“Some of us can recall the exact time in which we reached certain milestones on life’s road – the wonderful hour when we passed from childhood to girlhood – the enchanted, beautiful – or perhaps the shattering and horrible – hour when girlhood was suddenly womanhood – the chilling hour when we faced the fact that youth was definitely behind us – the peaceful, sorrowful realization of age.”
-L.M. Montgomery, Emily Climbs
Your kingdom, little lion girl,
you should know is made of grey;
yet your imagination demands that life be the colour
of a million months of May.
Peas daren’t touch the carrots
and the books be in a row,
for otherwise the girl won’t meet her prince
upon his noble steed
if from front to back the story doesn’t go.
Someday, little lion girl, your castle will be torn down
by men who think they’re right.
They’ll call you names and try to stop you from going to school.
But little lion girl, you must know to
wear your scarf like a crown
and not like a shroud.
For all the queens I do so tell you about,
are noble not by birth,
they are noble because of grace, beauty, and humility.
They are noble because they are proud.
Someday you will scale a rock and call it all your own
like the world is yours to feast.
When Chicken Little squabs and squeals
as an acorn plummets upon his dear little head,
do not condone and accept your fate.
Go to school instead.
Learn all the things that I couldn’t teach you
for I, dear child, will probably be long and dead.
But growing up is funny in that kind of way –
it feels like the sky is falling,
like an old part of you is deceased.
Lovely lioness, your time has now come near – that
horrible hour when you grow up before you should.
Dreams chasing girlhood often do end in heartbreak,
but you – your death of self need not be the end of the world.
You will read back upon these fairy tales of youth
and realize you’re not the same person you once were.
And that’s okay.
Years from now, you’ll be grey and old,
yet as worldly as they come.
Your kingdom will not be the same yet still I hope you
weep, as the boy he does cry wolf.
He calls it monstrous, evil, maleficent in its form.
Find it in your heart to forgive, you lovely lioness,
just like your princesses used to do.
You may find that there aren’t many of those around any more.
Forgiveness makes for beauty, and beauty makes for kindness.
It is this that I tried so hard to teach you,
when I myself couldn’t read nor write.
Lovely lioness, remember my tales,
and from a simple memory I shall rise.
Share them with your daughter,
with as many colours as your imagination can comprise.
I would like to start off by saying that “Girlhood” was not an easy poem to write. I often think of L.M. Montgomery’s above quote and I ask myself, “At what moment did I move from childhood to girlhood? Have I already moved on to womanhood?” To both those time-sensitive questions, I cannot quite say. When beginning to tackle this project, every time I tried to write about the loss of innocence in a girl, I realized that I was writing almost wholly in past tense. As soon as I realized this, the writing process screeched to a halt. I began to ruminate within my own life. By writing in past tense, has my subconscious self already assumed and accepted that I have lost my own innocence?
Everyone grows up, whatever “growing up” means. To me, growing up means becoming a “big girl”. Simply that. Whether that be in womanhood or girlhood, being grown up is knowing right from wrong. We may make mistakes sometimes in that fashion, and I myself am still learning many things. Because of this I believe that I am still in the throws of girlhood; I can quite honestly say that I make so many innocent mistakes in a day I often feel like Charlie Brown, like I can do no right.
Yet I know, even without evidence, that many people regardless of age often do feel this way. And growing up is not an easy thing to do, especially when one is put into extenuating circumstances. Furthermore, I know enough of life to know that the world is not perfect. Many children in our modern age still are forced to grow up before they are ready. War and discrimination are not simply stories told in history class, they happen every day. I am privileged to be able to speak my voice, believe what I want, and to go to school. When I think of how many girls my age in the world have never been to school, I can’t imagine the number. In many places of the world, particularly the Middle East, we so often forget these people in the rush of our daily lives. Writing therefor from the perspective of a woman who lived without education and unlimited freedom forced me to imagine the kind of life I’d want for my daughter, and particularly how I would raise her. I would want to teach my daughter to be happy. It’s difficult to be happy when comparing what I have to what other people don’t, for I suddenly feel almost guilty of the things I take as simple rights. Yet I keep in mind the words of Anne Frank, who in one entry struggled to find appreciation. Her mother said to be happy because she has things that other people don’t, yet Anne wrote in her diary that she prefers to “think of all the beauty still left around [her] and be happy.” That’s what I want my daughter to know.
(Author’s note: This poem was inspired by both Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful and also Lisel Mueller’s “Reading the Brothers Grimm to Jenny”. )