The Strength of Cinderella

I love me some strong female characters. Eowyn was my first love, of course. Zoe Washburne ranks way up there, and Hermione Granger is my spirit animal. And I’m also a fan of the newer female Disney characters. Mulan, for the win! Everyone loves spunky Anna, and even Rapunzel is a much bigger go-getter than the “traditional” female lead. I love that girls can be feisty and zany, stand up for themselves, and are seeing it in more of their media.

But there are other kinds of strength, and unfortunately, sometimes the new move toward mighty girls can cast those strengths as weaknesses.

To those who would want their daughters to be “strong,” Cinderella seems like an emblem of days gone past, a passive girl without the strength to stand up for herself. But there are other kinds of strength, and Cinderella is greatly unappreciated.

It is strength, not weakness, to remain kind when others are cruel.

It is strength, not weakness, to find happiness wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

It is strength, not weakness, to continue to dream of light and love even after you’ve lived through the worst life can throw at you.

Even after she is orphaned and made a slave in her own house, Cinderella is still able to see goodness in the world.

A mighty girl can be herself, whether she’s innovative, physically strong, intelligent… or kind and gentle.

A Year Ago

Today marks our first anniversary as homeowners. A year ago today, at this moment, my car was packed completely full of everything I’d needed for the past 6 weeks or so (plus the odds and ends that wouldn’t fit in the moving truck), and a toddler who was still drowsing—I’d put her in the car at about 4:30 in the morning and driven for two hours before watching the sun come up. I was so excited—to see my husband again, to end our 5 years of student transient life, to live in a real house for the first time in my life.

I was looking forward to experiencing a permanence and stability that had been lacking in my life for years.

I imagined knowing my neighbors, hosting play dates in my house (my house!!!), and getting involved in a new church.

I imagined typical sleepy suburban living—the boring bane to many, but my ideal.

And when that drive finally ended, I was home. My home was empty, but it was mine. The next day, we retrieved from the storage unit all of our belongings, which fit in a single small moving truck. It was days before we even had any furniture. But I was ecstatic.

After a year of living the dream, it’s all I’ve hoped it would be. I’m still an introvert so there are still many neighbors I don’t know well, but I know most of them by sight. Kara can play outside in our yard all by herself. We’ve been able to have friends and family come stay with us. I’ve found a wonderful group of friends—not just people I can talk to, but actual friends.

It’s been an awesome year. Here’s to many more.

I Am a Rock, I Am an Island

I love living in America. One of my favorite things about it is the rugged individualism. I love the “go it alone, doing what’s right no matter the cost” type heroes: the Malcolm Reynolds, the John Waynes, the Rosa Parks, Superman, etc. etc. But do you know who my absolute favorite literary character is? Samwise Gamgee, the steadfast, loyal, unwavering support for the main character. Because the idea of the “one man” (or “one person,” for those who are upset with my use of the masculine for neuter and unknown as well) is a myth.

That myth does wonderful things for our culture. It sets up the American Dream. It helps us aspire. On good days, it helps us think and consider all of our options. The idea that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future” takes root and makes us want to be more.

But we live in society. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be reclusive are still part of society. And the idea that you can both live in society with other people, and that your decisions affect only you, is patently false. Now, in most ways, the dissonance between society and individualism are small. Yes, obviously you can make your own decisions about what you want to eat, and what you want to wear, and what you want to read without affecting others. (Although, even those small decisions can affect society, but that’s another post for another day.)

The problem comes when that myth takes root and gets into our morality, because once something is in our moral code, we no longer think about it, we only protect and react. We rail against anything that affects our “free” choice, as though we make choices in a vacuum and are not influenced already by our friends, nation, society, education, background, current mood, what we just ate, and who knows what else. Let’s take the rather benign example of car insurance and the “click it or ticket” laws.

It’s my decision if I want to drive without a seat belt isn’t it? If I want to run the risk of being in a collision without a seat belt or insurance, that’s no one’s fault but mine, right? Who is the government to infringe on my right to be stupid if I want, why are they trying to force me into this? If I get into a wreck in that situation, I’m the only one paying the consequences, so it should be my choice.

Am I right?

Except, that’s not true at all.

Let’s take the “best-case” scenario—best case in that seemingly only the driver would pay for his mistake: a single-car collision. He’s not wearing his seat belt, he’s not insured.

Case one: He dies. Well, there’s the end of it. He paid for his decision. Case closed. Except he’s not going to pay for his decision. His family is. His family will have to pay for the funeral, to have the car towed, possibly the property damage he caused. His family will now also have to spend the rest of their lives without his support, whether “he” was a working father, or a stay-at-home mom. If he (or she) wasn’t a parent, then his parents (siblings, cousins, friends—whoever he or she has left) will bear the cost of the emotional grief for the rest of their days. If he was working, the workplace will need to bear the cost of training a replacement.

Case two: He’s hospitalized. He has no insurance, so he ratchets up medical debt that will slowly crush him for the rest of his life, or he’ll never pay it back and those costs will be transferred to everyone else in the system via higher insurance premiums and deductibles. If he’s injured in such a way that he can no longer work, you have many of the fiscal costs associated with death plus the added drain on systems to help those with disabilities, etc.

Now, this is not an attack on those with individualistic morality. As I said, I love it. I point out its flaws in the same way you can point out the flaws in a sibling, but heaven help the outsider who does it. I just pray that, when you see an infringement on “personal” rights and feel your blood boiling, that you stop for one minute. Take 60 seconds, and think. Think about what’s upset you, and think about whether that personal right is so personal after all. And if you can understand the “other” side even a little bit, but still think you’re right, then open up a dialogue, not a diatribe.

Happy Birthday, Daddy

Dear Dad,

Happy birthday! I know it’s a day late, but yesterday I was having trouble breathing or thinking, let alone stringing words together. But I talked about you with Kara. She looked at some pictures of you. She really likes the one of you holding her when she was born. “How are his hands so big?” she asked. “Look, he’s got stamps on him!” she said, pointing to your tattoos. She loved the pictures of you playing with Ava. Your size struck her again when she saw the picture of baby Ava and Dazzle in your lap. “How can he hold TWO things?” And my heart broke because you will never play with Kara like that, but I was so very happy you got to meet her before you left.

The dark hair you saw her with is long gone, now. It’s blonde, turning back to brown, just like mine was at her age. Sometimes when she’s grumpy or frustrated, she makes a face that came straight from yours, even though she never met you. She’s been able to curl and roll her tongue for years now, and I can imagine her giggling with you as you two make faces at each other. She’s starting school now. She loves it. She’s so generous and loving, Daddy. Quietly considerate and observant, trying so hard to find the line between being kind and not being taken advantage of. You’d be so proud of her.

They’re having a special breakfast on Grandparents’ Day at her school. It’s a drive and you probably wouldn’t have been able to make it anyway, but it’s hard knowing it’s not even an option. Certainly no one would try to take advantage of Kara’s kindness after meeting you and knowing you’d have her back.

I feel guilty often, because Kara loves stories, and I always fancied myself a storyteller, but I can think of so very few stories to tell about you. I just remember you there, like a mountain, solid, unmoving,a force of nature—always there and reassuring. How do you tell stories about a mountain? How can you describe how different the world looks when that mountain is gone?

And yet, the world is still so beautiful. I miss you, but as you always knew, “Life is terrific.”

Love always,

My Daughter Amazed Me

A couple mornings ago, when my husband was out of town, Kara and I started doing our normal morning routines. When we had to go in my room, she said, like always, “Shh! We have to be very quiet.”

I reminded her that, actually, Daddy was out of town, not sleeping, so we didn’t have to be quiet.

She got very thoughtful. “But that means you have to do all the work!”

I nodded. “For a few days, I do.”

She immediately perked up. “I can help!” she declared proudly. “I can help clean mirrors and windows, and help put dishes away!”

I smiled so big and assured her that of course she could help. And my heart swelled because of so many things in this simple interaction. It means that, whatever else we may be doing wrong, we’re doing some things right. It means, first, that Steve helps out around the house, and she’s noticed it. Her takeaway has been that no single person should have to do everything. And bless her heart, it means that she, at 4 years old, naturally has the kind of empathy I’ve had to spend decades cultivating.

As she grows older and gets bigger and can do more “big-girl” things, she doesn’t think about all the ways she can do things for herself, but rather all the things she can do for others. And that is the most spectacular thing for a parent to see.

I’ve Been Hiding

I have a confession. I’ve had many excuses to be lax in my blogging, but the main reason is that I’ve been a bit of a coward. I’ve changed a great deal in the past several years, and it’s very comfortable to just step back and hide, letting others assume of me what they will, what they remember. So here’s my confessional, of sorts.

The truth is, I’ve become much more liberal. (Blame it if you will on The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt—a truly awesome book that everyone in the West should read.)

I strongly support gay marriage, and have ever since I got married and fully realized all of the legal rights and benefits it entails.

I am a feminist (although that probably doesn’t surprise anyone). That passion has become much stronger since I’ve become a mother and realize the many areas in which fundamental rights are still being ignored or violated.

I am a card-carrying member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.

Confessions to my liberal friends:

I am STRONGLY pro-vaccination. In most things, I’m very laid-back, live-and-let-live, easy to empathize with. But do not get me started on this issue, because this is not an issue of equally weighted opinions, it’s an issue of facts versus fear-mongering.

I am not and probably never will be a vegetarian, at least not for moral reasons. Maybe for health reasons. I love animals. I love taking care of them, and also think they are tasty. I would love to see the animals treated humanely before they’re harvested, but that’s not one of my pedestals. I’m all for supporting those who are fighting that good fight, but it’s not mine.

Confession to everyone:

These Gevalia K-Cup latte packets are incredibly tasty and actually reminiscent of a real latte.

Self-Image, and the Purpose of Pictures

As Mother’s Day draws nearer, I find myself thinking more about self-image. I know it seems an odd pair, but hear me out. First of all, it reminds me of what I want to pass on—and don’t want to pass on—to my daughter. I think of how much we look alike: my daughter, my mother, and me. I’ve thought about my self-image in relation to my daughter before, as per this post, but now I also think of my mother.

First of all, I was fortunate to have a mother who was not at all focused on external appearances. I was aware that makeup existed, and that sometimes she wore some. But I never heard her complain if she had to leave the house without it. Heck, I’m not sure I ever noticed if she had it on or not. I knew my mother was beautiful, and I never heard her shatter my perception. She’s not svelte, but I never heard her complain about her weight, or how her clothes fit. I do remember when she and Dad would do things to try to be healthier. I remember a time when my parents would walk to the end of the neighborhood and back before he went to work; sometimes I would join them. But I don’t remember her ever focusing on losing weight or looking better.

I also have a mom who never hesitated to be in a picture. She never held back because she didn’t think she looked good. She understands the purpose of pictures, and their audience. We look at pictures because they are memories—we want to remember what we were doing when this picture was taken. We do not look at family pictures to critique each others’ appearances. (Actually, there probably are people like that. Apparently there are also people who care if their mom friends show up for lunch in sweatpants and a ponytail. As far as my experience goes, however, both types of people are mythical.) My mom didn’t care if we’d been in an amusement park all day and she was red-faced and sweaty. When we wanted a picture, she was up for it. Because when we look back on that picture, we see our beautiful mother having a wonderful time with us, not … whatever it is that people see when they look in the mirror.

So I grew up without much concern about my appearance, except to make sure that I was appropriately attired for my destination. As I grow older, however, it’s a little easier for our cultural body dysmorphia to kick in. It’s easy to look in the mirror and see eyebrows that haven’t seen wax or tweezers in way too long, hair that needs a new style, and that stubborn flab around my middle.

But you know what? Just as I can look at Kara and realize that if she’s beautiful, I must be too, I can look at my mom and think the same thing. We look so much alike—what would I think if I heard her thinking those things about herself? I’d be mortified. She’s a lovely woman! Do I really think that when my husband, my daughter, my friends look at me, they see the flaws I see? Certainly they do, but they only see them in the context of the whole woman they love.

And so it is with you.

Stop beating yourself up. You’re lovely. Be healthy, be happy, and let yourself be loved for the person you are now.

Happy Mother’s Day.