I share life and land with six other families.
When, nearly seven years ago, we decided to buy a little 10-acre farm, a mother of one of our group said, “The health of your community will be determined by how well the women get along.”
She issued this little zinger with an oracle-esque potency, and it stuck in my craw like a thorn. Maybe it bugged me because it inferred a stereotype of women as gossips. Maybe it chaffed because her pronouncement left the men out of the relational health equation. Whatever the reason, I resented it.
And yet, a seemingly unrelated tradition that has formed in our community has caused me to rethink her words.
Early on in our farm’s short history we decided to mark a child’s transition into adulthood with a little ceremony. We haven’t splurged for gazillion dollar bat mitzvahs or sent our girls into the woods and told them not to return until they’ve slain a cougar or seen a vision of tree spirit.
Nothing like that.
It’s more like a tea party.
But not your average tea party.
When a girl turns 13 the female members of Kingfisher Farm, young and old, gather to celebrate her life and welcome her into our farm’s adult sisterhood. It’s a Red Tent sort of thing but without the blood.
Our motivation for holding such an event has been spurred by the writing of people like Michael Gurian. In his fascinating book The Wonder of Girls, Gurian, a neurobiologist, considers the developing brain of adolescent girls.
At age 13 a girl’s brain is particularly spongy and amorphous (I think those are the technical medical terms). Neurotransmiters that will determine a girl’s future personality reach out like a many-tentacled beast, serpentining out into newly laid neuropathways. They could go any which way depending on the outward stimuli. For those critical years between the ages of 12 and 14 life is one continual costume party. It’s a time of role-playing; everyone feels unsure of themselves because in fact they don’t yet have fully formed selves to be sure of.
So that’s what we’re trying to do: tell each girl we see her fragile budding self and that her self is beautiful.
We do this through affirmation, much in the spirit of Aibileen from The Help (“You are kind, you are smart, you are important”). If nothing else this exercise in affirmation helps the girl in question learn how to take a compliment (no cringing, no deflecting of praise, simply maintain eye contact, nod, smile, say thank you).
The ritual is in fact a naming ceremony. We are naming our young sister’s true self—a self standing like a skittish deer on the forest’s edge, gazing longingly into the meadow of adulthood. In our naming we are coaxing her to take brave steps into the sweet grass.
Both my daughters have passed through this ceremony, the youngest, just three weeks ago. It was deeply touching to hear women affirm what I’ve known since the first moment I felt them flutter inside me: these are remarkable human beings.
Their naming ceremonies recognized not only their remarkableness, but that they are remarkable in particular ways. The sisterhood of Kingfisher Farm has paid attention to the way my Maya sees the world with a poetic eye. They’ve noticed how she looks out for the outcasts and vulnerable. They’ve seen how Bryn is wryly funny and smart as a whip. They’ve noted her bravery and aplomb in social situations.
In essence, they have honoured the seeds of my daughters’ becoming, which in turn heralds their arriving. In calling forth who they already, these women have helped them recognize their true selves.
So, we affirm.
And we tell stories.
Some stories are cautionary tales. My 50-something farmmate tells a grade eight anecdote of coveting her best friends’ go-go boots and how that coveting led her to form a club for non-boot wearers to which her friend wasn’t invited, an act that severed their friendship.
Some stories are amusing. We share stories of developing bodies, and crushes on boys who didn’t return our admiration, and of hairstyles that required way too much gel and hair spray.
But whether sober or hilarious, all the stories carry the same message:
You’ll mess up.
You’ll be insecure.
You’ll want things you can’t afford or aren’t good for you to have.
But this is not who you are.
You are wonderful, beautiful, thoughtful … fill in the blank …
And you belong to a sisterhood that sees the best in others and honours it. That reaches out in compassion. (And, yes, that makes mistakes.)
In holding these ceremonies we are in fact naming ourselves. We are naming ourselves as sisters who bless. Sisters who expect goodwill. Sisters who include rather than exclude.
Perhaps Kingfisher Farm would flourish or at least survive even if the women didn’t get along.
But probably not.
In honouring our daughters’ transitions into adulthood we are conferring the legacy of sisterhood—a sisterhood that has the power to sustain a community.