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Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is one of them.

It has been floating around the Internet for a while, and I fall in love all over again every time I see it.  It reminds me of my first ballet recital when the 4-year-old class dressed as rosebuds in pink tutus with green overlays to represent the leaves.  We had worked hard for the big event, but as we raised our little arms and twirled on tippy toe, I apparently twirled in the wrong direction.  Another rosebud loudly and publicly pointed my error out onstage, which stopped our performance in its tracks.  I chose to deal with my embarrassment by decking the other little rosebud, and our very annoyed instructor promptly escorted our 4-year-old selves off stage mid-performance.

My ballet career ended shortly thereafter.

The photograph also reminds me of some of my dearest friends, the Dames You Thought You Knew.  Two years ago, Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s Founding Artistic Director Bo Thorp put together the stories of five local women of a certain age who then presented them on stage, for better or worse.  If we look at the little girls in this photograph and imagine those performing women as little girls from long ago, from left to right they might be former CEO of a national company Terri Union, former Fayetteville City Council member and Cumberland County Commissioner Rollin Shaw, and former rosebud Margaret Dickson.  I leave you to decide which of the other two little girls is former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson and which is real estate magnate Suzanne Pennink.

One of the Precious Jewels asked why this photograph draws me in so thoroughly, and I think it is because the girl on the right looks so happy.  She is clearly doing her own thing, marching to the beat of her private drummer, living life on her own terms, or whatever cliché we might use for people who make their own fun. The girl on the right exudes joie de vivre and is self-possessed and totally comfortable in her own skin.  Not all women want to hang upside down from a ballet barre, of course, but most of us do want to be ourselves even if we are a bit different from other folks.  

So how do we raise our daughters to be the girl on the right? 

In no particular order are some of my own thoughts and some from other sources.  

Erin Dullea is a coach, a writer and the mother of three little ones.  Her thoughts…

“It is important to be kind, but nice is not always necessary.”   Nice can mean pretending something we are not.

“Beauty is an inside job.”  My mother expressed this sentiment as “pretty is as pretty does.”   As Jill Conner Browne, mother of the Sweet Potato Queens, put it, “Pretty will last a short time… but stupid can last forever.  Fortunately, so can smart.”

“You are what you say to yourself.”  This is harder than it sounds, but if you don’t like you and value your accomplishments, why should others?

Nancy Lundgreen of familyshare.com offers these thoughts among others.

“Teach her to find genuine people… ”  Find people who have more purpose than drama in their lives.

“Teach her to make learning a lifetime gift to herself.”  This can and should be formal education, but it always means having a mind open to new information and ideas.

“Teach her to never settle for “ just any” partner.  I married for the first and only time five days shy of my 30th birthday.  My mother always told me that anyone could get married.  The trick is finding the right person.

“Teach her that the girlfriends she accumulates…will always play a big part in her life, and will sometimes be even more valued than family…  so advise her to make very good friends.”  Amen.

 Forbes magazine weighs in on what not to do.

Do not buy gender specific toys.  Many girl toys address appearance while boy toys address invention, exploration, competition and problem solving.  ‘Nuff said in our cutthroat economy.

Compliment her on her accomplishments more than her looks, even though she is the loveliest person you have ever seen.

She is not a princess.  We do not have princesses in America, so do not fool her into thinking she is one.  She will pay a high price for this later.

Author Brene Brown weighs in with this:  “We have to be the women we want our daughters to be.”

Finally, from me.  Teach her to love herself and to enjoy her own company.  Parents, siblings, friends and spouses, even children aside, the only person who will take every step of life with you is you.  We come into life alone and leave the same way, and we are happier if we are our own best friend.

The upside down girl on the right may already know all of this.

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