” I said as the cabbie began to pull away from the curb.

“Oh no, that is a bad problem. I cannot take cards,” the Cabbie said in a thick Western African accent.

“I know you don’t want to take a card, but I don’t have enough cash and I know you have to take my card.” Me

“It is impossible, the machine is not hooked up. But I will do you a favor. It is late and too cold for your little one to be walking. I will drive you a couple of blocks to M Street. It will be easier for you to find a cab there.” Cabbie

“What’s going on, Mama?” Amelia asks, a bit bummed her first cab ride isn’t going according to plan.

“Remember when Auntie Courtney said the cabs don’t like to take credit cards here? Well, we just need to find the right cab,” I say. Surely we’ll be able to find that one cab in all of Dupont Circle that will take my card.

I had forgotten that DC is one of the few cities where paying a cab by card is not easily done, and at 10pm I thought is was a bit late to be riding the Metro with six year old Amelia. On the way to M Street, the cabbie is listening to the radio and Newt Gingrich is speaking, fresh off the win in South Carolina. The cabbie is making hilarious comments to what he is hearing, and our failed cab ride was actually pretty enjoyable. We arrive at the busy corner of M Street and 18th.

“We are here. You look for Yellow Cab. They take credit cards. You will have no problems. Probably,” says the Cabbie.

I’m groaning inside my head, because I know there is no way Amelia and I are going to hail a cab that takes a card. I figure we can walk into one of the nearby hotels, explain our situation, and have the concierge call the right cab for us.

“Okay. Thank you. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this so my daughter could warm up. You didn’t turn your meter on, but please take this. For your time and your kindness,” I say as I hold out a few small bills.

“No Ma’am. It is no problem. No need to pay,” the cabbie waves off my money.

“Please, I insist. You never turned your meter on. For your time, at the very least,” I say, moving my hand closer to him. I feel badly he just drove us eight blocks for no fare.

“No Ma’am. It is fine. You and the little one enjoy your visit and have no worries. I am happy to be kind,” says the cabbie with a big smile on his face.

“Hey Mister!” Amelia pipes up, “You showed kindness and caring. Good job! You’d make a great Daisy Scout!”

I stifle a snort and let this settle in with the cabbie. He looks at me, thoroughly confused. I didn’t think Amelia was able to understand him through his thick African accent, but she had caught every word.

“What is this thing? A Daisy Scout?” he asks, and all three of us start laughing.

“We are nice girls who show kindness, caring, friendship, and love. And we get to sing songs and sell cookies,” explains Amelia.

“I like cookies. I will be this Daisy Scout with you,” says the cabbie, and I put out my hand to shake his hand.

“You are extremely kind. Thank you so much, Sir,” I say as he and Amelia high five and we exit the cab.

But now we’re standing on the corner of M Street and 18th, on the side of Dupont Circle I always get lost in, and it is cold and dark. I’m looking up at street signs and don’t notice Amelia has left my side to tap dance in her red sparkle shoes for two pan handlers sitting behind us. They are clapping and smiling at her.

“Smalls! Stay next to me. We need to find a hotel or another cab.” Me

“Mom, these guys like my shoes! I’ll get a cab!” Amelia had eaten a piece of leftover baby shower cake at my best friend’s apartment right before we left, and the sugar in the gobs of icing she consumed were kicking in.

Then I watched as my little six year old girl shook and shimmied her way to the corner, threw up her arm, stamped her foot twice, and literally hailed a cab by herself. The cabbie was laughing when he pulled up to us.

“Falls Church, by credit card?” Four cabs, four stories – it cannot be done, the credit card machine was not hooked up. Okay, I think to myself, this just isn’t going to work. We’ll just take the train. It was only 10:15pm, we’d be safe and fine. There would be lots of people on the platforms. Except this is the side of Dupont Circle I always get lost in, and I have a six year old with me and it is dark. I need to find someone to ask where the nearest Metro is, and try not to get mugged because I clearly look like a stupid tourist now.

“Hey Smalls, Mommy made a mistake about the cabs. Change of plans, we’re gonna take the train.”

“S’cuse me, Ma’am, do you need help finding a cab?” one of the pan handlers that Amelia had been tap dancing for had walked over to us.

“Hi. Well, I was hoping to take a cab, but apparently DC cabs don’t take cards, so….I think we’re SOL. Say, is there a Metro near here?” I’m trying to make my brain remember this side of the circle, and which way we should be walking.

“Yeah! The Farragut North station is just a block that way on Connecticut. The Blue Line,” the guy is still chuckling at Amelia, who is now doing some weird crab dance for a group of drunk college kids who are cheering her on.

“Thanks, you are very helpful. I really appreciate your kindness,” and I try to offer him the bills I had tried to offer the cabbie.

“You can be a Daisy Scout, too! Woo hoo!” Amelia is in full sugar high mode right now.

“Ah naw, Ma’am. Y’all just have a blessed night,” he says, pushing my money away.  “High five, little dancer girl!” Amelia high fives the pan handler, I smile at him, and we wait for the light to change.

We walk to the Metro station, Amelia dancing and shaking and skipping and hollering the whole time.

“Mom,” she says, as we approach the top of the escalator,”You should stop giving people money for their kindness. Just let them be nice. WOOHOO HOO HOO!!”

“You may be right, Smalls. You may be right.”

“ON THE LEFT!” Amelia shouts as she fist pumps the air and charges down the escalator.

Funny, I brought Amelia on this Girl Trip to widen her world and give her new experiences. Seems it is I that is learning from her.

*image from pulsarwallpapers.com*

Tings Will Be Tings: Camp, Courage, and Media

Me, circa 1983, preparing to jump.

I remember this moment, when this photo was taken. I was five years old and taking summer swim lessons at the YMCA. I remember the way the end of the diving board felt on my toes. I remember my tummy feeling like butterflies, and my dad calling out from the side of the pool to jump. I remember how far away the water looked. And I totally remember the free-fall feeling when I launched myself off of that board.

My daughter is now the age I was in that photo, and she is going through a phase where she is scared of a lot. I struggle sometimes with parenting a child who is right now frightened by nearly everything because somewhere coded in my DNA is a gene to be fearless. She says she hears creepy noises all over our old house, and her little brother acts as her body guard and goes everywhere with her. She is scared to sleep alone, so she is bunking in his room. She is scared of the dark. She is scared of ghosts. She is scared of vultures. She is scared of new foods. She is scared of Kindergarten Camp. Which is why she was up until well after 10pm last night fretting and frighting over this morning’s events.

“Mom, what if teacher doesn’t like me?” -Amelia

“My Babes, she is a kindergarten teacher. She likes all little kids, especially you.” -Me

“What if she screams at me if I mess up or don’t know the rules?” -Amelia

“I can understand why that seems really scary, but Honey, Teacher will explain the rules to you. And she wouldn’t scream at you if you mess something up. It is okay when we make mistakes.” -Me

“What if the kids don’t like me?” -Amelia, her voice growing very small and quiet.

“I remember feeling that way on the first day of school. That is a scary feeling. I always made new friends and had fun, and I think you will, too.” -Me

“Well, what if they don’t know about whales and they think whales have vertical tails and have gills or, or, or, are OMNIVORES!?!” -Amelia, who now has worked herself into hysterics.

“Okay, well, you could wear your orca shirt, and that way, if you meet a new friend who doesn’t know about whales, you could show them and talk to them about what you know about whales.” -Me

“Nam, it will be otay. You will make friends.” -Benny, the little brother.

“Amelia, Caleb and Keegan will be in class with you and I think you will have a really great time, just like at preschool.” -Me

“What if no other girls have a science brain like me?” -Amelia

“Well, surely another girl will have a science brain. But if not, maybe a new friend will have a music brain or an art brain, and you two could be friends and learn new stuff from each other.” -Me

“Yeah, like about Spidermans.” -Benny

“Well, I just need to think about it.” -Amelia

“My Babes, you can think about it and ask me more questions if they come up. I want you to remember all the way back when you started preschool. You were nervous then, too. But you got through the first day and you loved it there. Kindergarten Camp will be the same. I feel really confident you will have a super time.” -Me

“Nam, it will be otay. Tings will be tings.” -Benny

And you know? Ol’ Benny Boy is right. Things will be things. Life will hand us ups and downs, and you have to know how to adjust your sails.Despite the little plastic whale tucked into her shorts pocket, the orca t-shirt, and photo of her and I that I taped to a piece of paper and tucked in her bag, things will be things and she will have to face unknown situations in life. I have to let go little bit by little bit now, so she has experiences she can draw upon as she gets older and the stakes get bigger. She’ll need to develop her confidence and find her own voice. She’ll need to know she might fail when she tries something new. She needs to know the possibility of failure should never stop her from trying.    

Her personality is so very much different from mine, and I often have to remind myself that not everyone in life will scream at and charge the wolf when it steps into your path. I have learned that Amelia has a comfort zone that takes about 45 minutes to set in. I want her to be that kid that stands confidently, is a natural leader, and walks fearlessy through life. But she isn’t that person right now, and I just need to give her time. I need to respect how she sees the world, and remember what it was like to be 5 years old and everything was new.

Inside, I am nervous for her. My “mom voice” inside, the one that sees her as so tiny and the new school so big, the voice that sees her as my heart walking around outside of my body, that voice says What if she gets made fun of while going potty because she has Spiderman underwear on? What if some kid notices her orca shirt is from the boys side of Old Navy and teases her? Doesn’t that little shit understand they don’t make orca shirts for girls? What if none of the other girls like her? What if and what if and what if. Then my Melissa voice chimes in, and reasons that the kids will be nice, the teacher will help her, and her orca shirt will be a big hit. And who wouldn’t like Spiderman underwear?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I picked her up at the end of her camp day, she ran to me for a big hug.

“Smalls! How was it? Did you have so much fun?” -Me, covering her in kisses she is just as quickly wiping off.

“Mom, at first I was scared, but then I knew to be brave. Just like when you showed me.” -Amelia

“Yeah! Woo! HOO! High five, Smalls!” -Me

“I didn’t even need my little orca or your picture in my bag. I just remembered how to be brave.” -Amelia

“Alright! How did you know how to be brave?” -Me

“From the little movie you showed me. Just take two steps back, then go forward. That’s just how to do it. See ya!” -Amelia

She ran off to the playground, and I teared up. I understood what she was talking about, and it reinforced to me how much our kids soak up, and why we need to fill their lives with the good stuff. I’m talking about media, and why we need more powerful girls media. Last week when I found this advertisement, Amelia and I watched it seven or eight times in a row, and we talked about what the girls were doing. I told her it is okay to be frightened by something, but that you still had to step forward. Things will be things, and our girls need a deep reservoir of lessons, images, messages that show them they can be strong and daring.

We need more and more and more and even more positive girl media, so that it isn’t just my little girl or your little girl that are taught to step forward, but a generation of girls, ready to take on the world.

It is in the stepping forward that we make the stories of a life well lived.

“Generations of Women, Finding Beauty Among Themselves”

A couple of days ago I shared this post with you from our guest Lee Skallerup Bessette. In some very moving passages she shared with us how easily a legacy of self-loathing and insecurity can be passed down between generations, and how she is determined to give her own young daughter healthier, more loving messages.

I don’t know what kind of woman society will value when my daughter is a teen ten years from now. I do know that I have to somehow figure out how to love myself. Everything that I saw, everything that I still see as a fault, I have to learn how to embrace it as a strength rather than a liability.  I already think that she is perfect in every way, and that won’t really change. If I want her to see herself that way, too, I can’t just tell her, I need to model it for her. That way, maybe I can break the cycle of women who see perfection all around themselves and never in themselves.

I am the mother to a daughter just a little older than Lee’s, and her words above made me teary. I hear and see too many women and girls out there that do not love themselves. I see it online, I hear it when I talk to girls, I read about it over and over again, I see it when the women in my fitness classes are self-conscious about their bodies, I hear it when my girlfriends talk about weightloss and dieting. It boggles my mind how controlling this is in our lives.

I love and appreciate my body. I am grateful for my health and my strength and my curves and my softness. I have muscle in the places I want it and softness in the places that show I am a woman who has had two children. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a beautiful woman looking back. I accept my entire body, even the places that would be considered “flaws”. Yes my former flat stomach is gone, and in its place is stretched out skin from when I was full with my children. I suppose I could give time to thinking about this, but I am too breathless at the magnificence of the two human beings my body made from scratch to really notice. I have defined beauty on my own terms.

Mothers have the responsibility to teach their daughters their own definition of beauty. Beauty is something WE own. Beauty is something WE give life to. Beauty is something WE create inside each of our familes, around each of our circles of women. It is not something that can be sold to us or packaged or photoshopped or glued to a billboard. It is OUR responsibility to not only define beauty on our own terms, but to then teach it to our daughters.

Recently my good friend and life coach Andrea Owen put forth a question to her Facebook community, “If you could have one wish this holiday season for a specific group of people, what would it be?” The asnwers given by such warm and caring people moved me. My answer: “For all of the girls out there who are insecure, unloved, and full of self-loathing to understand they are more beautiful than they will ever know.”

That is my wish. A girl’s heart is not meant to be beaten down and twisted and starved so that the companies who sell us things can turn a profit from this culture of insecurity they have manufactured. Each girl is born with a heart that is open to the joy and awe this world can bring to those willing to see it. As mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, grandmothers, and mentors, it is our job to protect the hearts of our daugthers. The health and happiness of the girls in this world rests on the shoulders of the women who care for them.

As the heads of our families, women need to define beauty on their own terms. All of our families are different, but each is beautiful. Each family has traits and physical features that repeat themselves with each generation of girls born to them. We honor our daughters by giving them a legacy of loving these traits and teaching these as the definition of beauty.

This time of year, when families from all over come together to celebrate various holidays and traditions, create a culture of beauty inside your own family:

  • Review old family photo albums and show your daughter how she looks like grandma and grandma looks like great-grandma, and share stories about their lives.
  • Spend time laughing and talking and sitting and playing and cooking and sharing with each other. The face is most beautiful when smiling. Create smiles.
  • Play dress up and take silly pictures. Sillyness looks beautiful on everyone.
  • Make time for family traditions, as your daughter will pass these down to her family some day.
  • Sing. Dance. Sing and dance. Dance, dance, dance.
  • Play flag football or shoot hoops or go sledding or ice skating. Show your daughter the joy of what her body can do.
  • For little girls, color or finger paint self-portraits or family portraits. If she is old enough, ask her to say three nice things about each woman and help her write them by each likeness.
  • For older girls, find a special dish or vase and fill it with little scraps of paper upon which you have written things and people and actions and places you find beauty in.
  • For adopted girls who may not share physical family traits, create a piece of art in silouhette, filling the form with wishes or funny family jokes or words that reflect her character. Family isn’t about genes, it is about heartbeats.
  • As a whole family, use ribbon and noodles and markers and colored paper (or scraps of wrapping paper) and whatever art supplies you can find to create self-portraits or collages with verse about what beauty means to your family.

We live in a culture that focuses on physical beauty. Our collective definition of beauty and those that fit inside of it needs to be expanded. As mothers, we need to take back the control over the messages that reach our daughters. If each of our daughters came from a family that had defined their own beauty and taught that to her, well oh my goodness. My wish would come true.