I have really enjoyed all of the American Girl movies so far (the Samantha movie is my favorite!) and this one was no exception. The feelings that kept coming up for me while watching, which really had nothing to do with the movie itself and more to do with my own "stuff", were all around how much I missed having a powerful body. Remembering how awesomely strong I felt when doing back handsprings and swinging on the bars and running towards the vault with all my might and then flying into the air. Oh, my body remembers those feelings!
I did gymnastics for a couple of years in middle school, during a break in swimming. I never got "really good", only competed at the first level, and was much taller than most of the other girls on the team. But it was FUN, and I look back on that time fondly.
Being powerful has been on my mind a lot lately, it's definitely something I've been processing through. And remembering how it felt to have a powerful body just brought up a whole 'nother level for me surrounding the power I have and have not had! Growing up, like most kids, I didn't have a whole lot of power in my life. Didn't have too many decisions I got to make, not big ones at least, just had to do what I was told and what was expected of me. I have realized that I learned back then that the only power I DID have was to resist. Going somewhere I didn't want to go? I couldn't say no, but I could make us late. I didn't have the power to create opportunities, but I could break them down, refuse to participate. I had power when I was angry, and that was probably one of the only times adults would actually stop and listen to me (or at least that's how it felt). If I said I really liked something, or wanted something to happen, then it was possible that that thing would be used to manipulate me into doing something they wanted. Those ponies are your favorites? Then they will be the first thing we threaten to take away unless you do what we ask. Really want to go to the zoo? Then you have to do everything we ask leading up to it or yo might not get to go. Eventually I learned to hide the things I truly loved, those that made me come alive. It's been a journey getting to know that feeling again.
And before you think my parents were horrible monsters; really, they were just doing what they were told that "good parents" do. Reward and punish. Make sure your child grows up to be a good person by getting them to do what they're supposed to. Show them you're boss!
This past week I got to watch an aspect of the way we make children powerless during a reptile show at the library. The librarian told us that the guy only picked kids who were sitting very still and quiet, and he didn't pick kids who raised their hands. W tried SO HARD during the show to do just that. Lots of kids would raise their hands, and the guy would say "Put your hands down!" not because everyone would get a turn, but because he didn't care if people WANTED a turn or not, in fact he seemed to delight in calling people up who did NOT want to touch the reptiles. E got picked to hold a snake right at the beginning of the show. She did really well. I was so proud of her, because when the guy asked if she wanted a nose tickle (rubbing the snake's nose on the person's nose) she said "no" because she didn't. He tried cajoling her many times, and still she stayed firm in her "no" and eventually he gave up and she sat down. My mother-in-law (and many others) did NOT stand so firm in their "no"s and he took the wavering as permission to shove the snake in their faces anyway. He seemed to delight in freaking people out, and I was afraid a couple times that he was going to put a pregnant woman into labor because he kept shoving creatures into her face that she was OBVIOUSLY terrified of, but he continued anyway. L ended up holding an alligator, and W wasn't picked at all. He was so sad, especially since he had tried so hard to behave in a way that would make it more likely that he would get picked. Afterwards the librarian said he mostly picks the little cute kids and rarely picks the big ones, anyway. That didn't lessen his disappointment. And it just struck me how powerless the audience was during the show. If you really wanted to participate, there was really no way to make it more likely to happen, and even if you didn't want to participate, unless you stood very firm in your "no" he didn't really give you the choice. The audience was basically at the mercy of his whims.
And really, this is how many of us grew up, and many kids are growing up now. Kids don't have the power to do or change much in our culture. Sure they can choose their clothes (kind of) and maybe what activities they engage in, but for the most part we let kids know that they are NOT in charge of their own lives, they have to do what they are told when they are told, they have to associate with people they many not like at all, have to listen to someone who may be incredibly disrespectful to them, have to spend their time doing things that may not interest them at all, eat what is put in front of them, and live with the possibility that "their" things may be taken away for not doing what someone else expected. Yes, children have power in that they can "choose" to do these things, but what if they don't want to? What if they absolutely hate their teacher? Sorry, hopefully you'll get a better one next year. (An adult could switch jobs, or file a complaint). What if they really want to study the ocean? Or want to take the math equations a few steps further? Sorry, have to wait until those come up in the curriculum. (An adult could change careers, and hopefully would, if the subject matter bored him/her to tears). Really hate what's for dinner? Then go to bed hungry. (If an adult finds him/herself at someone elses house for dinner and what is served is inedible, there is always the option of buying or making something else later). The only real power children have in these type of situations is to "do the right thing" no matter how they feel about it, or resist and refuse. For the most part they don't have the ability to actually create what they want in their lives. And some people may say that that's the way it has to be for children. Even if I agreed with that, the problem is that there is no "magic age" where a person suddenly HAS power, and most of us carry these attitudes of powerlessness into our adult lives and continue to live as if someone or something outside of us is still calling the shots. And for the most part, it's not, we're just caught in this invisible cage and choose to stay there because we don't realize that there are other options.
I've been aware of my habit of resisting for quite awhile. When life tries to head me in one direction I put on the brakes. If I feel like too many things are pulling me in a direction, or in different directions, I refuse to do anything until that pressure has lessened and I feel like I am acting out of my own free will. If someone tells me I have to do something, even if I was headed towards that thing and WANTED to do it, I'll very often refuse to do it then on principle, even though I will then be missing out on something that I actually wanted. These reactions aren't conscious most of the time, it's not until I stop and look outside of the reaction that I notice what's going on.
I realized earlier this year that it feels like the way for me to be the MOST powerful is to resist life, refuse to go where life is pushing me. Ha ha, life! You tried to make me but you couldn't! Look who's in charge now! Um, yeah. The metaphor that life is a river really resonates with me, and I easily see myself clinging to the grasses on the shore, yelling and fighting against the current trying to push me downstream. "You can't make me!" After awhile I may get comfortable and decide that I'd like to move somewhere else so I'll let go and float down the river for a bit until I freak out and grab something and start fighting again. But staying IN the river is just too terrifying. To feel like I'm being tossed about with no control at all, at the mercy of the current. No thank you. I like to know where I'm going, see the big picture!
Because of unschooling I have learned that there is an option when it comes to power and children. Instead of having power OVER children, we can have power WITH them. Having power with them means working together so everyone can get what they want and need out of situations, it means that what children want, what they are interested in, what they would prefer, actually is important and worthwhile, and therefore, what I want and am interested in and prefer is important as well. Expectations and societal rules and "the way it's done" don't HAVE to rule our lives. We DO have the power to choose what we want, where to go, how we live.
So a few months ago, when I was deep in fighting life, it hit me that I could decide to have power WITH life as well. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, how it looked, but it FELT good. So I decided to paint it. I sketched it at first and wasn't completely satisfied but decided to paint it anyway. The resulting painting felt both good and a bit unsettling, but I wasn't sure why.
It has been sitting on my dresser ever since. Repeating the words feels good, and the colors feel really good, but it wasn't until tonight, after watching the movie, that I understood why it didn't feel quite right. I couldn't figure out how to portray having power WITH life, so I put the leaf there because at least it wasn't stopping the flow of life like the rock was. But the leaf wasn't really having power with life, it was just along for the ride. And while releasing the resistance is a good thing, and the releasing itself is a powerful act, the leaf had no way of interacting with life and directing its course at all.
When I realized that, I picked up the painting, and noticed the one below it. It is a painting that I made while playing around with a children's book that is trying to be written through me. And it hit me that swimming WITH the current would be an excellent way to work WITH life! And how when you get used to moving that fast, it's easier to direct where you're going and you feel less like a ping pong ball being bounced along on the waves. Releasing the resistance and directing attention and intention to what we want. I GET IT now! LOL. And how perfect that the image that brought about this realization is one that I have been called to focus on a couple of times in the last week. So working with life would mean diving into editing the story (that I wrote stream of consciousness) and creating more images. Yeah, I think I can do that. *Deep Breath*
I definitely want to focus in feeling powerful in my body again as well. Because of the movie my kids are interested in gymnastics, and honestly I'd love to be able to do a back walkover again. You know, just for the heck of it. ;) We do have a yoga studio in town, that would help me start using my body and getting flexible again. Flexible, awesome, that's releasing resistance in the body! Hoo boy, there's a lot getting loosened up and moving over here tonight!
How do you tend to react to life? Resist and shut down? Run ahead (or away) as fast as you can? Do you have power WITH life? If not, any ideas of how you can?
Ooh, these new possibilities are exciting! :D