Small But Fierce

thoughts on raising a dragon in a princess world

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And she’s off…

1st day

Today was my Fierce Girl’s first day of preschool.  She was excited to see her friends and her much-beloved teacher; to stay for lunch and to play even longer than last year.  She smiled for the requisite first day pictures and picked a shape on the colorful carpet.  But as I turned to leave she called me over and asked for a big hug.  And she got it.

It’s her first day, but it’s also mine.  As the kids’ school year starts, mine does too.  I am going back to school.  I’m taking a class on the social and emotional development of gifted kids.  I’m also working for my son’s school district as the GATE (gifted and talented education) parent liaison for our six elementary schools.  It’s part time and flexible.  Honestly, it doesn’t pay very well.  But it’s all mine. 

My Fierce Girl and Her Big Brother have been in school for about four hours so far.  I’ve run some errands, gotten some exercise, did a homework assignment, and I’m about to start researching some projects for our GATE program.  And when they come home I’ll sit with them and hear about how the day went.  I can’t wait.


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Toy Story

Toy Story

I love the Toy Story movies. All three of them. I love the idea- how fun is it to imagine that your toys have adventures when you’re not home or asleep? How amazing is it to imagine that your toys love you and each other with the depth and strength of Andy’s toys?

We watched them again recently- it was my Fierce Girl’s first time, and it was my first time as the mother of a daughter. I noticed a few things I hadn’t before:

Andy has a Bo Peep doll. And he welcomes Jessie the cowgirl with enthusiasm when she arrives in his room at the end of Toy Story 2. Yes, Andy- a boy- plays with dolls. I would argue that Woody is also a doll but somehow people don’t consider boy dolls to be dolls.

Andy’s sister Molly gets Mrs. Potato Head for Christmas, but she ends up being one of Andy’s toys. Somehow one sibling gave a toy to the other. And just to make sure everyone is clear- Andy has the “girl version” of a toy and loves it.

My favorite part though, has to be the end of Toy Story 3. Andy grows up and heads off to college. He has a box of his most special toys: Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie and Bullseye, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Ham, the green aliens, and Rex. Only the pig is pink. None of them are remotely sparkly or overtly “girly,” but Andy gives them to a little girl. He introduces them to her and then they play together with them and her favorite toys. And she loves them.

As a parent who often tries to explain toys should go to a new home when we are done with them, I love that message as well. In fact, my Fierce Girl has since raided Her Big Brother’s Lego collection and now owns her very own LEGO Woody minifigure. Did I mention that I love the Toys Story movies?

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Let the Girls Survive too!

meeting author Lauren Tarshis

meeting author Lauren Tarshis

My kids got to meet author Lauren Tarshis last week. We got to meet her because my Fierce Girl’s preschool won first place in Scholastic‘s Book Fair Contest. I’ve written about Scholastic before– they do a great job of putting inexpensive, but good quality, books into the hands of students across the country. They team with schools to put on book fairs- selling Scholastic books and sharing profits with the schools. As the contest winners our school got $2,000 to spend on books and a visit from author Lauren Tarshis. I took my Fierce Girl and Her Big Brother, and we brought the daughter of another friend as well. She gave a great talk about becoming an author and gave students the opportunity to ask questions. The older kids really enjoyed it.

If you’re not familiar with her work, Lauren Tarshis writes the very-popular-among-grade-schoolers “I Survived…” series. She works for Scholastic, which also publishes her series. The books are historical fiction. She creates a character, places him into a historical crisis, and tells his story of survival. My son reads them, and I’ve read a couple. They are enjoyable books with an educational bonus. Who can argue with that? Actually, I can. Every single main character in every single book is a boy. There are nine so far, with another coming soon. Ten books, about ten boys. Female characters exist but only on the peripery; in the “I Survived the Nazi Invasion of 1944” the main character has a younger sister and an aunt who is a resistance fighter. Her own description of the series states “Each book in my series tells a terrifying and thrilling story from history, through the eyes of a boy who lived to tell the tale.”

I took the opportunity to ask Ms. Tarshis why that is the case. She told me that she has thought about it, and that she gets asked about it a lot. She said that she would love to write about a girl, but that she didn’t think boys would buy a book with a girl on the cover. Hmmm. I think she’s wrong. First of all, she has a very successful ten book series so far. Boys and girls both buy them when they have boys on the cover. I know that my son would buy the next book regardless of who the main character is. Ten books in- he’s hooked.

Even if she is right, I say shame on her and Scholastic for buying into that excuse! They are in the perfect position to have an impact on this type of gender stereotyping. Why are adventure-based books only about boys? Stand up and show us that girls can survive too. Communities across the country invite Scholastic and it’s books into their schools. Parents volunteer countless hours to set up and staff book fairs every year. Teachers send home book club fliers and distribute books when they arrive at school. Scholastic has unrivaled access to our children and our homes. I say that there is some responsibility that goes with that. What do you think?


That’s Not for Boys!

Using The Force

Using The Force

My Fierce Girl is three. We have been pretty careful about not referring to things as “for girls” or “for boys.” For the most part, we’ve been successful at keeping this out of our house: Her Big Brother uses a pink bowl at breakfast and doesn’t bat an eye while my girl loves her Matchbox cars. But a few days ago, as they were arguing over a toy they both wanted, I heard “You can’t have it. That’s not for boys.” Part of me had to laugh because they were talking about a light sabre- something that would usually be associated with boys. At least if she was hearing those words she was not associating them with stereotypically girl things.

It was also funny because they actually both own one, but neither wanted to walk ten feet down the hall to get the second one. They have light sabre battles regularly- as you can see from the picture. That said, it also struck me that she is obviously getting the message that some things are only for boys and some are only for girls. Of course I explained to her that this is totally not true. But that message is so pervasive- it’s impossible to completely avoid it. My mission in raising a Fierce Girl is to equip her with the belief that her gender is not a barrier to anything. Any suggestions?

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Go Mathletes!

At the start of the 2013-14 school year I decided to start a Math Olympiad program at my son’s elementary school.  Yeah, I know, because I don’t have enough to do, right?!  But here’s the thing- it’s been great!  I forgot how much I used to like math.  I really did, but that was before I realized that girls didn’t “do” math.  Before I set off on the winding path that led me to social work and eventually to being a stay at home parent.


That Math Olympiad program is fabulous.  Some schools have kids “test in” to be part of the team.  Some offer it to students in the GATE (gifted and talented) program only.  I opened it up to any 4th or 5th grader who was interested, and I specifically encouraged girls to participate.  I started the season with around forty kids, and ended with around twenty-five.  Through this year I’ve taught some math skills, I’ve been a cheerleader, and I’ve been a disciplinarian.  I’ve given my time and energy, and I’ve watched these students soak up knowledge, gain confidence, and find success. 

For some, success is getting one question (of five) correct, while for others it’s battling for the title of team high score.  For me, success is the number of girls who signed up, stuck it out, and gained confidence in their mathematics abilities.  It is watching the fifth grade boy get one question right on each of the first four exams swell with pride when he got four of five correct on the last one.  His perseverance is amazing.  Success is watching the kids who came in expecting to dominate realize that this was harder than the math they were doing in the classroom and then rise to the challenge.  Success is the way the students supported and cheered for each other. And success is the number of students who have been asking if we can do it again next year- we can!  I look forward to it.



I Love My Village

I love my Village!

I love my Village!

I recently read an article called “The Nasty, Backstabbing, and Altogether Miserable World of the Suburban Mom.” It was published in Boston Magazine and shared on Facebook. Wow! I am happy to say that my life is nothing like that. I prefer to think of my life as part of an urban village. I’ve heard the expression “It takes a village to raise a child.” so many times.  I totally believe it.  And I love my village. My family is my extended village; none of them live local to me so I can’t rely on them for the little things it takes to get through the crazy days. But I have neighbors and local friends who are awesome.

Here’s an example: Last week was the Book Fair at my son’s school. One of my friends has run it for years and needed help, so I was happy to pitch in. You know how I love books! I brought my Fierce Girl to help set up and tear down the fair, and every other volunteer was awesome about it. She and another friend colored pictures on the floor and everyone just stepped over them. No big deal. They played hide and seek and everyone just worked around them. Again- no big deal. One day she “helped” in the school garden with the other garden volunteers while I worked the Book Fair. No one minded- it’s the village mentality.

I also volunteer my time to run a Math Olympiad program at the elementary school. I have a couple of students who go to after-school care when they finish, but they need someone to walk them there (across the street). I am happy to help out- it takes a village, right? Today is Picture Day and some other parent is at school helping my kid and all the others get ready. Yay village! Tonight is Family Math Night at school, and I’ll be watching out for one of my son’s friends. He wants to come but his baby brother would not be easy in a situation like that, so I’ll keep my eye on him.

It’s not just the elementary school. We have a neighborhood watch list to communicate about what’s going on around us. I can, and have, called a neighbor to bring in a package that was left on my porch because I wouldn’t be home for a while. My Fierce Girl and I walk to and from her preschool through the backyard of a church. We don’t belong to it, but through the years we’ve met some of the staff and they don’t mind us using their parking lot/lawn as our path to school. In fact, yesterday one person came out to give us pointers on the best spot to search for ladybugs. I also trade off hosting playdates with another Mom so that our preschoolers can play together and we each get a break.

I’m not saying it’s a utopia- for sure there are Moms who don’t get along well, or maybe get frustrated with each other. Our home got burglarized last summer. Bad things can happen. But I really believe that we are all doing our best to support each other, our kids, and our community.


Her Book Bag: The Snatchabook

The Snatchabook by Helen Cocherty

The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty

This is Book Fair week at my son’s elementary school. I’ve spent hours setting up the room, preparing for our student helpers, and working at the fair. I don’t mind- I love books. And I love that we bring good, affordable books to the school so the kids can browse, find new stories, and buy themselves a book. I have to admit that I do the same thing. I could easily spend a fortune on books this week. I’ve been pretty good so far, but I did buy The Snatchabook for my Fierce Girl. It’s a very simple story about the love of reading and how special it is to have someone to read you stories. That alone would make it great. The twist comes in when someone keeps stealing all the stories- and when a little girl rabbit named Eliza Brown solves the mystery. Yup… make a girl the hero of a story and you’ve just added HUGE bonus points.

This book is relatively new- it was published in October 2013. I predict it’s going to be very popular for a very long time. I brought it home on Monday afternoon. I’m writing this on Wednesday morning- I’ve already read this at least 5 times and I’ve seen my husband reading it at least twice. Let’s just say it gets my Fierce Girl’s seal of approval!