It was not until I was sleeping in a pink ruffled bed in a pink walled room, surrounded by all things sparkly and pink, that I began to fully realize our enormous responsibility – as parents of daughters and as a society and Catholic community. Laying there in my niece’s bed, with my own girl in the neighboring bed, watching the light show from the nightlight contraption my niece had so thoughtfully turned on before I went to bed, I thought of the great women I’ve known, and I thought of how each of them started as little girls, perhaps gravitating towards ruffles and pink, perhaps climbing trees and inventing salves.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about my feminine role as mother – physical, of course (I have children), but also spiritual. I’ve read about the importance of women with regard to so many things in the world. They raise children. They run multiple corporations, from their homes to Fortune 500 companies, simultaneously. They discover great things in the fields of science; they lovingly teach children from preschool to college; they give-give-give until the very end. They juggle schedules and laundry and cooking. They find time to give each other a boost along the way, and they seem to fill the pews at Mass, bringing with them their families and others they’ve influenced.
Who raises these women? What transforms the little girls into women who go about changing the world one small corner at a time? How do we keep from crushing that delicate pink enthusiasm within them with our searing realities and harsh admonitions to grow up?
It took me a while to fall asleep in my niece’s pink bedroom, with the girl I’m to help raise asleep nearby. I was counting the thoughtful gestures of the niece, from her insistence that I take her bed (“Oh no, Aunt Sarah, YOU are the guest, so you get my bed!”), to her request that I inscribe an Easter book to her in cursive (“Write ‘from Aunt Sarah’ on that line, please.”). I saw her playing with my daughter so carefully, so lovingly, sharing everything she had with a generosity I should be modeling. I remembered when she was two, and how she was the first of the young troop of nieces to call me “Aunt” (though I technically wasn’t). I smiled to think of how I walked into the room as she explained to my daughter “On Easter Sunday, Jesus will be alive again!” with such enthusiasm that my daughter could not help but yell “YAY!” right back.
How do we nurture this flame of faith? I see it in her – in her interest in the saints, in her love of Jesus, in her reverence at Mass. I want to protect her – and all those other nine-year-old saints I know – from the cynicism of the world, but I know I can’t. I want to wall them into the ideal world, keep them in the Garden of Eden, keeping the apple of “reality” away from them, but I know it’s not possible.
I remember being a little girl, and I remember thinking it was POSSIBLE to be a princess or to be something important someday. I’m not sure when that got squashed, when I forgot that possibility is something alive within us all. But in my niece’s pink room, I felt the glimmer of that hope, that candle within every little girl, and I knew that ours is a sacred responsibility. These girls are flowers, with petals beginning to form and color beginning to show (and it’s not always pink, the indignant tomboy in me cries out!). They are in a garden that is sown with weeds and gardeners who may not have the best of intentions. They need to be carefully tended, and yet they need to grow.
Before I fell asleep to the dancing of the colors on the walls of the pink bedroom, under the pink ruffled bedspread, I thought of the mercy and grace of God – too big for my mind and more than I can fathom. I’m so very, very glad, because we – the parents of the world – can’t do this alone. The world needs women – and men – too much for ME to be the one in charge. The world needs the possibilities of fairy princesses and the bright cheer of castles in the air and the unwavering faith of these little girls. The world needs little girls who will grow up to raise children and run corporations, who will discover great things and teach those around them, who will continue to give-give-give just like the women before them.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2008 edition of Canticle Magazine.