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Posts Tagged ‘girlhood’


Dee Butterfly, cell phone photo of my oldest daughter when she was about eight years old, photo © 2003-2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


I gave birth to Dee on Labor Day thirteen years ago.

“Some Labor Day!” folks joked afterwards.

It was a beautiful birth. I had her in our bedroom, attended by Jim, my best friend, and our midwife.

For a while I didn’t think I could do it. I was on my back pushing yet nothing was happening. Finally my midwife, who up to then sat quietly in a corner letting me be in control of my birth, came to check on me.

“Ah, your water’s not broken,” she said. I had told her it broke before she got there. “Go into the bathroom and visualize your water breaking. Once it breaks, the baby will come.”

I sat on the toilet and stared at the circles on the linoleum tile. Open, open, open, I said to myself. I closed my eyes and could see a faint imprint of circles in the darkness. Open, open, open. Splash! It worked.

Dee came in to the world in the early morning. I birthed her crouched on the floor beside our bed. The air was cool, sunlight soft. Mexican sunflowers stood guard outside our windows.

Every human being brings with him or her into the world a bundle of traits. Some characteristics deepen with love, others are quashed from lack of support. New talents and quirks emerge based on home life and the world at large, but I know with certainty that every one of us arrives with something and not as a blank slate.

Dee brought with her a fiesty attitude, curiosity, and a natural tendency to question and challenge. She was expressive, sensitive, argumentative. She held her fork in her fist while she waited for her meals, refused to take a bottle, and cried every time she woke up from a nap. She was serious and at times stern. She was also compassionate and could break out crying at the knowledge that someone or something was hurt.


Using the words Brave and Face in a sentence, Dee’s second-grade homework, image © 2002-2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Jim and I each grew up in homes that stressed respectfulness, courtesy, and good manners. Jim’s parents, especially, valued proper behavior in children. My parents did, too—Grandpa’s motto was, Children are to be seen and not heard. However, Mom’s tendency to rebel against anything conventional translated into exposure to many vices (poker and Black Jack games at any family gathering, smoking, drinking, cussing, etc.).

It was apparent early on that Jim’s ideas about the right way for children to behave would not set well with Dee. Although she was often quiet and inside herself, she never hesitated in voicing her opinions. If she didn’t understand something, she asked questions and always in a way that sounded like she didn’t quite believe what was being said.

Jim’s sister came to visit one day when Dee was three. We were at the kitchen table talking about something that happened when Dee insisted that Jim’s recounting of events was not right and began telling her version. Just as Jim was about to reprimand Dee for the interruption, his sister stopped him.

“Let her be. If you teach her to not speak up when she’s a child, she’ll have a hard time finding her voice as a woman.”

I joined Jim’s sister in describing how so many women I see at work are reserved and conditioned to neither debate nor question, how they let men dominate conversations and meetings. While courtesy was important, we said, Dee carried an innate respect for all humanity. If it came down to teaching proper manners, wouldn’t it be easier to learn good etiquette later in life than it would be to unlearn reticence?

To his great credit, Jim listened to the women in his life. In bringing up his daughters (because he was the one who had the most influence in their early lives) he has resisted the urge to constantly keep them in check. That’s not to say he is overly permissive; he still appreciates a well-behaved child.

For her part, little Miss Dee is a confident, newly annointed teenager. She can be quiet, especially among strangers—another one of those characteristics she brought into this world. But among her friends and family, she continues to speak her mind.

This morning Dee said that tonight she’s not going to cry over leaving behind her childhood. She’s ready for what’s next. (I, however, might be a different case altogether.)

Happy Birthday, Dee! You are an impressive young woman and human being.





[NOTE: I don’t normally publish photos of my family, but this photo of Dee was taken so long ago, plus with the face-painting, I decided it would be fine to share this one.]

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Dee called last night. She stayed one extra week in Ghost Ranch with friends of ours we met there a year ago. While I was in Ghost Ranch last week, Dee did the high ropes course. The course finale is to climb a 50-foot telephone pole, stand on it and make what is called “the leap of faith” to catch a bar that’s hanging about eight feet from the telephone pole.

Last week Dee climbed the pole, got to the top, then looked down. I could see the color drain from her face when she realized how high she was. She’d already walked across a high wire and scaled a wall and walked across a rickety ladder. But nothing had been as high as she was then, and she knew that. It took all the courage she could muster to pull herself to the top of the 50-foot telephone pole, sit on it, and then gently slide off to swing on the cable that was attached to her. I could tell she was really disappointed that she hadn’t been able to stand up. She kept saying, I shouldn’t have looked down, I shouldn’t have looked down.

When I left Ghost Ranch, Dee told me she was going to do the high ropes course again, and this time she was going to write on the goals form they fill out at the beginning that her personal goal would be to touch the bar hanging in front of the telephone pole. She figured she couldn’t grab it; she was still too small for that. But she knew she could touch it if she could just manage to stand up on the telephone pole and take the leap.

Well, I could hear in her voice the moment I answered the phone last night that she had big news for me. She did it. She climbed the pole, stood up, took the leap, and touched the bar with her fingers. She achieved her personal goal.

That’s a huge lesson for an 11-year-old to learn. To gaze with such intensity into her own mental and physical ability. To trust herself. To succeed. I’m so proud of her.

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Birth is a natural wonder. Those words refer to Dee and to this earth. How can I describe what it’s like having an eleven-year-old daughter? To the Natural History Museum today she wears a skin-toned tank top with black lace coverlet, blue jeans, and a pale pink tie in her hair. Her bangs fall around her China-doll face.

“Look, Mom,” she tells me as she debuts for the day, “I’m Violet Baudelaire.” Dee and Violet (from Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events) are pretty yet clever. (Always remember clever. Dee will never go for just pretty.)

A year ago–six months ago, in fact–Dee would be no one other than Dee. Play unencumbered by fashion. Digging a giant hole in the front yard–so what if high-water pants? Then suddenly this year, a subtle shift. This certain tank top from The Gap in Denver. We bought it on sale. Dee loves to wear it, although tank tops are taboo at her school. So she slips it into certain outings. Natural History Museum on a Sunday afternoon.

I birthed Dee in early fall of 1995. A roller coaster–that’s how I described pregnancy-to-birth. Being on the world’s highest roller coaster (which I’ve been on–The Viper in Six Flags Southern California), me screaming as the contraption click-clicked toward its pinnacle overlooking the entire amusement park. Are those specks the cars? I couldn’t even see people. You can scream your head off (I did) yet it won’t do a whit of good. The emaciated man with corn-cob teeth manning the controls on the ground can’t hear screams. They evaporate like steam into atmosphere.

When I used the roller-coaster analogy I didn’t realize I was talking about raising a child. I thought I was referring to the act of bringing another human into the world. Yet, the ride persists. I read today that it took six hundred million years after its birth for Earth to contain all the elements of modern life. Ocean, rivers, mountains, atmosphere, continents. After eleven years I wonder if I’ve delivered the most basic qualities: love, respect, self-confidence, compassion.

In the context of Earth’s six hundred million years, this particular day is not even a grain of sand. Not the cuticle on the left thumb of the person–what I presume to be a person–standing in the vicinity of the Ferris Wheel. Quartz, the most common mineral on earth, is more ancient and durable than me and my concerns. But I am a woman of today, aware that every moment I spend in my daughter’s presence is an opportunity. To be volcanic, gaseous, a tectonic plate pushing sea into land, land into mountains. Or a phantom–the invisible parent. (These are words from nature’s terminology. Phantom to quartz is the black vein-like formation inside the crystal, like tree rings symbolizing time on earth. In a human, phantom is the residue of childhood, what you take with you through years of therapy. Your true story.)

Dee and I walk from Earth’s Origins to Triassic Period, walk across the super-continent Pangaea, and I wonder as she peers at Coeleophysis, New Mexico’s state fossil, whether she will remember me as an erudite mother wandering museums on a holiday Sunday or as a guilty, preoccupied parent touting an occasional mother-daughter to-do. Do the museum visits override the time I slapped Dee in the car when she was two and wouldn’t stop crying?

I read the exhibit labels aloud but she doesn’t hear me. New Mexico two hundred million years ago was hot and humid. The year I birthed Dee was dry. We grew sunflowers taller than the top of the window. They bloomed bright yellow-orange and beckoned my pregnant belly to give forth its contents. Scream your head off, it doesn’t matter.

Both our favorite is Jurassic Period, the age of super giants. New Mexico was covered with conifers, cycads, and ferns–not juniper or sage. When Pangaea split apart, we were sea or were we coast along the sea? It doesn’t matter. Either way, I like this version of life. Ultimately we are everything. Placenta and child and blood and beating heart. Happiness and frustration.

Dee runs from the whip-tailed dinosaur (whose name I forget) to a young man with a ponytail, little more than a teenager himself, standing at a small table showing his dino-wares. He holds up a fossilized dinosaur thigh bone with quartz growing where the marrow used to be. He describes the process of crystallization, water sitting in the channel of the bone over many, many years. The crystals glimmer and I notice Dee is mesmerized.

“What’s this,” he asks, and he’s on to a smallish oval-shaped thing that looks like rusted metal. Dee is thinking. I watch her instead of generating answers myself. This is how it is with Dee these days. I’m consumed with her process of growing up. Fossilized dinosaur poop, or coprolite, as he prefers to call it. Dee and I look at one another. I raise my eyebrows, in awe of nature. What nature does she see in me?

“T-Rex had 150 teeth,” the young man says as he holds up a giant white fang the length of his hand. “T-Rex’s brain wasn’t as big as this one tooth,” the boy-man says dramatically. He looks at Dee expectant but she says nothing. She doesn’t even make eye contact. She knows not what to do with sex or sexuality, and I am only now aware of this small seed growing inside her.

“…so, you could say T-Rex definitely had more brawn than brain,” the boy-man says. I laugh at the punch line while Dee skitters off to Cretaceous Period. For a moment I think I’ve imagined it all. She’s a girl, not a pre-teen.

In the Cretaceous Period shallow seas covered New Mexico. They say a type of plant-eating, five-horned dinosaur–Pentaceratops–was found only in this area. I like the idea that we have our very own species. This one ranged in size, they say, from no bigger than a dog to up to five tons. Flowering plants arose during this time. Up to then there were only evergreens.

There are different theories for why dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. A great meteor, Chicxulub Crater, hit the earth and ended the reign of these creatures. Or mammals ate the eggs. I go for the crater explanation. I can’t imagine anything worldly preventing mothers–even dinosaur mothers–from having children. So many methods for not having kids today, yet so many babies born. Wanted or not.

On the drive home from the museum, Dee reminds me of our new joke. “What’s a man eating dinosaur?” We both saw the riddle on a wall near the exhibit describing the evolution of dinosaurs into birds. You lift up a little plastic tab and underneath is a picture of a man carving into a Thanksgiving turkey. “I don’t get it,” I first told her. She had to walk me through the dinosaur-to-bird section and explain that turkeys were ancestors of dinosaurs. A-MAN-EATING-DINOSAUR…GET-IT?, she asked. I did. Finally.

I notice something about Dee. When it’s all of us–me, her, her sister, my husband–Dee is distant. She snaps her answer whenever I ask a question. Yells from the bedroom, WHAT??? Yet when Dee and I are alone together in this fast-disappearing eleventh year (do we only have one more before she officially becomes a teen?) she settles into me. Me into her. We are earth settling into a new period. Shallow seas covering land. Flowering plants for the first time.

Eleven years I’ve had to be a mother. Eleven years of impatience and love. I’ve tried to make memories. Natural History Museum (age eleven and times before). Disney World (age three), Santa Monica Pier (age four). Six Flags too many times now to count. San Francisco, the same. Somehow, though, I know it’s the day-to-day that counts. I worry that I’ve been distant. That she emulates what she sees.

Some day it will be Dee’s own life. Her own eccentricities and values and actions that override everything I’ve stamped onto her. You can scream all you want but you still can’t get off.

I learned today that New Mexico had camels and elephants five to 18 million years ago. Nature–she has her own plan.

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