Miss Zinnia

Sisters

Text by Becky.  Photos by the Eleven O’Clock Dad.

Shakespeare didn’t think too much of Ophelia.  The way he tells the story, she’s merely a lovely waif with a too-fragile mind–a casualty of her father’s crazy plotting and Hamlet’s crazy . . . craziness.  If you’ll remember, she lies down in a nearby stream and dies, just like that.

Or maybe not just like that.  Sidelined by the father who should have been her ally and the young man who should have viewed her as the main subject of his life, she loses her mind and ends her own life.  It’s a tragic conclusion to a story that never really got to be told.

And that’s precisely the point:  Ophelia never got the chance to be the author of her own life.

When I got home from Spain, I started rereading Mary Pipher’s 1994 landmark book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving The Selves Of Adolescent Girls, and the premise seemed proportionately more important to me now that I have one daughter preparing to exit adolescence and one daughter parked smack in the middle of it.  How do we teach our daughters to know, to embrace, and to own themselves?  How do we set them up to successfully author their own lives?  These are the questions Pipher takes up, and her extensive research underscores the need for parents–especially moms–to shepherd their daughters through the rocky years during which girls too often lose their sense of self.  Reviving Ophelia is a must-read for moms invested in their girls’ journeys toward a vibrant sense of self-identity.

So what are the answers?  One is giving a daughter an opportunity to go deep into the machinery of a particular talent or aptitude, not just so she can develop it but also so she can benefit from the surge of confidence and empowerment that comes from having a distinct strength she can legitimately own.  Sports, music, leadership endeavors, the arts . . . whatever a girl desires to lay claim to as “her thing” can help offset the pain of those blistering middle school years, especially, when the game changes and girls begin to buy into the messed-up message that how they look, or seem, is infinitely more important than who they are.

A story.  Knowing that Miss Zinnia was about to enroll at a new high school a short month ago, I worried and wondered.  Would she feel comfortable socially?  Would she find her Clan? Would she have opportunities to blossom?  Having collided once again with Pipher’s book and its crucial message, I decided to start a conversation with Miss Z. about its themes.  We were in the car one day, heading through Provo Canyon, in Utah.  “So what do you like about yourself?” I asked, to start things off.  Right away she told me she liked the color of her eyes.  But that was the “outside of her,” I pointed out, and I told her I wanted to know what she liked about the inside of her, at which point she confessed that she liked her singing voice.

And there it was.  Her voice.  Something she herself resonates to everyday.  What a boon, that not only does she like to sing, but she likes the sounds she makes.  And I found myself silently rejoicing that a few years ago, we committed to taking her and her voice and connecting her with some unique choral music opportunities and some extraordinary voice instruction.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy road, either for Miss Z. or for any young woman eager to feel known and valued.  The trick?–not giving in to the abundant temptations to efface yourself as a means to acquiring value in the eyes of peers.  Pipher describes young women who, as girls, were bright, energetic, adventurous, self-assured, their journey into adolescence suddenly becoming treacherous as they quickly gain a sense of how the currency has changed.  In other words, while they might once have felt valued for who they were, they now begin to absorb messages from a society that values women for how they look, among other things.  As Pipher points out, girls too often go from being the subjects of their own lives to the objects of other people’s lives–like Ophelia.

Sisters

Sure, Miss Z. sings, but that doesn’t mean her walk through her middle school years wasn’t fraught.  A group of (not-nice) boys used to tease her, calling her “Peggy Sue.”  Back story.  When she was a sixth grader at a new middle school a few years ago, Miss Z. had a friend who told this cluster of bothersome boys that her name was Peggy.  The reason:  Miss Z. didn’t want them to know her real name.  In the moment, she felt that she and her friend had put one over on them.  What she didn’t bank on was the way the name would stick.  To that particular group of boys, she became Peggy Sue:  the girl who stuck out because of her old fashioned–read “outdated”–manners.  Sure, teachers loved her.  And her likeminded peers followed along when she started her own service club, for example, an effort that included making tray favors for kids in the hospital over Thanksgiving break, and selling mustaches during a “mustache madness” drive to raise money for cancer research.

But if you ask her today whether she enjoyed middle school, she’ll shrink a little, and her expression will go sour, and that’ll be your answer. Striving to be her own person during those years positively wore her out.

We encourage pre-adolescent girls to think, run, climb, jump, explore, discover, and conquer, while in a few short years they’ll be bombarded with another message:  that the shape of their faces and bodies matters more than the shape of their thoughts.  And too many of them, like Ophelia, will become confused by the very wrong but nevertheless predominant idea that as you grow up, being an object of desire trumps just being.

Back when Miss Z. and I had that conversation a month or so ago?  Well, I reviewed what I felt were the basic rules for social “efficiency,” but I framed it as a question of learning a new “language,” the successful mastery of which would help her move around gracefully among peers . . . then free her to be whoever she wanted to be in the meantime.  Sort of like learning the rules to a complex game and then figuring out how to selectively abandon them in favor of self-invented tricks that fast-track you to a decisive win.  “You don’t ever have to apologize for yourself,” I told her, hoping she wouldn’t be confused by my attempts to affirm her even as I was arming her with tricks for navigating the tricky social terrain of high school.

Sisters

Perhaps one of our most important jobs as Moms of teenage girls:  guarding the door to the gym, so to speak, so that our daughters can have some uninterrupted time to bulk up their identities in healthy, defined ways, without anyone storming the place and spreading crazy ideas about how all that matters is how they look in their workout gear.

Ophelia’s mom?  She’s curiously absent from the story of Hamlet.  Maybe if she’d been around, her daughter might have had a fighting chance.

Sisters

That conversation with Miss Zinnia in the canyon ended with her simple declaration that she liked herself.

May that never change!  And may the reason for her straightforward self-acceptance always be something close to what it was that day:  a realization that what she valued about herself was, in her eyes, worth valuing, whether anyone else ever put a premium on it or not.

Moms:  your thoughts about Pipher’s book (if you’ve read it)?  About raising strong girls?  What are your traditions?  How do you set your daughters up to own their lives with confidence?

(Photo: the Petals, in Avila, Spain, sporting their own handmade flower chains.  Distinctly Ophelia-like, but only because of the headware . . .)

 

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Millay in vintage_7956

The petals and I love all things vintage. If you happen to be in Los Angeles, then the only vintage place that counts is Shareen Vintage, a store-slash-warehouse so unimaginably fabulous it needed its own Eleven O’Clock post.

We discovered Shareen’s place a couple of years ago when we ran into a young woman wearing a vintage dress so truly (say it with me . . .) fabulous, we had to stop her so we could tell her what we thought of it. It was this little brocaded number, very fifties, a buttery yellow.  As we were dying over it, she thanked us for our compliments, then told us we had to check out Shareen’s.  “It’s girls-only,” she clarified.  “No men allowed!”

I love Shareen’s for more than just the amazing vintage finds, though.  You see, Shareen herself is Someone Special.  Here’s the story.  Miss Lavender and I made the trek into L.A. one day with the express purpose of talking with Shareen, who, once we had her attention, was so fully present, so in the moment with us, you would have thought we were the oldest of friends.  To my surprise, she looked right at Miss L, took her by the shoulders, and pushed them back.  Gently but firmly, she said to my five-foot-ten inch daughter, now standing straight and tall, “Don’t . . . ever . . . slouch.”  As Miss Lavender processed this injunction given from the Vintage Maven of Los Angeles (and New York, for that matter), Shareen continued.  “Your shoulder blades–they’re your wings,” she explained, “and you want them to touch.”  Then she illustrated, showing us the way Miss Lavender, with her shoulders back, could have been touching her imaginary wings together.

I loved the metaphor:  shoulder blades as wings, always meant to be touching.  But I loved other things, too–the way Miss Lavender had instantly become not just a customer but the Pupil Of The Moment.  And the way drawing herself up to her full height seemed to give her a vision of herself as someone strong, elegant, empowered.  Do you know what that kind of carefully given–and poetic!–advice is worth to a mother anxious to give her daughter reasons to believe she can all but fly if she chooses?

When they fell deep into conversation about vintage, another side of Shareen’s character revealed itself.  As she talked about her passion for helping every woman find exactly the right dress, no matter her age or body type, she recounted how a woman who had decided to throw herself a quinceañera party for her fiftieth birthday had left the store just a few days earlier–before Shareen could properly attend to her.  “She left discouraged,” Shareen remembered as she explained that this woman had decided there was no point in trying to find a party dress that would flatter her.  “We could have found the right dress,” Shareen said with conviction, “but the store was busy that day, and I didn’t get to her in time.”

In the year and a half or so since our visit with the proprietress of L.A.’s most beloved vintage store, I’ve thought about how much she gave my petal:  a charge to stand up straight, always, and–equally important–an expressed belief that every woman deserves to feel beautiful when she decides she wants to dress up.  That’s part of what makes clothing exciting, after all:  the opportunity to play a part, and to make a statement about who you understand yourself to be.  With vintage, every piece already has a history that the new wearer often consciously deploys as part of an effort to communicate her sense of identity.  When Miss Zinnia dressed up for her “Gatsby” shoot on our terrace in Barcelona one afternoon several months ago, she saw herself as a character right out of a book or a film.  Her dress:  Shareen’s, of course.

Millay in Shareen vintage_7938

After our afternoon with Shareen, I wrote her, to thank her for her words of wisdom.  And she wrote back, telling me she’d wondered about me, about who I was.  “And here you are,” she said in her reply, thanking me for acknowledging the gift she’d given a clothes-loving teenage girl.  That’s what makes Shareen a force not just in the vintage realm but also–and probably more important–in the realm of Girl Power.  At Shareen’s place, every woman learns quickly that she deserves to stand up straight and to feel at ease in her own skin.

(Photo:  a Gatsby-esque Miss Zinnia, in BCN.)

 

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Tessa and Millay dancing two_2391

Would you like to dance?

Why, that would be grand!

Shall we, then?

Tessa and Millay dancing three_2397

Leaping_2440

Tess and Millie on the beach_2432

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Standing together by arch_1099

Once upon a time I wrote a little note to Danny and Mara of A Blog About Love, thanking them for talking about love, its forms, its reach. I also wrote a blog entry about how one of their posts had affected Miss Lavender, prompting her to want to practice love the way you practice doing anything you want to get good at:  through repetition.

Teva Tessa agan with sun in arm_1072

One of Miss Lavender’s goals was to strengthen her relationship with her younger sister–Miss Zinnia, exactly three years her junior.

Teva Millay by arch looking away_1122

Different in so many ways, the petals occasionally reach an impasse, and then they have to find a way to move forward. But especially when they’re out together like they were here, in Teba, Spain, they often end up being each other’s best company.  So cool, that traveling together ended up being their mortar.

Teva girls in field_0959

Teva girls running through field_0958

Remember the old tradition of the Sunday drive?–where the family hops in the car and heads out to see what the afternoon looks like an hour down the road? Well, we’ve been doing that off and on for months–and not just on Sundays, obviously. I’ve got to say: sometimes the middle of nowhere turns into a Big Somewhere when transfigured by a pair of sisters at ease with each other and with themselves.

Teva Tessa kissing Millay_1137

Once again, thanks Danny and Mara. All these months later, the seeds of your Words Of Love are still yielding fruit.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

In Praise Of Gelato. And What It Does.

by Becky on May 18, 2013

in Food, Travel

Being inveterate foodies, we have our little haunts.  The petals and I love a little place on the edge of Born.  On another occasion, I’ll show it to you.  For now, I’ll give you a peek at what really good gelato does to a couple of girls I know.

Ice Cream Date

Ice Cream Date

Ice Cream Date

Ice Cream Date

Ice Cream Date

It’s all settled, then: gelato turns you into a supremely happy goofball, right alongside the other goofball who shares your birthday, your clothes, your hair nonsense, your Burt’s Bees, your love of the European ephemera you dream of repurposing for a DIY, etcetera, etcetera.

Provecho!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Yellow

Driving from Point A to Point B in France reminds you that sometimes the drive is the Whole Point. That is, the journey itself takes center stage, just that fast.

Yellow

Miss Lavender and Miss Zinnia felt similarly. When that Quintessentially French Yellow called, they felt bound to answer.

Yellow

(As would anyone with a fondness for flowers.)

Yellow

In fact, it occurs to me that Fondness For Flowers is a condition the French must be resigned to living with. (Wink.)

Yellow

Because: how could you possibly want to live in the middle of nowhere, unless Nowhere looked like this?

Yellow

Yellow

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

So the story is that we stopped in Pouzac, France, a town no one’s ever heard of but its inhabitants. In the distance, an old church beckoned. We feared its doors would be shut and locked. That often happens in small towns.

But we stopped anyway. And got out. And decided to explore a little.

I wandered through the church yard, spent a moment considering the dates on the tombstones in the graveyard.  Then, when I checked the door to the church, surprise:  the latch gave, and I pushed the door open. And stepped inside. Completely empty but for the two votives flickering in the sanctuary.

Miss Zinnia decided to perform a single verse from a church hymn.

Here is how that verse sounded.

(And to whoever left the door to that 16th century church open: Merci.)

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Millay looking up_1065

Maybe it was the city:  Sagunt, Spain.  Something about the place made you relax and want to settle in, even when there was a camera pointed at you.

Millay in narrow street_1053

My older daughter and the camera, they’re buds. Always have been.

But this one?

Millay in Sagunto_1062

It’s a tentative friendship, what she and the camera have going these days. She may be on the way to deciding that it won’t bite, won’t get critical, doesn’t intend to be intrusive.

Millay looking out through the rock_1606

The challenge with a child who sometimes steps out of focus: there are fewer images to document her life. I’ve been sharply aware of this during our stay here in Spain.

Millay at top of ruins_1224

Maybe that’s one reason I’ve grown to love this country so much. Gradually, without Miss Zinnia realizing it, Spain up and decided to collaborate with the Eleven O’Clock Camera Lens, the Country and the Camera quietly deciding that the former would stage something to distract Miss Z, and the latter would capture that magic moment when she responded.

Profile, standing_1632

Yeah, I think the friendship might last.

(Joy!)

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Tess and Millay walking_6596

Thing Three. Whenever possible, view your daughter as a front page story. Then get the story.

Tess and Millie on a bench_6593

These photos of the Eleven O’Clock Girls in Bratislava, Slovakia, remind me just how much I remember about our trip through Europe last summer. Which is a lot. Which is a direct result of its having been documented. I remember the day in these pictures like it was yesterday. Because there are photos of it.  The companion story for this photo could be, “The petals fall under the spell of some interesting new acquaintances.”

The caption for the one below could read, “Miss Zinnia.  Silly girl.”

Millie on sidewalk_6594

Take photos.  And when you’ve got a minute, write down a place, a date, an impression or two. The story in the one below:  “Blue eyes. In Bratislava.”

Millie by door_6548

I want to be clear: when I say “get the story,” I don’t mean sit down and write War And Peace. Nor do I mean mortgage your home to get the appropriate scrapbooking supplies.  I love that some folks scrapbook!  I wish I did.  I kept trying.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get that gene. Once, I walked into a scrapbooking store in Arizona, looked around for a bit, and, when someone asked if they could help me, out of my mouth came the bizarre (and involuntary!) words, “Do people ever report wanting to slit their wrists when they come in here?”–at which point said woman (very helpful, bless her) gave me a brisk smile and hurried away. Fast.

The story for this photo of Miss Lavender could read, “Something’s going on behind those eyes.”

Tessa by door_6547

Or this one. “Oh happy day!”

Tessa on streetlamp_6552

Or, “Zinnie and Lavender doing something vaguely yogic.”

Millie and Tess get silly_6561

The Official Story of your daughter on any given day, at any given moment, gets written with the click of a shutter and a few thoughtful strokes on a keyboard (or in a journal, say). But we’ve gotta get them, these stories. Before our girls walk off into their own lives.

Millie and Tess in Bratislava_6585

Wish I’d started this in earnest.  Sooner.  I’d remember so many more days like they were yesterday!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Millay holding camera_9653

Thing one. Take the Teenage Girl In Your Life with you when you do something kind for someone else.

So I grab Miss Zinnia the other day, and I tell her we’re going to visit Miss Rosa (not her real name), who lives up the street a few blocks. “I’m going to take her some soup,” I say, “and I want you to come with me.”

She’s reluctant at first. She doesn’t know Miss Rosa (naturally I’ve given her a flower name), who is a woman of mature years and who lives in a flat the size of a shoebox. But to her credit, Miss Zinnia puts on a jacket, a scarf, and the red felt hat (very Edwardian) she recently acquired, and off we go, with me toting both the bowl of soup and Miss Zinnia.

As a matter of courtesy, I asked Miss Rosa beforehand if I could translate for the two of them, and when we arrive and exchange the requisite two-cheek kisses, I suggest we commence chatting–that she and my Zinnia jump into the business of getting to know each other.

At first it’s a bit awkward for Miss Zinnia, but with me mediating the langauge gap and asking for additional help with Miss Rosa’s fond Catalan phrases and metaphors (Catalan is a wonderfully metaphorical language, from what I’ve been able to observe), the two take the first steps toward friendship.

And what do you know? They both love herbal tea with notes of fruit and flowers, Miss Zinnia lighting up when she talks about the infusion (what they call herbal teas here) she got at Christmas, a special “brew” called Kalahari, named for the African desert. And they both love movie musicals. When Miss Rosa mentions Singin’ In The Rain, Miss Zinnia’s all-time favorite, Miss Zinnia smiles so warmly I wonder if we’ll need to turn off the little space heater Miss Rosa has placed near us, to keep us warm.

And it goes on like this for the better part of an hour, though eventually the discussion turns (as it often does) to Miss Rosa’s thoughts on the Catalan secessionist movement and other sundry themes a tad bit too politically charged for Miss Zinnia, particularly as they find expression in Miss Rosa’s colorful language . . .

When we kiss Miss Rosa goodbye and leave her flat, Miss Zinnia links her arm with mine, and on our way home, I say, “We made her day.” And Miss Zinnia, feeling reflective, acknowledges that this might indeed be true. “This was the right thing to do this afternoon,” I tell her.  “And,” I add, “the soup’ll be perfect for her dinner!”

I think about what the visit looked like from where Miss Zinnia was sitting: the oddly delightful, slightly intimidating combination of age and youthful verve that is Miss Rosa. Her arthritis continually pesky, she uses braces to walk. But that doesn’t stop her from holding forth on the theme of Franco’s catastrophic oppression of the Catalans during what she views as his reign of terror, for example.  She is nothing if not a character.

I notice that Miss Zinnia’s attitude has shifted. Before our walk to Miss Rosa’s small flat, she was nervous. Afterwards, she understands that her efforts to make another woman–one whom age has not been kind to–feel just the slightest bit happier on a Sunday afternoon have worked. You could see it on Miss Rosa’s face.

I decide immediately that taking a girl in a red felt hat (or any kind of hat) along to visit the Miss Rosas in my life can be brilliant. Why, you wonder?–because now, Miss Zinnia has a Miss Rosa in her life, too, and that simple fact will resonate with her into adulthood and beyond.

 

{ Comments on this entry are closed }