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Depressing, I know. But the article also shares the story of Namakula, a young woman who was denied schooling but took a catering class. She has since started a catering company called Allied Female Youth Initiative and said that "the training showed her that she had other options besides being dependent on a boyfriend or husband." Namakula now says that people treat her with respect; she is now a woman with a future—all because she's taken the trajectory of her life into her own hands.
Ugandan Skaters Make Their Own Fun
Oprah's School for Girls in Africa
You have to really remember what it's like to be in the hothouse of high school to realize how brave such a statement is. Kropp was recently the victim of a mean-spirited prank, when classmates at her Michigan high school nominated her to the Homecoming Court.
As a joke.
According to the Huffington Post, Kropp was so embarrassed she said she contemplated suicide. It makes the heart ache to even read.
Then something unprecedented happened: the entire community rallied to support the sophomore, who had been repeatedly bullied because of her black clothing and multicolored hair. (If I'd gone to her high school I would have had a total friend-crush on her for these very reasons, but apparently there are not so many me's in West Branch, Michigan.) The Huffington Post reports that "Instead of allowing Kropp to be defeated by the bullies, the small farm community rallied around her, convincing her to attend homecoming despite the joke. Several business in the town volunteered to buy Kropp dinner, take her picture, do her hair and nails, and dress her in a stunning red gown and heels for the big day." And most importantly, the support from her hometown should help Kropp to know in her heart what a local nail technician said: "In high school, everything means everything to you. You don't realize that none of it will matter after you leave." Truer words, I suspect, have never been spoken.
The Support Whitney Kropp Facebook page has over 60,000 likes -- head on over to show your own support, and to get updates from the team. And even if you escaped high school decades ago, it never hurts to look yourself in the mirror and repeat after Whitney: "I'm a beautiful person and you shouldn't mess with me!"
How to Deal with a Bully
The High Price of School Bullying
We all have those Life Traffic Jams sometimes. You know the feeling. Maybe everything looks okay from the outside, as it did with Emily Finch; she had a beautiful family, a big house, and drove a Suburban around, and yet, something was just off. As she recently told Bike Portland, she was depressed and "at a time in my life when something had to change." As anyone who's ever spent some months or years stuck in a Life Traffic Jam knows, sometimes you just get out of that car and start walking in the other direction. in Emily Finch's case, this happened to be a very literal solution. This mother of six got a bike. Make that, a family bike:
That's right, Emily Finch transports all her six kids around in a bike, outfitted with a specialized cargo bin called a bakfiets and an added children's bike at the back. According to Bike Portland, Finch had never biked until a few years ago, when she started feeling stuck and dissatisfied. So where most of us would think, Okay, clearly I need to make things easier on myself (or, uh, is that just me?), Finch decided to sell her huge Suburban and lug her kids around town in a family bike. You must read the entire post over at Bike Portland for details on how this petite 34-year-old powers her enormous bike (she estimates that with the kids, their gear, and a load of groceries the total weight tops out around 550 lbs!).
In part the family bike came out of Finch's desire for her large family to create a smaller carbon footprint. But also, as she put it, "When I saw that bike, I knew it. I said, 'This is it. This is going to change my life.'" And she's right, the bike has transformed her life and the life of her family: they've saved lots of money not having a big car; Finch lost the 25 lbs she thought she never would; they even ended up moving to Portland because it was more bike-friendly and open-minded than the small town they lived in before. Trading the car for the family bike has changed the scope of their days and outings, and has introduced Finch into the welcoming community of fellow bikers.
As you might imagine, it's not always (ever) easy, but Finch says, "it's changed my life. I can't really explain it. In the end, my bike just brings me happiness." And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how you tell a Life Traffic Jam who's boss.
Try Biking to Work
Workouts for Any Schedule
I like fun months, like National Honey Month (September) and Women's Friendship Month (also September). Then there are the not-fun-but-important months, like Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (uh, also September). I'm not sure there's any combination of words more awful than "childhood" and "cancer." Okay, so I wrote that sentence and then stared at it for about ten years. How to transition from there? It's just too awful. Arnold Palmer Hospital's Illuminate Blog acknowledges the difficulty of Childhood Cancer Awareness: "People really don’t want to talk about it...We don’t talk about it because it scares the living daylights out of us. The very idea that it could happen to my child, to my family is more than we can bear. It’s an unbelievably heart-wrenching thought: caring for your child as they suffer and knowing that you are powerless to take away their pain. But, for some it is their reality; it’s the hand they were dealt."
Then there are the kids who have to live through it all, and who display strength of spirit that makes most adults look like overgrown pansies. Kids like Talia, a 13-year-old who has been battling cancer for six years. Six years. When she first started to lose her hair from chemotherapy, she tried wearing wigs, but according the Illuminate blog, she said, “It just didn’t feel like me...Makeup is my wig.” Talia started posting her makeup tutorials online and has become something of a YouTube phenomenon. This girl is really gorgeous, with unrealistically huge dark eyes right off an illustrated princess, but as her vlog reveals, she's also incredibly fierce, brave, and (you knew it was coming...) beautiful on the inside.
It's easy to glaze over at the words "Childhood Cancer," to shut down out of self-preservation -- some things are just too sad to comprehend. But kids like Talia make it real, and help us to understand that if a 13-year-old can say, "Having cancer has been a gift, but yet a horrible, horrible, terrifying thing," then the least we can do is listen to her.
Collecting Jokes To Help Kids With Cancer
Unexpected Help for A Teenager In Need of a New Leg
Like Julie Mangano, a blogger who recently lost her elderly father, and has written eloquently about the grieving process on her blog. In a post called "Driving With Dad," Mangano writes about the special bond she always had with her father, and in particular about a game they used to play: "Very early on in life my dad tried to teach me to read his mind. He created some flashcards with names of colors on them. He would hold up the blank side of the card to me and tell me to close my eyes, focus on what he was thinking (what?) and guess which color was named on the back of the card...After a few hours, I could name the right color every time he held up a different card. In retrospect it probably was more because I learned the patterns he used to switch around the cards and try to trick me... Whatever the reason, our bond was established and we remained deeply in sync for the rest of his life."
It's no secret that I love a good cry. Why else would I keep that darn copy of the bittersweet kid-growing-up-mist-maker Knuffle Bunny Free around? I can't even get near the end of that book without welling up, which my kids find exceedingly bizarre. And don't get me started on Toy Story 3, the consumate mom-mascara-melter. What is it about those stories? Kids grow up, they give up their toys. Those of us who have to wade through Lego minefields every day should rejoice at the promise of a teddy-bear-free living room, right?
But those toys, they are childhood. Every parent watches with wonder as toddlers go from chewing on their lovies to making them dance around and tell stories; as your kid bestows a particular personality on a stuffed monkey you start to play along, and soon you're as attached as the kid. Maybe this is why this YouTube viral video Ah-Ah's Back is such a tear-jerker: Here we have the story of a family living through the lovey nightmare -- their kindergartener's beloved monkey Ah-Ah, who went with him everywhere, was lost on a vacation. THREE YEARS LATER, the mom found the monkey inexplicably for sale on eBay, bought it, and realized it really was Ah-Ah himself. Here, the boy's reaction:
to have that beloved monkey back, but nicest of all must be the lesson of the mysterious ways the universe can work, the feeling this kid will now have, his whole childhood, his whole life, that anything is possible.
Class Ring Found After 33 Years
Good Samaritan Returns a Lost Purse
It's one of the more annoying aspects of growing up, but it's undeniable: at some point, you are forced to admit that many old saws turn out to be true. I almost gagged the first time a stranger said to me, as I walked with my 5-day-old firstborn, "The days are long, but the years are short!" And what do you know, a blink of an eye later, that kid is starting school. Wise Crone Stranger was totally right! Weird!
Speaking of aging quickly, how about going from 0-years-old to 100 in 150 seconds? This video is not only the most uplifting way ever to learn to count to 100 in Dutch, but also a beautiful portrait of time. Filmmaker Jeroen Wolf asked people on the streets of Amsterdam to look into the camera and say their ages. The result is a fascinating compendium of faces, of the different ways people show their age, as well as the different attitudes they have toward their age. Just watch the range of emotions with which these people say their ages: happy, resigned, proud, reluctant. (According the filmmaker, it took him nearly a year to complete the project, and the hardest person to find was the 99 year-old.)
Singapore's Secret to Aging Well
How One Actress Refused to Admit Her Age
Set that fear aside. Right. Maybe that's why I teared up when I saw this image of Annaleise Carr's parents embracing her after her historic swim. This bad-a** Canadian teenager just became the youngest person to swim across Lake Ontario. In case you're unfamiliar with the great lakes, that is a very serious lake. Carr's swim took her 27 hours, and spanned 52.5 kilometers (or, in American, 32.6 miles), taking her from Niagara-on-the-lake in Southern Ontario to Toronto's Marilyn Bell park. (The park is named, by the way, for the first person to make that historic swim across Lake Ontario; Marilyn Bell completed her swim in 1954 at the advanced age of 16.)
And did I mention the swim took 27 hours? 27 hours of swimming. TWENTY-SEVEN. I can hardly stay awake for twelve in a row, but then again, I am a crusty old woman compared to this energetic creature, who reportedly was smiling, giving thumbs up, and playfully splashing the pacers throughout her epic swim.
In a CTV News video, Carr's beaming parents explained their reaction when she first brought up the idea: "No way. No chance." But, as kids tend to, she won them over, proving over months and months of training that she was serious about becoming the youngest person to ever make the long-distance swim. (For more on the swim and how she prepared for it, read the whole story at CTV.) Lucky for all of us that her parents were able to set aside their fear and let their baby dive into the wild waters: not only is Carr's swim inspirational as all get-out, but she did it to raise money for Camp Trillium, a camp for kids with cancer. As someone in the group cheering her arrival at Marilyn Bell park cried out, "Annaleise, you're a super hero!"
Diana Nyad's 33-Year-Old Dream of Swimming to Cuba
The World's Smallest Swimming Champ
I know two things for sure about raising a girl to be a strong woman: 1) It's really important and something I'd like to do, and 2) The parenting maxim "Do as I say, not as I do," probably isn't going to work out so well here. So how do you balance being a responsible mother with modeling awesomely brave behavior? Super Chicken has some ideas.
This woman, besides looking good in a chicken suit, wants to inspire people to live without fear. As her indiegogo page explains, "We are all full of fears, we are all
chickens. I used to think
that feeling fear was not a good thing. That
if you had
confidence the fear went away. Although that is not the case...The
not letting that fear paralyze you in life, feel the fear and
anyway." So what did she do? Naturally, she made herself a Super Chicken suit, sold all her earthly possessions, and took off the travel the world. For at least 6 months. With her 17-year-old daughter. Dressed as a chicken.
Super Chicken is looking for donations to help her and her (awesomely sporting, it seems) daughter see as much of the world as possible. But she's also looking to spread the word, to help others conquer fear and embrace risk, adventure, and above all, it would seem, a sense of humor. I'd like to admit that while just reading her description of her project, I think I stopped breathing for at least a minute: But! But you can't! You can't do that! And this is exactly what Super Chicken is talking about. Why live in a world of "But you can't do that"s? As Super Chicken (I imagine) would say, there are plenty of people out there to say "you can't." You must be the one to tell yourself "I can."You can ride a horse dressed as an enormous chicken. You can travel the world if you want to.You can educate your children the way you think they should be educated, by traveling and experiencing and meeting people and learning to live not only safely and well but without the "you can't"s.
Living Without Fear
Overcoming Airplane Phobia
Claire Potter faced this conundrum with her 13-year-old son, whom she describes in the Guardian as being "eager for more freedom and independence" but also "a boy who hated sustained effort and shied away from any kind of system or daily ritual." So she devised 13 challenges, each of which played to his strengths while also addressing real-life issues. The challenges are inventive and inspiring; for example, the first was "Get on a train on your own. Get off at the 13th stop. Go to a sit-down cafe or restaurant. Order the 13th item on the menu. Then buy yourself a whole outfit with £13.13."
First of all, what a brilliant parenting move. Since she helped him to buy the ticket and they live in a rural area, Potter was able to present the train trip as a grown-up adventure, while also being able to keep tabs on his whereabouts. And the challenge truly does help him to hone some adult skills. But upon reading this I thought, not just, wow, that does sound like a very practical and also fun challenge, but also, Wait, I want to do that! I go places and buy things all the time. But taking the train to a place I've never been -- just because? Ordering a randomly preselected item on the menu? What a fun way to add secret sparkles of fun to every day.
The challenges span from learning and performing a piano piece in public to completing 13 household chores to creating a self-portrait of himself to learning Hungarian. As Potter puts it, the real lesson she hopes her son will learn is "that life is full of possibility and playfulness if you want it to be." Which is something we could all stand to learn, no matter how old we are. (Read the whole essay for Potter's inventive ideas for challenging your children -- or yourself.)
Rites of Passage for Grown Women
Challenge Yourself and Energize Your Life