Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | June 29, 2010

on friendship….part 2

My earlier post on friendship seems to have struck a nerve. I got a lot of great comments and they mean more to me then you can possibly imagine. I often feel very isolated out here, but I’m not so great at picking up the phone. I’ve lost a certain amount of spark in my life and until I can get it back a bit, I don’t feel as if I have much to say, plus, it’s hard to find the right time to be on the phone. I’m taking the important steps to get the spark back, but it takes time.

Anyway, a few nights ago I finished “The Girls from Ames.” It really was a beautiful illustration of how important our friends are, although I gave it 3 out of 5 stars overall as a book. Friends are there for the good parts and the bad parts – even if the bad parts make us want to crawl under a rock and ignore the world (hmm…project much?)

Aside from the general story of these women’s lives, there were of course a few across the board topics that stood out to me. These are in order in which they appeared, not necessarily in order of importance.

First, as the girls of Ames grow into women, children come into the mix. Looking at the youth of today versus the youth of 30-40 years ago there are some vast changes. This, of course, also makes me think about the differences the my generation experienced.

“Researchers worry about this current generation of girls. Studies suggest that the average girl today is likely to grow up to be a  lifelong dieter, to have a distorted body image, and to be emotionally scarred by cliques….A 2008 study titled ‘A National Rport on the State of Self-Esteem’ labeled girls’ low self-esteem a ‘national crisis.’ In part because of bullying and the troubling way girls sometimes interact, 70 percent of girls feel that they don’t measure up to others…”

Sounds about right. I’m not sure that girls in the Ames generation didn’t have issues with cliques, but it might not have been to such a shocking degree. And while girls, and to a lesser extent boys, have always had body image issue, the proliferation of images that we see now has to be having an impact. Kids also seem to be meaner/less polite than they used to be. I’m not sure where that comes in to play, but I’m watching the munchkin. There are times when she is rude to other kids, but other than pulling her aside and telling her that what she said wasn’t nice, it’s a hard thing to stop. All the stories we hear of teenage girls using social networking sites and text messaging to bully other people….I don’t even want to begin to face that.

When the book was discussing a period where 10 of the girls were really mean to the 11th there was also an interesting tidbit about the fact that back then (early 80s) their moms didn’t get overprotective. Parents were more hands off and that meant that the girls had to learn some harder lessons earlier, but I think that’s a good thing. I’m not judging anyone’s parenting styles, but my own personal style is to let my munchkin figure things out on her own with a little guidance and encouragement from me. We get bumps and scrapes but then we brush ourselves off and move on to the next thing. Did I freak out the first time she wanted to slide down a pole at the park, of course, but she did a great job. She had been watching the older girls at school and figured out what to do. Does it bother me when we have issues sharing with friends? Of course, but she’s three, there’s not much I can do.

Still on the parenting vein, the women of Ames at one point discussed how their children have grown up with a higher standard of living than they had known growing up in Ames and, in general, how children today tend to be bigger consumers without thinking of where things come from or how they are purchased. This is something I struggle with on a regular basis. I know that when my parents were starting out they struggled. Furniture that could be built or creatively put together using things like milk crates was. I have memories of desperately wanting a Cabbage Patch doll and not being able to get it until my grandparents won it or something similar – and that was maybe a $50 purchase back in the day.  We also got a small allowance (I think $1 a week) and that was what we were allowed to use to buy things that we wanted, rather than needed.  I started babysitting when I was eleven (after taking a special course) and had my first actual job at 15. But I also admit to wanting more for myself and for my family. The idea of kids today thinking nothing of asking for expensive items scares me for the future, but it comes into a general materialism and consumerism that America has fostered. It’s hard to avoid. I think that the only thing we can do it somewhat try to contain it and to champion making things and using our imaginations where we can.

The women of Ames were incredibly fortunate to have made such lasting friendships. They managed to deal with the fact that they were spread out across the country with kids of varying ages and careers of various types. The bonds that they created sustained them. Their husbands understood how important their friendships were and encouraged their lasting success. They were with each other through births and death, sickness and health, marriage and divorce. They had to work at it and take the necessary time to foster their relationships, something I know I personally struggle with.

Interestingly enough, while I was finishing The Girls from Ames, I was also listening to Everyone is Beautiful on tape, another good book for moms to read. It’s fiction and the story often hit incredibly close to home for me, but I’ll leave you with the closing paragraph…

“And here, after all that, is what I have come to believe about beauty: Laughter is beautiful. Kindness is beautiful. Cellulite is beautiful. Softness and plumpness and roundness are beautiful. It’s more important to be interesting, to be vivid, and to be adventurous, than to sit pretty for pictures. A woman’s soft tummy is a miracle of nature. Beauty comes from tenderness. Beauty comes from variety, from specificity, from the fact that no person in the world looks exactly like anyone else. Beauty comes from the tragedy that each person’s life is destined to be lost to time. I believe women are too hard on themselves. I believe that when you love someone, she becomes beautiful to you. I believe the eyes see everything through the heart – and nothing in the world feels as good as resting them on someone you love. I have trained my eyes to look for beauty, and I’ve gotten very good at finding it. You can argue and tell me it’s not true, but I really don’t care what anyone says. I have come, at last, to believe in the title I came up with for the book: Everyone Is Beautiful.

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