Headdresses of golden leaves radiating like sunlight. Glittering greens and shimmering reds reflecting the light of the setting tropical sun. Silky, gauzy scarfs swirling with every spin. We reveled in the beauty and newness of the traditional Malaysian dancing.
As we walked back to our hotel room, my 5-year-old daughter tripped over her words in her eagerness to recreate the experience. "The girls had beautiful sparkly sweaters and high-heeled shoes with glitter, and gorgeous hair pins..." and so on. She was in awe and found a new eloquence as she described every detail. She sighed in delight. My husband and I exchanged quiet smiles, and I knew we were thinking the same thing: We have a girl!
Oh, what a joy it is to have a daughter! She overflows with energy manifested in twirling and dancing: sprightliness that rivals a nymph. She loves pretty things. She loves loving other people, with the uninhibited passion and earnestness of a child. She writes and illustrates her own stories of pirate weddings and friendships between little girls and bats. She is an adventurer who will not stop going until exhaustion claims her.
She embodies what Mabel Hale describes in her book Beautiful Girlhood:
Girlhood is the opening flower of womanhood. It has charms all its own. The wonderful change from the child to the woman, the marvelous blossoming of young, healthy girlhood, will ever be God's great miracle in life's garden. Like a half-open rose is girlhood. We are charmed, both by the beauty of the bud and by the wonderful coloring of the rose. We behold the familiar traits of childhood that have always charmed us and held our affections, but blended with these in ever-changing variety are the graces and powers of womanhood.
There is a purity in her girlhood: she has not learned to despise her femininity or distrust her good desires. She does not know there are people who scoff at her simple love and shun her pleasure in loveliness. And so, her girlhood shines like a beacon into my own heart.
Like many women, I determined at an early age to be nothing but strong and fierce, blowing away any hint of weakness with my achievement. It took a radical change -- a completely new heart -- for me to reunite my bifurcated sense of self. I learned from content women a version of femininity that is strong and tender; one that allows a splendid range of traits and personalities and emotions. I realized I could embrace womanhood in all its fullness without suppressing parts of myself that some people consider useless. What is useless about beauty? Tenderness? A relational orientation that values community and helping one another? Communication that preferences kindness and respect rather than arrogance and domination?
Are these traits the fullness of femininity, of womanhood? No. But they are the parts we are taught to disdain and avoid from childhood, at risk of being seen as weak. And they are the parts I was hesitant to embrace for far too long. The world can learn from women who enjoy being women.
Years later I had my daughter, a whirlwind of fiery sweetness in my life, and she cemented these truths in my mind. I do not question whether her delight in the world is weird or weak; it is simply marvelous. I can see that her softness and vulnerability do not point to a defect; they are some of the very riches of her personhood.
Loving my daughter as she is, radiant in her pure, unconditioned girlhood helps me to appreciate my own womanhood and the "graces and powers" therein. As I witness the marvel of my daughter being and loving who she is, I become strong enough to relax into who I am. Sometimes it is the children who teach the parents.