When I was young, we lived in Kingston, Jamaica. Words can’t properly convey the true depth of a childhood spent by an American girl in the West Indies. It’s a story for another time… or a book.
I attended Immaculate Conception Preparatory School, a private Catholic school where I was most certainly a minority in both race and country of origin. I noted, in visiting the website, that the uniforms (white blouses and skirts, blue ties, brown socks and shoes) are unchanged since the 80s. The British influence on the Caribbean is strong, and I learned colour and flavour as the proper spellings. British imports were also the norm, and the girls at my school were wild for a new release: the 1985 version of Every Girl’s New Handbook.
The cover featured an enthusiastic and remotely athletic looking girl in circa mid-80s regalia. The book proclaimed its target age range to be 8 to 12 years, and the array of photos on the cover was spot-on: horses, cats and hair styling prevailed.
Perusing the contents (yup – I still have my copy), one finds chapters on health, beauty, athletics and specifically gymnastics (including subsections on 1980 and 1984 Olympic Champions), the solar system, countries of the world, comets, first aid, inventions, books to read… and on and on.
If I were a girl as well-rounded as the topics in the book suggest… well, I’d be pretty awesome. I can’t help but wonder if this vision of the well-rounded girl – athletic, beautiful, confident, well-read and knowledgeable – has permeated my life goals and even my parenting. It appears more current editions have been published, and I’m interested in the more recent Daring Book for Girls for my own daughter.
The eight year old has just returned from ten days at “Grandparent Camp.”. My parents relish this annual visit and never cease to amaze with their painstaking planning. Mom schools her in gardening and the American history to be found in antique stores. Dad sets up a target and teaches her to shoot a bow and arrow interspersed with daily guitar lessons. She reports gleefully on her acquisition of guitar-picking callouses and her attendance at a bluegrass concert.
Trees are climbed. Flips are turned on a backyard trapeze hanging from a high branch. Dad has built steps and a platform against a tree, and the knotted rope hanging from another high branch serves as both a Tarzan-esque swing and a place for the child to develop biceps that I’m fairly certain might compete with some Marines as she scales the rope.
The highlight of each day, though, is quiet time. The girl slips into her room where she’ll find a few treasures stowed – she may bounce on the edge of the bed and find a new book under the covers or spy a journal and pen waiting her musings. She has a selection of music ranging from classical to lullabies to jazz to choose from for her time. She relishes it all.
The takeaways for me are widely ranging: it’s clear that intentional, thoughtful parenting is a great skill that I was fortunate to experience and have yet to master. It’s clear that a well-rounded girl is a thing to behold and that rearing one is a challenge worth pursuing. Most of all, it’s clear that this world is an exciting place to explore, and that a handbook, along with the focus and support of amazing and dedicated people, may be critical for navigating it.