In those boxes under the stairs…

Coming Home: Some things are worth saving
InForum

OK, please tell me everyone has it — that space under the stairs or in the attic or the corner of your bedroom piled up to the ceiling where you put all the things.

All the things you want to save but don’t know what to do with, like the junk drawer every Midwesterner tries and fails to clean out every three years.

Please tell me you know what I mean so I don’t feel alone in the stacks of boxes I’m wading through here to make room for a plumbing project under those stairs.

Because I usually blame my husband for all the clutter, but four hours and 10 tubs full of less-practical things later, I’m admitting I’m guilty of the sentimental version of his shortcoming. And apparently it comes with baggage.

Because does the 35-year-old version of me need the graphic design projects I completed my junior year of college? Or a psychology textbook? Or a stack of blurry and misfired shots from my high school camera or this keychain that probably meant something to me but now I can’t remember what?

At some point in my life I must have thought so. But last weekend, in the name of time and an attempt to declutter my life to make room for the two new little lives that exist in our house now, I tossed them. I tossed them because, while it all served as a reminder of the things I used to do, it was no longer what I needed to remind me of who I used to be.

Some things aren’t worth saving, I decided. But it didn’t take much more digging to find the things that were. A box of random photos I hadn’t seen in years, photos that spanned decades, randomly tossed in a box and buried under things to deal with another day.

IMG_0249

Evidence of Sisterly Love and overly festive jammies

IMG_0252

A reminder of my fashion forward-ness

IMG_0254

That time we puffy painted everything…and babysat the neighbor’s goat over Christmas break

IMG_0256

A picture of me that could be a picture of Rosie (with brown eyes)

IMG_0255

Halloween with the little sister a million years ago

A photo of a 1-year-old me tucked under my grandma’s arm on her old brown couch, both of us worn out and sleeping in her little farmhouse that I can still smell if I close my eyes.

IMG_0245

An image of my little sister, 6 years old, standing outside with a Band-Aid and a tear on her face. She always had a Band-Aid and a little tear.

IMG_0262

A rare photo of my mom and all of her young daughters in our kitchen. Dad sleeping against the piano while we opened presents at Christmas.

Me, 16 with bad hair and a bad sweater, sitting next to my boyfriend in a wrestling T-shirt.

And then piles of carefully folded letters and notes we wrote to each other while we were falling in love with no real grasp on the future or that it might look like a house on the ranch with our babies and a space under the stairs stacked with books and DVDs, paint cans, a witch hat, yearbooks, sports buttons, trophies, a salamander and memories worth digging out sometimes to remind us where it began.

IMG_0247

Which, it turns out, helps in the whole moving forward thing. These things are worth saving.

Distracting things.

If you need me, I’ll be under the steps, trying again.

img_0243.jpg

Oh, love can come a long way…

Dear Daughters

IMG_7802

Coming Home: Dear Daughters, From Mom
Forum Communications

Dear daughters,

While I type this, I’m sitting in the living room. Rosie, you’re crawling around the floor, picking up things to put in your mouth and pulling yourself up to stand along the couch. Your big sister is sleeping, but your nap ended early like it usually does, and so the toys are all yours for now.

I’ve been watching the two of you grow over the summer, not just into your selves, but into each other. Rosie, your first year of life is wrapping up quickly as you, Edie, look forward to celebrating your third birthday with a pink mermaid cake.

You think Rosie needs a mermaid party, too. And she wants to be where you are.

IMG_9285

Girls. My daughters. Sisters. You won’t remember this phase in your life, the phase when you were so little together and how it felt to be crawling around on the floor of this house that will forever be the backdrop of your life together, the setting of big and quiet moments that will come to define you.

IMG_8742

And as much as we, your parents, want to do right by you, more than any of that we want you to do right by one another.

Because Edie and Rosie, to have each other is a gift, one that you will take for granted over and over again throughout your life. Rosie, you’ll borrow Edie’s favorite sweater and take it off when the sun gets too hot and leave it on the bleachers or the bus. Edie will be mad. You will be sorry.

And you will fight. And it will be a drop in a bucket of annoyances and disagreements about dishes and who fed the dogs and why Rosie read your diary, Edie.

Yes, if you keep a diary, the other will find it. And yes, you will have secrets. But my hope is that if those secrets need to be kept, they will be kept from the world, but not from each other.

IMG_9138

But in order for that wish to come true, you, my wild girls, will have to be true, too. Because the world can be scary. I know because I’m big. And as much as I want the hardest thing about my life as your mom to be the constant reminder for you, Edie, to stop hugging your little sister so hard, I know harder problems loom ahead. That’s the cost of a life worth living.

IMG_8400

And I will tell you over and over in a hundred different ways in my life as your momma that this world is so much easier to face side by side.

Even though I think you’ve already figured it out.

02Z26105

You proved it to me yesterday, Edie, in your attempt to save Rosie from the loud and terrifying vacuum cleaner, rushing over to her, wrapping your arms around her tight and demanding me to shut the thing off.

“You’re scaring my sister!” you yelled at me with a glare across the room.

And my laugh released a little knot in my chest I didn’t know I had until that moment.

Dear daughters, you’re going to be all right.

Love,

Mom

42474835_2032916220091946_8306133005735297024_n

Love and Seasons

October 8, 2010. Late Fall

Coming Home: Love and Seasons
Forum Communications

The window is open in this house tonight, letting the summer out and the cool autumn air in. It’s dark before 10 now and the crickets in the grass are louder than the frogs in the creek.

On the ranch, we mark time by seasons a bit differently. Calving season. Branding season. Haying season. Roundup.

Winter.

The hay is nearly hauled off the fields now and because the leaves on the ash and oak trees are putting on their short and beautiful show, and the tomatoes in my garden are turning red and thriving despite my neglect, I am declaring it my favorite time of year.

hay

Even though it’s fleeting.

Even though it means 17 months of winter.

Last week, I watched my baby use her tiny fingers to pull up the grass in her great-grandparents’ lawn beside a lake in Minnesota as my grandpa united my cousin in marriage to his bride. Beside me, family gathered from around the country, sitting in crisp white chairs to witness a marriage ceremony performed by a man who knows them all.

And knows about love.

I stood up in front of them then and sang a song I wrote about the promises we keep for the long haul.

“When you were a younger man, you used to laugh and turn your face up, at all the words we’ve made up, there’s only one for love…”

We’re one step into a new season of our life together, my husband and I. We’re raising these children and trying to teach them about love without date nights or Champagne toasts, but with divide-and-conquer chores, suppers on the table too late, Daddy falling asleep rocking the baby while Mommy works way past bedtime…
There are a hundred thousand million ways we show one another devotion and I’m ashamed when I have to be reminded in the middle of this life to stop, take a breath, give a kiss, hold a hand and stop acting like we have forever because we only have today.

02Z26621 copy

The night before we packed up the kids and our good clothes to head to the lake, my husband had to remind me. To take a breath with him. To remember where it all started.

My grandpa has been married to my grandma for 64 years. I’m certain along the line somewhere they’ve had to remind one another, too.

No love is perfect.

But in the entire world, I can’t think of a better man to stand before two people on the threshold of their marriage and remind us all that at the end of the day, at the end of the season, who did the most dishes or swept the most floors or changed the most diapers won’t matter.

But making each other breakfast will. That will matter. My grandpa knows this.

And on the ranch, we mark the passing of time by the work we have done. And maybe my favorite season is fall — for the roundup, or the harvest — because it reminds us of what cannot be done alone.

And who we need beside us as we face the winter…

02Z26662 copy

Back to school can make us wonder if we’ve done enough


If you’ve missed it along the way, for the past couple years I’ve had the privilege (and fun) of developing and acting as the editor of Prairie Parent, a parenting magazine in Western North Dakota.

This month’s issue tackled the fun, worry, stress and excitement of back to school. And while I don’t have kids in school yet, I know with time flying the way it does it’s just around the corner.

and so is driving…

After a conversation with my friend up the road who is raising four kids, with only one left at home now that school has started, I started reflecting on that time and what we do with it.

And why, as parents, do we feel like we’re never doing enough.

Back to school can make us wonder if we’ve done enough
Prairie Parent

Have a read on the site and then browse the rest of our contributors take on the season at www.prairieparent.com. I’m pretty proud of the thoughtful and heartfelt material these parents put out into the world each month.

Because at the end of the day, as parents, sometimes we just need each other to get through it. (I say this as I’m in a one hour, going on three week and counting bedtime battle with my two-year-old…Lord help me)

 

This shirt is old and faded…

Some things stand the test of time
Forum Communications

“How old is that shirt you think?” I asked my husband as he came downstairs and scooped up both our babies to sit with him on his easy chair.

“Well, you got it for me when I was fourteen or fifteen, so like 20 years,” he replied before he pointed out each hole and stain the he and the shirt picked up along the way.

Yup. I remembered when I got it for him. The first gift I ever got a boy, a gray t-shirt with a blue ring collar and a couple faded stripes across the front. I had to ask the sales clerk to retrieve it for me from the top rack. And I probably paid fifteen hard-earned dollars for it without knowing that twenty years later that boy would still be wearing that shirt, in a home we built, holding our babies, reminiscing with me about that Mary Chapin Carpenter song I used to listen to about an old shirt like that…

I looked it up on YouTube then and my little family and I broke down in an impromptu living room dance party as the TV streamed through every 90s country song I didn’t remember I remembered.

Which brings me to the fact that I turned 35 last week. And I wouldn’t be feeling so many feels about it except that when I was in Vegas a few weeks back I stepped into one of those hip and trendy (do people still say hip and trendy?) clothing stores and everything they were selling were things I wore when I was in junior high, for like triple the price.

Velvet

That’s me on the far left, in 9th grade, wearing velvet and a racing stripe skirt. Found both at that store. Both back in style, just like my giant eyebrows.

So apparently I’ve become vintage.

So vintage that I found myself saying the words my parents used to say when things like bellbottoms and polyester print shirts came back in style for a hot minute.

“Oh my gawd, I should have saved everything I owned!”

Like all my scrunchies. Because scrunchies are back. Lord help us, scrunchies are back.

scrunchi

Me and scrunchie and dad’s hair….

And then my mom bought my little sister and I tickets to see Reba McEntire and Brooks and Dunn in concert and I sang along to every word at the top of my lungs like I was on the school bus driving down gravel roads heading to my country school.

39234740_1977052455678323_3471706921025667072_o37556819_1977052645678304_4913901465224871936_o

So I guess for me, 35 is the age. Overnight I’ve become that woman who wishes there were more Reba McEntires in the world. And Mary Chapin Carpenters and Randy Travises and Bonnie Raitts. It’s the time in my life I catch myself saying, “They just don’t make (insert clothing, appliances, music) like they used to.”

And if my fashion conscious mother and sisters would let me, I would just keep this hairstyle and these boots, and these jeans and call it easy and good like the good old days that seem as warm and worn in as my husband’s 20-year-old t-shirt.

Because in the face of the hectic and unpredictable present, sometimes looking back is easier than looking forward. And then when you do have to face that uncertain future, it’s nice to realize that there are things that stand the test of time, like good true music, and good true love.

Happy Birthday to that boyfriend today. I didn’t get you a new t-shirt, because I like that old one…but get ready for an epic, toddler built cake when you get home.  Love you. Always have.

prom

Always will.

Forever and ever Amen.

Chad and Jessie

 

 

Hoofbeats and paw prints and measuring time

Chad on his bay horseHoofbeats and paw prints and measuring time

My husband used to have a big yellow dog that would pull him around town on his Rollerblades. Young, strong and full of heart, the two of them flew through the quiet streets of our hometown, back when Rollerblades were cool and so was he.

I never knew the Chad that existed before that dog. They called him Rebel, except the only rebellious thing about him was that he’d take a cracked door as an invitation to go wandering.

Before Rebel, Chad’s family had a pup named Cookie. I never knew Cookie or the young boy my husband was when he loved that dog except I saw the home movie his parents took when they surprised their boys with her.

Chad always described it as one of the best and most exciting days of his childhood, so I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the footage of that young kid standing so stoic and serious with that puppy in his arms, willing away his fidgety little brother with the darts of his eyes.

Last night, my husband and I started talking about our new border collie pup, a welcome addition after we lost the lab we had since we got married 12 years ago today. We are excited to see what kind of cow-dog she might become.

And then, without really realizing it, we started recounting our memories together according to which animals were there loving us, bucking us off, running away, getting hurt, growing old and teaching us lessons along the way.

“So, I starting hanging around you when you just got that horse, Tex,” he recalled.

“And my old mare Rindy, you remember her,” I said, reminding him of the first time I took him riding at the ranch and how I wanted to impress him so badly that my enthusiastic attempt at a graceful mount on her bare back resulted in me landing in a heap on the other side.

6083246806_702e6590c4_b

Then there was his mom’s dog, Phoebe, who got her through the sadness of an empty nest, and our cat, Belly, who was so bonded with my little sister that we all got to watch her give birth to kittens on the beanbag chair in her bedroom.

And I never thought about measuring a good life by the good animals who witnessed us growing up, heartful and heartbroken, falling in and out of love with people and life and learning how to let go and hold on tight to one another or the big plans we’ve made and changed a million times.

They’re along with us, on the end of a leash, the reins or the bed, steady and predictable.

“Cowboy’s close to 20,” my husband realized then about the young bay horse that made a cowboy out of that lovestruck teenager.

9257933159_cb0aec0add_k (1)

Seems like time wears itself thinner on the backs of the beasts we love until, one day, we catch ourselves remembering them and the scruff of their fur and the click of their paws on the pavement and how they pulled us through when we were young, strong and full of heart.

Love. An explanation.

Mom and dad on wedding day

What is love? It depends on who you ask.
Forum Communications

My dad once told me that he didn’t believe that there was just one person for everyone. I was sitting shotgun in the pickup as he drove us somewhere. He likely asked me about my boyfriend, and I think I responded with a sort of fed up answer.

I was in that transition from teenager to adult, heading off to college and thinking I might be in love. And I was wondering if I should break it off, because that’s what most people do. And at that age, what most people do sort of means something.

“Think about this,” he said. “What would it be like for you if you couldn’t talk to him tomorrow?”

From there he explained his theory on love and how he believed it was more about timing and choices and kindness than it was about destiny. And it wasn’t romantic really, but hearing that there were more people out there I could love, or who could love me, helped take the pressure off, even if the teenage poet in me didn’t appreciate the practicality of it at the time.

Anyway, it turns out that particular relationship did work for me. My husband and I became one of those couples who found each other as teenagers and hung on tight, not because of big romantic gestures or a dramatic series of events, but because, I think, neither one of us could imagine not being able to talk to each other every day. And although it’d be more passionate to say we were destined to be together, the truth is, in the end, it was a choice.

wedding 1

Last month, I asked a group of preschoolers to define love. I wanted a few cute quotes in the name of Valentine’s Day for the parenting magazine I edit. I don’t know what I expected, but it got me wondering how I would respond if someone pulled me away from my Lego tower and asked me.

One little boy summed it up perfectly when he told me, confidently, that he shows his mom he loves her by “cooking her turkey.”

I smiled as I wrote down his answer, thinking how refreshing it is to hear such an uncomplicated take on what we grown-ups come to muddy up along the way.

edie and chad

Then I thought of my mom sitting by my dad’s bedside day after day after day while he was in the ICU and unable to speak, not knowing if she would get to talk to him tomorrow, the choice no longer hers to own.

There will be a time when my girls will need me to talk to them about head and heart, and I hope I’ll be able to remember what it felt like that day in the pickup, to be a teenager on the edge of a wide open life, reminded that love looks less like Prince Charming and more like turkey dinner turned into turkey sandwiches turned into a lifetime of conversation with the someone you can’t bear to lose.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 12.36.03 PM

Love and Parenting

27983541_1747615888621982_2093710199889256714_o

Happy Valentines Day loves. Above is my attempt at finding something in their closets that was “Valentiny” and getting them to sit together for a photo without incident.

This was after getting home from our early morning trip to the doctor where I got the fun surprise Valentines Day gift of bronchitis and Edie got her ear infection back.

Love.

But on the bright side, it’s above freezing for the first time this month! If you look close you can see the snow melting off the deck and I would call that February’s Valentine to us here in the frozen north.

27908045_1747616125288625_448946398655128226_o

They must have put Valentines Day in February in an attempt to help cheer us up and pull us through to spring. Depending on where your feelings fall on the topic, it may or may not be working. Either way, I think there will be some good sales on chocolate tomorrow, so there’s always that.

So in honor of love, I dedicated this month’s Prairie Parent to the topic.

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 10.35.29 AM

I invite you to check it out. There are some fun articles, including Valentines Day desserts, how to use your love language to celebrate the holiday, the importance of having mom friends and my “From the Editor” comments on the way love changes and grows throughout our lives.

From the Editor: The Evolution of Love

img_2999

I’m certainly feeling that ever changing love today with my beautiful, challenging, kissable little Valentines.

27982581_1747615938621977_7622862604443884284_o27983002_1747615975288640_2582456813431140589_o

But it seems like no matter the day, I find myself caught in a moment where I wonder how this became my life (admittedly some days the question is more positive than others).

Were we ever seventeen and falling in love?

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 2.23.08 PM

Did that boy become a man who is now tasked with catching and wrestling or two-year-old into her snow pants so she can go feed her cows and her pony some “cereal?”

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 2.20.14 PM

Minus the never-ending house construction project, some days I don’t think I could have scripted it better, even with the challenges.

And the bronchitis and ear infections.

So friends, take a moment to read through our magazine online today. Hopefully there will be something there that makes you smile. I recommend the interviews with preschoolers on what love means to them.  

 

Peace, Love and Candy Hearts,

Jessie and the girls

27907917_1747616021955302_5973869756568361163_o

 

This life, it’s a mess.

Happy Monday. I hope your team won last night.

I’m sitting on the bed upstairs with my laptop, working on emails and preparing for a meeting this evening, sort of furiously trying to manage my work before the toddler wakes up. She’s wiped out from the party she hosted last night and there’s a big ‘ol mess of leftovers, dishes, toys and tiaras (yes, we pull those out for the Super Bowl around here) that I’m avoiding. Our daycare situation has changed, and this is our first week without it. I’m panicking a bit, cause momma’s still got work to do, but my mother-in-law is coming to the rescue to ease us into it and I’m grateful.

IMG_3942

Making cookie bars for Super Bowl

My mom was able to come home late Saturday night and spend the evening with us. She’ll be here for the rest of the week while my uncle stays with my dad in Minneapolis. It was strange to watch the Super Bowl last night and know that he was there, in his bed in a rehab facility, wishing he was home. When they zoomed out on the lights of the city during the halftime show I couldn’t help but think of him as one of those millions of lights so far away and I missed him.

When I wrote this column last week we planned on having him home by now, but a minor set back has him there waiting for a bit more healing without a definite timeline. The difference though, is we know he’s coming home now. The difference is, he’s no longer dying. He’s on his way to a recovery, a slow one, but a recovery nonetheless. And we’re grateful.

This mess of a life will be easier to tackle with him back beside us all.

IMG_6522

Searching for calm in this mess we call life
Forum Communication

After three long, agonizing months in and out of ICU in a Minneapolis hospital battling pancreatitis and fighting for his life, my dad is set to come home to the ranch in a few weeks.

Friends are calling wondering what they can do, making plans to clear the driveway, buy groceries and welcome him back, and we are so very grateful.

And while I want to say that we’re all finally able to let that breath out that we’ve been holding in all this time, I’m not so sure that it’s entirely true yet. When a loved one has gone through such a traumatic, life-threatening experience, I’m not sure when you begin to trust that that it’s truly over. He’s coming home, but he’s got a long road to recovery, one that will be done out here, so far from the team of experts that saved his life.

It’s times like these the isolation of rural living sinks in. And it can scare you if you let it. The fact that my dad made it all those miles between the cold buttes and coulees of the ranch to a place with skyscrapers and sidewalks that could save him is truly a miracle that wouldn’t be possible in a different time. And now, somehow, it feels like years since we had him here, home and healthy with us. These months have passed slowly.

IMG_2301

Last weekend my great uncle stopped by the house to visit. He’s one of the three remaining children of 12 born just down the road from the ranch.

“Come on in, it’s a mess, but that’s life,” I said as I hugged him with my free arm, my sleeping baby in the other, my toddler behind us with the door open sitting naked on the potty.

I replayed those words in my head for days since I blurted them. It’s a phrase I’d never uttered before and one that may have resonated with him had I not said it with such haste in an attempt to explain away my housekeeping skills.

Because he just recently lost his wife after a long health battle and he came home for a visit with his brothers.

“It’s a mess, but that’s life…”

He stood in my kitchen, surrounded by the remnants of breakfast and Edie’s art project and our small talk about weather turned to a story about his immigrant father and how he rode his bike 80-some miles across the prairie to borrow a wagon to pick up his bride.

“Can you imagine what my mother was thinking? I don’t know if she knew what she was getting into…”

I couldn’t help but think then, that what she got herself into brought us to that moment in my kitchen that day, comforting one another, worrying about Dad’s homecoming and smiling as that man, who has known much more mess in this life than stray socks and spilled orange juice, called my daughters beautiful.

These are the reasons we stay here, standing brave, holding our breath, in this mess of a life.

IMG_3648

Mother of daughters…

IMG_3721

On Sunday my Little Sister came out to the ranch to visit. The weather was nice, like 30 degrees, which is like 60 degrees warmer than it was last week, so we were anxious to take our girls outside and get a little fresh air.

IMG_3708

And that’s where I pause a second. Saying “our girls” still feels so fresh to me. I have two young daughters now and my Little Sister has been a mom to her own for seven months.

Just a few short years ago it would have been just the two of us out and about at the ranch, maybe taking a hike or going along to feed cows, mixing a Bloody Mary for an afternoon treat, not knowing how completely different our lives would soon be.

I don’t know if we ever envisioned it, with the big age gap between the two of us, that we would be exchanging little girl clothes and rocking our babies side by side.

“Did you ever think we’d be doing the ‘mom bounce’ together,” my little sister asked yesterday after we came in from pulling the older girls on the sleds and watching Edie try to comprehend why the sand in her sandbox wouldn’t budge.

img_3711.jpg

I had a little bit of a flashback then, of the things my little sister and I would do out here on the ranch to pass the long winters as kids. On a day like this you could find us building a snow fort or finding somewhere to sled or ice skate. And we would probably, eventually, get into a fight like siblings do, about something stupid, but not stupid enough to send either one of us inside.

Because who wanted to be inside on a rare, nice winter day?

Not us.

When Edie came into the world I couldn’t help but wish for her a sister. And when my little sister gave her a little girl cousin, we were both thrilled that at least they would have each other. And now Rosie is here and we get the privilege of watching the beginning of a sisterhood that has the potential to be powerful and wonderful and challenging and all the things these girls will need from each other as they grow up.

IMG_3662IMG_3664

I remember what it meant to me, to have my older sister spend time with me, dressing up and dancing to pass a long winter night. Or teaching me things I found so embarrassing, like how to shave my legs or what bra I should wear.

I’m not sure if I did the same for my little sister, you know, teaching her the gross girly stuff. That’s never really been in my wheelhouse. But I remember teaching her letters and numbers and sounds to make words, I remember building her a fort across the creek from mine, close but far enough away for a tin can telephone. And when I got older, I drove her to her orthodontists appointments and took her and her friends to a concert in the big town. I watched her play basketball and I cheered her on and she inspired me with her determination and confidence and made me proud.

Out here, in the middle of nowhere especially, I think girls need each other. Because it can be lonesome. Because it can be intimidating. Because girls just need other girls to remind them that they have muscles too and that they can do it, and if not, they have help.

My sisters have been gifts to me and I can’t wait to see what our girls become, with each other and on their own.

IMG_3670IMG_3679

But then there’s a little piece of me that’s nervous for them, knowing the unique challenges girls face in the big wide, intimidating world. Because there was a time I was scared to grow up to be a woman in it. And I don’t want that for them. I don’t want them to question their strength, but to flex at every possible moment. I want them to howl and sing and back up the pickup to the horse trailer like a champ. I want them to wear what they want and pursue what they want without that voice in their head wondering what people will think of them. And if Edie’s being an idiot, I want Rosie to have the brains and strength to tell her. And I want Edie to trust her enough to only be pissed for a few days about it.

IMG_3648

And the other way around, of course. Because we’re all idiots sometimes. That’s the point here I guess, I want them to feel safe enough in their skin and in their relationships to make mistakes. Big, giant, mistakes if they must.

Because being a woman in this world, it’s a mess. A big, loud, glittery, dirty, grass stained, complicated, scary, wonderful mess. And I want them to be proud of it. Proud of themselves. And proud of each other for it…

 

Dear Daughters: Be anything but afraid of growing up
Forum Communications

IMG_3559

My two-year-old stood before me, her little pastel jewelry set draped around her neck and wrists, and took a bow. “I a queeeennn!!!” she declared as she bent down to the ground and stood back up, beaming before sprinting down the hallway for more props.

Queen.

This is not a label we parents have given to her, but one of many she’s picked up for herself as part of the pretend world she’s creating, the way a 2-year-old should.

Better a queen than a princess, I thought to myself. She might as well pretend to be the one in charge. And just as I completed the thought, the little queen came flying out of her room, transformed now into a big, scary, growling monster, proving that in the mind of a toddler, you can be anything. The very same day she was also a tiger, a bear, a guitar player, a dancer, a cook and “funny.” I know, because she told us. And then she laughed and laughed.

As for me, well, it’s starting to sink in that I am now the mother of two girls. It’s a responsibility that feels a bit heavy and significant these days as I watch the news and am reminded what being a girl in this world can mean. I listen to my daughter who is just learning language, point to her dad and declare him a boy and then to me, a girl. Her sister? A baby.

She’s learning the difference already, if only by length of hair and lack of whiskers, and it reminds me of the time in my life when I was convinced femininity wasn’t something to be proud of.

I suppose I was staring puberty in the face and knew enough from watching my older sister to decide that I didn’t want the burden and fussiness that came with that sort of transition. The bras, the boys, the maintenance of pretty — it was scary and unfamiliar territory I wasn’t ready to navigate.

I was convinced that it would all be easier if I had been born a boy, for those reasons and because I thought that it would make me fit better out here at the ranch, that I would have more muscle to open the gates, or that somehow being a boy would make me braver or more capable, more trusted with things I wanted to be a part of, like horses and chores.

I didn’t want to face the pressure of the “girl” stuff. And so I worked harder to show those muscles, so much so that there were times I faked interest in things I had no real interest in and probably missed out on things I would have liked to be a part of.

Eventually I came into my own — that’s part of the process — but, darling girls, I don’t want you to be afraid, like I was, of growing up. I don’t want you to be afraid of being a girl.

IMG_3746

IMG_3584

IMG_3611

No.

Because girl or boy, you’re in charge of your identity and your body. You have the power to create you. So today you might be a queen, but tomorrow you can be anything.