As a little girl, my Daddy pushed, encouraged and ultimately led me to internalize a passion for excellence. Growing older, I found the drive often couched in “like a young lady” terms….. aka, kick intellectual ass, but make sure the hair & makeup stays in place. So, being a girl of a certain sass, I asked, “Daddy, do you really think I need to be a combination of Marie Curie and Scarlett O’Hara?”
YES — he exclaimed, looking like one of the Peanuts characters in a eureka shout — “that’s it!” In a moment, I learned that the world quite often boxes women into labels of either/or — the smart one, the pretty one, the airhead or the mom. However, think about my examples. Scarlett, if you move past the green eyes and flirty capriciousness, ultimately won the Civil War. Maybe, not single handedly, but women such as Scarlett, and even Belle Watling, used their intelligence, their drive and any other “gift” to create a new world. Marie Curie, fiercely intelligent and unflinchingly curious, inspired so much passion that her love followed her into radiation poisoning. Not that a handful of posies wouldn’t have been nice, but talk about “launching ships!”
Becoming a mom, I knew that I wanted my darlings to delight in complexity, to reject pigeonholes and to be strong, courageous and curious. I wanted them to find delight in a wash of pink across a windswept sunset, to have music dance/comfort/laugh them through each day, and to be able to laugh at the absurd. Perhaps, one of the most succinct summations of that is found in the Episcopal baptismal liturgy — which asks that the child be graced with a spirit of inquiry and discernment, an ability to love and a sense of wonder.
To date, I think I’ve done pretty well. My daughters, music-full and passionate, dance into the vagaries of life as lightly as song, as strong as rhythm. Watching them evolve into the teens they are is science, poetry and pride all jumbled together. Surprisingly enough, Sylvia Plath, not often pegged for her sentimentality, captures the wonder and the strange familiarity of motherhood, and I love her description of that a.m. cry…..
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons
–> Morning Song by Sylvia Plath
- Sending Me Angels (Delbert McClinton) — as I held my oldest for the first time, this song was playing — and it rings sweet & true about them everyday
- When the Red, Red Robin… (Carmen McRae) — as babies, I would wake them and change that first diaper as I sang this to the accompaniment of their gurgles & coos.
- Goodnight, my Someone/Edelwiess (from “the Music Man” & “Sound of Music”) — yearn-y songs that I would sing as I brought them to their cribs at night
- All Four Seasons (Sting) — quite possibly the most perfect song ever written for a toddler… or a teenager
- I’ll Make a Man out of you (from “Mulan’) — to this day, there is a choral rendition from the backseat when this song plays — though they don’t giggle at the “great typhoon-ee” like they did as babies
- If I had $1000000 (BareNaked Ladies) — why? I have no idea — but this became a most requested car song for several months — lots of discussion about, “if you had….., then you would….”
- Once upon a December (from “Anastasia”) — romantical song, John Cusack, gateway to history discussions — the perfect trifecta
- Breakaway (Kelly Clarkson) — this and the next are tied to one summer where we shared many mother-daughter trips
- Pony (Kasey Chambers) — just a great sing-along for a car full of girls — we went to see her for my birthday one year, and she dedicated the song to my darlings
- Unwritten (Natasha Bedingfield) — it’s the song that goes with Anne Shirley’s quote, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet…”
- Manic Monday (the Bangles) — how to love a Monday morning….
- Love it When you Call (the Feeling) — impossibly catchy song, with a demented video involving puppets — and the girls would reenact it in the car
- Only the Good Die Young (Billy Joel) — dancing around in the house with the music cranked, not really a generation gap
- Sweet Caroline (Dave Matthews) — the DMB cover is the one my girls know, so not the original, but sincere — and there’s always a “play it again” from somebody when it ends
- Come Dancing (the Kinks) — a song to smile, remember and make new memories
- One More Night (Maroon 5) — too much, but such a great song to sing together
- Love Song (Sara Barielles) — supposedly her label was pressuring her for a love song, and this little gem is the result — awesome girl power!
- Call Me (Blondie) — iconic, and when my darling sings it — wow!
- Blackbird (Beatles) — while the boys from Liverpool may be the best band ever — there will never be a more awesome cover that the version the girls did for me Christmas 2013!
- Slipping through my fingers (from “Mamma Mia!”) — perfect song about the incredible joy, and inevitable passing of my girls into their own lives…. the girls joke that every time it plays, I “leak,” little tears of time…..
I think my mother… made it clear that you have to live life by your own terms and you have to not worry about what other people think and you have to have the courage to do the unexpected –> Caroline Kennedy