By Janelle Hardy
I still feel fierce when I think about what happened.
I’ve been loving all the giddiness of my 11 year old daughter and her 12 year old cousin, and the sheer delight they get out of each other’s company. We spent a summer swimming, splashing, hunting for crayfish, constructing rafts, getting crafty, giggly and silly. I am smiling as I write this, two years later.
In the midst of all this lightheartedness, something happened that has been on my mind.
I was at the river with the kids; a 10-minute walk through the forest to get to a glorious bend in the river, with high cliffs rising up one side, encircling what’s called Paradise Pool. We had swum to the other side of the pool and I was warming up in a patch of sunlight on a rock—so much like a lizard—while the two kids played happily in the tiny nooks and crannies of water in the rocks.
There were a lot of tubers drifting and floating by. Tubing is a popular hot weather pastime on Vancouver Island in the summer, a great way to enjoy an unplugged day without getting overheated. A lot of people drink as they spend the day tubing, and that day many of the tubers seemed a little inebriated.
The kids found a crayfish and were bending over excitedly trying to catch it. My daughter had chosen to swim fully clothed in her tank top and jean shorts. She also happened to be bent over with her bum facing the river. As a group of tubers floated by two men in their 20s hooted and hollered at my daughter’s scrawny, upturned backside.
It was a split second reaction for me.
I went from daydreaming in the sunshine to snarling, “Hey! That’s my daughter and she’s 11 years old!”
My hackles were raised, lips drawn back, poised with teeth bared and ready to draw blood. The wolfmother in me had come out in her full fury.
The two men were idiots—quite drunk, and my yell barely got their attention, although it was still enough to stop their rude noises. Their friends tubing after them looked at me nervously and with embarrassed expressions. People on the other side of the river all had their heads raised. My daughter also looked up briefly, too engrossed in her play to have realized the noise was directed at her, but aware enough of my emotional tone to look my way.
My heart was pounding, and I was furious. Had those men continued I would easily have run down the side of the river and torn into them.
It was an energy that was ferocious, unbidden and new to me. As much as I try to avoid conflict, to play nice, to “understand” people, I discovered a wolfmother living right under my skin who was not willing to be that “nice” person.
I felt wild and half feral on the side of the river, barely clothed in my bikini, on alert—invisible ears pricked, teeth ready, tail bristly and extended, every muscle fiber in me ready to defend my daughter and her right to be herself, in her own skin, at play with her cousin at the river.
I am so grateful for that wolfmother energy because my regular old self wouldn’t have snarled, wouldn’t have leaped up with a fierce and clear anger in her eyes, wouldn’t have been as clear about appropriate behaviour and the right to defend my daughter’s boundaries. My regular old self would have been unsure, or scared, or both, but the wolfmother is none of that. The wolfmother knows exactly what do to do defend her family. When I needed an energy like that, it came right through me.
What a powerful force to draw on!
This experience has really been with me ever since. I write a lot about our bodies, creativity and everyday life because I believe so certainly that it’s all interconnected.
My focus on our bodies and how we inhabit them as we beam our creative energy into the world is a personal and favoured bias. I’m all about embodied creativity. I believe that how we live in our bodies affects how we live creatively. My daughter is starting to grow into womanhood. My thoughts are currently occupied a great deal by our culture’s approaches to sexuality, femininity, sexual energy and it’s connection to creativity.
I am also occupied by my own challenges in my desire to be a good and healthy guide to my daughter.
And because my daughter is on the cusp of womanhood I’m now seeing and experiencing, from the other side, the fear that causes parents to teach their daughters how to shrink, to be small, and to shut down and hide their beauty from the world.
I’m seeing it because I’m seeing my incredibly beautiful vivacious daughter getting so tall, so much more beautiful, her lanky child’s body growing into a woman’s body, and with that, receiving grownup attention that she is not yet ready for, nor does she understand.
My daughter is not yet 12 years old, and in her, I see myself at 12 (except shyer), my own beauty, and the fears that my growing beauty, femininity, sexuality and external attention must have triggered in my parents at the same age.
Why is it that the reaction to this fertile incredible beauty seems to be to teach girls to feel shame, to hide themselves? Yet at the same time, in the media, telling them to display themselves? Why is it that girls and boys are not truly taught the anatomy of their own beautiful bodies, or how to be respectful of that energy, and how to manage it without scaring or hurting others?
Why is it that those men felt it was fine to hoot and holler at a young girl, and why is it that I was the only one to take them to task?
Finally, why has it taken almost 12 years of parenting for my own wolfmother to come out? She would have been useful earlier on!
In learning how to connect to my own energies, and my own body, have I finally given permission for the feral, the wild, the ferocious in me to be voiced? If so, how do I teach my daughter to do the same? I don’t want her to lose her voice the way I did, and struggle to regain it.
As usual, I’m curious. What are your thoughts? As women, and as men, and as parents or caregivers of young ones, what does this bring up? How do you remain embodied and able to voice your fury when it’s necessary? How do you keep our young women safe? How do you teach boys and men to respect each other’s bodies and sexual energy?
What are your boundaries, and what would push you? When does your wolfmother come out snarling?
Janelle Hardy was born and raised in the feral Yukon of Canada, currently making her home in the Cowichan Warmlands of Vancouver Island. You can find her art, writing and workshops at her website.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak