Written by Susannah McFarlane
As both child and parent I have always loved the long summer break, time to unwind, relax and spend time with family, often at the beach. We particularly love hitting the surf of the back beaches where, armed with boogie boards of often dodgy quality, we charge as a family into the waves.
I don’t always follow everyone in: sometimes I just stand in the shallows and watch as my two kids, now young adults, negotiate the waves. I see how sometimes they hurl themselves in, sometimes they opt out and duck under the wave and, delightfully, sometimes they whoop as they catch the wave that takes them all the way in to shore, faces beaming. And still, even now, they will yell – ‘Did you see that one Mum?’ Which, at least mostly, I did.
When they are little however, they are never out of reach, let alone out sight and, slapped and slopped with sunscreen, and with no one leaving the house without their rash vest on, we guard their skin fiercely. We also hope that we are also teaching them to do it themselves, that the constant childhood cries of ‘Hat!’ will reverberate in their adult minds and they will be sun-smart even when they are far from home.
And if we guard their skin diligently, we watch them like hawks in the water, at first holding them as they splash, then swimming with them, then letting them go solo. We encourage them to go out a little further, then wave furiously at them to come in a little nearer, always trying to get the balance right between keeping them safe and empowering them.
And that’s just a day at the beach and it’s all physical stuff. Yet, on a glorious summer day, it strikes me that beach parenting is a pretty good metaphor for how we try to help our kids navigate those other, invisible, waves of life.
How do we best equip them to be good life surfers? How do we show them to be both responsible and daring? How do we teach them to know which waves are worth trying to catch and which ones are best to duck under? And do we take enough time to whoop with joy with them when they do ride one in or cheer the plucky recovery from a dumper?
And, because it’s a thing I spend a lot of time thinking about in my work as children’s book publisher, author of the EJ Girl Hero series and more recently with my on-line project, Girl Hero Project (www.girlheroproject.com), I wonder why young girls often choose to duck rather than catch the wave? So many studies are finding that our girls, even those young enough to be spared the full force of social media image barraging, are suffering from lack of confidence and self-doubt.
So I want to strengthen young girls’ emotional boogie boards! The Girl Hero Project is a safe on-line platform for primary school girls to be inspired by real-life stories of ordinary girls doing extraordinary things, catching amazing waves – and show them they can do it too.
Like an actual surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack, nearly died, but with sheer determination and an unwavering faith, returned to competitive surfing and became a champion. By sharing her story, we can show our girls how to not to give up, how to press in not run away when things tough. (Bethany’s amazing story is also told in Soul Surfer, a great family movie – http://girlheroproject.com/girl-hero-inspiration/movies-for-girl-heroes/).
Or there’s the story of Jordan Reeves, now 11, who was born with a limb difference, her left arm stopping just above her elbow. Far from wanting anyone to feel sorry for her, Jordan uses her difference and imagination to invent amazing things like a prosthetic arm that works as a glitter cannon (http://girlheroproject.com/girl-hero-spotlight/jordan-reeves/). Jordan is an inspiring example of how we can turn difficulties into opportunities, apparent dumpers into glorious waves.
Then they might read the story of Ellie Carpenter, the youngest Australian soccer player to represent Australia in the Olympics. Ellie’s story is one of years of hard work and training – and of the importance of losing and learning from disappointments. (http://girlheroproject.com/girl-hero-spotlight/ellie-carpenter/)
But one of my favourites is the story that underlines the maxim ‘from little things big things grow’ – and shows what can be grown by little girls! It is the story of Katie Stagliano who, at 9 years old, was given a seed at school that she grew into a 40-pound cabbage, which eventually made 275 meals at a local homeless shelter. This grew into Katie’s Krops, a kid-run vegetable garden project that now has over 60 kid-run gardens in over 22 states in the US and has donated more than 7,700 pounds of food to feed the homeless. All that from one seed – and Katie’s story is a great one to plant in the imagination of our girls. (http://girlheroproject.com/girl-hero-inspiration/dont-wait-until-you-are-bigger-to-do-something-big/)
Finally, don’t miss 8 year old Ana Hamilton’s classroom speech on kindness. It went viral and it will blow you and your kids away (http://girlheroproject.com/girl-hero-spotlight/ana-hamilton/)
If we bolster our girls’, our kids’, emotional boogie boards with stories that show them lives of courage and kindness and achievement that comes from determination and persistence I reckon those life waves just got a bit more rideable.
So now, as we look ahead to hosing the sand off the boogie boards for the year, assessing the state of last year’s lunch boxes and trying to find those name labels, we wonder what waves the new school year, or perhaps even the beginning of school, will bring. Our kids will sometimes be dumped and sometimes ride them all the way in to shore – may we whoop and cheer with them on both and get ready to catch the next one.