emilia

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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Who’s Gonna Ride These Wild Horses?

March 8, 2012

In honor of International Women’s Day, this: a repurposing of an essay that I wrote for Canadian Family a couple of years ago, about my ambitions and frustrations in living up to my own self-assigned feminist mother bona fides. I still struggle with these questions, somewhat. Inasmuch as I don’t struggle anymore it’s because she’s [...]

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Seize The Cake

November 22, 2011

(This post is underwritten by the American Cancer Society, official sponsor of birthdays.) Emilia likes birthday parties. Actually, like is an understatement. Emilia loves birthday parties, with the fiery heat of a thousand wax birthday candles and a few hundred sparklers. But here’s the thing about Emilia’s love of birthday parties: she’s not particularly fussy [...]

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A Room Of Her Own, Mostly

October 5, 2011

To say that we’re all pretty excited about moving to New York would be an understatement. If excitement could be measured on some sort of excitementometer, the levels in our household might cause it burst. Our household thrums with excitement. Even though we’re tripping over cardboard boxes and dealing with epic chaos and wrestling with [...]

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Sh*t My Kid Says

September 12, 2011

My daughter is something of a storyteller. It’s not that she lies; on the contrary, she is almost unbearably devoted to the truth, such that every single utterance made by anybody within earshot of her is deconstructed by her for the purposes of establishing the exact parameters of its bases in fact. But she does [...]

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Back To School

September 6, 2011

It seems impossible that I have cause to write the words back to school in reference to my own children. Up until a few years ago, back to school meant me going back to school. Back to grad school, back to teaching, back to ivy-clogged campuses clutching old copies of Rousseau’s Emile and stacks of [...]

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go (A Cautionary Tale)

August 31, 2011

Last week, I flew across Canada to visit my mom, who’s been sick. I brought Emilia with me, because I figured – morbid creature that I am – that if anything happened to my mom, I wanted her last memories to be of her hellion granddaughter demanding more cake. I’m joking, of course. I wanted [...]

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Pride, In The Name Of Love

June 29, 2011

Once upon a time, before I had children, I expected that when I did have children, they would be smart children, and that they would excel in everything that they did, and that this is what I would want for them – to be excellent – and this is what would make me happy, as [...]

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Flying Without Wings

June 19, 2011

I can still remember, vividly, the day that my father taught me to ride a bicycle. We lived at the end of a quiet suburban street lined with cherry and dogwood trees, our house set back from the cul-de-sac by what seemed to me, at age 5, to be a very long and very wide [...]

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Sugar And Spice And Everything Nice Except For The Voice In Her Head That Says Bad Things

June 16, 2011

Here’s the kind of conversation that my husband and daughter have, apparently, while I’m away: Emilia: “Daddy, I thought of a good name.” Kyle: “What’s that?” Emilia: “Mrs Poopy McFucky Pants.”

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