In a few weeks, we will head to South Carolina for a family visit. It dawned on me yesterday that we should probably make sure that M has something suitable for the (hopefully) warmer weather. Sure enough, last year’s shorts and t-shirts are just too snug anymore. It called for some summer clothes shopping, which was good timing considering that it was raw and rainy outside, with snow in the forecast. We needed the distraction from Mother Nature’s prevailing mood.
Before heading to the store, there were a couple of shirts that I tossed into the “storage” pile. She could still get them on, but they certainly did not fit her growing, lithe body. I was surprised when she was a bit upset that they did not stay in the “keeper” pile.
But, Mama, they’re my favorites. They’re comfortable.
It wasn’t lost on me that growing children do not have the same luxury as adults of adopting long-term comfort clothes. If you look in my closet, you’ll see that I still favor a few shorts and pajama pants that are relics from the late night study sessions of my first year of law school . . . sixteen years ago. Still, despite their threadbare status, they give me comfort more than chills and so they remain.
But children? They can’t get attached like that. Maybe that’s a good thing. It means they’re growing, right?
When we got home from our very short shopping excursion—she needs no convincing when it comes to soft cotton dresses—it was still quite bleak outside. She was going to play princess in the living room while I cut up some potatoes for the night’s dinner of salad and homemade fries. The front door was open to let in as much light as we could on that dreary Tuesday.
Then I noticed it: the way the light hit the tulle of her dress in the doorway. These mere photons of light propelled me backwards along the space-time continuum with such unexpected force.
I was immediately transported back to my mother’s house when M received that dress for Christmas in 2011. Unsure if it was mere minutes or light years ago, I could still remember how smitten she was to have received her first “fancy princess” dress. I took this picture that day, seeing a future bride, perhaps, but certainly the love of a little girl and her Daddy.
Yes, the hem hits higher on her now lanky legs, and it’s a bit harder for her to bend and breathe. The outer layer of tulle has since been trimmed away due to the snags incurred from years of dancing. But this dress? It still, somehow, has enough room left to provide her with the comfort that youth and imagination have to offer. It is still fit for a queen.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Yesterday, we met with a local Corgi breeder to get the process underway to adopt a puppy, sometime within the next 8-12 months. And as much as I’d like to gush about that for a moment, instead I want to give a very large thank you to the tween girls out there that, I’m finding, are my daughter’s biggest idols right now.
You see, yesterday, when we were at the breeder’s house, two twelve year old girls came during our time there. Fresh faced, with beautiful braids and braces, cheeks pink from the slightly cool air blowing in off the bay, they were arriving for their after school job of feeding, walking and (for the younger pups) training the dogs. When they walked in I could see the girl crush my daughter instantly had for these two young women. Both girls were utterly kind and took the time to engage with M. Later, before bedtime, she even commented about how brave they were to work with all those dogs (I saw with my own eyes that 12+ dogs to care for is no small feat, so I understand her awe!) and how lucky they were to be around all that cuteness.
I saw the same kind of idolization when M saw that it is the fifth graders at her school who lead the lines of Kindergarteners and first graders into the building each morning. It seems that the bulk of the fifth graders who do this are girls. One day on the walk home, very early on in the school year, M said, “I hope that I get to be a line leader some day!” She’s made similar remarks about the fourth and fifth graders who come down to her classroom occasionally as guest readers. She was smitten with her fifth grade “buddy”—a girl— that she worked with on some nature walk in the fall. She proclaims that someday she might want to be a swim instructor much like the young women she sees at the Y each week.
When I see these girls, I catch a glimpse of M in the future. It makes my heart swell that there is a way in this noisy and tempting world we now live in that innocence, bravery, responsibility and fulfillment can still prevail in the tricky tween years.
I think that we often forget that some of the best role models for the very young in our society are those young people that are just five or six years older. Especially at M’s age, where she is gaining an understanding of the passage of time and what constitutes a year, the steps that it will take to get to that age of having a small after school job or helping out at the Y must seem so much more tangible—and the girls in those roles now, much more relatable. The young women visible within M’s sphere of daily life offer so much more than what is presented in the media. I think these tweens soften the expectation and pressure of what is often asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” that so many adults often ask young children to ponder. They give young children a chance to think about their own futures with a series of baby steps rather than the adult leaps and bounds that are increasingly expected.
While I certainly hope that as M grows older and eventually gets to high school, she will shape her longer term plans for her life, right now, I love that her biggest goal is what she might be able to accomplish at just eleven or twelve. I think that says something about M, but also about these young women she looks up to. I sense her own aspirations are developing because of girls like these. For that, I’m thankful.
Quick housekeeping note: You may notice that I now have an “Email Subscription” field, both waaaaay down on the bottom of my main page, and on the side bar of individual blog posts if you click through to a particular post. It’s still in beta mode and this post will be the first test run. So, if you sign up to receive my blog posts via email (which I hope you do!), please be patient while I work out any kinks or formatting issues that may arise over the next few posts. Even though I’ve been blogging for four years come this June, I still take baby steps when it comes to the technology side. Thanks for understanding!
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
We live along an elevated edge of an abandoned granite quarry. Though it is pretty densely populated around here, the adjacent topography—the contours of the land that surrounds us—gives way to a wide expanse of sky. We are lucky in this way.
Our backyard and deck face the west, and the kitchen window above the sink looks out this way too. This means that, at the end of the day, perhaps when we need it most, we are privy to some of the most glorious of sundown skies. From our vantage point, though we cannot see the sun go down below the horizon, there is a lovely progression of dimming light that we do get to witness.
This is the cardinal direction that I favor most, the time of day when I feel most connected to the earth.
And yet, there are times, though not often, when I am roused enough by the morning sun and all of its offerings at the front of our house. The early light seems more like a promise, rather than the affirmation that the dusk provides. I’m not sure about you, but I have more faith in affirmations of what was, rather than in promises of what might be. But that scent of hope that a promise provides? It’s quite attractive sometimes.
The other morning was one such morning. It was a cotton candy sky—both the blue and the pink I suppose, though I am a traditionalist when it comes to spun sugar. I prefer mine pink. I lifted the shade and stood at her tiny dormer window for just a moment, stealing this view all for myself.
M was still waking up in her bed, but I knew if she didn’t hurry, she’d miss the morning light that was filled with her favorite color. I told her to come look. She’s never disappointed when I do that, though usually it is in the evenings and not when she wants to stay warm under the covers. She crawled onto her window seat and uttered her usual, whispered refrain, “Wow. It’s so beautiful.” Indeed it was. Somehow we were both able to see past the intrusive utility lines and the ugliness of the neighbor’s rotten shed. We were consumed by the rosy glow.
Ever since she’s voiced her affinity for pink, I’ve come to notice it more myself, especially in the sky. I now deliberately point it out to her, and she to me, so that neither of us misses a particularly spectacular show. Almost anything we’re doing can be momentarily stopped to revel in the bounty of light offered by the sun and sky. Before her, I probably would not have stopped so deliberately, and certainly not as often, to take note of the colors.
Now, the sundown sky often reveals the smallness of our time here. Since M entered my world, she has become the yardstick by which I measure this time. It’s not my parents’ lives. It’s not even my husband’s. No, the one thing that has made me take note of it is her. Before her, there were discrete goals that helped me measure time: attending and completing school, finding and advancing through a job, getting married, buying a house. These were but things on a list that needed to be checked off, and there was plenty of time to do it.
Once all of those things were accomplished, the rest of the time ahead of me felt more open-ended. I was slightly uneasy and irresponsible with it. I was wasteful. Then M was eventually born, and time instantly felt more finite. I felt a certain kind of deliberate call to action about how I was going to make use of what time was left. It all leaves me feeling a bit frantic.
I think we all have something that becomes our touchstone for measuring time, especially what we have left. For me, I’m now realizing, it’s my daughter and watching her grow. No matter how many more years I’ve got, I know it will not be enough. I think we’re all slightly greedy in this way, or at least I am. But, by ticking the time away night after night with sunsets that give us pause, or those sunrises that nudge us out of bed a few minutes early, I try to slow it all down just a bit. I’m pretty sure it’s not working, but at least we are enjoying the show together. And, I hope she will learn, earlier than I did, to give pause for all of those skies she will one day see without me by her side.
Much of my Instagram feed (where these images also have appeared) is filled with my sky-obsessed photos. If you like that kind of thing, come find me over there: @littlelodestar.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Sometimes, as a writer, you have to let go of certain pieces—that is, the ones that keep getting rejected. I wrote this about a year ago, in response to a call for submissions that focused on a particular theme. It got rejected. In fact, it got rejected a few more places after that. I need to let go of this piece, not because my confidence in it is faltering (though it is), but because the girl that I wrote about here, she’s different now. Braver and less risk averse. I want to honor that transformation. When I write about her, I want to be in the present. To do that, I need to let go of this tiny snapshot of the past.
What are you doing?” I asked her.
Her eyes were closed. Her empty hand was in a fist. Above it, she inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her sweet pink lips.
“Smelling my flower, and then blowing out my birthday candle to make a wish,” she replied, infused with that faint hint of “duh, Mama!” that five and a half year olds seem to suddenly pick up from the older kids at the playground.
My wrinkled eyebrow revealed that I didn’t understand.
“Miss Lara told me to do that when I was afraid of the dark clouds on the playground today,” she explained.
Ah, now I see. There must have been thunderstorms on the distant horizon during outdoor playtime. I can only imagine the look of fear that she must have had, likely clinging to the leg of the nearest adult. She had been in a stage where even the remotest of thunderstorm possibilities triggered palpable, visible fear. For the greater part of a year, this was but one thing that induced a perplexing state of anxiety for her, our sensitive worrier. These were covert breathing exercises aimed at getting her to relax.
But what threw me was the off-the-cuff brilliance of that twenty-something teacher’s aide. It far outshined the (very expensive) textbook advice that my anxious young daughter had received from her highly decorated post-doc therapist just nine months prior. It was so obvious and elegantly simple: if you want to reach a child, speak to them in their own magical language. Why do we adults so frequently forget this? Flowers and wishes? Yes, these she could understand. This she could use.
Our worrier was becoming a warrior. She was breathing again.
All it took was a pair of cheap plastic goggles. Not the supportive praise of her Dad offered from a poolside bench over sixteen humid Sundays at the Y. Not my kind words of encouragement before she left for her lessons, or the high fives for the small achievements when she returned. By all accounts she loved swimming in the pool. Yet despite our efforts, our young daughter was seemingly destined to remain a pike, with eel becoming increasingly elusive so long as she refused to immerse her head.
The reason? Wet eyes. She did not trust her breath if she had to keep her eyes closed too. Like me, she is someone who needs to see what is around her. Getting water in those bright blue eyes was the roadblock standing in the way of above and below.
Ultimately, it was not our measured reassurances and coaxing that gave her the confidence to go under. It was not our ability as loving, supportive parents. No, it was the bubblegum pink goggles found in the last aisle of a dusty bargain bin store, purchased in a last ditch effort to help her move forward. I hated them at first, overwhelming in their plastic stench and insulting in their $1.99 price tag. The likely conditions under which they were manufactured crawled under my skin. I thought about the environmental ramifications of my purchase as I reluctantly handed the clerk my five dollar bill.
But how could I ignore the instant transformation that this elegantly simple solution ultimately induced? This time, it seemed, her comfort and confidence were clearly Made in China.
Our little mermaid went deeper in the water and also within herself. She learned how to hold her breath.
The dichotomy of what my anxious little one learned in the span of just one year was nothing short of life saving, maybe for all of us. We are not living at the outer edge of raw exasperation. She can take in more of what life has to offer.
Breathe in, breathe out. Take a gulp of air, and hold it. To trust in these polar opposites is to reveal one’s own inner strength and bravery. She is freer now because she knows how to breathe, and when not to.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
It’s so interesting how far the pendulum swings sometimes, isn’t it? In less than ten hours I’ve gone from being amped up about seeing some photographs of strong women leaders that I admire, to hearing, with much disappointment, on the playground this morning just how far some people have to go when it comes to how we view and talk about girls and women.
Last night, 10PM, on the couch
While reading the April 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, I was struck by how inspired I felt after seeing the seventeen women noted in the photographic piece, “Lean In, Lead On.” Some of my favorite women were there, including Elizabeth Warren and Jane Goodall. I was happy to see the wide spectrum of ages, much less the diversity, both in race and professional background, of these women. I especially loved how they asked us to “bend the knee to the quiet bravura of Jane Goodall and Alice Waters, who have been leading by example for decades . . . .” I liked that particular description because it not only shows that there is something to be said for measured stamina in this kind of leadership, but that it does not have to be bold and loud to be effective. In fact, I think this might be my new favorite phrase. As an introvert myself, and as the mother of a young girl who also seems to veer more toward introversion, and is sensitive in ways that are seemingly profound, these kind of women make tremendous role models.
This morning, 7:50AM, on the playground
M was off on the monkey bars, completely by herself, but a huge smile on her face. It doesn’t seem to matter to her that she can only go from the starting point to the first rung—this is the essence of why I love her so much. She doesn’t get discouraged that almost everyone else who comes along to take a shot at the monkey bars can now go all the way across. M can still only do one. But it doesn’t get her down. It’s not a competition for her. At the sweet age of 6.5, this is how I want it to be. As I was standing there watching her from afar, I saw her take a tumble when she jumped down from the first rung. Sometimes, if she gets hurt or falls like that, it is an instant trigger for tears. I think mainly because I’m still on the periphery with the other parents; I don’t think she’s like that when I’m not around, but it’s hard to say. Where some kids might just pick themselves up and get back on, she can still give a good wail if she bangs a leg or jams a finger on the way down. But today, no tears. She laughed off the temporary bang-up and got back on.
As I was standing there watching her, this conversation then ensued with the mother of a boy in M’s class:
Parent: Wow! She’s always all smiles!
Me: Yes, usually. It’s great! But sometimes, like just now when she falls off, she might start crying. So I was just watching her to see whether that was going to happen since it can make or break a drop-off in the mornings, ha-ha!
Parent: Yeah, well that’s because she’s a girl.
Me: Well, I don’t know about that. I think it’s because she’s a sensitive soul and has been like that for a while. It’s so nice to see the sun, no?
I stood there trying to take in what she just said to me, waiting for the school bell to ring. I was astonished that this mother, obviously a female, would make such a stereotypical declaration (to another woman) about a girl. I was sad that she has a son who might be growing up in an environment where sensitivity—or, let’s be real, tears—is only expected from girls, as a rule. I was flabbergasted that assigning traits and characteristics by mere gender is still a thing that some parents of this millennium continue to do, much less openly so. I was trying to reconcile how we can have a list like the one in Vanity Fair and then pigeonhole girls on the playground simply because of their XX chromosomes.
Knowing that there are often reported differences between boys and girls doesn’t help either. That’s the problem with the studies: they forget the outliers and, in my opinion, end up perpetuating unhelpful or unnecessary stereotypes. They also don’t take into consideration the cultural reinforcement of stereotypes rather than the truly innate differences. It all makes me want to re-read Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain, Blue Brain.
The gender assumptions and prejudices just don’t sit well with me anymore because now there is someone more at stake than just myself. Yet, at the end of the day, I am completely uncertain about how to handle them when confronted in the parking lot or during schoolyard chit chat with people I hardly know. Ignoring these statements doesn’t seem right, at least not if I want to see some forward progress. But confronting someone or getting on a soapbox in these venues doesn’t seem quite right either. So what’s the solution? I’m not sure yet. My only hope is that through even small push backs like mine this morning, it will help others at least take a pause before declaring someone’s child is (or is not) a certain way simply because he is a boy or she is a girl. Maybe that will be my quiet bravura.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Copyright (c) 2010-2014 Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved. Personal theme was created in WordPress by Obox Themes.