It all started in Maddy’s room. She’d been complaining for quite some time that she’d had to inherit a room decorated for her sisters when they were quite young and it was time for her to have a room fit for her own thirteen-year-old personality. After waffling between a Harry Potter themed room and pretty-in-pink, she chose a pale pink and we bought the paint. It made me smile when I applied it, because it was the exact opposite of what had happened when I was that age. I couldn’t wait to get rid of the pink in the little-girl bedroom I shared with my sister. In my mind, pink = girlie and girlie wasn’t cool, so the bedroom was painted blue.
Like many in my era, I was figuring out who I was in the face of the feminist movement, and instead of embracing what was feminine, I ran away from it and tried to prove I was worthy by being more masculine. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that a) pink is just a colour and has no inherent meaning, and b) to be whole and strong means to embrace what is feminine along with what is masculine.
The day we were choosing the paint, I overhead Maddy (who wears nothing but dresses) say to her friend, “Legally Blonde is my favourite movie because it shows that you can be both feminine and feminist at the same time.” I’m so glad she’s figuring that out earlier than I did.
My other two daughters are now 18 and 19 and though they’ll both be in university in the Fall, they’ll be staying home and studying locally for now. They were switching bedrooms (it was the 18 year old’s turn to have the bigger room in the basement), so it seemed like the ideal time to refresh their rooms as well.
In both cases, we transformed the rooms from their early-teen choices to their much more grown-up choices. The room in the basement (that had been Nikki’s and was becoming Julie’s) was four bright colours – blue, green, orange and yellow – and was now getting a much more subdued look – black, grey, and light teal-grey. The room upstairs was going from orange and green with huge contrasting polka-dots to a dark beige and white.
Julie’s former orange and green room presented us with the greatest challenge, not because of the boldness of the colours but because she had covered the walls with hundreds of quotes, thoughts, art, etc., in Sharpie marker.
I knew from previous experience that Sharpie marker is almost impossible to cover with paint, even with the very best primer, and yet, five years ago, when she’d asked if she could do it, I said yes. Julie has a gift for script-work and I knew it would be interesting, but more importantly, I had an intuitive sense that it was what she needed at the time.
The hardest year of Julie’s life so far was when she was thirteen and in grade 8. She’s a deep thinker and a deep feeler, and the world was too intense for her at the time. We watched her walk through a depression and we worried every single day about whether we were doing the right things to support her. When she started writing on the walls, I bought the Sharpie markers, hoping that turning her bedroom walls into a journal of her angst and attempts to rise out of that angst might be healing for her. It was.
Some of what was on the walls was quite angry (especially what she hid in the closet), some was quite hopeful, and all of it was a search for her own path and for meaning in a complex world. Like, for example, the giant word “HOPE” with the smaller words underneath “hold on pain ends”.
While we painted over the Sharpie markings last week, Julie thanked me for letting her do it. On an Instagram photo she posted, she said this: “Incredibly thankful to have the kind of parents who let their angsty 13 year old daughter put her art all over her walls, even if it involves buying $70 primer to cover it up 5 years later.”
Like any parent, I had no idea if we were doing the right thing at the time, and yet we did what we could. And now she has grown into a strong, articulate and wise 18 year old who was class valedictorian at her recent graduation and who won a scholarship for being a gifted writer. (Here’s a piece of her writing I once shared on my blog.)
A few insights emerged while I painted the walls last week, not just about parenting but about holding space for anyone going through their own personal growth. Parenting three daughters who each have unique (and surprisingly different) personalities is a great training ground for my coaching and facilitation work.
Here’s what I’m learning about holding space for people in the midst of their own personal growth:
1) Respect each person as an individual. No two people need exactly the same things at the same time. My other 2 daughters never wrote on the walls, but they need other things, and so we try to offer them what they need to help them through the rough spots. When I try to treat them all the same, I do them a disservice. For example, one is an introvert, one’s an extrovert and one is somewhere in between. They’re learning to recognize what they each need in order to replenish their energy.
2) Honour whatever place a person is in their own journey. Don’t expect someone else’s journey to look anything like yours. All three bedrooms are completely different from what they were and all of them reflect the places the girls are in right now (not five years ago and not five years in the future). There are choices in each bedroom that are different from the choices I might have made, but I’m not the ones occupying those spaces.
3.) Help people find their own right creative practices. During Julie’s depression, I tried to get her to do some of the things that help me through the darkness, but none of those things were right for her. I couldn’t take that personally because it wasn’t about me – it was about her. What worked for her was Sharpie markers and permission to make art on the walls.
4.) Don’t be afraid to let others take risks you wouldn’t take. I often marvel at how confidently Maddy embraces dresses and the colour pink. (At the same time, she also considered black skull-and-crossbone curtains – she is far from one-dimensional.) None of her friends wear dresses and I doubt whether any of them would choose the colour of paint she chose, and yet it’s what she likes and that’s all that matters.
5.) Give people a safe place to hide, to be themselves, to fail, or separate themselves from others. I am so glad that I had the privilege of giving each of my girls a beautiful new space to call their own. They are all learning to honour their own choices, their own sense of when they need to withdraw from the world, and their own boundaries. Those are powerful things to learn, especially for teenage girls navigating a world that places far too many expectations on them. Nikki, my most introverted daughter, loves to close the door to her room and listen to her record player alone, while her more extraverted sisters have been happy to invite friends over to enjoy their rooms with them.
I don’t often write posts about my daughters or about parenting, because their stories are their own and because most days I feel like I’m wandering around in the dark trying to feel my way through. But my parenting journey has taught me much about what it means to hold space for people on their own personal growth paths and I know that I am a better coach and facilitator for the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I can only hope that my daughters will continue to grow into strong, resilient, and courageous young women.
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I like to explore green spaces.
See those little pockets of green all over my neighbourhood? I’m attracted to them like a magnet to steel.
Since this has been my summer of wandering (and the summer of beautiful weather), and training for my upcoming 100 km walk, I’ve had a chance to explore a lot of green spaces. It’s become a habit of mine – scan a Google map, find a patch of green I haven’t explored yet, and go.
Sometimes I find lovely parks I didn’t know existed, with manicured paths, and child-filled play structures.
Often though, I walk past the manicured parks to the next green space.
My favourite discoveries are not the parks. My favourites are the untamed, unruly, un-manicured spaces that scream out to my inner child “EXPLORE ME!”
And explore them I do, these little pockets of wildness. I climb over underbrush, hop over puddles, shimmy under fallen trees, and push through thick branches, until I am so deep inside the green box on the map that the city just outside the boundary ceases to exist.
Inside the green I find hidden streams, magical trees, colourful mushrooms, raucous wildflowers, and – when I’m lucky – deer.
What I find most of all, though, in those untamed green spaces, is my own wild heart.
I remember what it means to be wild and unruly. I remember what it feels like to be free of the tidy little boxes I let society place me in. I feel the lilt come back to my step that tells me I am following my heart and not the expectations of others.
From the moment I step off the well-traveled path and into the green square on the map, I am transported back to my childhood, when I used to roam the woods on our farmland, imagining myself a gypsy or an explorer.
The child in me revived, I revel in each discovery. I stare in awe at the leaves quivering in the breeze and twinkling in the sunlight. I marvel at the patterns in the bark of trees. I giggle at the bare patches where it looks like fairies have danced. I look deeply into the magical eyes of deer.
It doesn’t take much to give my wild nature space to breath. Just a little green shape on a map.
Go… find one of your own.
And if you want a companion, take me along.
photo courtesy of OnTask, Flickr
Last night was my daughter’s first rugby game, and let me tell you, she was FIERCE! She threw herself into the game just the way I knew she would – with her whole heart and body. She dug her feet in and pushed with all her might against the opposing team in the scrum (what you see in the photo – but that’s a borrowed photo and not her team). She pummelled any opponent who dared to run by her carrying the ball. She dashed across the field whenever the ball was tossed to her… and she SCORED! In the last seconds of the game, she made it across the line to score her very first “try” (like a touchdown in football) in her very first game.
I thought I would be scared to watch her (this is the girl who tore a ligament in her knee and had to have surgery because of a soccer injury – partly because she is such an intense player), but the truth is I LOVED IT!
I LOVED the energy on the field. I LOVED the way that those young girls get to live out their fierceness in such a healthy and fun way. I LOVED the way Nikki would not back down from even the biggest opponent.
I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I used to be afraid of her fierceness. I used to think it was my job as her mom to help her cage it in some way. I used to cringe when I’d watch her get fouled out in basketball or get penalties in soccer. It was hard to watch that fierce look in her eyes when she’d throw her passion into a sport, because I was afraid she’d get hurt or that she’d hurt someone else. I’d tell her, when she’d come off the field, “can you be a little less vicious? Tone it down a little.”
But now? I am thrilled for her that she has found a sport that honours that fierceness in her. I told her last night, “Honey, don’t ever lose that fierceness. Find healthy ways of using it, but don’t ever let people tell you it’s wrong.”
Because I realized something last night as I watched her. Somewhere along the line, I let my fierceness be caged. I let the expectations that I be a “nice girl”, a “well-behaved girl”, a “quiet girl” put me inside a cage and it is taking me years to break out of that cage. Even now I still fight those bars, trying to break out into freedom. Even now I keep silent when I should be shouting, I make choices that limit me because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, I tell little white lies because I hate offending people with the truth, and I bottle anger inside because it scares me.
After the rugby game last night, I read Ronna Detrick’s magnificent post about the vision, the roar, and the muse and I knew what I needed to do. I need to ROAR! I need quit trying to bottle the fierceness inside me. I need to quit letting myself believe I have to be polite and nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings. I need to challenge those people who dare to bottle my truth just because it scares them. I need to let my inner warrior CHARGE forward with courage and strength.
This morning, as I ran, I had a flashback to the birth of my second daughter. In the depths of labour, after I’d let out a fierce, primal scream, a nurse told me, with a measure of impatience, “if you keep screaming like that, you’ll have no voice tomorrow.” Instantly, I went to that place I go when I’ve dared to step out of the role of “nice, respectful, quiet” girl and someone calls me on it – I went to shame. I bottled the next scream deep inside because I didn’t want to cause anyone annoyance, I didn’t want to embarrass myself, and I didn’t want to risk tomorrow’s voice.
But you know what? Later, after I held my daughter in my arms, I thought, “BULLSHIT! WHY would you tell a birthing woman to keep silent? If you can’t scream in childbirth, when CAN you scream? And what kind of nonsense is not screaming today because it might hurt your voice tomorrow? If today needs a scream, well then, dammit, SCREAM!”
I can’t go back to that moment and let out that next scream I bottled, but I can choose to not let anyone bottle the next scream that needs to erupt from that primal place in me.
I will not be silent anymore.
I will not let my fierceness be caged.
I will challenge old paradigms of leadership and write books about new and scary ideas, if that is the scream that needs to emerge.
And I will sit on the sidelines and CHEER as my fierce daughter charges headlong into a sport that may very well hurt her. Because DAMMIT if she can’t relish her fierceness now, then some day she will be lying in a hospital bed and letting a nurse silence her primal scream.
On her second birthday, Nikki spent about an hour trying on all of the clothes she’d just gotten as gifts, while the toys got brushed aside. She rarely wanted to ride in the stroller if she had the option of running. She scoffed at anyone who wasted her time with fairy tales or made-up entities like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Now that she’s thirteen, her friends call her the “Tyra Banks” of her group because of her passion for fashion. She dreams of the day her knee heals so that she can run, run, and run some more. (She’s jealous of me when I run on the treadmill – can you imagine?) She’d rather read a biography than a work of fiction any day.
At two, Julie had a better command of the English language than most teenagers. She learned to negotiate (and sometimes manipulate) almost as quickly as she learned to talk, and before long, we couldn’t keep enough books in the house to keep her happy. Now that she’s twelve, she volunteers for every public speaking opportunity that’s available to her, she’s trying to get a student council set up in her school so that students have more of a voice, and she’s almost always lost in a book.
Some of Maddie’s first words were “can you imagine if…” She filled our house with her imaginary playmates and all of the stuffed toys and dolls her sisters had tossed aside. Her favourite game was a fanciful round of “would you rather?” Now that she’s seven, she still plays “would you rather”, writes story books, paints pictures, calls herself an artist, and creates elaborate play spaces for her dolls under tables or chairs. She loves 3D movies and insists that they’re much better when you reach out for the things that come flying at you.
I don’t know how these things will continue to manifest themselves in my daughters, but I suspect some of it will shape the way their lives unfold. I hope that we as their parents have instilled in them enough of a belief that those passions have worth.
In more than one book I’ve read recently, writers claim that “our youthful passions serve as a foreshadowing of our calling or life’s work.” I want to honour the foreshadowing I see in my children, and so (in my moments of attentive parenting) I buy books on fashion for one of them, help another one coax school leadership to consider a student council, and climb under the table with the third and help her spell out the words for her latest work of fiction.
I want to go back to the child I once was and tell her the same things I try to say to my children. “Those hobbies you have? Those things that make you happy? They’re not just a waste of time. They have value. Don’t set them aside in pursuit of a more practical career. Trust them to direct you into your path. Don’t try to fit into the boxes you think you’re supposed to fit into.”
On the bus yesterday, I read “…just scribble your recollections of childhood passions in the margins here.” And so I did. This is what I wrote:
I loved to go places, either on my horse, my bike, or (on rare occasions when our family went on an adventure) in the car. I loved to wander all over the farm and thought of myself as an explorer in the woods. I had a special little hideaway in the middle of a bramble bush that you had to know how to navigate your way through to avoid the sharp thorns.
I was always creating something – macramé plant hangers, doll beds, decoupaged memory boxes – you name it. I learned to sew and was forever digging through my mom’s fabric closet for interesting scraps of fabric. I was happiest when I had a creative project on the go.
I wrote endless journals, stories, poems, one-act plays, or whatever tickled my fancy. My very first drama was a little play my friend Julie and I wrote and performed in our living room as a fundraiser for a mission organization. I wanted to speak and have people listen. I wanted to influence.
I would walk to the farthest field on the farm if I thought that Dad would give me a chance to drive the tractor. It felt like freedom to me, to be able to drive and to be trusted with something that was usually reserved for my big brothers. I thrilled at the little grin my Dad got when he was proud of my independence and determination.
I loved to be active. I would join almost any team or group activity that was available to me. I played ringette, soccer, volleyball, and baseball. I joined the drama club and the choir. I was never a star but I was always a joiner.
I gravitated toward positions of leadership and influence. I was student council president in grade 9. (After that, though, I had to go to the ‘big’ school in a much bigger town. I lost my confidence and didn’t run for student council again until college.)
What would that little girl tell me if only she could? What were the dreams she had that got set aside when bills had to be paid and careers had to be chosen?
I haven’t totally abandoned those things I loved to do. Even in the practicality of life, I’ve usually found some small way of honouring them. But sometimes we believe other voices rather than our own, we follow someone else’s idea of what our calling should be, and we set aside fanciful things for those that seem more pragmatic and realistic.
Somewhere along the line, most of the passions got relegated to “hobbies” rather than “life’s work”.
What about you?