Welcome. I’m Allison Kenny and I am Raising a Go Girl! How do I know this about my daughter? Because she said yes to coming to live with my wife and me when she was six years old after early life in foster care. She said yes to being adopted by us, she said yes to giving herself a safe and happy life. I know she’s a Go Girl! because she says no when she doesn’t want a hug from a neighbor, she says no to excluding kids, she says no when she is afraid.
I know my daughter is a Go Girl! because she gives more generously than anyone I know. She makes fairies and slugs well-decorated homes. She gives her artwork and she gives her time to be helpful. She takes in the good, too. After 2 years, she lets us hug her heart to heart. She shares her gratitudes at the dinner table. They are almost always about food.
She’s a Go Girl! because she learns from her mistakes. Even though she’s quick to be hard on herself for messing up, she remembers that no one is perfect. She tells herself, “Mistakes are part of learning” and she’s mastered the art of apology.
My daughter feels ALL THE FEELS. She has big feelings and is slowly, slowly learning they are all okay. It took a long time for her to feel safe enough to talk about feelings. Now, when she says things like “I’m confused, Mommy” or “I feel sad,” we scoop her up and give her a ton of love. She noticing what she feels and what she needs. She knows this makes her human. She knows she is not alone.
My daughter is a Go Girl because she takes center stage. She grew into her leadership after a long stretch of struggling to be flexible, share or take turns. She wanted to control absolutely everything and everyone. I know the feeling. She’s learning, though, that being a leader means listening. I see her write down all her friends’ ideas in the club she started and ask them what job they want to have. I know she’s come a long way.
My girl is a Go Girl! because she’s being raised by them. My wife and I do everything we can to be the women we want our daughter to see. Mostly, this means allowing her to watch us fail, fall, fight and get up again. She watches us repair and keep going. She sees that we’ll never give up on each other and never give up on her.
I know that when you see my little girl, you notice all the ways she is different from you. You see her glasses and her funny walk. You notice that she talks fast and loud, that she grabs the stuff from your hands without asking, how she sometimes tells everybody what to do. You see that it doesn’t take much to make her cry or make her mad or make her break the rules. You notice that she is different than you. A different race. Has a different kind of family. Gets pulled from class for special ed. Why is she so weird…right? That’s what you want to know. Why is she so different?
Well, these aren’t the only things that make her unique. If you look closely, she has other qualities that might be harder to see. When you say hi, she’ll never ever ignore you. She’ll never leave you outside her house and say you can’t come in to play. She’d never ever want you to feel forgotten. In fact, my girl goes out of her way to make everyone feel special all the time. It’s her superpower. At home, she likes to put the toothpaste on the toothbrush for me and leave it out. A little surprise for me to find at bedtime. She leaves me notes and treasures and drawings of hearts that I find all over the house. When our dogs were scared of the doggy door, she invented a contraption to hold it open for them. The first time she rode a horse, she petted it and kissed it and thanked it for the ride. You see, my girl’s heart is bigger than the heart of most people. That’s what actually makes her different. She’s sweeter than most. We could all learn something from her.
Another superpower she has is courage. She’s braver than most. Did you know the school you all go to is her 5th school in 4 years? She had to be brave and start over with new classrooms, new teachers and new kids every time. She did the same thing with families. Can you imagine walking into the house of brand new parents when you were 6 years old? Seeing your new room for the first time and wondering what this life would be like? Learning to trust brand new mommies and let them take care of you? That’s what my girl did. She had the courage to start a whole new life in a brand new town. She had to say good-bye to everyone and everything she knew before. These are big good-byes. She had to have the courage to feel all those sad feelings and let her heart break so it could start to heal.
I can’t end this letter without talking about how hard my daughter works. You know that math packet you just got for 2nd grade homework? The same page of problems that takes you 15 minutes, takes her an hour. Oh no…it’s not because she is dumb. It’s because she was born 4 months early. Totally not her fault! But when kids are born early, their brains don’t get enough time to grow so they learn differently. Can you believe she never gives up? She doesn’t get to. She just has to work harder and harder- yes, harder than you so that she can learn the same things. She also works hard at making friends. She didn’t get to see people being good to each other when she was little, so she didn’t learn about things like sharing or taking turns like you did. She works very hard at this. She has a coach who comes every week and helps her learn to play well. She’s getting better and better at it. She has to work harder than most kids to do things like chew her food, tie her shoes, or even understand directions the teacher gives her. Pretty much all day, she’s working super hard to do things that most of you can do with no problem.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could cheer her on? What would it be like if she knew you were rooting for her instead of teasing her or leaving her out? What if you could see her sweetness, her courage, how hard she works? What if you could help her along instead of push her down? I bet you’d feel good about yourself then. You could be so proud to know you were a good friend and accepted someone who is different than you. It would mean the world to her and you…well, you would get a lot out of it, too. When we open our hearts and act kindly, we get to be happy. We get to be connected. We get to have more fun. How does that sound? You with me?
I like to think that I’m really playful with my daughter. After working with other people’s children for a decade facilitating play and drama classes, I pictured myself being the kind of mom who gets on the floor and plays, you know?
The kind of mom who chases her little one on the playground pretending to be the monster that all the kids run from. The kind of mom who is happy to become a fairy princess with hot lava power anytime her child asks. Continue Reading
All I want to do is go pick out a Christmas tree with our little girl. In Santa hats. Like 3 goofy holiday girls. I want milk punch with a splash of bourbon, an enormous hipster ice-cube and nutmeg grated on top. I want to blow off work and buy beautiful glass ornaments and stocking stuffers for My Boo. I want to sing Mariah Carey over and over and over. I want to make Martha Stewart’s cookie recipe and deliver them to every single person I’ve ever loved. I want to read my book by our fireplace after Squirrel goes to bed. I want to dress my dogs in Christmas sweaters and snuggle them while watching Elf for the millionth time. I want to hike in redwoods and listen for their messages, to wear cozy scarves, and to take hot baths. I want quiet. And play. And connection.
Squirrel’s world is all about playdates right now. Friends coming to our place. Kids begging for her to come over. I love seeing Squirrel light up at these invitations and get that “kids like me!” glow that comes from feeling included. I’m so happy for her that she cares about making and keeping friends. What I don’t love, however, are the pick-up moments an hour later that are inevitably teary, frustrated good-byes after lots of misunderstandings.
For kids who have been adopted, friendship dynamics can be especially tricky. Small moments of rejection from a peer can trigger enormous feelings of hurt and abandonment that are more about losing their birth mothers. Sharing toys kicks up feelings of loss and fear that they’ll never be able to play with the things they love again. Play can be a lot of work!
I remember sitting in our disclosure meeting and hearing the Squirrel’s social worker say, “We just want her to be raised by a couple of Go Girls!” The Squirrel was legally freed for adoption- none of her bio family members could care for her, so the social worker really did have the power to place her with the best forever family she could find. And she believed it was us. I remember feeling the weight of that. The responsibility. The gift.
So we hung a Go Girls! poster above our daughter’s bed before we even met her. The purple poster features each point of the Go Girls! Culture Code. What better way to share our family’s values? Squirrel liked the purple but phrases like “Make Mistakes”, “Give & Take”, and “Feel your Feelings” were way over her head. So, the poster didn’t mean much. She had t-shirts with the Go Girls! logo. A copy of my chapter book, “Starring Celia” on her bookshelf. She loved to play in our home office, writing pretend paychecks to our administrator Julie or organizing camp journals as they were delivered. But in her mind, my only job was to take care of her and Lynn sure spent a lot of time at the computer for some reason. Go Girls! Camp was an abstract concept that she didn’t seem very curious about.
Until June, when we brought her to the last half hour of our staff training. She watched 30 teaching artists perform original plays they created together and it blew her mind. When they started singing the Go Girls! song, she ran up on stage to join them even though she didn’t know the words. She was surrounded by real life Go Girls! and everybody was singing…
I am proud, so proud, so proud of me!
I’m exactly the kind of girl that I want to be.
I’m not a mean girl!
I’m not a good girl!
I am a Go Girl! Go Girl!
I still get tears in my eyes when I think about her absorbing that moment. She came home and sat in the bath for an hour and 45 minutes (Literally! I had to add hot water) and sang her own made up Go Girls! songs. I wrote down her lyrics from the next room as she sang:
I am a Go Girl! A pretty Go Girl!
I hate to be a bully anymore
I’m happy to be a Go Girl! today
I am myself
This is my voice
You have to listen to my song
The rule is no fighting- no fighting here!
I need you to hold my hand and give me directions
We are practicing, practicing, practicing
We are listening to the teacher
If I do what I am supposed to do, than I will see the world come underneath me
She was absolutely lit up. Something shifted in her brain that day. And she could not wait to go to Go Girls! Camp.
Soon enough, I found myself in line with other parents at the program I helped create. I watched her run inside and find her name written out at a table to decorate. I listened later that day when she told me all about the games she played, the character she chose for the play and all the artwork she created. She seemed so…relaxed. Herself. Safe. Not once did she seem this way when I picked her up from Kindergarten. We’re all still recovering from her first year of school and all the challenges she faced.
I guess the point is that my dreams are coming true over here. My whole life, all I ever wanted to do was create a space for girls where they could truly know they mattered. And I wanted to be a mom. Seeing the overlap between these two goals makes my heart just about burst. Helps me know I’m on the right track. And so is the Squirrel.
Last Friday, I got to go see my little girl perform in her first Go Girls! play. Her first play ever, for that matter. She chose to be a Queen, of course. I was in the front row…with flowers… as she took her place center stage. I witnessed the Squirrel embody the purple poster that still hangs above her bed. She shared her voice and we got to listen to her song.
Join us on Wednesday August 5 for a free 1-hour live webinarwhere Lynn and I will share the thinking and science behind our Go Girls! Culture Code as well as the lessons we are learning raising a Go Girl! of our very own.
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 keepingfriends 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.
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.
GGLT’s Go Girls! Moments
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.
Many young people are trying to establish their roles, responsibilities, and sense of self. However, they need to accept that in all these areas changes are inevitable. Self-identity is never set as a tablet in stone, but keeps growing in one way or another. Moreover, the self consists of many parts, although this might not be apparent to us.
When our sense of self is limited…how can we take back the self from these limitations, even when we have created them ourselves? Part of the answer to this daunting question is to understand that the self is not one thing but a complex of multiple definitions and parts and to seek to have them grow and diversify into new areas.
The chorus of our Go Girls! Camp theme song goes, “I’m not a mean girl. I’m not a good girl. I am a Go Girl!.” We wrote this because it sucks how often we, as a society, both consciously and subconsciously, demand that girls choose a singular identity. We can either be a good girl and follow all the rules, never rocking the boat or we can be a mean girl, a bitch, someone to fear and burn at the stake.
This completely impossible task damages our psychological health and prevents us from acknowledging and accepting ourselves as the complex beings that we are. This is a major cause of the rampant self-loathing that is expressed among our girls.
I refuse to put up with anymore. As a woman/former girl. As a mother of a girl. As an educator of girls. I refuse. And as my daughter works her butt off to build a positive sense of self amidst the shadow of abuse and neglect, I will do whatever I can to help her to understand that she is is amazing because of all of her parts, not despite of them.
I can start by writing this…
I love the part of you who squeals with delight when she discovers something brand new for the very first time.
I love the part of you who can focus on play for hours; building the inventions that you never doubt will change the world.
I love the part of you who always wants to know what’s going to happen next.
I love the part of you who is furiously working to choose peace over violence.
I love the part of you who cries and kicks and pouts and then gets up gets dressed, makes her bed, and brushes her teeth – all before 8am.
I love the part of you who woefully misses her sisters.
I love the part of you who rolls her eyes, throws things across the room, and loudly proclaims “I don’t care.”
I love the part of you who is afraid she will never learn to read but insists on checking out 40 books each time we visit the library.
I love the part of you who wants to jump in our bed in the morning and ride “on my neck” around the house.
I love the part of you who wants to tell everyone what to do. All the time.
I love the part of you who is learning to trust.
I love the part of you who can’t quite grasp the days of the week but works so hard to remain intensely present.
I love the part of you who fearlessly approaches any kid on the street with a “wanna play?” whether the kid is a baby, a teenager, a boy or a girl, black or white, or anything in between
I love the part of you who sleeps through the night.
I love the part of you who is waking up to her feelings and becoming the person she is meant to be.
I love the part of you who remembers the names and relationships of everyone in this weird new family she has landed in.
I love the part of you who is confused and grieving and growing more resilient everyday.
I love the part of you who is brilliant beyond her years while we play the improv games at the dinner table but freezes up as soon as she is in the spotlight.
I love the part of you who is angry.
I love the part of you who is kind.
I love the part of you who is not quite grateful.
I love the part of you who is bone shakingly funny.
I love the part of you who is strong.
I love the part of you who is weak.
I love the part of you who is still trying to figure out what love actually means.
I love each and every part of you. And I promise to love all your parts, unconditionally, from now on. Even when I don’t like you very much.