Our little girl loves to read. This is big because last summer, her confidence around reading was non-existent but now she can sit with books for a long time on her own. She loves that I write books and will ask me now and then, “How’s your next book coming along?” which makes my heart melt completely. Continue Reading
What does it mean to be
Raising a black girl
Lemonade? Continue Reading
Rub lavender oil on my feet at bedtime
Cheer myself on when I’m learning a new skill
Add extra hot water to a bath so I could stay in as long as I wanted
If I took care of myself like I take care of my daughter, I would…
“Mommy, I just really want to take my locket into camp today.”
“I know, love. That’s so disappointing that you can’t bring toys in. I’m glad you are getting to hold it in the car and play with it now.”
Silence. I look in the rearview mirror and see a single tear fall from her left eye. Her right eye is covered by a mermaid eye patch so the scene is particularly heart-wrenching. She drops her head and I can see the wave of grief coming on. Having to leave something she loves behind is an enormous trigger for a girl who lost her family, her neighborhood, her toys, and all of life as she knew it before coming to live with us. I take a deep breath, like I’ve learned to do, and focus on my own heartbeat to stay calm.
“I see you are so sad. I understand. As soon as we park the car, I can hold you.”
And I do. We sit in the backseat rocking while I kiss her teary face and hold her tight. She lets me. After a few short moments, I see her take a deep breath.
“Are you ready?” I ask. She nods and we stand up. I offer to hold the locket and key in my pocket so she knows it’s safe. I reassure her that she’ll get to hold it again when I pick her up after camp. She nods again and we walk hand in hand into Art Yowza Camp where a dozen kids are running happily and playing tag. She drops my hand immediately and joins the game.
Let me break down exactly why this scenario is a HUGE FREAKING MIRACLE. Just three months ago, the drive would have been very different. My daughter’s grief would have been mixed with rage and fear so enormous that her tears would escalate into screaming, taking her seat belt off, kicking the driver’s seat with full force and on the worst days, pounding the glass window with her fists. And it would have lasted anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. And on one terrible day, four hours. Literally. But the difference in her behavior now is not the miracle I even want to focus on. The real magic is in how differently I behaved.
Her rage and PTSD used to trigger my own rage and PTSD before I could stop it. If I was alone with her in the car during an epic tantrum, I had no way to access all my skills as a compassionate girl advocate and educator. I became a frightened child and my logical brain shut down completely. More often than I’d like to admit, I responded by yelling, shaming, and on the worst days, grabbing her arm or leg roughly to try and make her stop. I felt so ashamed of myself. Why couldn’t I be compassionate? I knew that meeting a child’s trauma response with a calm voice and reassuring presence was the only thing that could help. Why couldn’t I stay calm when I knew I was “supposed to?” I was afraid it meant I was a bad mom. Luckily, just a few months later, I know it means I was a triggered mom. And I knew enough to get help managing my PTSD symptoms so I could do better. Here’s the best of what I’ve learned to be the compassionate Mama I want to be… most of the time
- Try to notice when I’m triggered and say to myself, “Oh, I’m triggered.”
- Keep my mouth shut (Kidpower says, “Mouth closed power!) and breathe. Focus on my own breath. Notice my heartbeat. Breathe to help it slow down. Did I mention, DO NOT TALK?
- Accept that her tantrum is not my fault. I did not cause it. I cannot stop it. It’s just what is happening.
- Help keep her physically safe—like putting a pillow under the head of someone having a seizure (move tables out of the way, pull the car over, move out any objects she’s throwing or hitting).
- Hug her and tell her I love her when it’s over. Wait until everyone feels better before talking about anything logical like what she can do to feel her big feelings without hurting herself or anyone else.
- Forgive myself immediately if I cannot do any of the first five things.
My therapist is a PTSD specialist. She works with war vets and now…foster parents to stay in the moment and help our brains rewire to feel safe. She recommends mindfulness practice as the number one tool to deal with fight, flight or freeze symptoms. Pema Chodron’s Unconditional Confidence, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and John Kabat-Zinn are the resources she shared with me.
For any of you parents who need a miracle to shift the way trauma plays out in your homes, I hope this helps!
We bought the costume – one of the only age appropriate/not hyper-sexualized cat costumes for young girls – at the Halloween Super Store back in the beginning of October. She loves it and she can’t wait to premiere it this Saturday.
Last year, just weeks after the Squirrel coming to our home, we got her both an Elsa and an Ariel costume a few days before Halloween. She couldn’t decide which one to be so, she wore both.
A lot has changed in a year.
Imagine you had to choose between 2 costumes. In your mind, they are both great ideas. You love both the dresses. They both represent what you love most in the world. How do you decide which one to pick?
Now, imagine that this is your first Halloween in a new city. In a new home. You don’t know anyone else your age in the neighborhood, let alone what costumes they will be wearing. You have no idea who will open the door when you press the doorbell and yell “Trick or Treat!” And, you are not exactly sure they will be giving out the kind of candy you like. How do you pick a costume?
Finally – stick with me- imagine that, not only are you in a new city, you are in a whole new family. Everyone you have ever known is gone. You are being asked to accept two total strangers as your new parents. You have no sense of time and space and don’t know if you are coming or going. You are desperately trying to grab onto anything that you can feel some semblance of control over.
You don’t exactly remember what happened last Halloween and you can’t possibly imagine where you will be next Halloween. Now, how on earth do you choose a costume?
Researchers studying the impact of trauma on decision-making define decision-making as:
“a complex process that requires identifying alternatives, evaluating their probability and estimating their consequences”
Based on this definition, it is no wonder that both small and large decisions can allude most of us – especially us women and girls who struggle with perfectionism. Decision-making puts us in the position of having to choose the “right answer” when one rarely exists. When we are caught up in our own mess of wanting to appear flawless, please others, and avoid the challenging emotions associated with making mistakes, making a choice becomes an extremely difficult thing to do. Take that perfectionism and add a dose of trauma and you can become completely paralyzed.
It is no wonder that the Squirrel had to be a Disney Princess mash-up last year. I remember a time about a year ago when the 3 of us were in a café and we asked her to pick out the sweet treat she wanted. She couldn’t do it. She literally worked herself into such a terrible fit over a scone vs. a muffin that we had to leave the café.
What surprises me is how much has changed over the last year. Just the other day, we were all – once again – in a café. When it was time for the Squirrel to decide what she wanted to eat, she promptly replied, “A yogurt and a cinnamon roll. Oh, and one of these fruit snacks!”
“That’s too much. Just choose 2 things.”
“Okay. I’ll just have the yogurt and cinnamon roll then.”
On the surface, deciding to eat a cinnamon roll or be a spy kitty for Halloween may seem like no big deal. But, let’s all remember how complex a process decision-making is. It’s something all of our girls are practicing and struggling with. “I’ll have the cinnamon roll” should be greeted with celebration and encouragement. “Great! Way to go! Good job making that decision.”
I jumped for joy when the Squirrel chose her Halloween costume this year – and not just because I was completely ecstatic over such a creative, original, non-Disney-licensed choice. I was excited that she made a choice. Making this choice shows me that she is much more at peace than she was a year ago. Her brain has calmed down enough to identify alternatives, evaluate their probability and estimate their consequences. Her life is stable enough that she is beginning to trust that each choice is not her last choice. She is easing into the comfort of knowing who and where she is, that there is often no “right answer,” and that she has the power to explore, experiment, and try again.
Like I said, we bought the cat costume weeks ago. Now, she is beginning to waver on the “spy” part. “I think I just want to be a regular cat.” Ugh. My guess is that, as she is discovering what her friends’ costumes are, she is starting to feel embarrassed by her incredibly unique idea. We’ll see what happens. We still have a few days left.
I gotta tell you how excited I am today.
It has been so incredibly satisfying and rejuvenating for both Allison and me to have this opportunity to share our stories on this blog as we make our way down our path to raising a Go Girl!. We have made this space to write about what we know, what we certainly don’t know, what we wished we had known, and what we are working hard to figure out. The response we have been getting has been inspiring and has motivated us to keep sharing.
And now, we are taking our storytelling up a notch.
Tomorrow, we will be hosting a free webinar called Raising a Go Girl! where we will share our stories live as we present the art and science behind the learning philosophy of Go Girls! Camp. We just did a test run of the webinar to work out all of the technical kinks and…can I just tell you…I am so friggin’ excited! There are dozens of folks signed up ready to hear what we have to say about how the heck we can come together to raise girls to be both powerful and peaceful.
I just can’t wait because I predict this webinar is going to change the world. I know. When I say this, it sounds naive. Like a 1-hour webinar could possible change the world. When I say this, though, I mean that it will change my world…and that counts. It will change my world because for years now, I have wished and wanted to be able to share more of my philosophy about raising girls with more people. But wishing and wanting don’t get us very far. Doing and planning and intending and trying and expecting, however….that’s what moves mountains.
So, I am excited because I am standing at the base of my mountain and I am ready to push. I am even going to treat myself tonight to get ready. Take myself to the mall for a little eyebrow threading and perhaps a new top. We’ll see what Old Navy has in stock that says “world changing webinar” for about $30 or less.
As readers of this blog, I hope you join us. Let me know if I picked the right shirt.
The other morning at breakfast, the Squirrel noticed that she and I both had the same amount of orange juice left in our glasses. “Let’s race to see who can finish first!,” she screamed. “Ugh,” I responded. I just wanted to enjoy my orange juice.
This ordinary breakfast moment made me wonder/panic, “What will be my daughter’s relationship to competition?” And this morning, in the wake of my town’s fervor over the victory of the Golden State Warriors, I feel the need to explore the concept of competition a bit further.
My competition-panic comes from the fact that I have always been a bit competition-phobic. My grandfather, who was an Olympic-class runner in his youth, used to tell a story about me that I absolutely love. One summer while I was visiting my grandmother and him in their home in Evanston, IL, he entered me in a little kids’ race in connection with a 4th of July festival. I was around 5 and was running the race with other 5 year olds. How cute is that?
According to my grandfather, I was fast. I took off with an early lead and kept that lead for a long time. Until, I noticed that I was in the lead. I noticed I was no longer with all of the other kids. So, I stopped. I was waiting for them to catch up.
I love this story because I feel like it so beautifully depicts my values of community, connection, and equity. I have committed my adult life to examining and promoting how to bring people together; how those left behind can catch up.
At the same time, as a girl advocate, the story troubles me. Why couldn’t I take my place out ahead? Why was I uncomfortable leading the group?
One thing I noticed while witnessing the aftermath of last night’s championship game was the massive amount of community and connection that was created by the Warriors’ win. Right at the final buzzer, I ran outside my door just because I was curious what folks would do to celebrate. I heard yelps and hollers and car horns and gun shots and firecrackers and general jubilation. There was even someone on my street playing a horn of some kind. Not well, but with the sheer joy of someone welcoming home an old friend they hadn’t seen in 40 years.
I was inspired and pumped up by how this simple competitive sport was connecting me to my neighbors. I thought about how connected the players felt to each other – not just the victorious Warriors but also the defeated Cavaliers – how taking on a task as mighty as an NBA championship can bond you to each other, win or lose. I meditated on the connections that can even be built between competitors in that moment when LeBron James congratulated Stephen Curry at the end of the game. It made me realize that, when people are courageous enough to take their place out ahead of the group, they put themselves in the position of not just winning a game, but winning the respect and admiration of others who recognize their efforts and celebrate their hard work.
This is what I want for my daughter. It’s what I want for myself. It’s want I want for all women and girls. As I wonder/panic about how my daughter yields her own power in the world, I want us all to be able to access real competition in healthy and dynamic ways. My wish is that we can work hard, take our rightful place out ahead when appropriate, and celebrate the wins of others when defeated. I want my daughter to be known as both a fierce competitor and a compassionate community leader; always looking for ways to use her power to help others who have been left behind.
And I also want her to let me enjoy my orange juice.
7 Things to do this Summer to Care for Myself and Inspire my Daughter
I know, I know. The first day of summer isn’t for another week. But, let’s be honest, the official start of summer is when your kids get out of school and the whole energy of your house changes. The kids go to camp. You start to pack up for vacations. And, then, there is the Summer Bucket List. I’m sure you have one. It’s that list full of all of the things that you haven’t managed to get to the other 3 seasons of the year but (cross your fingers) swear you will get to in the summer. Summer has a magic to it. The air is different. Things slow down. Why not use this time to make all your dreams come true? You can do it. And I’m going to join you.
Around my house, the beginning of summer has a very specific energy. The magic also contains a special mix of stress, excitement, pride, overwhelm, lunacy, creativity, and sheer panic. Yes, it’s the start of Go Girls! Camp! This morning 90 girls showed up in Oakland and Berkeley expecting to have a good time. By the time the season ends in mid-August, over 450 girls will have made plays with us at our 5 Bay Area locations.
This isn’t just my first day of camp. Today also marks my first summer as a parent. As I navigate how to produce our biggest summer ever with a Squirrel in the house, I also have to figure out how to make some time for myself, have a little fun, and embrace the magic of the summer months. At the same time, I have an opportunity to model for my daughter the practices of summer self-care that may have a positive effect on her choices. I’m thinking, “why not do stuff this summer that will take care of me and inspire my daughter at the same time?” I mean, 450 Go Girls!?! I don’t have that much time. I might as well do a little multi-tasking with my self-care, right?
As a result, I have created a Summer Bucket List that I hope will inspire the Go Girl! in me, the Squirrel, and maybe even you. This summer, (cross my fingers), I will…
1. Make Something
The theme of our first session of camp, “Girls can…MAKE!,” conveniently and coincidentally aligns with the White House’s National Week of Making, a call to action to “lift up makers and builders and doers across the country” through Maker-related events and activities. I have a fear of and fascination with making anything at all. However, I believe that we all have it in us to make, to invent, to create something that has never existed before. My goal is to make something simple that challenges my fears this week, to have fun with all of the inevitable mistakes I will make, and to share this mini- adventure with the Squirrel.
2. Rock that Swimsuit…with no apologies
I hate the phrase “swimsuit-ready” when referring to women’s bodies. We all have bodies. If I want to swim or hang out by the pool or play in the sand or just dream of tropical destinations, then, by default, my body is ready for a swimsuit…no matter how many “extra pounds” (another phrase I hate) my body has. My body is always “swimsuit-read.” I will throw on my suit, no matter how many pieces it has, and enjoy it. I will celebrate my body in front of my daughter and make no excuses or lament about any other body I wish I had.
3. Read an out-of-your-world book
Melissa Harris-Perry (the mother of 2 daughters) is my spirit animal mainly because she seems so unafraid to share exactly what she feels/thinks with the whole world. And she does it in a kind and compassionate way. I wish all of us women could do that? Anyway, recently, when she noticed that the NYT’s summer reading recommendations had no authors of color on it, she had something to say about it. Have you seen this?
I am particularly drawn to the part where she recommends that we read a book by someone outside of our own culture. As Allison and I work to support the Squirrel with her reading this summer in preparation for first grade, I want to make sure that 1) She sees me reading for pleasure as much as possible – the goal being to reduce as much “do as I say, not as I do” kind of behavior – and 2) She sees me being curious about worlds outside of my own. The Squirrel has been fascinated by the Spanish language lately…a language I don’t speak at all. How cool would it be if she sees me reading a book by a Latina/o author that actually contains Spanish words and phrases? Maybe I can support her to continue her exploration as well.
4. Have a total veg-out/breakdown day and invite no one
The Squirrel is so busy all the time. “What are you doing, Momma?” and “What are we going to do next, Momma” are often-heard phrases around the Maxi Pad. It’s our continued challenge to teach her the importance of quiet, down time; how to enjoy spending time with herself and just herself. Despite the busy-ness of running camp, or perhaps because of it, I must remember to embrace the lazy-ness of the season. I must take at least a day or 2 where I do absolutely nothing of importance…all by myself. I’ll need, certainly, and she will need to see me doing it.
5. Make a new friend
In the fall, my daughter will start a new school. She has been going to a school far from our house and we decided to transfer her to the public school nearby so that she could make friends with the kids who live in our neighborhood. The Squirrel actually has no trace of social anxiety. She is that kid who will come up to your kid on the playground with absolutely no filter and the classic kid query, “Do you want to play?” Meeting new people is not her problem. Actually making and keeping friends is where she struggles. I’m actually very good at this but haven’t ventured out into the new friend territory in quite awhile. I have a whole other bucket list of “folks I want to be friends with” – those people whom I really like/admire but only know casually. This summer is the perfect opportunity to dust off that list and get to work sharing with the Squirrel the steps of making a good friend.
6. Woman the Grill
Despite the fact that I throw an exceptional party, I tend to overcook meat – a fact I am a bit embarrassed by. And my tendency towards dry meat makes me fear the grill. But, here’s the thing, my mother-in-law bought us a brand new shiny gas grill this spring and I am obliged to bust it out this summer. My daughter has already seen me engage more than one man in helping me figure out how the grill works…I literally couldn’t turn the grill on without the help of my friend Steve…I can’t continue to let my grill-timidation (yes, it’s a word) get in the way of improving my meat-abilities (again…). And I especially can’t reinforce the stereotype that grilling is only the domain of men, especially not in a home full of women and a brand new shiny gas grill. I have a hankering for some pork chops this summer and nothing is gonna get in my way!
Isn’t the summertime made for dancing?
I used to dance all the time. I studied dance in my youth and danced my butt off socially when I was a younger adult. I rarely dance these days. And now I have a daughter who loves dancing. She dances while walking down the street. She had her first ballet class this spring and returning to class is all she can talk about. Summertime is made for dancing. This summer, I will grab the Squirrel, my new friends (and old ones) and create as many opportunities as possible dance the day and night away.
My last goal for the summer is to drink lots of lemonade. This has nothing to do with modeling exemplary Go Girls!-like behavior for my daughter. I just love lemonade. The Squirrel loves lemonade. And I wholeheartedly believe that summer is only summer with lots of lemonade.
There’s magic in it.
It’s okay to try something hard.
This is a phrase you will often hear around Go Girls! Camp in response to “This is hard!,” especially when said in that slightly high pitched, complain-y way with a touch of whine. “This is haaard!!!”
You have likely heard this said before. I heard it the other day when Allison and I decided that we would walk the dogs around the block while the Squirrel rode her bike.
When you come out of our house and turn right, there is a slight incline to our street. The Squirrel was struggling with this incline on this particular day. She had navigated this route before but, for whatever reason, she had decided that, on this day, “This is haaard!!!”
“It’s okay to try something hard,” I say.
When faced with a challenge, humans who lack or are not able to access their advance level coping skills go into the fight, flight, or freeze mode. 9 times out of 10, our Squirrel freezes. Upon hearing my “It’s okay to try something hard,” she stopped riding her bike in the middle of the sidewalk, dropped her head as low as it would go, crossed her arms, and pouted. I tried coaching her to jump off her bike and push a while. I encouraged her to ask for help. I even tried to give her a little push to get her started again. Nothing. Just like Queen Elsa, she was completely frozen. After a few attempts to start again, I ultimately wound up taking her back home while Allison gave the dogs their much needed walk.
“It’s okay to try something hard” is such an essential part of Go Girls! culture that, if you were to ask a camper, “What makes you a Go Girl!?,” you would likely hear “I try my best even when it’s hard.” This past weekend, Allison and I ran our annual Go Girls! Leadership Team (GGLT) retreat for the middle school girls who work as counselors-in-training at our camps over the summer. Our opening ritual was that each of us brought and shared a photo of a “Go Girls! Moment” with the rest of the circle. Pretty much each of the 18 girls shared pics and stories about overcoming some kind of challenge; paddleboarding for the first time; jumping from a tall cliff into a waterfall below; giving a speech; winning a sports competition. I was so proud of these girls in the this moment, and throughout the weekend, as they continued to say yes to new people and new experiences and build their identity as someone who is ready and willing to accept anything that comes her way.
I thought about how annoyed I had been at my own daughter’s “This is haaard!!!” and unwillingness to keep going up that hill. I thought, “I can’t wait until she gets to camp and can spend time with older girls like these. I need their Go Girls!-ness to rub off on her.”
Then, I thought about it again. Okay, the Squirrel didn’t continue up that hill on that particular Tuesday afternoon. But, what about all of the other hills that she has said yes to throughout her life? Sure, jumping off a cliff is hard. But so is leaving behind everyone you have ever known to take on a brand new life in a brand new city. Our Squirrel has never given a speech in front of her classmates, but she has, in just the last 7 months, dared to say yes to new mommies, new dogs, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, a whole new wardrobe, set of toys, and a brand new community of people. Every day, she learns words she has never heard before, tastes food she has never tasted before, dances to songs she has never heard before. Every day, she makes the choice to take one more giant step into this new life that has been thrust upon her. I don’t know about you, but I would say “This is haaard!!!”
I am excited that the Squirrel will be coming to camp this summer and will be inspired by our amazing GGLT. I do think that these older girls will have a lot to teach her about being a Go Girl!. I do hope the experience will help reduce the amount of times she freezes in challenging situations. However, I also imagine that she won’t just be the student. I imagine that our Squirrel will have a bit to teach us all about what it really means to try hard things. I imagine that we will all grow from her example.
What about you? What’s a time that you are your daughter have faced a challenge and said yes to try hard things? I’d love for you to share your #GoGirlsMoment with us.
And check out more highlights from our GGLT Retreat…