Raising A Princess

This blog was originally written for and posted on my friend Kate’s site. As I am currently drafting a handful of other posts and guest blogs, I thought I’d use it as a cover for my otherwise disappointing lack of new content…

Enjoy!

http://kateelizabethconner.com/raising-a-princess-guest-post-abby-wilson/

I’m a self-identified feminist in that I believe women are equal to men, but each gender—and more importantly, each individual person regardless of gender—has innate value and distinct identifying characteristics.

That said, I am also a girly-girl and so is my daughter.

Eva loves lip-gloss, dresses, jewelry, and having her hair done. Thankfully, she also loves to run around outside, play with sticks, and dig in the dirt so I’m not too worried about her becoming too prissy, but there was a time when I was concerned about her love of princesses.

Eva started picking out princess toys, wanting to play dress up, and asking for my make-up almost as soon as she could speak. Maybe she was born loving princesses or maybe I let her watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty too many times. (It has a GREAT soundtrack, ok!) As the Cinderella, Snow White, and Tiana toys began to accumulate, I stared at our toy box and wondered,

“Do I really want my daughter growing up believing that marriage is the answer to her problems?”

Uh, no.

Isn’t that what most modern women think of fairytales: just a beautiful woman waiting on a man to save her from a life of misery? I certainly thought so, especially after growing up in a very Protestant, very Southern community. I was taught marriage and eventual motherhood are a woman’s highest calling, so as an adult I viewed fairytales and princesses as prime enablers of that stereotype.

But in fairness to my daughter’s preferences, I gave the animated ladies a second look.  I found that when you step past their unrealistic body dimensions, pretty faces, and the inevitable crown in the final sequence, you find women who share one rare and precious character trait: integrity.

Cinderella and Snow White both remained sweet, loving, and caring despite years of abuse and enforced servitude.
Ariel knew that humans and their culture were her passion, not just a passing fancy.
Mulan may not technically be a princess, but she cared for her family and her country over her own life.
Jasmine probably had the most overt stance in that she wasn’t going to marry a pompous narcissist, her voice and opinion mattered.
Tiana proved that hardwork mixed with commitment and love goes a really long way.
Rapunzel trusted her own intuition before she trusted Flynn Rider and found her way home.

Each princess had to show enormous amounts of integrity and commitment to their values to overcome their respective obstacles.

When you look at it that way, they really are beautiful.

The stories our daughters hear from our lips, from books, and from movies are the stories and the memories that will guide them when experience hasn’t yet led the way.  I hope Eva learns from these stories and from my example that compassion, strong self-esteem, and resilience in the face of danger and disaster help a woman hold her head high.  Especially considering when you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she answers,

 “A Princess!”

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Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 1-6

“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Draw a long breath and shut your eyes. What do you see?

I see a house on a farm. Inside the house lives a brave little girl who happens to be coloring and singing to herself right now. Her mother’s in the backyard feeding the chickens. The goats are farther back on the property. There aren’t that many acres but their first harvest will probably be decent. On Saturday, they’ll host a middle school class to visit and learn about how to grow the right produce and ways to cook inexpensively. There are herbs drying on the back porch for homemade spice mixes and seedlings just starting to sprout in the greenhouse. It smells of fresh bread and sweet breezes and the sun is playing peekaboo with the treetops.

That’s the first impossible thing. It’s the first thing I see when I close my eyes because it is the hope filling my heart. I know, I’m too girly to live on a farm, but that’s kind of the most beautiful part of the picture.

Second impossible thing: I could overcome my pride and my flaws enough do whatever crazy thing it is God is calling me to.

Third: Everything will turn out okay in the end.

Fourth: If I never get married, I will not waste time regretting it.

Fifth: We will somehow find a way to provide Eva with everything she needs.

Sixth: I can stop procrastinating.

What impossible things can you believe when you close your eyes and breath?

I’m Not Daddy Too

How many times has a single mom somewhere said, “I have to be Mommy AND Daddy,” as a means of explanation?

Probably hundreds of times of day. I have definitely had those moments. I could list all the things I’ve never gotten from Eva’s father…but the list of what I did get is much shorter:

1. Sperm
2. A Headache

He doesn’t pay child support. He lives hundreds of miles away. He doesn’t send Eva presents. He doesn’t call. He does text, but they are all about the same as the one discussed here. He is virtually nonexistent.

To some degree, I have allowed that. I don’t wonder when he’s going to step up. His name is not on her birth certificate. I have never asked for money. I do not fight or rebel against his lack of interest. In fact, on some level, I prefer it this way. It’s simpler, not necessarily easier, just less complicated. (Which is specific to my situation and should not be misconstrued as a recommendation for other single mothers.)

I do everything I possibly can for Eva. My parents help. My sister helps. My friends help. All things considered, I am raising Eva well. We make it work even though sometimes that is a gigantic, nearly insurmountable challenge. Even though sometimes I feel like I am failing miserably. I’m not a superhero, I’m just a mom.

But I am also only that; just her mom. I am not Daddy too.

Eva doesn’t have a Daddy. I don’t know how to explain that to her. I don’t know how to make it bearable or understandable. She hasn’t asked about it, but I know it will happen soon. She is old enough to make the correlation that the other kids have pictures with their daddies and she has a picture with her grandfather when they make Father’s Day cards at daycare.

What can I tell her? That he’s far away and can’t see her? In my mind, that only explains why she doesn’t have her father around, not why she doesn’t have a Daddy.

I would give her that if I could. I would be another parent to unite with her against Mommy when she’s tough. I would give her extra kisses after Mommy’s kisses when she falls down. I would tell her yes when Mommy says no. I would scare away the ambitious 3 year olds trying to flirt with her when Mommy only laughs. I would show her how a man is supposed to treat a woman, instead of just telling her. I would be the rational one when Mommy gets too emotional.

But I am just Mommy.

I carry a responsibility that two people typically share; that does not make me equal to two people. Am I a great mother? Yes. Do I struggle with this burden? Yes. But I don’t see the point of placing an additional weight on my shoulders by attempting to fill a role I was never meant to have.

I certainly don’t fault any single parent for saying they act as both parents; it’s certainly the most succinct way to describe something that no married parent understands. No, that weekend that your husband spent away for a friend’s bachelor party does not even begin to compare. But I don’t exactly understand how you make your marriage a priority when you’ve got little ones to watch either; I’ve never had to do that. I’ve never lived your life and you’ve never lived mine. Single parents provide on one income with one pair of hands, one pair of eyes, and emotional support from a network of loved ones instead of the one you love most.

I’m sure my choice mom friends may see this issue a little differently. I definitely see (ahem, hope for) adoption in my future regardless of whether or not I ever marry. But no matter how many children I have, be it just Eva or a handful more, I will always choose to just be Mommy.

10 Things I Learned This Weekend

Eva and I got to spend the weekend visiting some of our closest friends in Northern Virginia and celebrating their son’s third birthday. We had a wonderful time despite bad traffic and a complete lack of nap time TWO DAYS IN A ROW (shudders to think what COULD have happened). We got to see Eva’s great-grandparents and great-uncle, eat cake, watch fireworks, snuggle babies, and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

It’s amazing what two days of travel can teach you. Here’s what I learned this weekend:

Lessons Learned:

1. I-95 is a parking lot on Saturdays. Abandon hope after Fredericksburg and go to IKEA at Potomac Mills if you were stupid and kept trying anyway. Next time, leave on Friday.

2. There is something magical about a barely traveled, tree-lined I-85 at twilight. A purple sky and a full moon make up for multiple near-death experiences on I-95.

3. My daughter has two personas. One for people she knows and another for people she doesn’t. The other moms at the party Saturday all commented on how sweet and timid Eva was and I thought (but did not say), “Yeah, that’s not really her at all. She was just taking her time evaluating the situation. There’s no timidity in discernment.” Note to self: always give Eva time to acclimate to her situation.

4. Real friends are incredibly precious. I am so lucky to have had that wonderful woman in my life for nearly a decade. Five hours of driving really shouldn’t stop me from seeing her and her sweet family more often. There are some things time cannot tarnish; a true friendship is one of them.

5. I could hold a sleeping baby forever.

6. Austrian men look good in party hats.

7. Hearing my grandfather tell my daughter how her great-great-grandfather played the organ at York Minster is now one of my sweetest memories. I can only pray Eva remembers, too.

8. Children are simultaneously direct reflections of their parents and wholly independent. It’s truly fascinating to see yourself in your daughter and your best friend in her son, but also know without a doubt that your children are going to make their own decisions, but they’ll be decisions you made once upon a time and it won’t matter that you already lived it. They will feel their own emotions, reactions, and pain and respond exactly the way you would but it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Maybe we take parenting too personally. Maybe it’s ok if Eva makes all the same mistakes I did. It will still be her life, not mine.

9. Birthday cake, fireworks, and complete disregard for appropriate bedtime does not stop 3 and 4 year olds from sleeping like the dead afterwards. Indulging your kids with good things every once in awhile doesn’t hurt.

10. Travel is good for the soul. (Ok, I knew that already but it was nice to be reminded.)

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Enough

I’ve clicked through a lot of blog links on Twitter in the past few weeks. Especially the ones that seem geared towards feeling overwhelmed, making big decisions, or being a single parent. I’ve been struggling with writing and just wanted some direction, a filter to make all this nonsense in my mind coalesce into a cohesive post. A flint stone to throw myself at until I spark. I have 8 unfinished drafts in my queue. Not joking. This is the ninth attempt at saying what I’ve been agonizing over for two weeks.

The most significant issue in the mix is my career. One day, driving on the highway, I was so struck with an achingly painful certitude that God made me a writer, I started weeping. Not the pretty, romantic kind of weeping, but the ugly hyperventilating, pull-off-the-side-of-the-road kind of weeping. And as much as I know that’s what I was made to do, I am equally struck by the weight of my responsibilities to provide for Eva. I’m not exactly in a position to drop everything and make it happen. It’s not an impossibility, it just can’t happen today. But I desperately wish it could happen today.

So I kept reading other posts, hoping that maybe someone has said something that will help. Lots of people have said things, good things, but none were the words I needed.

Sunday I arrived at church starved for hope and comfort. I was relatively confident I could find a bit of each while there. Mark, our pastor, passed out a stone to each person before he began his sermon. They were small, smooth black stones, probably something you’d normally use in a decorative water fountain or floral display. He gave no explanation except that we needed to hold on to them. I chose a triangular stone with a little crevice on one side. I held it in my left hand, calmly nestled in my palm through the whole service, as I listened to Mark and tried to sift through everything on my heart.

I’d really hoped that the sermon would be an easy answer to my problems–some variation on “Do what God made you to do” or “Go where the Holy Spirit calls you,” something I could latch on to and run with. But it wasn’t. It was about love. God is love, not just that he loves us, not just that we love him but that everything about love is God and everything about God is love. So my job as someone that follows God is to love. (Yes, the Moulin Rouge soundtrack did just start playing in your head–“The greatest thing you’ll ever know is to love and be loved in return.”)

At first I thought, “God, this is not helpful, this is not an answer.” But then I realized it was an answer that made my question obsolete. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what I do, I am still able to love on people–Eva, my family, my friends, you readers. It doesn’t matter what I do to provide financially, I can still be a writer.

I am already exactly the woman God made me to be.

I’m not perfect, I have so much learning to do, so much faith to grow into, but I am just as capable of living a life set apart for Him now in a job I hate, without a home of my own, with Atlas’ burden on my shoulders, as I would be if I had my dream life. In fact, I might even be better off this way because I am reminded of my desperate need for God every single day. If I had a cushy job, a house, a dog and the stability I crave, would I crave God’s grace so much? Probably not.

So if I am who I need to be, if I have everything I need to love and fulfill that purpose, what is stopping me from feeling fulfilled?

Mark finally told us what the stones were for as the service ended. Each stone represented a fear, just a single fear, and we were supposed to place the fear on the altar and let God deal with it. (Yes, some objects lessons are simplistic but no less meaningful in action.)

And with a rush of clarity as strong as the day I wept in the car, I knew that the only thing holding me back is my fear of not being enough. Not good enough to succeed, not smart enough to make the right decisions, not in tune enough with God’s plan to go the right way, not woman enough to ever be a wife, just simply not enough.

I know exactly where those feelings of inadequacy originate. I know that even though they resulted from real situations and feel like legitimate worries in my mind–they are not legitimate. They are damaging and debilitating. They prevent me from loving myself and loving others because I am too scared to try. They stop me from feeling fulfilled.

I laid the stone of that fear on the altar; I didn’t fully relinquish my fear to God. I acknowledged it. I said to God, “I know this is getting in the way of…everything, help me give it to you. Help me see the opportunities you give me to heal.”

I will struggle to place that fear before God every day. To truly be free to believe I am enough requires a daily overhaul of how I think about myself, but I am going to try. I’ll probably fail more often than not, but I am going to try.

Container Garden Beginnings

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Eva and I have a container garden! We have tomatoes, peppers, basil, zucchini and mint in the works and some cilantro, spinach, and marigolds just seeded.

This new obsession was a Mother’s Day gift from a wonderful friend. I check the plants every morning. Eva talks to her marigold seedling. I love breathing in the gentle scent of mint on our deck with my morning coffee in hand. It might be my new form of religion.

Anyone surprised I’m taking up gardening? I don’t like getting dirty. I wear dresses and heels nearly every day of the week. But a bag of potting soil and a couple of seed packets really get me excited apparently.

Let’s call it another manifestation of embracing motherhood and the changes it has wrought in me. These plants are an investment of time. I have to remember to take care of them! Let’s hope we can last the next 30-50 days until harvest. I can’t wait to see Eva’s excitement over out first tomato fruit or a batch of homemade basil pesto. Seriously, that is going to be a thrilling mommy moment.

A new adventure has begun!

With Love, Your Momma

To My Daughter on Mother’s Day,

I told you in the car yesterday that I couldn’t be Momma if it hadn’t been for you. And you said, “Mom, I’m just Eva. You’re the mommy!”

You’re right, sweet one. You are your own person. You are Eva and I am Abby. But being your Momma is the best and most wonderful privilege. It does not define my existence, but you have shaped me and helped me grow in ways I never anticipated.

mommy daughter love

From the moment I saw your perfect form on the ultrasound, to holding you as a newborn, to witnessing your first step, to you mastering all manner of tasks and expressions, you have taken me on a journey that I have cherished every single day–even the tough ones.

Right now, I adore how you love your family with such a sweet constancy. You are always talking about the people you care about. Oly, G, Auntie, and our many friends. I giggle inside when you talk about anything that happened in the past because it was always “yesterday.” You approach everything with a vengeance! So strong, so confident, and so very beautiful.

Your face absolutely glows with delight when you accomplish something new. I can’t wait to see that expression when you bring home a great report card, dance a perfect routine, or graduate high school. There are many happy days ahead.

But there will be days that aren’t as happy, too. Life isn’t easy or fair but, little one, you will be shown a way. I promise. You will have enough grace to make it through.

You have never asked about your father, but I think you might soon. I dearly hope that you don’t wonder yet because you are so surrounded by love that it doesn’t matter that he is gone. One day, you will ask and one day it will matter. I am thankful today is not that day. I don’t know if he will ever find the strength to give you the love you deserve. I don’t know that we’ll ever find a man to be my husband and your Dad. But if I teach you anything in life, please, let it be that you are no less worthy than a little girl with two parents.

God would not have trusted me with you if I was going to fail; He would not have given you this life without the strength you need to succeed.

You are more than I ever dreamed a daughter of mine could be. Thank you for filling my heart with love, my days with laughter, and my future with hope.

With love,
Your Momma