She’s five

We took her for a donut and the local LeDonut, then out to a special toy store to pick out her toy. When her and Matt went out for a donut I decorated the house with balloons and pink crepe paper so when she walked in and saw the house, she gasped. Not hard to please and surprise this one! Next we picked blackberries from the bush outside to make the frosting for her cake. Her Tinkerbell candle for the cake was played with so much that her head fell off. I tried to solder it back on with hot wax but Tink ended up looking like a Mattel burn victim in the end. Yet that Disney character WILL sit at the top of a lemon blackberry cake by birthday time!

 

All day long Chloe kept saying, “You know, it’s my birthday today?” like we were forgetting or something. When our family came to sing, eat and play she opened the door and directed her guests to the designated present placing spot, which was picked out early that day. “Mama, the gifts will all go here.” and she would point to spot on the floor where she would collect and stack the loot.

 

When her guests arrived we all looked at old photos of her from the past four years. I told her a few stories about what she was like as a baby (which is always hard for a kid to understand; they were a baby once). Once her gifts were opened Oliver said, “Is that all she gets?” (hush, boy!) and then she spent the last half of the evening playing in her own imagination in the living room while the adults did boring stuff like sit at the table and talk.

 

She’s just dreamy, if I do say so. What a delightful little girl with a delightful little voice; charming, playful, sometimes shy and very imaginative. She can still entertain herself for hours by playing with small toys. Happy birthday, darling. I think the world of you and I love you heaps!

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Rite of passage for girls (the battle of the body)

Photo By Leanne Surfleet

The other night I watched America the Beautiful by Darryl Roberts and it tells the story of a common concern these days,  females and body image. One of the girls they track over about 5 years is a young model who is on her way to becoming the world’s youngest supermodel at the ripe age of 12. Of course she fits into size 2 at 6 feet tall! Of course she has a tight body with flawless skin! She’s 12!!!! The irony is that her mother is the one pushing her out there to get noticed at a young age, allowing her to party with the big girls. Everyone is worried about what all of this exposure will do to her self image and by the end of the movie, sure enough… well you should just watch it.

At one point in the movie Eve Ensler recalls a trip to Africa where a woman is explaining how she sees her own body, in contrast to how the average Western woman views her body and it is profound. “My body? I love my body. My arms are so strong because they carry children and my legs are strong and can hold a man and crush him. My skin is dark and lovely. What do you mean you don’t love your own body?” It spoke a lot to me about the stories our own bodies tell. It makes me sad at the same time that they aren’t a treasure of stories and memories but are usually a source of pain and resentment for many women and young girls.

My daughter is still so young and innocent so I havne’t thought much about her teenage years or her adult life and the abundant badgering she will receive in the form of advertising, telling her that her looks might be ok but could really use some enhancing. I consider myself pretty well adjusted in my body’s self evaluation but I certainly have moments of weakness and I can easily begin to compare or see my body as my enemy while it ages and my tush moves south, hoping to one day join forces with my mid thigh.

I’ve often treasured the lines on my face. In my opinion they seem  a bit classy and refined, symbolizing that I don’t have that round little girl face anymore, I look like a woman. I must admit that pregnancy has brought a shock to the system in terms of how I see my body. Things change so fast and furiously that it’s actually a rather difficult adjustment for most women (it was also for me) even though I loved how I looked once I actually looked pregnant and not just bloated.  In the first few months it just looked like I hit buffet table a time too many. When having a baby should be a time to glow and radiate as you feel a life move inside your skin and embrace another rite of passage into womanhood (bearing children) it’s often a time of complaining about growing breasts, a back side that looks like another person is following close behind you and thighs that wobble and could possibly crack walnuts (or crush a small child). God forbid if a woman should get stretch marks (a self induced symbol of ‘shame’ for a woman who wants to keep the resplendence of her childhood skin)!
Here in the West, we loathe our bodies more than almost any other culture. That is actually an interesting study in sociology. Often it’s attributed to media involvement and how influential it is on a culture. Obviously our media influence is of epic proportions in the US.
One study on the media’s influence in this documentary was in the islands of Fiji. During the 80’s TV was brought into the cultural mainstream and the older generation was concerned about the influence the media would have on the traditions of how they viewed family, wealth, quality of life, their own cultural practices and, of course, their cultural perception of beauty, specifically the body.
Fijians are larger islanders who also tend to live a rather long time on a high fat, low chemical diet complete with sun and salty ocean water to boot. When I traveled to Fiji in 1994 our entire team of caucasians were told to eat more every time we sat down to feast with anyone. “You’re too skinny. Eat plenty! How do you expect a man to find you sexy? You’re too skinny!” followed by a lot of effervescent laughter (they are beautiful, joyous people). Once the TV took over the islands they noticed the rate of parental disrespect and self loathing of the body in the form of eating disorders jumped about 20% in just 5-10 years. These are islands with very few white inhabitants so the influence was not coming from the interior. So much of our worldview is shaped by what we buy into. To my shame I have bought into the lie at times when I should have seen over the dusty horizon to a richer and higher place.
My question is, how will I raise my daughter, and son, to see beyond the haze of a superficial culture which praises youth in a variety of forms (young executives who just graduated from party-ville and are now running our institutions, supermodels at the age of 14, over the hill actresses by the age of 40 who can only land acting gigs as hags, alcoholic mothers or grandmothers, and the decadence of young skin that is plastered over billboards and magazines all over the US!)? How will I teach my children this is all a dream, not reality? This is a strange and unreasonable world that has been created, much like the Matrix, and real women and men aren’t like this! Granted there is merit to being the best, radiant self that you can be and it’s ok to go to the grocery store in an aesthetically pleasing outfit rather than jammies, slippers and rollers in your hair. You can look nice and take care of yourself without feeling shameful or superficial. In fact, do take care of yourself. Love your body enough to care for it!

This is actually not as big of a fear for me as I am embellishing in my writing. I have a plan, see! A lot of experts say that we should limit our children’s exposure to media,  advertising images and the amount of garbage that they see and hear while growing up. Mothers (and fathers) are not to defame or devalue their own bodies and talents especially in front of their children for obvious reasons. I know too many mothers who, even at this age (mid thirties) verbally deject their bodies in front of their children. Many girls remember their mothers as being on a perpetual diet. “Mom just needs to go on a diet, sweetie. Why? Well, her thighs are too big.” Or worse, telling a teenage daughter that her butt is getting too big and “you don’t want her to end up like your fat mamma, do you?”. Easy ladies! To our children we are perfect and flawless. We are also their introduction into how they should view themselves (and for our sons it’s how they will view other women).

I want my plan to go further than just avoiding the problem. I believe that what we expose our kids to really does have a lasting effect but I think there is something missing as we simply try to cut out media and it’s negative influence. My goal is to not only cut the exposure out but to add other elements. I’m  not so concerned with what is out there as I am with what is missing. Where is the exposure to real beauty, art, poetry and nature? I think if we expose our children to the good life in it’s lovely and awesome forms they are less likely to feel the void and run towards what is available only on the surface.

Rather than follow the Pied Piper into the sea of bodily insecurities why not raise smart, confident and strong men and women who know how to live within the story? Who write the music or the books that everyone wants to read or who create the art that we want to see; who imagine and create a world with better working gadgets and inventions and who love, help and serve others? We can expose them to the good life without being so afraid of them falling prey to the deadly abyss of bodily insecurities, greed and immorality. Too many youth groups out there are primarily focused on keeping our kids from sleeping together when they should also be telling the stories of young men and women who succeed and draw deep from life. It will give them something to reach for. Another great quote: “If you want to teach people how to build better boats, don’t run them through an exhaustive course on boat making. Tell them stories of  far away places”. -unknown author

We never get rid of wrong thinking by trying to pretend the Matrix doesn’t exist. Put another way, we can’t rise above if we’re still focused on the problem, we have to replace the problem with something better and higher, more magnificent. Instead of keeping our kids from bad media why don’t we just expose them to real art and poetry? Read to them from the time they are young. Take them outside to play instead of letting them watch crap with tons of commercials. Let them get bored and learn to create, draw or escape into their imaginations instead of feeding the boredom on a minute by minute basis. Expose them to more amazing possibilities rather than protecting them from the ‘polluted world’.

I realize I may be stepping on toes and touching on parenting practices but these are challenges I am laying down for myself as I raise my little people. I also know this issue is a bit more complex but I’m  trying to live counter culture and often our culture’s way of dealing with problems and statistics is to cut out the cause of the problem rather than reaching for something lovely outside of the realm of possibilities. Personally I think this is how God deals with us. God brings more beauty and richness in front of us, shows us the mansion so we will get outside of the shack, and this lets us see what we’ve been missing rather than focusing on wrong thinking or wrong behavior. CS Lewis says, “We’re busy playing with mud pies because we don’t know that a holiday at sea awaits us. We’re far too easily satisfied” (a paraphrase of his quote). Focusing on my junk never gets rid of it anyway, it usually keeps me chained to it. Ironic, eh?

So this is my plan for my kids: I think I’m going to chose to believe there is still a lot of real beauty out there and I’m going to try and expose my kids to it rather than living in fear of what they might be seeing. We’ll still leave the TV unplugged in the basement mainly because we can’t find much to watch that is decent anyway but we’ll show them the DVD of Star Wars because it’s awesome and creative and they need to know that people are capable of creating amazing things when they have the space and courage to create. That’s just one example. Here’s to raising amazing children!

I heart girls!

Today was Chloe’s second ballet class. I never thought I would love having a girl so much but there are moments which I completely delight in sharing with her. I don’t always understand boys, even though I am trying, but I get her. I took ballet for a bit when I was young and I never dreamed of becoming a dancer nor did I grow up extremely girly (I’m still not- whatever that means) but I signed her up for a class because she has taken an interest in dancing. When I’ve shown her clips of ballet on the internet she becomes captivated.

I took her to her first class a week ago and I didn’t have slippers for her because I had no idea where to buy them. I just showed up for her class with a leotard and tights thinking, “Well, the kids are only three years old. Who’s going to have slippers?” Turns out they all did and as soon as she saw the various slippers on the little girls she asked, “Mamma, where are my ballet shoes?” It was the first time with either of my kids that my heart sank and I felt so sad that I didn’t have something precious to give her. It was that, “Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry but I don’t have slippers for you” feeling. She wasn’t fussed about the fact that she’d be taking her first lesson with just tights on but I actually felt sad for her.  Matt and I aren’t at all the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ type people. We get most of our kid’s clothes second-hand and I buy almost exclusively from thrift stores and yard sales when I purchase books, games and toys for my kids, all without feeling any sense of shame that would be attached to poverty. NONE!

But for some reason I really wanted her to have little slippers. So…. I made some. My first attempt was hilarious. My friend, Brandy came to help me figure out a pattern, since I didn’t have one, and I wanted to make them out of a shrunken, red wool sweater. Well, the wool was too bulky and it was a failed, and laughable, project. So I had Chloe pick out the fabric; shocking pink with white hearts. To me the pattern ended up looking a bit like clown socks but she likes them and feels proud to have slippers that no one else has.

She showed up for class today and placed the slippers on her tiny feet, excited to dance. I caught a few glimpses of her in her class walking on her toes and I must say it’s moments like THAT where my heart delights that I have a little girl.

A rite of passage for girls

I know that at some point in toddlerhood most girls will become very curious as to how momma gets her hair so cute and short. I have purposely never chopped my own hair in front of my children because they know where the scissors are and I’ve never wanted their curiosity to find them looking like Joe Dirt or some emo kid from a local area band. But alas my daughter of three years found our scissors and allowed her curiosity to get the best of her…. so did her brother!

Matt and I were working on the house on a variety of indoor projects when our housemate came upstairs and looked in the living room. He was wondering, “Why is all this doll hair strewn on the floor?” only to find brother and sister hiding under the desk with scissors in hand and girl left with ugly mullet. (I didn’t take a photo of it just because I was so upset)

I never had thought of myself as a mother who would think of her daughter’s long hair as her ‘crown and glory’. I really didn’t see her loss of hair as a loss of her femininity but it was gorgeous hair. Long, naturally curly and naturally highlighted by the sun. It’s the type of hair that women in the mid thirties dream of. She was born with a full head of fuzzy, black hair and by the time she was a year old she had a short bob. The day it was chopped her locks fell to the middle of her back. I was always proud of the fact that she wasn’t a bald baby with sparse scraps of tresses framing a chubby profile. Then in one moment, it was all gone.

My friend Jen came over to fix her quaff and because of who my daughter is (totally upbeat and joyful) she enjoyed the entire process of a pro hair cut. She kept saying, “I look like mamma now” and giggling as she watched her hair cut in the mirror. The cutting didn’t phase her a bit (like it did me).

She’s officially a little girl who took a whirl at cutting her own hair. Clumps of it! Her brother helped, not realizing that it wouldn’t be growing back later that day. Of course he didn’t cut his. Boys whose hair will be fine even if you have to shave it never seem to care much about trying out their styling skills on themselves. Why is that? WHY???

No matter what, she is still gorgeous and her short hair is cute. It looks like flapper hair. She’s my little lady and I love her to bits.

Earlier that morning

How does it feel to be ‘free’?

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Two days ago (and three years) my daughter way born. I have written a lot about how going from one child to two changed my entire world. Of course, those treasured posts are floating around cyber space and it breaks my heart that I can’t ever find them again. I’ve been asking her how old she is now and she tells me, “I’m free years old now” with the seriousness and maturity of a forty year old. She’s charming.

She has been the biggest surprise for our family in so many ways. She was not planned and before her character really started to blossom I had in my head an idea of what many little girls were like. She has broken the mold over and again. She’s very much ‘girl’ yet loves to have dirty feet and ratty hair. She will cover her body and clothes with dirt and water the moment she spots a mud puddle. She wants to dress up like a princess but often puts on her brothers shoes and sometimes his under ware and dances around the house half naked singing songs with unrecognizable lyrics put to them. She likes to play with cars as well as dolls and she also giggles when she ‘let’s one rip’. I’ve never seen a girl more beautiful.

I enjoy her thoroughly. She’s delighted our home and decorated it with personality and colour in a way all her own. There is so much love in her heart and her spirit roams with the cosmos. My girl with brown sugar hair and vanilla scented skin. Happy special day, baby. It’s good to be ‘free’.

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Chloe winking

Chloe winking

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Yes, Jesus loves me

I taught Chloe the song, Jesus loves me, mainly because I really don’t remember children’s songs and this is one of the few I do know. She loves to sing and we sing songs together every night before she goes to bed: The Itsy Bitsy Spider (or ity biy ‘pider), Mary had a little lamb, and the ever popular ABC’s. Her voices cracks when she hits the high notes and I giggle softly because it’s so damn cute I can’t even help myself.

I want to remember these moments of her toddler life because I know too many parents whom you ask what their child was like as a toddler they NEVER remember. They sort of remember a personality trait or what it was like to raise them but they usually don’t remember moments singing in bed each night and how cute the little bubbly voice sounded when the ‘rain came and washed the spider out!’.

Chloe sings half of words because she can’t pronounce some and also because she doesn’t remember others. So right now she sings, “Jesus loves me this I know. For the bathroom tells me so. He-haw, he-haw,he is strong”. It’s priceless! I love this girl. She is truly delightful.

The other day I was reading Oliver the story of Johnny Appleseed and the book rattled off some of the states his legend had moved through. We came to Pennsylvania and Oliver asked me if Pennsylvania was where pencils lived. I laughed out loud on that one. He smiled but didn’t know what was so funny. I have to make it a priority to write down these moments more often. I don’t want to forget who they were or some of the amusing lines they randomly dropped in the middle of our days together.

Day 24: Tiny Dancer

Lately Chloe has been showing very girly characteristics in how she prefers to dress, how she has started to randomly sing and la-la-la, and how she likes to hold live and play babies. Today I held her on my lap as she held a newborn. She delicately petted his soft, fuzzy head while she smiled a grown up smile. When I dress her in the mornings she tells me she wants to wear a “princess” which is another word for skirt (I love toddler-ese. These little humans have a true language all their own) and she literally throws a fit if I put pants on her. What has happened to my ragamuffin?

This morning I had music playing in the through the computer and, for whatever reason, I needed to come  into the living for something, which is where I found something priceless. Chloe was dancing all by herself to the music, and she was dancing well. I just stopped dead in my tracks and tried not to scream because of how cute she was. A funny thing happens when you catch you child doing something super cute. As soon as they see you watching them they get embarrassed and stop. So when she looked up at me I pretended not to notice her…and she kept going.

What a doll! I love this girly girl. This chic can hold her own with the boys. If a little dude tries to take her toy she’ll tell them off and then some. She still loves to roll around in the dirt, strip down to her underwear even when we’re outside in 35deg F weather, and she even laughs when she farts. In some ways she’s not frilly and fuffy, but in other ways she’s just the sweetest little darling and as a female myself I am totally enjoying it.

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twirling in her 'princess' and stocking hat

twirling in her 'princess' and stocking hat

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