Off time

Please forgive me. I just now walked in the door from a wonderful, sleep deprived, dirt-between-my-toes span of days at a Girls' Camp. Yes, it's true that many of you northern hemisphere-ites are at this minute preoccupied with apple picking and pumpkin carving and cinnamon-scented baking (I know this because Pinterest and Facebook tell me so). I get it (and, hey, I miss it); you're hunkering down for the colder months. But here in southeast Australia, we're just perking up to spring. Since the schools are on a two-week spring break around here, our church group headed three hours away to the gorgeous coastal town of Narooma for the yearly Young Women's camp. 

So the only things rattling around in my brain tonight are: (a) how fast I can get myself into a shower, (b) how good my bed will feel tonight, (c) how long will my left eye stay bloodshot and (d) teen girls are pretty fabulous. Please humor me with a few photos as a companion to Sarah's great post on her Girls' Camp experience in Texas (and I echo every one of her lessons learned):

Teen girls + camp = braid fest

Teen girls + camp = braid fest

Quiet time on the beach. (Seriously. Check out that gorgeous beach. It's like Ireland and Hawaii had a love child and called it the Australian south coast.)

Quiet time on the beach. (Seriously. Check out that gorgeous beach. It's like Ireland and Hawaii had a love child and called it the Australian south coast.)

Amazing Race time (Or, really, an 8K hike disguised as a game. Brilliant.)

Amazing Race time (Or, really, an 8K hike disguised as a game. Brilliant.)

Happy campers.

Happy campers.

Sketching time on the beach.

Sketching time on the beach.

A ridiculously funny game where one poor member of each team is subjected to shaving cream, thrown cheeto balls, and squirted water. Maddy was a good sport.

A ridiculously funny game where one poor member of each team is subjected to shaving cream, thrown cheeto balls, and squirted water. Maddy was a good sport.

Bless you for sticking around through what is surely the online equivalent of subjecting you to a whole slide carousel of holiday photos. My brain will be up and working in a day or two.

I almost forgot--as a token of my appreciation, here's a fellow mid-stage mom's hilarious post about being the meanest mom on the block and drawing the line on being over invested in how your kids feel about every little thing. "We're on the same team but, dudes, that team has Captains and it's the parents."  I'd love to hear what you think about it.

Mothers, daughters, and the passing of batons

Sisters in the kitchen, William Gedney, 1980 | via Duke University Collection,

Sisters in the kitchen, William Gedney, 1980 | via Duke University Collection,

This excerpt from Alice McDermott's new novel Someone speaks for itself (but that won't stop me from giving it a little postscript here of my own down below):

. . . 

"It was time," my mother said, that I learned a few things about cooking.

I stood in the kitchen doorway, all reluctance. Why? I wanted to ask.

[Later in the book, the main character Marie will explain to her friends out on the stoop: "Well, I don't want to learn," I said. "Once you learn to do it, you'll be expected to do it," and was amazed at the way my own words clarified for me what had been, until then, only a vague impulse to refuse.]

[...]The sound of her voice was more familiar to me then than my own; I knew the end of my mother's patience when I heard it.

"You tell me," I said softly. "You tell me what to do."

Behind me, I heard my mother cross her arms over her rickracked apron.

"There's a recipe in front of you," she said. "And unless I'm very much mistaken you know how to read. Read it."

I lowered my head the way I'd seen horses do, and dogs, when they didn't want to be led. "You tell me," I said again.

I heard her stamp her foot. "I won't." Anger always stirred my mother's brogue, like meat brought up from the bottom of a stew. "I wrote it out for you so you could read it. Now read it."

I didn't turn around. "Just tell me,"  I said.

"A recipe is meant to be read," my mother said.

I dipped my head again. "I'd rather you just tell me."

In the silence that followed, I could hear, faintly, the noise from the street, where I wanted to be: cars passing and children calling. There was also the distant thump of doors closing in the apartments below, various footsteps on the stair. There was the whine of someone's clothesline pulley. The chuckling warble of some pigeons at the window.

"Measure out your flour," my mother said slowly, relenting. I shifted my feet a bit to accommodate my triumph: better than risking a sly smile.

I put my hand on the measuring cup. "How much?" I said.

And now, even without turning around, I knew it was my mother who was smiling. "You'll have to read the recipe to find out," she said. "Won't you?"

It was a wonder, my mother said later, in every retelling of it, that we didn't kill each other on that bright morning. Slowly, through a series of niggling concessions on both our parts--some telling, some reading, some turning away in anger, and some giving in--the ingredients were placed into the bowl and the bread was shaped and lifted into the black frying pan. When my mother brushed past me to mark the cross on its surface, her hands were trembling with anger.

[...] But my mother merely stood beside me with her hands on her hips, studying her stubborn daughter once more, even as that daughter kept her exaggerated, myopic stare on the clock. "I suppose this is how it's going to be," she said softly, more to herself than to me. "You're growing up."  And then, for a moment, she put a gentle hand to my head.

She said, "God help us both," and left the kitchen.

-from Someone by Alice McDermott
You should read it.


Those mother-daughter moments of clash and reluctance and wills and so much love and anger colliding at once? God help us both, indeed. I feel like I am there, both daughter and mother, in this moment where McDermott deftly hints at themes of independence, tradition, budging and not budging, and the passing of batons across generations--or the passing attempt, anyway.

As a side note, I lament the things I chose not to learn from my own mom when I was a teen, sure as I was that I would--what?--live a vastly different life, maybe? As a daughter, I remember it not feeling like an outright rejection of my mom's plentiful talents and sacrifices but rather a stubborn struggle to find and claim my own distinct strengths, apart from her. Still, I regret that her accomplished music (she plays the harp! how could I not learn the harp from my own in-house mom harpist?!), kitchen finesse, and many creative skills were just a few of the batons I chose not to pick up from her outstretched hand. Not then.

As a mother myself now I can hardly be surprised as I watch my daughters choose or discard the batons, often independent of my outstretched offerings. My lesson from before is just this: not to take it personally. 

. . . 

- NY Times review of Someone here 
 - Interview with McDermott on the Diane Rehm show

A few thoughts on girls camp

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Last week I went with the girls from my congregation to our annual Girls Camp. I was in charge of our small band of 22 girls (accompanied by other super-helpful moms) in a camp of a over 200 girls -- ranging in ages from 12-18.  Unlike past years of air conditioned cabins, this year we were really roughing it. The locale was a real-life Girl Scout camp with canvas tents on wooden platforms, a lake for canoeing, and a giant pool to ease the Texas summer heat. 

I learned a ton of things during my stay at Girls Camp.  Some of these relate only to my own person, like . . . I can, if forced, live without air conditioning. And, if I was forced to live without airconditioning for an extended period of time, I'd cut my hair boy short. One thing I already knew about myself is that without climate control, a blow dryer, straightener, and really, good hair product, my hair is a giant, frizzy ball of curls. It looks REAL bad.

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But, no one comes to this site to hear of my hair woes (and they are lengthy and semi-tragic). What I can tell you is a few of my observances of the inner-working of the GIRL in a social setting. I watched the speciman, THE GIRL,  very carefully while at camp. She's not so mysterious as some might think. 

Here's what I know: 

  • Girls are not wimpy. Some of the tents were CRAWLING with bugs. It was in the mid-nineties every day with uber-high humidity. We were sweaty and nasty every second, except for 5 minutes after you showered (before you started sweating again). We used stinky latrines. We even hauled our own firewood one night. And there was very little complaining -- just the occasional "Boy is it hot!"  I tried my best to point out how exceptionally strong and tolerant they were. "You girls don't even need air conditioning!" Or "You found enough firewood for two HUGE fires!" And they would act kind of surprised. Like, hey, yeah, I did that.
  • What you see on the outside of a adolescent/teenage girl may have absolutely no correlation to what's happening on the inside of that girl. They are illusive creatures. Finding out what's on the inside can be tricky and mostly requires your presence. I don't think I quite became anyone's confidant, but I was privy to the secret crushes of a number of the girls. I just waited quietly. Joked with them a bit. They really wanted to tell.
  • The real talking happens late at night. I've read any number of places that teenagers often will only open up late at night -- that you have to place yourself at the intersection of their comings and goings to get a bead on them. I've been pretty lucky so far in that my girls tell me a ton of stuff at any time of the day (except early morning). But these girls at camp? They really came out of their shell sometime after 10:30 PM. 
  • Each girl handles social situations a bit differently, and that's okay. Some of the girls were boisterous, some were funny, some were quirky, some were quiet, some were observant. Some were attention-seeking, and we tried to meet that need. But mostly, left to their own devices, the girls interacted without much drama or unhappiness. I did see a number of acts of kindness -- a girl waited for another who was lagging behind, someone left a group to go on an errand with one who was a little lonely. There were plenty of examples of plain, old human kindness. Sometimes girls get a bad rap for cattiness. But there was plenty of compassion and consideration as well.
  • Some girls really needed a friend. Towards the end I saw girls wishing they were included in certain groups.  Other girls wanted to claim a best friend for their very own. What it really boils down to is wanting to belong. Shoot, we all want that. I don't have a magic bullet for this one. (If I did I'd definitely have been invited to be on an Oprah special.) But here's what I say to my girls when they are in a difficult "friend" situation:

Two things -- One. Do your best to truly like people. Admittedly, this can be really hard -- especially when folks are being mean. However, most of the time, when my girls say they don't like someone . . . it's because they think that person doesn't like them. On the flip side, I've also heard them say things like this, "Yeah, that girl can be grouchy, but she thinks I'm really funny so I like her!" It's a simple rule: people like people who like them. Stitch that on a pillow.

And second, I tell my girls to work on understanding what it means to be a friend. And with that, figure out who your real friends are. Without doubt, this takes time and experience to sort through. And I know (I KNOW) this can be painful, and lonely, and downright discouraging. I tell my girls that a good friend rejoices in her friends' successes and mourns their disappointments. A good friend listens. A good friend lets the unimportant stuff slide. I could go on. And, by no means do I have this topic sewn up. I'm still working on it myself. But I do think modeling straightforward, honest friendship is essential. Also, learning to say "I'm sorry" -- those two words can heal a boat-load of hurt.

All in all I was blown away by my 22 girls. They are smart, responsible, chipper, and ardent. They are kind and want to do good. Yes, they are young and sometimes lose sight of the important things, but this upcoming generation? They are doing just fine. 

First time around

Or, alternate title: Aunt Flo, the infantry has landed.
Yep, we're talking about that.


I vividly remember the Cosby Show episode (called The Infantry has Landed (And They’ve Fallen Off the Roof)) when Rudy gets her first period.  I shared her ambivalence about this milestone. I was in no hurry for puberty’s mysterious pads-and-things and “becoming a woman.” I really liked being a girl, thankyouverymuch.

What left an especially dramatic impression in that episode was the level of excitement from the other Huxtable women. They were positively celebratory, eager to take Rudy on her “Woman’s Day” outing to mark the occasion. Grab the keys, girls, we’ve got a menarche to celebrate! 

All of this is just to say: Being a mother of a girl means you’re going to have that day. Research says that day is coming earlier and earlier for girls, on average, which means you might even be celebrating “Woman’s Day” with your 9- or 10-year-old daughter. Mixed feelings all around!

From my admittedly limited experience, a positive, matter-of-fact approach is key. At a minimum, think about:

  • preparing your daughter in advance so she’s not freaked out when it happens (and doesn't expect kites on seabreezes, fields of sunflowers, or sun-kissed horses)
  • striking a balance between the reality of the discomfort and positivity about the milestone
  • keeping the door wide open to chat about it anytime
  • being prepared and supplying her with all the accoutrements (along with explanations)

You know your own daughter and the level of Huxtable-style celebration she’ll want or tolerate. Sure, you could do anything ranging from going out on the town with tiaras and banners (cringe, sorry) to giving her a big hug and a cozy hot water bottle. Whatever the case, just make sure it's suited to her. Period.

The Period Store has some great-looking packages of products that would make a nice first-time gift. In addition to the usual supplies, they can include medicine packets, a print, and sweets. You can even arrange to have a new package sent every month if you want (via A Blog About Love).

Likewise, Le Parcel has a similar concept with a gift (the example above shows a cute watch) along with the set of supplies you can select from their menu for monthly delivery (via Design Mom).

But you don't really have to buy a package. What about a homemade kit with a hot water bottle, Cadbury drinking chocolate, cozy fleece sweats, a mini calendar, and Motrin? Oh, and maybe a coupon with a free pass from doing the dishes one night.