Categorized as: Guest Posts

Title IX and the Right to Wear Shorts to School

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By Michelle Riddell—On a Monday morning in June of my 6th grade year, right after we said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang America the Beautiful, the principal came over the P.A. system and announced that several articles of girls’ clothing had been found in the library over the weekend, and anyone with any information as to how they got there was to see him immediately.

Our teacher, Mrs. Ross, was very pregnant at the time. Very pregnant. She was hoping to hold off giving birth for four more days and complete the school year, but it wasn’t looking good. We’d had a sub all the past week while Mrs. Ross was out with Braxton Hicks contractions, and after hearing the principal’s announcement about the clothes, she held her belly and winced. “None of you know what he’s talking about, right? Good, get your math books out.”

In the cafeteria at lunch, though, it was all anybody was talking about—and on the playground at recess, and in gym class, and in line at the drinking fountain, and on the bus. By Tuesday morning, rumors about the discarded clothes had snowballed into outlandish tales of forbidden lust and a secret rendezvous—more like 6th grade boys’ fantasies than plausible scenarios. The thought of someone not only undressing in the library, but then forgetting her clothes was too scandalous not to gossip about, and the principal’s scant announcement left plenty of room for speculation. Talk of the clothes crescendoed for four days without anyone coming forward, until Friday afternoon, when the final bell of the school year rang, and it stopped. Mercifully. For, had it continued, one of us would have cracked, and the truth would have come out.

On that Monday morning in June, when the principal made his announcement, my three best friends and I froze at our desks because the clothes found in the library—four skirts neatly folded atop the World Book encyclopedias, to be exact—were ours. We had taken them off in protest of the dress code during our afternoon library period, the Friday before. At that time in public schools, girls weren’t allowed to wear shorts—boys were, but girls weren’t—and we didn’t think it was fair. Knowing we would be having a sub that day, we wore shorts under our skirts and ditched the skirts, fully intending to retrieve them later. Being that our library period was late in the day, our act of civil disobedience went largely unnoticed, but that was fine. What mattered was, we bucked the system and got to wear shorts on a hot afternoon.

That four skirts found in the library was considered a serious matter surprised us; that everybody assumed something sinful had taken place was chilling. My friends and I hadn’t formally agreed to a pact of silence, but after hearing what was being inferred by our classmates, we had no choice. As the hours and days of that last week of school passed, and the rumors became more scintillating, confessing seemed like a dangerous option. While we weren’t guilty of what they were saying, we weren’t entirely innocent, either. Fortunately, the principal hadn’t been specific about the clothing when he first made his announcement, and no one had made the connection to our shorts protest. The best thing to do was lay low and wait for summer to save us, which it eventually did. We said goodbye to elementary school with its antiquated dress codes and never saw those skirts again.

Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, was signed into law in 1972, and yet, seven years later, when I was in 6th grade, our public school was still following a gender-based dress code. I’m not sure when, how, or why they finally updated it, but I like to think my three friends and I planted a seed of change. Whenever I’m discouraged by how far we have to go in our quest for gender equality, I look back on this time, when girls weren’t allowed to wear shorts, and I marvel at how far we’ve come—quite a long way, baby.


About the Author

Michelle Riddell

Michelle Riddell lives with her husband, daughter, and two dogs in rural mid-Michigan, where she writes, edits, and teaches elementary school. Her hobbies include trying to stay positive, convincing her daughter to taste different foods, and anything outdoors in wintertime. Find her work on Facebook @ReaderWriterRunnerWife and Twitter @MLRiddell.

Our Mother-Daughter Book Club: A Touchstone in New Territory


By Emily Carpenter—Almost a year ago, my friend Stacy asked me and another friend of hers I didn’t know to meet at Panera to talk about the possibility of forming a Mother-Daughter Book Club. Where did she learn about the idea? Pinterest. She introduced Marianne to me, and showed us the book, Her Next Chapter. All three of us had eldests that were in 3rd grade at the time—we were journeying together. On my drive home that night, I felt a tiny tectonic shift into a new territory of parenting. Acknowledging our 8-year-old daughters were growing and sponging everything up and now interpreting it through different lenses, deciding to form this book club as a touchstone for them is something for which I’ll always be grateful to Stacy. The girls were even more excited than we were. My daughter Zoe was drawn in because this meant she could “go out at night like a mom.” For the first few book club meetings, the moms had to do a lot of modeling of conversation, taking turns, asking each other questions, and so on.

girlsoncouchAs we looked forward to each month’s meeting, the girls were paying so much attention to different aspects of the book as they read because they knew they’d get a chance to explore all of it at book club with friends. One really fun part was noticing foods they ate in the book and then each of us picking something applicable to bring to eat at book club! I think the most interesting thing we ate was the “cut-up” we made from Turtle in Paradise. In the book, all the kids bring something—anything!—to go into the “cut-up”: avocado, onion, papaya, potato, banana, pineapple, lime juice, and hot sauce. We duplicated it! (It was one of those things you’re not sure you like but you keep eating to figure it out.)

By the time we got to My Life with the Chimpanzees (our 7th month of book club), the girls wanted to answer the call to action Jane suggests at the end. They all decided to write to Hillary Clinton as a strong woman leader. (The theme for that month was Chapter 10 from Her Next Chapter: “Girls Are Leaders! Laying the Foundation for Future Adult Female Leadership”). We explained that just because they don’t hear back from her doesn’t mean the message won’t be read—she has lots of letters come her way. Well, to our surprise, two of them had their letters published on the Letters to Hillary Tumblr. You can see them here at #10 and #33.

Beginning in October, the girls asked to take the reins. Each one has chosen a month and a book and is writing the questions and leading discussion. As a mother, the part I cherish most is that, regardless of temperament on any other given day at home or at school, they always seem to arrive at book club open and willing to share. I have found our Mother-Daughter Book Club an invaluable resource in raising an empowered, informed, and educated daughter.

I daresay, this may go down as the biggest Pinterest-win of all time!


About the Author


Emily Carpenter is a bit of a Jill-of-all-trades: blogger, organizer, digital media creator/ producer, and mother of three very different humans. A graduate of Penn State with a BFA in Musical Theatre, Emily also teaches music and performs, and most importantly never turns down a cappuccino with lots of froth on top. You can find Emily on Instagram and Facebook. You can follow her book club blog here.

Reading Aloud: It’s Not Just For Little Kids

By Emily Sexton—I read to my children every night. My kindergartner just turned 6, so there is nothing remarkable about that—we read picture books and early reader chapter series like Owl Diaries, the The Princess in Black and those never-ending Rainbow Magic fairy books, along with age appropriate-ish books about astronomy and math or whatever she is currently into.

More surprising for most people is that I still read to my rising 8th grader as well. We graduated from picture books and The Magic Tree House ages ago, but over the years it has proved to be a really fabulous experience on a lot of levels. I got the idea to just keep on reading together until he said he was ready to stop. This suggestion came from a former colleague who mentioned that he was reading A Conspiracy of Dunces with his high schooler. When my son was a reluctant reader, in part because he thought that we would stop reading to him once he learned to read, my promise to read with him as long as he wanted took on greater importance. Learning to read himself didn’t have to mean the end of reading aloud together.

There is research out there about the benefits of reading aloud to older kids, in both home life and educational contexts—kids process information differently when listening and reading aloud to them can expose them to deeper concepts and vocabulary than they might encounter on their own. But really, we just kept on doing it because we enjoy it. As he has gotten older and our lives have gotten busier, it is dedicated time for just the two of us—no little sister, no dad, no video games or mobile phones. Bedtime is still special, and it has become time when he can share things about his life that we might not talk about over the dinner table, big and small. Just the other night I told him about being on bed rest when I was pregnant with him and craving chocolate cupcakes. I haven’t a clue what prompted that conversation, but it was a joy.

As he has gotten older, in addition to popular favorites like Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson, or classics like Oliver Twist, my son and I have explored series that are not necessarily on the most-read lists for tween boys—His Dark MaterialsFever Crumbbooks with strong female protagonists that popular culture would tell us boys are not interested in pursuing. Reading together has also provided opportunities to discuss how literature intersects with our lives. We were reading To Kill a Mockingbird in spring of 2015 when Freddie Gray was relatively local news and we talked about the parallels between the book and current events and how many aspects of racial politics have changed depressingly little in 80 years. We are currently reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents and it was my son who pointed out the similarities between the fictional presidential candidate Jarrett and certain political candidates in the 2016 election.

Overall, this has also been an amazing way to not only share some of my favorite literature with my son, but to do so in a way that is more meaningful than handing him a book, suggesting he read it, and then asking him what he thought. He can ask questions about what we’re reading in real time and we can make connections to our lives and the world around us. Just as we’ve selected books based on his interests, reading together has sparked his curiosity about new things and helped identify activities and events of interest in our community. The profound conversations we had about To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman led me to take him to the opera Appomattox, which combined his well-established interest in military history with his new curiosity about the Civil Rights Movement. The powerful messages of the opera led us to the March autobiographical graphic novels about John Lewis (that we read independently, but talked about extensively).

I am certain that the clock is ticking down for this togetherness. Before long, my soon-to-be-teenager will decide that it’s time to stop having mom read to him every night. Maybe we’ll adapt—do things more casually, just on weekends, or just when we feel like it. Or maybe he’ll quit cold turkey and just kick me out of his room for good. I will be sad when that day comes, although I will get more sleep. I will always treasure this experience we’ve had together, and, more importantly, I think he will too.


About the Author

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Emily is: poet, wannabe novelist, lawyer, mother, Grounded Parents blogger, and she could do it all if only there were more hours in the day. She can usually be found nursing a beverage and reading something. You can find her on Twitter and Goodreads as emandink.





Try To Be A Rainbow In Someone’s Cloud

By Erin Tarr—“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”

As I sat in the stuffy arena, mortarboard atop my head and polyester gown flowing around me, surrounded by hundreds of other eager graduates, I heard Maya Angelou utter these words as our university commencement speaker.

I was so green, young, naïve, and ultimately clueless.


Despite my 4+ years at university, I really had no idea what my mission, passion, or true calling in life might be. So, although the phrase sounded nice, I hadn’t a clue how to be a rainbow for anyone else while I felt I was doing the best I could to navigate my own cloud.

Let’s rewind a bit though, all the way back to junior high….

I don’t know about you, but the middle and high school years were rough for me. Sure there were pockets of good and fun-filled times, but I always felt like I was just a little … I don’t know… not.quite.there.


I felt like pretty much everyone else had it figured out, and I was just doing my best to fake it.

Everyone else seemed…

  • better dressed
  • more confident
  • more mature
  • more in style
  • more athletic
  • to have better hair
  • to have better friendships
  • to understand the world so much more
  • smarter (I was the average student in the high classes.)

I felt like I was constantly working to try to fit in, but in my head I was woefully and acutely aware that I never would.

When popular girls paid any attention to me at all, I was simultaneously giddy that they thought I was worthy enough of their attention and completely tongue-tied and nervous that I was going to say or do something to reassure them that I was not in fact worth their time.

popular girls

I was so ridiculously awkward!

I often wonder, even now, if any of what I was feeling was felt by the popular girls as well.

Did they, too, need reassurance? Were they also as self-absorbed as I was, simply trying to fit in and maintain their social status? Did they struggle with self-esteem? Did they worry about … anything?

I also wonder whether guys had these issues during those same years.

Looking back now, I just wish I had someone to tell me that…

  • these feelings were normal and I wasn’t the only one.
  • that it would all be ok, and I could chill out.
  • constantly worrying about all of this was a waste of my time and energy.
  • everyone feels like an imposter sometimes.
  • if you stop focusing on all your own insecurities and start contributing to building others up in your community—you will all
  • if I had specific insecurities, they would be a safe person to talk to and help me work through them.
  • having a boyfriend was not the answer to fitting in (or anything else).


I wish I had known that being the rainbow for someone else (teachers, parents, the popular girls, whoever!) would have made all the difference to my own spiral of negative self-talk, self- doubt, and insecurities.

I wish that I had a Maya Angelou (or someone like her) to speak truth and wisdom into my life. I wish I had a “non-mom mentor” who I could have turned to, or even who would have butted in and given me unsolicited advice to consider with each turn in the road.

This is why I exist

…so someday fewer girls have to look back with these wishes listed above.

…so they can walk more confidently into their future with a better understanding of who they are, and their place in this world.

…so they can embrace their uniqueness, and be a rainbow every day to make this world a brighter and better place, both as a young girl and as they grow into womanhood.

Today I can confidently say that I’ve changed my mindset, I’ve embraced my own uniqueness, and I love myself. Doe to all of this, I am able to be a rainbow today in someone else’s cloud almost every day. I hope you can too!


About the Author

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Erin Tarr is the founder and Head Confidence Coach at Be the Benchmark ( She is a speaker, writer, and mentor to young girls ages 8 – 18, coaching them in small groups and 1:1 to help them become the best version of themselves. A mother – she considers her own three girls her primary “clients.”

The Frog Whisperer

By Jenna Stewart—Flowers, butterflies, pretty pink dresses and ponies with ribbons—those are things many people typically think about when they think of little girls.

Yet, what about little girls who pet frogs? Or little girls who choose a Godzilla figurine over a princess doll? Well, that was me, a small, blonde-haired, squeaky-voiced little girl with an affection for Godzilla. My dad said he was shocked when his dainty, sweet two-year-old pointed at the ugly, plastic Godzilla with love and adoration, not fear in her eyes. He laughed, said “sure,” and the poorly painted Godzilla came to live with us.

GodzillaI surprised my parents again shortly after Godzilla moved into my bedroom. I was around three years old at this point, it was summer and we were at the family cottage. From the small beach at our cottage I smiled up at my parents and said, “look daddy, I have made a friend.” And there I was, knelt down gently petting a frog! It just sat there and let me softly stroke its throat, head and back. We became friends that day, the frog and myself, and my parents once again laughed in disbelief at their little girl. Frog hunting became a staple activity at our cottage. We never kept them long, just long enough to say hi, give them a little pet, and then off they went on their way. I still to this day can convince a frog to be friends, although not with the ease and enthusiasm as my three-year-old self.

I don’t know if it was just natural to me or if my parents taught us this, but I always emphasized observing nature. To be able to just be in nature and gently interact with it, without obviously disrupting it, is a gift. I was granted this gift early on as a child and for that I am so grateful.

I was also blessed with parents who didn’t teach me about society’s version of what it meant to “be a girl.” I had a little brother, but during our childhood I was always encouraged do what he did and vice versa. Together we played with dinosaurs, batman figurines, stuffies and Barbies. There was no division as children – for children are just children.

frog in handI can’t thank my mother and father enough for this, for I had no limitations. I could do and be whomever I wanted, as long as I continued to live at the moral standard that they taught us. That moral standard included treating everyone and everything with kindness. I hope I can continue to pass on their message. Let children be children and treat the world not as yours to do with as you please, but to treasure as a shared home for all of nature’s wonders.

Remember that this home of ours is filled with magic, just not in magic’s traditional manner. I never did kiss my frog prince but that is because I never needed a prince. My frog friend was magic enough.

About the Author

Head shotJenna is an artist, author and teacher. In 2014, she published her first book of prose and art called There Is This Place with Insightful Communications Publishing. With this prose she hopes to inspire her readers to see the magic and beauty in life’s simplest things. She illustrates for other independent authors and creates personal drawings and paintings commissions. Her work is almost always inspired by nature; her message is to remind us to nurture and appreciate it; and her passion is creativity in its infinite forms. Jenna also holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) degree from the University of Waterloo and is a certified teacher with the Simcoe County District School Board. There she brings her affection for creativity and the love of simplistic values to the classroom.

– “Sometimes, the most beautiful is the simplest.”



Defining Masculinity as the Absence of Femininity: A Preschool Teacher’s Story


By Christie Angleton— Gender performance is something I think about a lot. As a preschool teacher and PhD student – not to mention as a mom – I have a research interest in the ways kids navigate and express gender in their lives. In my experience, girls tend to have an easier time of it when they bend, or even break, gender stereotypes. My own daughter prefers Darth Vader to Disney Princesses, and no one ever bats an eye over her preferences. For the boys in my class, however, singing songs from Frozen or sporting a Princess Leia shirt tends to ruffle feathers.

Our school recently hosted a Spring Fling, complete with a temporary tattoo booth. The next day, our class hosted a pajama day. Ben entered the classroom in his Batman pajamas, proudly displaying a Frozen tattoo he had chosen the previous night. As he excitedly approached his friends, sleeve pulled up proudly, one boy pointed to the tattoo and said, “Oh, why’d you get a Frozen one?! That’s just for girls!” Ben quickly rolled his sleeve down to cover the tattoo.


Yes, I intervened, reiterating to the group that “boy things” and “girl things” are something we’ve talked about many times before – that colors, toys, and experiences are for everybody. This is a dialogue we’ve had since the beginning of the school year. And yet, worry crept in. Because we’ve been having this conversation in many variations since August. Okay, this 4-year-old kid slipped into a common social expectation: Frozen is for girls. But I worry about the conversations that will inevitably happen when no one is there to offer support.

I worry that eventually Ben will let these comments influence the choices that he makes: Ben, who occasionally comes to school in sparkly nail polish and frequently disrupts the comments of children who categorize toys, talk, and activities as “for boys” or “for girls.” Ben, who, in addition to this Frozen tattoo is also wearing Batman pajamas on this classroom pj day, and yet, in the eyes of his peers is somehow less of a boy because he likes Frozen. I worry about the girls overhearing this exchange: how they might perceive comments about their interests as somehow less, because their interests are “for girls.” I worry about my own daughter and the choices she makes, and how these seemingly innocuous comments might influence her, Ben, and others to not be true to themselves.

For now, Ben simply rolls down his sleeve and changes the subject. But what about the next time he is offered something deemed “girls only” by his friends? Will he remember the way he felt on pj day and make a different choice, even if it’s not what he desires for himself? Will he quiet his own voice as he did on this day?

Navigating gender is tricky business, in preschool and in life. Validating kids’ lived experiences isn’t something I take lightly. But for all my hard work, the worry continues to creep in. I’m one small voice among many louder ones. But I’ll keep at it, for Ben, for my daughter, for all of the kids who won’t be boxed in – because Darth Vader and Frozen aren’t “just for boys” or “just for girls.” They’re for everyone – children – boys and girls alike.



About the Author












Christie Angleton is a preschool teacher and PhD student with a strong research interest in gender performance and expression in children. She is moderately obsessed with books, coffee, and social justice advocacy. She blogs about preschool and her teaching practice at

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