Happy 12th Ri!

Our baby girl turned 12 on May 2. It’s hard to believe that 12 years ago, I was walking around the hospital halls trying to break my water so that I could finally meet her face-to-face. What would she look like? How would she act? Would she cry a lot or be chill? 

I had worked out the morning Ri was born – a 3 mile run and then weight-lifting and squats. I drove down to the doctor’s office for my 9 am appointment fully expecting to hear that all was going smoothly and take care until my next weekly visit. After all, I was still two weeks away from my due date. But surprise! As I laid on the table with legs spread and hands resting on my belly trying to feel Ri kick at me, the doctor peeked up from behind the sheet to calmly pronounce “you are dilated and effaced – you are going to have a baby today.”

Shit!

My stomach ached with fear of the pain of birth, joy at finally meeting my daughter, anxiety about the contractions, excitement about this change in our lives. But mostly, fear of the pain I was going to go through since I was adamant to “go natural” with no drugs. My Aunt Terrie had given me her birth video from the 1990s and listening to it would make you believe that she was being tortured by every person in the room. I laughed while watching it at my 6 month mark but it was not funny any longer. This was the real deal! 

The contractions came on the way to the hospital  with Jon (I drove home from my doctor’s appointment in order to take the dog for a quick walk and gather my things – Jon thought I was insane). They weren’t bad at all – just strange. Then they came every three minutes once we were in a hospital room. Still, they were tolerable. After an hour, the doctor recommended that they break my water and see what happens. They broke it at 12:30 PM and just over two hours later – at 2:41 – I got to make face-to-face contact with Maria Grace. I did not know what to think about those little black eyes staring up at me. 

Was she actually going to call me “mom” someday? How did this come about? How was I, a “mom?!”

When I was pregnant with Maria, I read an essay by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek titled I’ll Never Stop Saying Maria. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I must’ve read it 20 times over and cried each time harder than the last. I had a rough relationship with my mom as a teenager. She and I would fight – and fight hard – over the dumbest things.  Harsh words thrown like grenades at one another. Slamming doors. Screaming and tears. I had similar fights with my stepmom as a teen. In looking back, you can reason it – you can see why it was all happening. I had a lot of emotions swirling around my teen body with my parents’ divorce, my move from my community, being apart from my baby sister. I didn’t process how I was acting, why I was acting the way I was, how I may be hurting people who had dedicated themselves to raise me. Was this how it would be with me and this girl growing in me?

 At one point in my pregnancy, the fear of having a daughter was so great that I thought “I don’t think I will love her as much as I love my dog!” My dog wouldn’t scream at me and fight me to the death. 

But then my daughter arrived. 

The first few weeks, I would wake up terrified she was suffocating or choking on throw-up (too many 80’s horror movies). I would run into her room and jostle her to make sure I could see that she was breathing (I completely relate to Shirley McClane’s character in Terms of Endearment when she would pinch Deborah Winger, hear her cry, and then leave the room with a sigh of relief)!

In Quindlen’s essay, she argues that raising a daughter is a “complex matter.” She states:

Despite those who burble about someone to shop and chat with, the truth is that in their search for self, girls challenge their mothers in a way that boys rarely do. The ruling principle of burgeoning female identity seems to be a variation on Descartes: I am not my mom, therefore I am. Prudence Quindlen’s revenge, my father once called our youngest child, figuring she would give me the agita that I had given my own gentle mother. Certainly that has sometimes been the case. But Maria has done something for me that I never anticipated. She made me want to be a better woman.

Ri is just starting to test me and exhibit a bit of lip. It’s bearable for the moment. Typically, after a squabble, she will come give me a hug and apologize or I will do the same. We don’t stay angry for long. I want to think it will stay this way when she’s 16 – how much can she really change? My friends with teens laugh hysterically at my question. And then I think back to me at 16. Holy hell….

I am a Type A personality – I want control over things and I want them executed, NOW. I cannot sit still for more than three minutes, and I am prone to the extremes. I could hike for 10 hours straight. I thrive on constant action. Maria loves to savor her time. She could sit down to an amazing meal for five hours and simply enjoy the company and the deliciousness of the food. I would scarf mine down in 10 minutes and say “where are we off to next?!” Ri loves to rollerskate and rock climb; she could skip intense competition altogether. Ri is a daredevil. She would skydive or bungee jump in a heartbeat; I would rather have my eyes poked out. Ri listens and feels down to her core. She knows how to be in the moment. I barely savor a bite of my double chocolate chip scone on Sunday morning. These personality differences – along with raging hormones – are bound to cause some strife, but I am still confident, as Ri turns 12, that we can weather it. After all, I have the two women who weathered it with me giving me advice and solace during these times.

Ri is a fun kid – rarely in a foul mood – and she loves to have a good time. Even a ride to Target ends up amusing with her. She throws herself into the world – not caring if people look at her funny or think she’s weird. One of her mottos could be: “This is me – take it or leave it.” I’ve commented on numerous occasions that she may want to re-think wearing pj’s and roller skates to the coffee shop. Her response: “you tell me not to care what people think, so I don’t. Let’s go!” She would rather spend a day with her cousin Elena than go to a friend’s party. She is loyal to family, and chooses time with them over anything else. She’s non- judgmental and gets along with most everyone no matter if they are a star athlete or grunge. The other day I rolled my eyes at a lady wearing spiked heel and a crop top in the library. Maria counseled me: “you don’t know where she’s from or what she’s like so don’t judge her, mom.”

I imagined having a daughter would be exciting – getting to raise a female to conquer the world! I would teach her how to play softball, read books about strong women, take her to inspiring events. And it has been all that and more so far. But what I didn’t realize was how much Ri would influence me. I recall reading one of Shirley MacLaine’s books before I even contemplated kids. She talked about her daughter and believed that her daughter was her mother in a past life (love Shirley and her belief in reincarnation). I often think the same about Ri. How many times has Ri corrected me or reminded me of how to act?! I cuss and she gives me the glare. I’m inpatient and sighing, she tells me to calm down. 

She makes me consider what is important in life. She gets me thinking about new experiences. She pushes me to try new foods and relax for her homemade facial. She makes me jump off the inflatable when I’m scared to death. She sprays me with the hose while I’m in my work clothes and has me laughing about it minutes later. She has me question why I feel I have to wash the floor when I could be playing Yahtzee instead. 

She quashes my ego; it’s no longer about me, me, me but about her, her, her forging a life that is spontaneous, joyful, genuine, and open-minded.  It is such a gift to watch her grow up. Happy 12th Ri!  I am eternally grateful you are my daughter.



 

Girls and Boys

The boys and girls split up early yesterday morning. Ri and I left at 8 am for her indoor soccer game and Mario and Jon left at 8:45 am for Mario’s basketball game. Ri took me up on my advice to get more aggressive, at least somewhat. She went for the ball a few more times than last week. Slowly but surely….
After soccer, we stopped at Starbucks and got my coffee. Ri wanted to try something new so we got her a chai latte. She loved it.

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We saw the boys off to go hunting (Mario was so excited) and got to work cleaning the house. All the salt and snow had been tracked in and it was driving me nuts. Ri agreed to do the toilets and I did the floors. As we began, she looked at me with a rag in her hand and mused “Susan B. Anthony would be shaking her head at us doing the cleaning in the house after everything she fought for on behalf of women.” Touché. I explained to her that we are doing it of our own choosing and the boys would definitely be folding laundry when they got home.
After finishing the household chores, we settled down for a mani/pedi in the kitchen. Ri wasn’t too concerned about this activity when I said “why should girls feel they have to get their nails done and not boys?!” Her response: “boys should get them, too.” I had told Ri that we could go to CK Nails but she responded ” why don’t we save money and just do them for each other?” That’s my girl. And so she arranged the kitchen as a nail salon with two trays and chairs and polish, clippers, files, moisturizer, towels, and bowls of water. She gave me my mani/pedi first. I have to act like I’m in her salon and she tells me about all the famous people she treats at her salon. She informed me that I had large veins in my hands which was a sign of stress. I needed to take it easy (her way of getting me to sit with her all afternoon). She finished my hands and moved onto my feet. Yowzer! She had her hands full with my feet. They are definitely runners’ feet. She kept her game face on though as she worked on them since she didn’t want to offend her customer.

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By the time I finished Ri’s nails, we were starving. Ri agreed to walk to Stauf’s but only if she could scooter. Deal. I miss heading up to Stauf’s on the weekends. When the kids were little, I’d stroll or bike or carry them up to Stauf’s for a muffin or bagel at least once a weekend if not two or three times. We lived two blocks away. All those memories flooded back as I sat across from Ri and she worked on a crossword puzzle and we ate our bagels. How has she grown into such an amazing girl in what feels like three seconds?
We played tether ball on the way home and I’ve never felt so uncoordinated in my life. Ri got a kick out of seeing me so unable to play an activity. She also got a kick out of me getting slammed in the stomach by the ball. Yea, it was ugly. Not a fan.
On the way home, we decided to go see a movie at the dollar theatre. We decided on Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good Day. Before we saw that though, we had to try on Ri’s new Susan B. Anthony outfit that we ordered for her play next week. She looked like she had been blasted out of the 1800’s. She loves it.

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As we drove to the movie, I remembered that Ri could not eat popcorn with her palette expander. Dang. I didn’t want to make her jealous so I had to be relegated to Milk Duds and nachos. Ri got a one quarter pound angus hot dog, God love her. The movie was bearable, which was a gift since so few are at her age.
We drove home and ended our night with a call from Jon informing us that Mario and him got a rabbit. Mario climbed through the thorn bushes to retrieve the rabbit for him.
Ri and I laid in her bed while Rocco ran back and forth from her bed to the hall chasing a ball. We laughed so hard at his crazy antics until he finally had enough and laid his head at the end of the bed. We rested our heads on her purple pillows and fell fast to sleep.

Calling it out

My poor girl has been sick all weekend but she mustered up enough energy to help me buy gifts for colleagues on-line. During the process of trying to find personalized picture frames and ornaments, it struck home how she is so perceptive and aware at age 9.
The first moment was when we were looking at ornaments and flashing letters splashed across the screen informing us that we had 11 MORE HOURS to get free shipping on all our gifts.
“Mom! Hurry up and find your gifts! You don’t want to lose out on free shipping! It costs a lot to ship!
That’s my frugal girl.

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The next moment was while we were looking at personalized frames for a friend and her wife who were recently married. All of the frames were titled with your typical middle class white names – “Jim and Nancy” and “Steve and Susie.” I was secretly smirking at the name choices and the pictures of the couples leaning against a tree laughing or embracing in front of an impeccable brick home. As I continued to look for a present-worthy frame, Ri remarked in a mocking tone “look at Jim and Nancy so quaint and happy.” Then she followed it right up with “all the couples here are a man and a woman; there aren’t any gay couples.”
Indeed, Ri, isn’t it a shame.
“But,” she concluded sarcastically, “they did include one African American couple in the mix….. Just sad.” She shook her head in disbelief.
I chuckled at her sarcasm and keen perception. But then I remembered that it wasn’t my girlfriend I was talking with, it was my nine year old daughter. I stared at her – as she continued to search for frames – in amazement and with pride over her ability to grasp how tilted this world can be in addition to her boldness in raising the issue.
After a half of an hour, we eventually found a wooden frame we likes. And we promptly replaced the names “Jim and Jennifer” with “Eunice and Marsha.”

Act up!

I appreciate what the author of this article is trying to get across – don’t raise your daughter to be self conscious about her body. Tell her she’s strong. Let her know you run to be healthy. Inform her you do squats to climb mountains. Educate her to eat well to live a long time.
I don’t disagree, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to remind us of how important this is for our daughters to hear.
But damn if I don’t say those things over and over again to Maria yet she still looks at herself in the mirror at times and says “I’m too big.”
I stand behind her when I hear that and make her look at herself. “Keep looking,” I tell her. I look in the mirror with her. I talk about how strong she is. How she can pick me up because of those muscular legs. How her arms are able to carry loads of groceries in the house. How her booty pushes down on those bike pedals and makes her ride like the wind around town.
She smiles. She nods her head and hugs me. And I hope those affirmations strike deep into her soul and remain.

The other morning I walked into her room and noticed three barbies lying on the floor. One was naked with her perky boobs standing straight up in salute. Another had on a party dress up to her mid-thigh; her tiny legs the circumference of pencils. Another had on a bikini with a stomach that was not only flat but actually concave into her body like a tiny dip in the road.
Hmmm, I wonder where she finds evidence to make her feel “big.”

My mom got me the Dusty doll when I was Ri’s age. She had dull brown hair cut to her shoulders, size AA breasts, if that, hidden under a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and gym shoes. Yea, that explains a lot about me today. That Dusty doll made a lasting impression on me through my love of sports and hard labor and lifting weights and running shorts and gym shoes (put me near pairs of heels and nothing happens but put me near pairs of running shoes, and I salivate!)).

Ri has little rolls on her tummy. I catch her doing what I did as a young girl. Pinching the rolls with her two fingers as she lies in bed staring up at the ceiling. What’s she thinking? I remember feeling “if only I could get rid of these, I’d be as pretty as —-.” I grew up with MTV and with Charlie’s Angels. Madonna. Christie Brinkley. I remember wishing – with my like flat-chested girlfriend – of having big boobs and a tiny waist like the actresses on tv. Ri is growing up with Selena Gomez, Christina Aguilera, and tv shows with perky girls in fashionable clothes. Nothing has really changed.

I’m so thankful for the women that raised me. Through them, I saw that there were other qualities about a girl that mattered. I watched full-bodied women dance in flowing dresses without a care; I listened to women of all shapes laugh together at the dining room table; I witnessed intellect and debate shoot from the mouths of women in my home and in my school. These women weren’t hung up on their dress size – they were hung up on life and fully experiencing it. Amen sisters.

Luckily, a lot of those same women are helping me raise Ri. She’s bearing witness to many of the acts I bore witness to as a young girl. Amen again, sisters.

And so while I appreciate and take note of these articles that remind us to watch what we are saying to our daughters and how we are talking about our own bodies around them, I also need to keep in mind the importance of actions.

Buy the Dusty dolls and the science kits.
Dance around the house like an exotic butterfly.
Fix the kitchen drain with my own two hands.
Mow the lawn.
Jump on my bike with Ri and ride a trail.
Embrace my stomach and my butt.
Write a poem.
Lift heavy weights.
Flex my muscles.

Let Ri see, as well as hear, that no matter if you have lotsa rolls or just a few, who cares? Concentrate on simply diving into life and fully experiencing it.

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I think she’s getting it just fine.

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Ri’s first Women’s Fund Keyholder event – 2014:

I first learned of the Women’s Fund when I got an email that Gloria Steinam was a guest speaker at one of their events. I admired Steinam and had read essays and speeches she had given. I knew she was a crucial voice in the women’s’ movement and that my mom had admired her as she grew into her own in the 70’s. My mom had also gifted me an autograph from Gloria Steinam to me after my mom attended an event with her in the early 1990s. I hadn’t given that autograph much thought since I had received it from my mom in my early 20s. It was stored away in a box with other childhood items. But when that email came across, something jolted in me.
I went home that evening and found the framed autograph. I’m sure I played with Ri, who was not even two at the time, and fed her dinner, and rocked her to sleep for hours. And then I made it downstairs to my computer, and typed in my Visa number to make a contribution to the Women’s Fund. They allowed you to write a tribute and so I did: to my mom for introducing me to Steinam and feminism and belief in self and hard work and equality. I thanked her for helping to make me a strong and loving mom to Maria. A few weeks later, I got a call from the Women’s Fund. They asked if I’d make a video of my tribute to play the night of the event. I was flabbergasted and thrilled. And immediately agreed. As I prepared my words to my mom, I brought out my framed autograph and hung it in Ri’s room. I believe there was a surge of power that entered her room when I hung it over her dresser that night. I think she felt it, too, as she squealed (or it could have been gas, but that’s not as riveting).
When I went to shoot the video, I had a plan. I was going to ask if Gloria Steinam would autograph the Women’s Fund invitation for Maria. How awesome would that be? There was no way that Ri could be anything but a strong, powerful, aware woman with two framed autographs from Gloria Steinam! And because Gloria Steinam is the incredible woman she is, she agreed. And Ri now has two autographs hanging on her wall.
Fast forward to a week ago – May 1, 2014. One day before Ri’s 9th birthday. I got to bring her as my guest to the Women’s Fund Keyholder event with Ashley Judd as the speaker. I explained to Ri about the Steinam autographs, about my commitment to helping women in need, about women supporting women, and she soaked it all in. She ran around City Hall’s grounds and posed with statues before we met up with her girlfriend and her mom.

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We sipped on smoothies and talked about Ashley Judd (since the girls had not heard of her (when Ri read about her she was flabbergasted that she made a movie in 1995!)).

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While waiting on my girlfriend outside of the Ohio Theatre, Maria spotted a local news anchor from NBC 4 (her favorite weekday morning show). She pulled at my sleeve in awe.
“It’s Mikaela Hunt, mom!”
We walked over and Ri said hi to her. Ms. Hunt asked her some questions and Ri answered shyly. As we walked away, she stopped. She wanted her picture with her. We walked back and asked and this picture was taken:
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She was charged up. And she stayed that way throughout the night. They had videos in the beginning of the evening of women and girls talking about themselves and at the end of the clip, the women and girls would fill in a word on a blackboard that read “I am ______.” One wrote “brave”, another wrote “kind.” It was powerful, and I whispered to Ri that she was all those things.
Ashley Judd surprised me with her humor and grace and humility. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. She spoke of her humanitarian work and how overwhelming it can be to feel like you can’t do enough. She’d go back to her hotel room and sob in despair. And then she met a guide who clarified for her that she can only do what she is able and what she’s doing is powerful and effective. And she reminded her that she needs to make room for those closest to her because it’s only when we nourish those relationships with partners and kids and friends that we can truly give and feel satisfied giving to a range of others. That hit home for me. She was genuine and funny and inspiring.
At the end of the event, they asked for donations. Ri and I took the envelopes out of our bags. I explained to her what you could do with a donation, i.e., make it in honor of, or in memory of, someone. She brushed me away and said “I got it mom.” She then asked me for a sheet of paper. I looked over in the corner of my eye and saw her writing blank lines. Because she’s Ri, and so thoughtful, I had an inkling she was doing something for me. She bundled up the paper and put it in the envelope and gave it to me (she didn’t quite understand that she was supposed to add a Visa number and give it to the folks at the doors as we left). She told me to wait until we left the Theatre to open it. As we walked down High Street towards the car, I opened it.
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She had written all the adjectives that she believed described me. I was taken aback by her gesture and did the only thing I knew to do: capture her in a huge hug as tears formed in my eyes.
“No crying is allowed tonight, mama! Wipe those eyes and put on a smile!” (She’s got a lot of her dad in her). I listened to her and put on a smile as we posed by the statutes and giggled at each other on our way to the car. I am blessed with a strong community of women by my side between my moms and aunts and cousins and grandmothers and friends and colleagues. I am grateful for the women power at the event that night and for being able to allow my daughter to absorb it all. She clearly fit in perfectly.
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