Womanhood, often depicted, rarely captured. Painting by Edward Burne-Jones 1872.
My little girls are growing older. Zuzu has begun to leave the house without looking backward and Viola says things that very nearly make sense. We were out walking and storytelling the other day when it occurred to me, I am not raising little girls, I am raising women. The thought, simple as it may seem, changed the moment and the day and the thoughts of what lay ahead. I am not suffering from some advanced case of Peter Pan Syndrome. I knew that my daughters would turn into women someday.
No, the realization had little to do with what passing years will give them in terms of physical maturity and age. Rather, I realized that the seeds of Womanhood – that hotly contested, often debased, always glorious state of being – have existed within them since before they were born.
We walked home and the girls sang and I felt just a little afraid.
Those seeds. Everything my daughters need to be women are already within them. Their passions, their hopes, their innate knowledge, the things that make them Viola and Zuzu, it is all there. With the right care, enough sun and time they will flower and bloom just as they are meant to do. I am not afraid of them growing wild and unruly. Wild flowers have always been my favorite kind anyways.
So what am I afraid of? What makes me stay awake at night, staring into the dark?
So many things.
I am afraid that they will believe the people that speak the loudest rather than those that speak with the most thought. I am afraid that they will think their gender means they have to fight someone’s holy war. That they owe sacrifices to someone else’s ideal of womanhood. I am afraid that they will think being a woman is no different than being a man or that it is better or worse. I am afraid to push too much of what I believe womanhood to be upon them. I am even more afraid that I will not push enough. I am afraid that they will be ashamed and fettered. I am afraid that they will think freedom means carelessness. I am afraid of a world that tells them so many of the things that protect them and direct them are natural flaws waiting to rubbed out. I am afraid that they will forget how to blush. I am afraid that their voices will be too quiet. I am afraid they will not say “yes”, just as thoroughly as I am afraid they will not say “no”. I am afraid of the bitterness that can cloud truth and the naivety that can dull wisdom. I am afraid they will not taste enough. I am afraid they will not be satisfied.
I am so heartachingly afraid that somewhere between the bathing suit insecurity and life path uncertainty, they will miss the beauty, pain, power and magnitude of being a woman. There are depths to which only the brave can descend and sharp pin points of light that only the most earnest can see. I want those things for them even more than I want them for myself.
So. A project.
I can’t define womanhood for my daughters. But I can show them the things I have discovered and discuss those that I still seek. Over the next year I will write a series of essays under the title of, A Call to Womanhood. Ruminations on the simple and complex. Thoughts about modesty, sex, gender roles, learning to drive in high heels and making our voices heard.
I hope you join the discussion. I hope this becomes a place of further enlightenment. You all have so much to teach me.
As for my girls? At the ripe old ages of 4 and 22 mo they are a bit young to be interested in my thoughts on women’s rights or the female divine. I suppose I just hope they read along as they get older. I hope they pick up the bits that shine for them and leave the rest. I hope they know I am proud of them. I hope they know I tried my best. I hope they find any truth that I missed or tossed aside and bring it back to me.
I hope they are happy.
The first essay in A Call to Womanhood will appear next Tuesday.
She says she wants to be Annie Oakley. I can think of worse role models.
Zuzu left on her first grand adventure yesterday.
My dad had to drive down to California on business and Riley’s parents live just one town over from my dad’s work. My girls are blessed with four amazing grandparents but they do not see the Bingham side of the equation often enough. A thought occurred to me somewhere between pushing the girls on the swing for the 100th time and stepping on a Sleeping Beauty figurine for the 1000th time. Why not send Zuzu with my dad?
So I can have a break? So she can see her Nana and Pop?
So a phone call, (Dad, don’t you want to spend the next ten hours with a four year old in your car?) and an hour of frenzied packing (Mom! Don’t forget my Sleeping Beauty underwear! That is the only kind I can wear in CA!) and it was time to send her off.
She looked so little in my dad’s big truck. My tiny ragamuffin surrounded by princess blankets and pillows and books. In her left hand she held a candy cane and in her right she clung to her purple camo toy gun.
“Honey, that gun is pretty big, do you think you need to bring it with you?”
“Mom! What if there are dragons? I need to protect us!”
“Oh, well. In that case, make sure you don’t let go of it.”
I posted a picture of her holding that little toy gun with her eyes all lit with adventure to my instagram feed yesterday. Most of the comments were positive, but there were a few that took strenuous issue with the fact I let her have a purple plastic shotgun. (I erased most of them, I don’t think political debates belong next to my daughter’s face.) Gun control, pro or anti, is a hot topic in our culture and I am not planning to address it in this post. I can appreciate a mother that decides her children will not play with toy guns just as thoroughly as I can appreciate one who does. One of the glories of motherhood is that it is not one size fits all.
I do know that what I saw when looking at that picture was something drastically different than what the angry commenters could see. I saw a little girl with big plans. I saw a girl, who when going out into the world, decided to do so with both the pretty and the practical. I saw a girl who knows the world is full of dragons and also knows she has the tools to knock them down and keep right on going. I saw power and confidence and can do.
I saw the kind of daughter I have always hoped to raise.
(ONE CHILD FOR THREE DAYS! VIOLA AND I ARE GOING TO LUNCH! AND THE MALL! AND ON WALKS! AND DOING NOTHING AT ALL!)
No make up me with the crazy kid brigade.
Riley says that I think differently than other people. Sometimes this is said with a smile, other times with a straight face and quick shake of the head.
I can be a bit crazy.
It had already been a bang-a-rang of a day. It started with an early morning Wal-Mart run. The kids were upset and the fluorescents did my already tired, how much day is there left eyes no favors. I spent thirty dollars more than I planned to on “MOM! I HAVE NEVER HAD PRINGLES! THEY LOOK AMAZING!” and “THAT TRAMPOLINE IS FULL OF BALLS! WE DON’T HAVE A BALL OR A TRAMPOLINE!” and “MINE? MINE? MINE?” kind of emergencies. What can I say? I was in a weak state and the little gremlins could smell it on me. (We got the ball, not the trampoline and that last exclamation was courtesy of Viola.)
Then there was playing outside and cleaning the kitchen and spilling otter pops outside and being upset that the otter pops spilled and “Is that all the nap you are going to take? Really?”. (All of this was interspersed with delightful visits with both Alison and Lizzie. I love those girls.)
By three pm, I was ready for a few hits of Diet Dr Pepper and a handful of chocolate but we still had a trip to Costco on the docket. When I started the car I was greeted with a bone dry gas tank. So we put putted our way to the gas station while I said things like, “I can’t run the air conditioner because we have no gas. I know it is hot. You will be ok. WE WILL ALL BE OK!”
Our destination accomplished and the girls pacified with water bottles, I began the seemingly simple task of filling the gas tank. Except for simple was the last thing it was, because this is how the thoughts spilled out of my head….
Oh man, Zuzu was right. It is hot out here. I am so glad we have air conditioning. I mean, I know it wouldn’t be the end of the world without it, but it sure is nice. Huh. The end of the world. That’s a phrase that gets used a lot. I guess people are built for hyperbole. Although…I suppose nothing goes on forever. I mean…it has to end sometime. What would that mean? Does the end of the world have to mean the end of earth or would it really just mean the end of current circumstance? In the former there isn’t much one could do, is there? Unless of course, we had colonized Mars by the time it happened. But in the latter, if one was prepared, I guess you could make do. Man. What if it was the “end of the world” today? Would we be ready? We would definitely need to drive to my parent’s house. But that is forty miles away. Oh my gosh. Wouldn’t it be tragic if we had to get out there, but I hadn’t put enough gas in the car the day before the end of the world? I mean it is the end of civilization, where would I get gas? Where would we get anything? WHERE WOULD WE GET DIET COKE? What if rescue and water was just forty miles away but an empty gas tank kept us from it? Man, I would never forgive myself. Maybe I better fill all the way up today. I mean it could be the end of the world. Everything could be hinging on THIS gas station trip! And my decision to spend the extra thirty dollars to fill up my tank could mean the difference between a life of relative plenty for my girls or a life of living on what has become a figurative island of crime and hunger! So much can hang on one seemingly inconsequential decision! Everything we do matters!
It is really hot out here. And filling up the car will take another four minutes AT LEAST. And those Costco churros aren’t going to buy themselves.
Hmmmm. Today’s probably not the end of the world.
I’ll fill up the gas tank tomorrow.
So, I live with a brain that thinks the end of the world is a probable event and decides to put off relative safety for a couple of churros. There is so much wrong with that sentence I can’t even begin to analyze it.
I guess I just think differently than other people.
The Listen to Your Mother Show went so perfectly. We laughed, we cried, I got to wear my mom’s vintage Chanel dress…and take it home with me for keeps. Also? The show sold out. Hip hip hooray!
The show was about mothers and I have the kind of mom that inspires essays and childhoods and moments in the kitchen. She was my first friend and I spent my childhood, pre-adolescence and teenage years talking to her in the car, through bathroom doors and in her bedroom. One marriage and two kids later and I still call her most days – sometimes to chat, sometimes to cry – always to be heard.
My mom is also crazy talented and she created a lovely, otherworldly flower arrangement to sit on stage with us as we read about our journeys through motherhood. Most people would have created something beautiful for the occasion and the good lady surely did. But she also created something meaningful. My mom always has had a way of doing that – showing me where meaning and beauty meet and create something important and lasting. The piece is full of my great grandmother’s and grandma’s costume jewelry and pieces of my dear mom’s own frosting – pearls and clips and crystals that shine. The porcelain flowers nestled into the dried flowers came from a store I watched her dream up and allow me to be a part of for a while. It was an insight filled journey, working every day in a world of my mom’s making. We learned a lot about each other and most of it was even good. No one knew that the pretty collection of flowers and twigs on stage was really a pretty little collection of my past. When I got up to speak, I didn’t feel alone. My mother and grandmother were right beside me.
That afternoon I went to my parent’s house to pick up the arrangement. It was sitting in the front room with a card addressed to me. That lovely note now sits in a box of keepsakes, but I wanted to share it with you here.
(The event took place in a dinosaur museum and the room was surrounded by their bones and depictions of their natural habitat.)
May 9, 2013
As I watch you realize your dreams, I am a proud mama. I am grateful you allowed me to participate, in a small way, with you tonight.
As we shopped together for this arrangement to set on stage with you and the wonderful women who will participate in “Listen to Your Mother”, I was thinking like a designer. I wanted to match the feel of the room, the dinosaurs peering in as you each read your parts. I wanted it disappear, but you know me…I started thinking.
I thought about those dinosaurs and realized we are still learning from them after they have been many a millennia gone from us, and I realized the same is true about our mothers. Many of the things a mother teaches, she doesn’t even know she is teaching. The dinosaurs certainly didn’t set out to teach us anything. However, they continue to unwittingly help scientists unlock, and learn of, many of the mysteries and miracles that are a part of our home.
So…instead of matching the museum’s aesthetics, I thought I would create the arrangement as a parallel. Perhaps the arrangement is not the perfect design for the room. It may be too sentimental for some; but, it includes pieces from a mother who is still here and mothers who have been gone from you for a while. Some beyond your memory and some not. Women, who like the dinosaurs, without their realization, you will continue to learn from far into the future.
I love you with all my heart.
Man, I am some kind of lucky.
Me in my mom’s Chanel and pearls (right) alongside the fabulous Amy Hackworth, a lovely writer that also read for LTYM.
Today is the day!
The Listen To Your Mother Show is tonight at 7pm at Thanksgiving Point in Utah. Join me and Cjane Kendrick, Amy Hackworth, Holly on the Hill and so many more as we talk about motherhood honestly and share our stories. Doors open at 6:15 and tickets will be sold at the door (and they will be taking credit cards, woot woot.) Tickets are only $10, making this event both a meaningful AND cheap mother’s day gift.
Want to know why I love it and why I hope you come right along and join us?
Check out this video by the founder, Ann Imig. It will make you cry. Well, it made me cry. But then what doesn’t…
Here are a few of my thoughts on the lovely women I am appearing with, and lovely is really the right word.
And just in case I haven’t persuaded you fully, watch this video of me being as animated as a muppet while I talk about how much I love this project.
Will I see you there?