Warts and all Mom, warts and all

My mom died this past week.  First thought: now there’s no one between me and the abyss.  Third or fourth thought: sure there is.  Because I’m lucky enough to have a family.

Here’s the eulogy I gave at her graveside. 

If my mother was sitting here, she would be saying “for heaven’s sake Charlotte, sit down.” Our 93-year-old mother had very concise thoughts on when to speak and when to be quiet. Tough old bird she was – she mowed her lawn on the day before she died and I’m willing to bet every bird feeder was full. So while I’m willing to let her go, her 93 years on this earth deserve our recognition.

Christine i-n-e or Christene e-n-e –was a living, breathing dichotomy. We were never sure how she was going to spell her name or which way was right – something that has been very apparent lately. I suspect she would have said “it’s none of your damn business.”

Smart as a whip she was, she grew up as a farm girl. With six sisters and one brother, she worked on the farm and was as strong and capable as any man. The physical strength she developed as a kid carried her body through a lifetime of hard work and giving birth to six children of her own; and while she had to have repairs and replacement parts, she was straight and strong until the day she died.

Her life wasn’t a fairy tale by any means. Hard work was her constant companion. What was in her heart few if any ever really knew because she guarded it like a sentinel. While keeping her own counsel, however, she made a home and a garden wherever she was.

She told us stories of her life when she left the farm and married our dad, who was dispatched to Germany soon after the wedding. She and her baby, our brother Larry, lived in an apartment and she baked bread for the neighbors and took in laundry to support them. I believe this was the happiest time of her life – I know she looked back on it as a time she was independent and free and she always spoke of it gently.

After World War II, there were three more little boys in quick succession. There is no doubt that it was those four little faces that sustained her through building a life. Howard, Ricky and Robert . . . and eleven years after that me and four years later John. She had children in the house most of her adult life.

In the late 1960s she sent two of her sons to Vietnam. Every morning while they were gone, she sat at a table away from the hubbub of the house and she wrote to them. She marked the days with her letters and she did what she knew how to do – she sent cookies to them on the other side of the world.

Mother was never comfortable with crowds and things like weddings and anniversaries and parties were never her cup of tea. She was happiest in her yard, among her flowers and berries and gardens and the birds.

Summertime was always a bounty in her home. The woman could take a handful of lard and bowl of flour and make a piecrust that truly did melt in your mouth. I never saw her use a recipe – or as she would have said – a receipt. Apple pie, cherry, berry, pumpkin pie . . . and something she called “poor man’s pie.” The leftover crust was always spread with butter, cinnamon and sugar and may have been the best thing I ever ate.

Not much of a television watcher, she did tune in to Ruth Lyons 50/50 club every day as she ironed and after that As The World Turns. Every day. The only other thing I ever saw her watch on television was college basketball and “her Buckeyes.” Woe be to the hapless kid who got between her and the game.

Mother loved cars. Pretty cars, fast cars . . . whenever anyone in the family had a new car, they drove it home to show her. She watched racing on television and had her favorite drivers. One year, I took her to Mid-Ohio to see the races. To my utter astonishment, she walked right up to Mario Andretti in the pit garage. He gave her a huge smile, put his arm around her and said “well hello Sweetheart and they walked in to look at his racer, leaving me standing there utterly bemused.

Later in her life there was more time for her. As the burden of raising us eased and grandchildren came, she was able to find time to enjoy life more. Always an avid crochet and knit expert, she made baby blankets and quilts and more with precise, beautiful stitches. Even when arthritis claimed her hands, she would wash dishes to warm them up and pick up her latest project. Always a reader, she loved the work of Zane Grey and read everything she could find. I know it made her heart happy that my nephew, Terry, is a cowboy. She went on bus trips with our Aunt Mary and also with her friend Joy. She joined her grandchildren on vacations. With them she saw the mountains and the ocean for the first time. I’m sure the only reason she ever stepped on an airplane was because Toni lived in California. You’ll do just about anything for your grandchildren.

There aren’t a lot of photographs of mom, but the best ones are with her grand- and great-grand children. In those photos you see her smiling. She loved her grandchildren more than even they know. And she loved babies. Never cared much for dogs and cats . . . but she did love babies.

She would not have tolerated being called a feminist. She was pretty hard on women – just ask her granddaughters. One of the dearest things that I ever saw, however, was when she – in her mid 80s – was having her shoulders replaced. More than they will ever know, she relied on Keri’s expertise as a physician to guide her to a surgeon and when she struggled in recovery, it was Beth, a speech therapist, who patiently taught her what she needed to know to recover.

While she kept vigil over her own heart, however, it is a testament to what she held there that despite her shortcomings and the myriad challenges she faced and hardships endured, she brought good people into the world. Hard-working, loving, dedicated and intelligent children who grew to bring in the next and the next generation and have sustained them and cared for them. She gave each of us a measure of strength and determination that binds us together as a family despite our own faults. She loved each and every one of us – differently to be sure. My mother rarely, if ever, could say “I love you” to anyone. Not with words. But she raised people who could and who do. So now it’s time for us to say good job, mom. Love you.

Grandma This, Babe – Reprint from Skirt! 2010

O.M.G.  You do NOT ask a woman if she’s pregnant and you do NOT say, “Is this your grand daughter?”  I’ve had both happen to me.  In the case of the pregnancy question, I uttered “no, just fat” and ran out of the store in tears.

Not so much with the Grandma comment.

It happened yesterday in the church nave.  As I was kidding around with my 14-year-old daughter and two of her friends, a kindly looking older woman walked up and said, “are these your grand daughters?”  It was almost worth it to see the looks on the girls’ faces.

Having grown and matured since the preggie comment – and since I was in church – I said “this is my daughter and her friends.”  Knowing that she had to talk around the big old shoe in her mouth, the older woman said “Oh.  She’s lovely.”  Then hot-footed it out of there.

The girls in question took a moment to recover from their horror and then one of them said, “gee, you don’t look that bad.”  I informed them that silence was a virtue.

So I’m 40 years older than my daughter.  Through years of growing up, restlessness, college, horrendous mistakes and some ill-advised behavior, I insisted that I didn’t want to be a mother.  That was followed by more years of infertility treatments, the big “try” sex thing and wishing that I could be a mother.

At 40, it all came together with the adoption of the World’s Most Perfect Daughter.  How do I know she’s all that and a cup of soup?  When I brought up the “thing” yesterday and told her that 2011 was the year for cosmetic surgery so no one would mistake me for her grandmother, the WMPD said, “that’s silly, mom.  Everyone gets older.”

I love that kid.

My Teenager – My Facebook Friend. Reprint from Skirt! 2010

Sure, honey, you can have a Facebook account — but you have to friend me.

“NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)– According to Kaplan Test Prep’s latest survey* on social networking trends and practices among today’s teens, 35% of teens whose parents are on Facebook report that they are actually not online friends with them. Of that group, 38% say the reason they are not friends is because they’ve ignored mom or dad’s friend request.

. . . “Although for generations high school students have come to accept and even embrace their parents’ involvement in their academic work and the college admissions process, Facebook continues to be the new frontier in the ever evolving relationship between parent and child,” said Kristen Campbell, executive director, college prep programs, Kaplan Test Prep. “When a teen ignores a parent’s friend request, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hiding something, but it could mean that this is one particular part of their life where they want to exert their independence. Alternatively, some parents and their children may actually mutually decide to keep their Facebook lives private from one another.”

Other key Kaplan Test Prep survey results:

  • 16% of teens who are friends with their parents on Facebook report that being friends with them was a pre-condition for being allowed to create their own profile.”

Well, yeah, Baby . . . let’s think this out.  She wants to go on Facebook to communicate with her friends, post pictures of them doing things together and in general, be cool.  Same reason I’m on Facebook.  But really, now, would she still be on the social networking site if I didn’t approve her privacy settings and she didn’t “friend” me in?  Uh, no.

If Princess-and-the-pea wants to communicate “privately” with her pals, they need to do it nose-to-nose snuggled down in the pillows at 2:00 a.m. during a sleepover.

Her on-line life, safety and reputation are a reality unlike any we faced as children.  Employers are increasingly asking for Facebook URLs and personal websites.  One mistake can live forever on the internet – Google never forgets.  So to that end, I’m going to shepherd her online activities the same way I shepherd her daily activities.  We don’t talk to strangers, we only say things we are proud of and we don’t do anything we wouldn’t do in front of mom.  Don’t like the rules?  Don’t do the activity.  It all seems so simple to me.

The Sweet Freedom of Driving Mom Insane 2010

The bumper sticker said “It’s 4:00.  The children are alive.  My work here is done.”

I have never forgotten that bit of vehicle wisdom.  My approach to motherhood is based on that — perhaps my approach to life.  She’s such an easy kid, this joy of my being . . . all I have to do is keep her alive.  Despite her best efforts.

Easter Sunday afternoon.  One of the first nice days of a soggy spring.  My 14-year-old daughter is a goddess as proclaimed by her nine – yep count ’em – nine second cousins.  It’s complicated.  But she’s the oldest of the pack and such a cool girl.  The little girls are in awe, the little boys are smitten.  They laugh, they play, they hang on her every word.  “I want to sit by her!”  “I saved you a seat!”  “But I wanted to sit with her!”  They eat what she eats.  They hang on her arms.  She is the Pied Piper of the backyard egg hunt.  Mommy is so proud honey, that you’re growing into such a lovely young woman.  So sweet with the children.

One thing the old momster forgot, however, is that this perfect child has a desire.  One that eclipses all else.  This child who can’t remember her shin guards for soccer practice knows . . . to the date . . . when she gets her “temps.”  That’s right – when she can obtain a temporary driver permit.  She wants nothing more than to captain her starship.  She is strong.  She is invincible. She is 14.  And one half.

The Uncle (grandfather) in the story is a laid back kind of guy.  After all, he helped raised four children.  They have sprouted these nine (maybe ten now) beautiful children of their own for whom he is the perfect “poppy”.  He loves his niece.  He appreciates her playing with the pack.  He trusts her as the eldest to keep an eye on the babies.

“Uncle Steve, can I drive the gater?”  “Sure Honey.”  The first time I see them, there is an actual, real live adult in the front seat with my little driver.  Seven small children in the back and they are proceeding at a stately pace through the yard.

Cut to the next scene:  No adult in the vehicle.  Seven children laughing as my 14-year-old UNLICENSED driver high tails it down the freakin’ street . . . hair blowing in the wind . . . eyes sparkling with an insane glee and me . . . in high heels . . . scrambling to the side of the road to be the world’s biggest killjoy.  She drove right by me.  Fourteen year-old children do not have peripheral vision.  As they careened back down the road, dodging candy-throwing neighbors and a child on a scooter . . . mommy-dearest was standing in the middle of the road.

“STOP!  RIGHT THIS INSTANT!”  Said the previously reasonable mom.  “SLOW DOWN.  Do you realize you have seven children in the back of this thing?  Do you see the kids on the road?  WHAT ARE YOU THINKING????”

Of course, what she was thinking was “Hey, I got this.”  With your mother doing the crazy-mother-in-the-road-yelling thing, what are you supposed to think.

Later, when all children were safely on the ground and the gater was back in the garage, I was able to say “Honey, I’m sorry I yelled.”  “That’s okay, mom.  I was driving.”

Just get her to 18 alive.

A Girl and Her Bags Are Seldom Parted – Reprint from Skirt!

When The Girl was a baby, I had the super-deluxe, ultimately chic and extraordinarily heavy diaper bag.  She and I could have sustained a two-day adventure at a moment’s notice.  Thinking about it now, I realize that our chic bag (Chanel-inspired) is still hanging in the back of my closet.  Yes, it is still packed.

As an active toddler-babe, The Girl required changes – yes plural – changes of clothes.  Our Vera was sunny yellow with lots of pockets and we had not just adorable outfits, but snacks, games, cute little sunglasses, towels, bandaids with super girl-heroes, books and again we could have taken flight at the drop of the ruffled little cap – or cool tiny baseball cap with requisite sunglasses.

The search for the perfect tiny backpack for Kindergarten was legend.  It was also the beginning of a yearly search for “the” backpack.  Yes, every single solitary one of them is stashed somewhere in the house and yes, they still contain papers and supplies.  Don’t judge me, it’s a system.  One year I tried to cheap out and buy a discount backpack.  We have two from that year.

The Girl is not a “purse girl.”  She is happiest with the tiniest of designer envelopes holding a few bucks and her license and hanging from her car keys.  Handbags are tolerated only when required for an excursion or when serving as adjunct to an outfit.

This being said, however, she is most definitely a “bag girl.”  Her life and activities are accompanied by bags.  The afore-mentioned bookbag, which must weigh 50 pounds, is her mainstay.  I do not look into this bag unless by request to add or subtract a book or folder or make sure there is lunch money in that little pocket at the top. When she began driving, the book bag took it’s place in the back seat.  I should probably insist that the leviathan wear a seatbelt.

Last weekend, I began the annual spring rite of purging the other bags.  The soccer bag, stiff with dirt and sewn-on badges was emptied and shaken over the lawn.  Clumps of dirt from dozens of fields fell from the corners.  Head bands, knee braces, cold packs, about a dozen socks (none matched) outdoor cleats, indoor shoes, extra t-shirts, gum wrappers and yes – a stale water bottle – all were pulled from the depths.  “Let’s get you a new bag,” I vounteered.  That was a mistake.  Athletes get very weird about their stuff.  A new bag could change the course of soccer history, and not for the better.

Then the “cheer bag.”  Making it’s appearance only during basketball season each winter, the cheer bag is roughly the size of a Volkswagen.  It has pockets on each end.  It comes with it’s own shoes, socks, brushes, auxillery bags, pom poms, glitter lotion, make up, spare change, and it smells so much better than the soccer bag.  Seriously.  Added bonus, the cheer bag seemed to be full of loose change.

Last summer, the beach bag made it’s inaugural appearance.  Yes, it is still packed from then (I checked for water bottles and consumables) and awaits spring break.

The snowboard “boot bag” has a place of honor in the room of The Girl.  Not used as heavily as the others, but serving as the steward of the goggles, helmet, boots, gloves, etc. that contribute to the right look and attitude of a ski bunny, the boot bag is big time.  Also, it weighs a ton but looks pretty snappy hanging from her shoulder.

The Girl is not a purse girl.  The stuff of her life can’t be contained in a little shoulder bag.  May it always be so, my darling.  Live large.

Never Tell Me To Shush . . . Reprint from Skirt! 2012

Last night I turned into one of those mothers.  Maybe a little more over-the-top, but that’s just me.  First, let me apologize to the parents and others near the soccer field who were treated to my profanity-laced diatribe, directed solely at the middle-aged man with the pot belly and the flag.  It was inappropriate.  While not an excuse, and certainly not a justification, it had its origins in the early 1970s – it was a long-time coming.  Perhaps everyone will remember my daughter’s grace and sportsmanship in the situation and know that while I did not do better, I did teach better.

For women who are today on the wise side of 50, we were, in high school, often on the sidelines.  In those pre-Title IX days, organized sports programs for girls were few and far between.  The few girls who wanted to participate in organized sports either played with the boys’ teams or rode along in a little group, hoping there would be girls at the other end of the bus ride.  In high school, girls could play basketball, but were encouraged to go out for gymnastics.  They could be on the track team, if they didn’t care about competing against other girls and most of us thought the rarified ranks of cheerleading were beyond us.

Club sports for girls just didn’t exist.

Fast forward 40 years and watch the blur of the Equal Rights Amendment that never passed and the glass ceilings that still prove to be impenetrable.  The recent spurt of legislation across the country and draconian laws that determine what happens to a woman’s body, even in the sanctity of her doctor’s office.  Women continue to fight for a place on the front lines and the further they get, the more we learn about the scandal, the abuse and the heartbreak that accompanies their ascent.

A male friend told me not long ago that the young women who work for him have derided him for being a “feminist.”  Like that’s a bad thing.  My own daughter has said to me, “I’m not a feminist like you, mom.”  This in a world where web sites tout the ranks women cannot join.  I was a member (for a short time) of a small-town Rotary Club that still had a “men’s table” during their weekly lunches.  And yes, I did take the devil’s own delight into sitting with that group on occasion.

But I digress.

My daughter is an athlete.  She is strong, determined and talented.  Her prowess is beyond anything I could imagine and there are hundreds of thousands of girls just like her who have grown up running and kicking and throwing and hitting.  They take that hard-won freedom for granted – and well they should.

Women, however, still are often on the sidelines and not actively coaching or refereeing the contests waged by these girls.  Frankly, we just have not stepped up.  Which brings us full circle to my daughter’s soccer game last night.

A group of supportive dads for the other team raucously cheered, encouraged, criticized and directed their daughters.  The sideline judge ran past them over and over.  They were, frankly, loud and obnoxious and he never turned his head.  I sat down the line among the parents for my daughter’s team.  We’ve been together a long time now.  We know each other’s kids and we know each other’s foibles.  We share coffee and umbrellas and at any given road trip have each other’s girls in our cars.

Soccer is a rough and tumble sport.  The girls who are playing as teenagers have learned to take the bumps and bruises and truth-to-tell give as good as they get.  My kid is tough.  She is honor-bound to stay on her feet, she never cries in public and she won’t dignify trash talk on the field with any sort of reply other than to play harder.  She has never been seriously hurt while playing and for that I am grateful.

Last night, the game was rougher than most.  As I said, the other team’s parents were louder than some.  Going at a dead run for the ball, my daughter caught an elbow to her cheekbone and dropped face-first to her knees.  She was down only momentarily, but any parent who has seen their kid go down knows the abject terror that flows through your heart.

That’s when I yelled at the center referee.  Told him to settle the girls down and not let them hurt each other.  Even as I yelled, I knew that what can look intentional from the sidelines usually isn’t.  That would have been the end of it.  Except that the sideline judge jogged toward my chair, past the noisy dads and calling “hey!” to get my attention he put his finger to his lips and told me to “shush.”  He told me to “shush.”  Should I repeat that again?  This overweight, huffing and puffing man told me to “shush” and that “he would not let them hurt each other.”

Forty years of fury and frustration turned immediately into explicit instructions to this sideline judge.  While the game went on and my daughter continued to play (with several moderate injuries it turned out) my disdain for men who tell women what to do and my despair knowing that a perfect stranger – a perfect male stranger – felt superior enough to tell me to “shush” boiled over.

I raised a tough daughter because I am, indeed, a tough broad.  I’ve been through career fire and personal grief.  I’ve stood against bullies and been crushed under tyrants.  I work in a highly competitive field and face daily challenges.  I don’t know that man’s story – but I do know this.  You do not “shush” adult women.  Because I didn’t curtail my temper, I’m sure he now adds “crazy” to his internal lexicon about women.  Any man who thinks he can do that, clearly has no respect for the gender in general.  And sadly, I didn’t teach him a thing.

So as moms it’s not enough that we teach them to play.  That we encourage strength and competition, that we look for teaching moments for sportsmanship and skill.  Apparently, we also need to return to the field ourselves as coaches and referees.  We need to go back out and play ourselves because the road isn’t yet clear.  There is more to be done.

Falling From the Nest Too Soon – Reprint from Skirt! 2012

The little bird was still covered in baby-bird downy feathers last night, perched defiantly on the hose guard.  She (I think of her as a she — it’s as good a guess as any, not being familiar with bird-sexing) had fallen from the nest somewhere high in the maple tree.  I could hear the distressed chirping of the mama bird but the leaves were too thick and the branches bent from a summer storm to see where the nest was.

She patiently permitted me to get close and take her picture several times.  However, the entire set of that fuzzy little body spoke defiance and bravery.  When I got a little too close, she shook out her baby wings, those emerging glossy and beautiful from under the fuzz.  She didn’t make a sound.

Going into the house to retrieve my own baby bird so she could see, I called “come, look what’s in the garden!”  When we went back around the corner, baby bird was gone.  But no, about five feet away, she was perched confidently on a low fence.  Still allowing us to come close, she stared back with her little bird head tilted.  We looked and looked and then walked away to give her privacy to try another flight.  A short time later, she was gone and I choose to believe that she flew back up into the tree to the nest where her mama was waiting.

Particularly poignant for me, this is the summer of my baby bird’s first tentative steps from the nest.  Car keys in hand, all glossy hair and wide smile, she drives too fast, stretches curfew a little and all in all exalts in her freedom to spread her wings away from mama and the nest so carefully constructed to nurture her.

Let me be clear, she will graciously hang around when asked and she attends carefully to those things that require her attention — sports, friends, her job and the occasional boy.  The girl is everything a 16-year-old should be, and a part of that is straining at the bit . . . leaning against the fence and peering over the edge of the nest into adulthood.  As her mother, I am constantly chirping about the dangers of the fall, knowing full well that she is almost prepared and eager to fly.  That beneath the down, her wings are glossy and strong and will carry her where she needs to go.

And the mama bird, and I, will go on, knowing that our babies are flying through the beautiful sky.  There may be new nests and there may be other sheltering trees . . . but our work here, mama, is almost done.

Rick Santorum is wrong

Earlier today I was cut off in traffic by a male driver, who shared an obscene gesture with me as he whipped around my car on the highway.  Lately I have noticed that men step in front of me to get on the elevator, shut doors in my face and barge in front of me in line.

You know what?  I’m good with it.  Clearly, the world is full of boors of many sexual persuasions.  Being a feminist, I do not expect unwarranted niceties from men.  I don’t expect civility from people around me and that allows me to be delighted when I receive it. I try to be courteous to everyone, say please and thank you and hold the door.  I’m even guilty of telling complete strangers to “have a nice day.”  But hey – I want to be a nice person.  Not everyone does.  I believe that people can choose to be civil beings – ladies and gentlemen if you will – but I am responsible only for what I choose to be.  I am not responsible for the jerk who cuts me off on the highway, only for my response to his rudeness.

Enter Rick Santorum, presidential candidate and very conservative guy.  He made the news earlier this week with his comments on “women in combat.”  In an interview with Ann Curry, Mr. Santorum said, “(It’s) because of that reason of a sort of natural inclination to not focus on the mission because of the natural inclination to want to protect someone because it’s natural within our culture,’’ he told Curry. (really – that’s direct quote)

Curry asked the former Pennsylvania senator whether he believes women are not capable of fighting alongside men in the fiercest parts of the battle.

“No, that’s not the issue,’’ he said. “I’ve never raised that as a concern. The issue…is how men would react to seeing women in harm’s way or potentially being injured or in a vulnerable position and not being concerned about accomplishing the mission.’’

Oh dear.  That old saw about how the boys want to protect us.

In 2003, Dr. Leonard Wong, associate research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute said the paper “Why They Fight: Combat Motivation in the Iraq War” validated the popular belief that unit cohesion is a key issue in motivating soldiers to fight.

Wong and a team researchers from the War College went to the battlefield in Iraq for interviews because they wanted to speak with the soldiers while events were still fresh in their minds.

Their findings followed conventional wisdom, finding in part that each soldier is responsible for group success and protecting the unit from harm. As one soldier put it, “That person means more to you than anybody. You will die if he dies. That is why I think that we protect each other in any situation. I know that if he dies, and it was my fault, it would be worse than death to me.”

Hmmm.  So soldiers in the field report that protecting fellow soldiers is their first, best priority. 

The other role is it provides the confidence and assurance that someone is watching their back. In one infantryman’s words, “You have got to trust them more than your mother, your father, or girlfriend, or your wife, or anybody. It becomes almost like your guardian angel.”  Let me see . . . guardian angel . . .

I’m not sure where candidate Santorum has been for the last few years, as women have worked, died and killed on the front lines in the Mideast.  In 2009, the New York Times covered it fairly well — http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/us/16women.html.

In the most dangerous, fragile circumstance I can conjure in my mind, the people I would choose to have my back are not chosen based on sex, but rather on their love for me.  Help me, protect me, save me . . . and I will help you, protect you, save you.

But more importantly, perhaps when Mr. Santorum looks at his own little girl, he feels a parental surge of protectiveness and can’t imagine her in combat.  If so, he and I have common ground.  Perhaps what he can’t connect to is that parents of boys feel the same.  Here’s an idea for political debate:  instead of spending time trying to figure out what to do with women, let’s put that time and effort into figuring out how to avoid the lunacy of war and protect all of the children — girls and boys — on both sides of the guns.

Who Speaks for the Girls?

A friend – female – wrote to me this weekend that she didn’t understand the current craze of “shop hauling.”  I had posted a story about hauling with the comment that I loved the idea – and the trend.  It was a story from NPR so I was feeling like the “brainy” media had finally caught up with a popular craze I’ve been talking about for months.  Cool.

My friend and I exchanged comments that were slightly snippy.  She told me (this former cocktail waitress) that she had always been into “headier” things and was either too old or too nerdy to understand the consumerism of today’s young women.  I was trying hard to not take offense and to figure out why I was reacting so strongly.  I think I have it now.

It’s this:  who speaks for the girls?  We raise them, nurture and teach them.  For many of us our models were along the lines of Germaine Greer and the writers of Amazon Poetry.  When I was at Ohio State, the emerging Womens Studies department was the prize in a battle royale between the feminists in the English Department (the “lipstick lesbians”) and the ultra-left (political fems who may or may not have been gay but certainly didn’t consort with men.)  We followed the exploits of women around the country and were really happy about that not having to wear a bra thing.

I walked the line carefully, studying and reading voraciously during the day, wearing a bunny costume and serving up drinks in a nightclub by night.  Crossing the feminist picket line to wear four-inch heels and sitting beside the girls in class the next day.  Probably the beginning of leading a carefully cultivated double life.

So my generation, the ones who came after the leaders, have daughters who may only be dimly aware of what a feminist is.  They take for granted that daddy does the cooking.  They expect to compete for the best jobs.  God love their hearts – they want to wear pretty bras.  These are the girls who have it all.  They live in the age of technology.  Of immediate gratification.  Of sexual freedom and common-sense restraint.  They are mysteries to us as much as our mothers were to their mothers. 

So who speaks for these tiny consumers?  Who defends these creations of our hearts and our minds?  Why would any woman deride what will surely become the best and the brightest amongst us because they simply expect to be?  Feminism isn’t dead – it’s just taken a turn for the better.

The Daring Old Girl on the Flying Trapeze

There’s a moment, less than a breath in time, when your hands are free and you’re not holding onto the bar.  You’re reaching back with one hand, trying, trying, crying to hold on to the safe, the familiar.  You’re reaching out with the other for what you believe to be the future as you imagine it will be.  Better, safer, quieter.

I first heard the theory of the flying trapeze in yoga class.  It was described as the place where change happens.  Then I thought about it.  A lot.  I dreamt about it.  Often.  I talked it through with my best friend.  Bad choice.  This friend flies through the air, lets go of the bar, does a double flip, comes up grinning and grabs the next bar with the barest of fingertips – already looking  for the next swing.

I talked to my therapist.  Told her about that space and held my hands up to show her.  Fingertips grazing the bar from the past and reaching, reaching, reaching for the one swinging toward me.  “It’s not close enough,” I say.  I can’t reach it.  “You can,” she says.  “You will.”  I breathe.

Then I learn there’s a place, http://amazingportablecircus.com/trapeze-school.html, where you can actually learn to fly on a trapeze.  I could fly.  If I could just let go. 

When my daughter was little, so tiny, I would lift her to the jungle gym bars.  At first she would swing from one bar with both hands and be so tickled to be swinging in the air.  Then, one day, she saw the next bar and her tiny, chubby, strong little hand reached instictively for it.  Another visit to the park, and another bar.  Soon, she was crossing the great divide and I was the alligator snapping at her heels.  Giggles all the way.  So strong was that baby girl.

I see her now, growing up, facing each bar as it swings toward her and never hesitating to reach and grasp.  Her resolve and determination are steely and her eyes keen as she looks for the next bar, always setting her sight beyond the one she can easily reach.

Was I ever that daring young girl?  Maybe not but maybe so.  She’s in here somewhere.  I have proof in the leaps and twirls and spins of my daughter as she navigates bar after bar.  If she wasn’t in me, I couldn’t let go of my child.  If I didn’t somewhere believe that the next bar would swing into life, I would hold on to her ferociously so she wouldn’t fall.

So maybe I’ll take the lesson.