It was the dawn of a new chapter in the life of someone I love dearly, my oldest daughter Katherine. She was turning twelve years old and I knew deep within my being that I wanted to help ignite the next part of her journey as she transitioned from girl to young woman with beautiful lessons and ancient truths told from women around the world.
Echoing deep within me were the words of the African spiritual teacher Sobonfu Somé:
Since the beginning of time, we have symbolized various life passages for girls and boys with the markings of ceremony, celebration, ritual and community. I want these same gifts for Katherine in her own way. From the metaphoric Red Tent, to Quinceañeras and Sweet Sixteen parties, to spiritual and religious ceremonies, we all have our own native ways to honor various coming of age traditions. I wanted to recognize our traditions, yet I also wanted to sprinkle in something else…
I wanted Katherine to experience the broader context of her own becoming. I wanted her to see the next evolution of herself from trailblazing women role models who share their stories, their dreams and their invaluable lessons learned. I wanted to help inspire her own truth that is beginning to take shape within her.
Not too long after these inklings, I received a message from Emerging Women that Jane Goodall was going to be the keynote speaker at their upcoming conference in San Francisco. Stop, breathe, synchronicity. The Jane Goodall… the one that Katherine has admired from an early age with sweet book reports to boot? I quickly called my husband and within minutes we had our plan.
No, this would certainly not be the Red Tent. But it would be our own unique way to start the conversation. We would blend multiple traditions into our very own, and it would be rooted in the powerful wisdom of the words of Joseph Campbell:
I sat down and wrote Katherine’s twelfth birthday letter. While the strokes of the keys came from my fingers, they were equally infused with the love and mutual support of my husband who adores and cherishes the young woman in our daughter.
We want you to know that you have every tool that you will ever need inside of you. The heart is the seat of your soul. It is the strongest voice you will ever hear. Listen to its precious whispers and it will always guide you home to the truth about your next step on your path.
We want you to know that in the peaks and valleys of life, the ups and downs, the ebb and the flow, that self-compassion and self-love will be your greatest friend.
We want you to know that you are an extraordinary young woman and your light shines so bright in this world. We are humbled and grateful to share this path with you, and as your parents, we will always, always, always love, support and honor you as your own unique person.
When you were in the fourth grade, you did a report on Jane Goodall because she inspired a calling that was already brewing inside of you – a love for animals and a voice for those who do not have one. So, for your birthday, you and I are going to take a sojourn to San Francisco and you will get to see Jane Goodall LIVE. Our special birthday wish for you as you embark on this next chapter in your life, is that you always live a life inspired by what moves you the most. Touch this place inside and you will live a life of authenticity and deep human fulfillment.
With incredible love, empowerment and inspiration for you,
Mom and Dad
What started as a seedling in my awareness manifested into a truly transformational weekend with my daughter. We laughed, we cried, we danced, we played, we talked, we ate amazing food, we rode the trolley and we paid a visit to the magnificent redwoods. Most significant of all, we shared the collective umbrella of connectedness among a group of women who care deeply about bringing who they are to the table to help change our world.
There is a powerful exchange in the mere presence of people like Dr. Goodall. In Katherine’s own words: “Her presence was incredible, I could feel it from 5 rows away. Seeing her in person brought a lot of real to the situation. She sparked something in me to keep doing what I am doing, thinking what I am thinking. I look at her and think; she is one of my people, she speaks my language, she understands.”
These moments help define who we are. I asked her to share what she would tell other parents about this particular phase of her life, and she offered that “this stage of development is most crucial besides babyhood, and it is great to be embraced by people who are making change and good in the world. These are the women that I want to fan girl over.” I couldn’t agree more!
As parents we sprinkle the very soil of our families with our own nutrients, our own fertilization, and the traditions that resonate with us. As we do so, we watch our children rise from this ground into their own becoming.
On the eve of our last day together, I watched Katherine stroll down a path in a cathedral of redwoods with lightheartedness and gratitude. I could not help but to think of these amazing trees, their incredible roots and the community of this majestic redwood grove. I reflect to my own grove, the roots who supported me into my own becoming and now who support Katherine.
We are standing on the shoulders of our mothers, and our grandmothers and with much reverence, and my daughter is standing on mine.