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Red Rock GirlWhen I was 11 years old, I stole a horse. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that I borrowed the horse — I had every intention of returning it — but still: I took a horse that did not belong to me. There are laws against that. I stole the horse because I wanted to ride the horse. And ride I did. I got on that horse and jabbed my heels into his flanks and we sped forward, through the paddock gate and out into the hayfield where we galloped for two or three breathtaking minutes until he bucked and tossed me to the ground. It was exhilarating. I had broken at least two laws and had very nearly broken my neck, but all I could think was: when can I do this again?

I’ve never forgotten that feeling. I remember it every time that I do something exhilarating, something that makes me feel alive. I remember it every time I watch my daughter do pretty much anything.

My daughter, who is 8 going on 18, has a knack for turning every activity into a hair-raising, knuckle-whitening exercise in full-throttle adventuring. Trees are for climbing, fences are for scaling and stair banisters are for sliding. I’m pretty certain – no, I’m entirely certain – that if there were horses anywhere near our home, she’d have already figured out how to steal one. She’d return it, I’m sure, but she’d ride the hell out of it before she did.

Her zeal for life is both awesome and terrifying to behold. It is awesome, because her confidence and her adventurousness hold every promise for a future of limitless possibility: my daughter, if she continues on this spirited path, will grow up expecting that she can and should pursue any ambition and that she will not and should not be held back by anything other than her own will and ability. But it is terrifying for exactly the same reasons: her confidence and her adventurousness may lead her to regard the world with all its fences, locked cupboards and laws of gravity as something to be conquered, and I’m not sure that “conquering” is the best pastime for a third grader.

But my ambivalence here is telling: why shouldn’t she be a conquerer? I don’t worry about my son being conquerer, because, let’s face it, we kind of expect boys to be conquerers. We live in a culture that doesn’t encourage questioning high-spiritedness in boys, but does encourage it with girls. Even if we’re more inclined to do it in positive ways, and to celebrate spiritedness in girls, we still single it out, mark it as extraordinary. And we code it as un-girly – such a girl is, still, a tomboy. She’s different. She’s kinda like a boy.

How do we change that?

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(Note: This piece is a reworking of a reworking of a reworking – a post that was an article that was a talk that was an idea scrawled on a napkin. Because I keep coming back to these questions, and to worrying over these questions, and they always take me back to my girlhood – and this horse-nabbing moment in particular – because this is the struggle, isn’t it? We want better for our girls. But sometimes we aren’t quite sure what better looks like. And figuring that out matters, for our girls, and for our boys, because better should better all-around. Which means that I’ll be worrying about this for, oh, forever. Or until we solve it, whichever comes first.)

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(Not Quite) The Best Mom Ever

December 11, 2012

I returned home the other day, after nearly a week away, to this: It was a ‘Welcome Home’ party, organized by Emilia, the place of honor dedicated to me and adorned with messages of love, ‘because we missed you, Mommy.’ Which: OOF. My heart, my heart. Do I deserve this? I don’t deserve this. I’m [...]

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Vita Brevis, Tooth Longa

September 20, 2012

Here’s the thing about being a working mom: I miss moments in my children’s lives. Moments like this one: I wasn’t there for the loss of that tooth, which in the grand scheme doesn’t seem all that important, except for that it does. I didn’t get to witness the first moments of this proud, gap-toothed [...]

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The Work Of The Heart

April 15, 2012

I barely wrote a word last week. Part of it was, I was exhausted. Exhausted in body, exhausted in soul. I had thought that I could land back in America and just hit my usual stride, not missing a beat. Well, maybe one or two beats, beats that I would skip-hop over with some poetry [...]

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It Was The Sound Of A Crescendo

April 9, 2012

I’ve been back in North America for about 48 hours now, and I’m still adjusting, physically and emotionally. My body is tired, of course. So is my heart: I only had a day with my husband and kids before they drove off to Canada to deal with the sale of our house. So, too, are [...]

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These, Our Children

April 6, 2012

We were talking, some of us on the learning tour, about why the children that we’ve met in Uganda have had such an effect on us. I said – as I have so very many times in the past – that I believe that people who are parents are more likely than others to be [...]

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Baby, You’re A Firework

March 2, 2012

Last week – almost a full week ago now, which kind of freaks me out, because, holy doodlebug, how long does it take me to post about this sort of thing these days, seriously? – I did the closing keynote for Blissdom ’12. Well, me and Rufus, and also Brooke Chaffin from Disney Interactive Media [...]

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Love Lifts Us Up, To Where We Probably Belong

February 14, 2012

This will seem like a statement of the obvious, but still, it bears stating: when we moved to New York City, everything changed. Everything changed, of course, in the ways that you might expect: we went from living in Canada to living in the United States, we went from living in a very small town [...]

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The Mommy Wars, Redux: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

January 12, 2012

Oh, hey! Remember when I posted about being unfriended on Facebook for being a stay at home? I received the following message via Facebook today. I think that it’s pretty awesome. And by awesome, I mean, so profoundly insulting and ignorant that I actually yelled out “REALLY???” Catherine – I know I probably shouldn’t say [...]

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Ten Resolutions For 2012 (And Nary A Diet Among Them)

January 4, 2012

For New Year’s this year, I made the usual kinds of resolutions that everybody makes. Eat healthier. Find more time for myself. Get more exercise. Buy fewer shoes. I don’t know whether I’ll follow through on them, but that’s not really the point, is it? New Year’s resolutions are aspirational. They’re not really meant to [...]

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