My Summer Girls,
The sun is shining, the summer’s still here; the only difference now is that you will get to enjoy it all with a new community of wonderful people around you in a place where you share ideas and experiment to your hearts’ content.
Yesterday was your first day of school! You picked out your outfits well in advance, you had your brand new backpacks packed, and you boarded the golden bus, glowing with the excitement of a new year of learning and with the smile of your Momma Si beaming at you from the street. What you might not have seen was my smile beaming its way to you, all the way from here, where I was looking at the picture of the two of you that your momma sent me and hearing the sound of your voices in my ear from our brief pre-bus-loading conversation on the phone. For a parent, there’s nothing like being there to watch your kids board the bus on their first day of school. For me, I get excited because I think school is one of the best places a person can be. It’s a place for learning and building relationships under the guidance of people who care, and even when it’s not always perfect, it’s often a place where a lot of effort is put into making it perfect. Not everyone has access to the same education, which is a shame, because I think school should be a safe place for every child and that we should all pitch in to make it happen. You’re both lucky to go to a good school, where you are safe and cared for and where you are given opportunities to explore and grow. Learning can happen anywhere, though, as you both know. Remember how we were singing the “wheels on the bus” song to Harper, to try to occupy her while Aunt Missy had lunch at Aunt Kate’s shower? She was learning from our song about words, but she was also learning about music and about love, because we were joyful and showing her an act of love. In that instance, you two were her teachers, teaching her how to share in the joy of music.
Which brings me to something I’ve been wanting to tell you. I know you’re going back to school and you’re going to learn so much with your friends and teachers, but I want you to also know that you are both already teachers. We can all be teachers, and the reason I know you’re both teachers is because you’ve taught me a lot, even just over our happy summer stay together. You teach me things every day, even when you’re not here, because the thought of you both guides my actions every day. There are so many things you have taught me, but here are just a few:
You have taught me
- How natural it is to love. How easy. When you came into the world, I loved you instantly, immediately, enormously, forever and ever, no matter what. It was not the kind of love that had to grow over time; it was the kind of love that changed time: that exploded time, that made me feel like clinging to the moments. You changed the world. You changed my world.
- About the uniqueness and individuality of each person. You are like two incredibly different flowers that share the same root. I’m part of the root. You came from me, and you’re your own people. You grew differently, you learn differently, you look at the world differently, you react to the world differently– both beautifully, and I wouldn’t change a single part of you. I want you to grow into who you are, I want you to accept who you are as you evolve, and I want you to know and love yourselves.
- How to accept and love myself. It’s a long process for me to do this but my magnificent love that began before you were born actually led ME to loving myself more. Loving you made me love me. It’s a little hard to explain, but I think it’s like this: to me, you are perfect, even flawed. To know that kind of love transforms your ability to love, in general, and it transformed my ability to love myself. So a lot of the changes you have seen me undergo stem from me loving myself more and, therefore, trying to be myself more. All because you taught me how to love in the most meaningful way I will ever know how to love. To my thinking, this is why parenting should and often does reflect the parental relationship between the one we call God and God’s children.
- To remember the light. You are my golden girls. You shimmer and shine. Now I know that’s corny and you know that one of my favorite shows growing up was The Golden Girls, but you’re my golden girls because you have shown me what hope looks like. It gleams like gold, like your smiles, like the sun, like divine love. Whenever I feel like I’m in the darkness, I remember the light. Not just of your smiles but of your spirits. It causes me to weep because, well, when you’ve experienced the most beautiful thing in the world, you just want to stay there. And in life we don’t always get to stay there, just like we might not always know that we are not alone, but the light is always stronger than the darkness; we can go to it, even when it’s dark, if it’s within us. That’s what I do, literally. When I am alone in the dark at night, about to try to go to sleep, I pray for you and then I say goodnight to you out loud (“I love you, Darah; I love you, Elanah”…). The dark is literal but the light is metaphorical. It’s inside me and it comes out in my words. My words, spoken aloud to you, serve as my nightlight. We’re not alone when we love someone; we’re not alone when we’re loved. And we are loved. You are my golden ninjas. My reminders of life and light.
- To trust. Because, though imperfect just like me, you are the ones in whom I place the trust of my heart. And, more importantly, because to trust is to have faith. That is a life-affirming act. It is an ideal to which we aspire, and all my life I want to be the one in whom you know you can be safe and place your trust. I am not perfect, so I hope that you will develop faith in something larger than me, but I will devote all of my efforts to being a safe place for you. Most importantly of all, I want us all to trust together. Trust that everything will be okay, even when we’re scared. Trust that Mummy always loves you and misses you and wishes she were with you every second we are apart. Trust that love is stronger than hard life circumstances that separate us.
Elanah, you’re going into FIRST grade, and, Darah, you’re on your way to THIRD grade! Writing that makes me sigh, tilt my head, and clasp my hands together. I wish I could be there, but I am so, so very happy for you to go on your adventures and for you to tell me all about them.
Tomorrow will mark two weeks since I had to say goodbye to you, which means we’re about four weeks from seeing each other again. That may or may not seem like a long time apart to some people, but for those who love each other as must as we do, it’s too long. The days are especially long for me when we are apart. I guess we could call this our long, drawn out summer of separation, but it’s at its end and you will be busy with school now. Our sense of time is influenced by the fact that we are always in orbit, circling the golden globe we call the sun.
That sounds hopeful. It reminds me of the spinning wheel in the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, one of the old stories collected and published by two German fellows by the name of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, better known as The Brothers Grimm (yes, they were brothers). They had their own unique way of studying language and sharing folktales, and it ended up landing them both honorary doctorates. Fancy that! You have a collection by them that we haven’t looked at much yet, but it’s on your shelf and has been for sometime. I nicknamed myself Sister Grimm after The Grimm Brothers. I think there ought to be well-known sisters who work as linguists, researchers, authors, and publishers together. Siblings can do all sorts of things together, as you know.
Anyhow, in the approximately 4000-year old tale, a miller’s daughter is forced to spin straw into gold in order to please a tyrannical king. She’s put in a bind she cannot escape: to either make gold out of straw or to spend the rest of her days in a dungeon, or, worse, to have her head cut off. Not a great deal for the daughter, is it? Sound kinda unfair? Yep, if I were the miller’s daughter, I’d want to call that king, King Jerkoff– but then I would have my head cut off…. so I guess I’d try to make the straw look golden or try to sneak out the window. Or maybe I would try to win him over with words. With a song. What would you do? If the Sisters Grimm were rewriting the tale, I think, for starters, the miller’s daughter would have a name and she would most definitely try plotting her escape. But in the Brothers’ version, she gets locked up with a tiny magical fellow who barters with her in exchange for the life-saving gold demanded by the gold-greedy king.
(Never trade your golden craftiness for fool’s gold, okay? And stay away from Mr. Goldfinger!)
The implication here is that in order to survive the king’s outrageous demands, Millie (yes, let’s call her that; she’s a lovely lady with a golden heart who couldn’t care less about golden things) must resort to magic. But in doing so, she must give up her possessions. The ring goes, for instance. That’s all fine and dandy until The Little Rump decides because the girl has nothing material to offer that he’ll make her promise to give him her first child. Now what do you think is worth all the gold in the world to a mother? Why, her child, of course, But, sadly, to save her life, Millie has to agree to give up her child. Who calls that a choice? Even worse, want to know what Millie gets as a result of this lifesaving “choice”? She gets to marry greedy King Jerkoff. As it turns out, wee Rumpelstiltskin is a trickster, not interested in money, but, instead, interested in playing games.
The greedy King TRUMP-elstiltskin isn’t party to all of this trickery; he’s just a clueless gold-hoarder who would be better suited to live out the rest of his bastard life in a slot machine in Vegas. Little Rumple is craftier than he, and gives our smart and equally crafty protagonist, Millie, a challenge by giving her three days to guess his long and unusual name: if she guesses it, she keeps her child. Now you can imagine, girls, how Mother Millie would be feeling, right? You bet she is ready to wordsmith it up with the best of them– to save her precious child, no word is too long nor too difficult. Little Rumple gives her a word game to play. He engages her intellect, a feature necessary for magic and one that overbearing kings always lack. When the third night arrives and she hasn’t guessed it yet, she doesn’t resign herself to losing her child; she takes off into the forest and goes looking for Rumple’s cottage. When she sees him dancing around a ring of fire, gloating with a song, she hides off out of sight and listens to him sing his name away:
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll go to the king’s house, nobody knows my name, I’m called ‘Rumpelstiltskin’.”
The story ends with Rumple losing his bet and having to admit defeat. I like the version where he exits the room in a cooking ladle, personally, because I do think he’s quite good at cooking up trouble (but it saved her from death and separation from her child, so… good on the little meddler). You might be wondering how this is a fairy tale. I mean, she ends up having to spend the rest of her days with a king she must loathe. I feel you. That’s why I like the Sisters Grimm version. In that one, she exchanges clever quips with Rumple until the two of them fall in love with language, magic and each other, and then they use their intellects to overthrow the king, who lives out the rest of his bankrupt days as a bank teller in the nether region of Nevada. It’s a silly story that tells us about how women have been looked at for 4000 years. So not so silly, at all, really. The important part about reading stories like this one is that we discuss the parts we don’t like and about how we might rewrite it. I am sure we could come up with some creative endings to the story that would teach that mean king a lesson!
That was fun. It reminds me of our old tradition, “Stories From Mouth,” where you each give me a character and I make up a story with them. That’s a special tradition that Mummy made up because of how much I love telling stories. You probably don’t remember the one about Joan Rivers teaming up with Lord Garmadon, do you? I believe someone got some plastic surgery (appropriate for a Lego as evil as Lord Joan GarmaRivers). And I’m pretty sure I have that one written down and stored somewhere.
But back to Millie and the Golden Wheel. I like to think of the story as being about the power of her mind– that’s the wheel that spins the gold. It was her faith in herself and her hope that saved her. She was her own hero. That’s what makes a Golden Girl: the will to live.
My golden girls, speaking of spinning wheels and school, have you ever heard of “the golden rule.” The idea behind the rule is that you should treat others as you wish to be treated. It’s a basic ethical principle; some say it’s not valid because it’s too person-specific, but I think it basically works because it assumes that all people are equal. Would the king want to be given a choice between spinning straw into gold and being dead? No way, because the only way he would have been capable of understanding “gold” would have been in the greedy, materialistic sense (which would have meant he was a goner). Only a golden girl like Crafty Millie, or Crafty Elanah, or Crafty Darah, could get herself out of that bind– but we would never putting ourselves in such a bind to begin with. It’s all about resourcefulness, ultimately, and you know what, honeys, resourcefulness rules.
One time, I was asked to dress up like the golden goddess Aphrodite for a Greek hospitality gathering at school. I was older than you when I was invited to be Aphrodite, but you can still identify with this, since you know how much fun it is to dress up and play a part, especially if it’s one that’s close to your heart. I was very resourceful, like Millie. I knew I didn’t have the funds to spin myself into an actual golden goddess (also: the king who asked me to do it did so in the spirit of hospitality rather than in the spirit of beheading, so it’s a little different); bottom line: I had to be more creative, so I went to a second hand store, after reading up a little on Greek mythology with a friend, and we found some golden treasures that hardly cost me anything. Because, you know what, it didn’t matter whether I could adorn myself with gold; I was asked to be Aphrodite because I was a golden girl already. It wasn’t about my garments or my adornments; it was about who I was on the inside (you can be a snowman like Olaf and still be the epitome of summer!)
It wasn’t about gold; it was about embodying the golden spirit of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, which I, like you, did naturally. So when you’re thinking up ideas for Halloween costumes, remember to find a way to be crafty but to also find a way to still be yourself… and when you want to spin straw into gold, remember that it’s only the love in your hearts that can do that. Do it with love, put in your all, and it’ll be golden summer; trust me. If you remember that, Elaphrodite and Darphrodite, you will always emit a golden glow.
Goodnight, Goldara and Goldlana, and let us now take a moment to remember your first goldfish, Golda, may she rest in peace. May you meet so many nice people and have so many new adventures. And may you keep the summer spirit while you do it. I know you will, because summer is a state of mind, a golden light within that travels with us wherever we go; if you embody summer, you can take it with you around the globe. Be assured that you are the golden spirit of summer incarnate to your entire proud family. I cannot think of a place more filled with light and growth than school. Have fun!
P.S. Don’t just walk down the halls; dance down the summer halls of life…
If you meet one or two fickle friends, like icy old King Trumpelstiltskin, along the way, don’t let ’em stop you from strolling that golden sand like the two sweethearts you are!