Saturday, April 2, 2011

Recent Reads: Dogs and Girls

I finished two books recently - one by a woman who wants to save dogs, the other by a woman who wants to save girls.

You Had Me at Woof, by Julie Klam, has a picture of the sweetest, funniest-looking Boston Terrier on its front cover - so how could I resist?

Klam begins her book by introducing Otto, her first Boston Terrier. She was single, in her thirties, and wondering if she would ever have a relationship. She certainly found a relationship with Otto, and something else as well; she wrote, "I took care of him and he took care of me. Within six months of adopting him, I grew up."

Her relationships grew to include a husband and daughter, and more dogs, as she worked with a Boston Terrier rescue group. She describes her experiences, and the dogs who passed through their lives - Hank, Moses, Dahlia, and others. Some of her stories made me laugh out loud, such as her description of The Omega Institue for Holistic Studies, where she attended a workshop to become an animal communicator. She realized that was not the path for her, reporting "I was glad I'd taken animal communication, but what became clear to me from the experience was that my favorite part of it was telling the stories." And so... she began to write.

She shares stories about puppies and babies; about owners who are shocked (shocked) to find that puppies chew things and don't come housebroken; about old dogs who still can surprise us; about dogs that her daughter dislikes and dogs that her daughter adores. She writes about our responsibility to our dogs, including deciding when it's time to put them to sleep (that chapter reminded me so much of our Homer, and how hard that decision was...).

She concludes, "From Otto, who showed me I could be in a reciprocal nurturing relationship, to Dahlia, who proved that life continues to surprise..., each dog in my life has brought me something or taught me a lesson that improved the quality of my life. I am richer in every way because of the dogs I've known."

I wanted know what was behind the program "Girls on the Run" (GOTR), so I picked up the book Girls on Track: A Parent's Guide to Inspiring Our Daughters to Achieve of Lifetime of Self-Esteem and Respect, by Molly Barker, the founder of the program.

This book is part memoir, part how-to. Barker recounts her own challenges and struggles, which eventually led to her starting a small program, with thirteen girls. She wanted to help young girls escape the "Girl Box" that society has created - to escape "the negative stereotypes and messages they get through the media, culturally, and socially." Thus was GOTR born.

Barker explains
Girls on the Run... is an experiential learning program that combines training girls in grades three to eight for a 3.1-mile running event with games and life lessons that assist in their physical, emotional, mental, social, and  spiritual development. Our mission? To educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. We address the individual girl's identity and personal connections with others, as well as her potential feeling of powerlessness within herself and her community. Participants in Girls on the Run explore the importance of being physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. They examine their own core values and uniqueness. And they also examine body-image issues, sterotyping, and discriminatory behaviors, as well as the importance of maintaining a realistic and healthy view of themselves. Girls take from the program a better understanding of how to process the cultural and social messages they receive through media and other institutions. And they see a stronger place for themselves within their community.

The book includes a chapter that presents lessons and activities that parents and girls can do together, based in part on the work Barker has done with GOTR. The lessons range from "Getting to Know Each Other" and "Making Promises to Each Other," to "Being Physically Healthy" and "Being Emotionally Healthy." They address maintaining balance; avoiding eating disorders; listening skills; gossip; positive attitudes; standing up for yourself; learning to say you're sorry; and other topics - similar to the lessons Barker describes for GOTR.

I'm sure parents would be most interested in those lessons. I found more interesting the insights Barker offered through her own story. One idea in particular caught my attention. She was discussing a particular idea, which she recapped as "we behave in certain ways as the result of two very powerful motives: to be loved and to feel worthwhile." While speaking one day, she inadvertently switched the verbs, so that the phrase became "to feel love and be worthwhile." This is such an interesting change in perspective. We have no control over whether or not we are loved, but we can control whether or not we feel love for others. Again, being worthwhile implies some action on our part, to match our behavior with our inherent, God-given worth.

Anyway... I think the GOTR program has great value, but at the same time, I hope that all of us make an effort to reach out to the girls around us, and not rely on the Molly Barkers and the GOTR coaches of the world to teach girls to respect themselves and to live healthy lives.

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