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Grandmother to girls: glittery shoes, hair ribbons and hard questions

BiologyThe Miami Herald

And she makes five.

When Claire Renee, all wrinkled skin and wispy black hair, arrived on Election Day, the first child of my middle son, this precious (and, of course, precocious) addition confirmed a trend. Mine is now a family of granddaughters, a new generation of pink and purple, of glittery shoes, plastic jewelry and hair ribbons.

As the mother of four sons and a daughter who was forced into tomboy-hood for survival, this is quite a novelty. If I add my late sister's two granddaughters, born in September and October, I'm the official and unofficial abuela to seven, count 'em seven, princesses.

The girliness can be overwhelming. The drama. The tears. The batting of lashes. And they're still pre-schoolers!

Is this natural or learned? A little of both, I suspect.

Of course, Claire has not a clue about the complicated world of gender and sexuality. She knows only hunger and similarly basic urges. This morning my son proudly texted: We got six poops yesterday.

Boys do that, too -- I can attest to that. They don't, however, wear hilariously large bows on their tiny little heads, as Claire did for a darling picture her mother emailed me. (How did grandparents survive without technology?!)

I came of age at a time when women were fighting for rights their daughters now take for granted. Men dominated classrooms and boardrooms. To reach the glass ceiling (titanium roof would be a better description), you didn't show your "feminine" skills, you never spoke about family, and when your children got sick, you faked a stomach flu.

More than 30 years ago, when I was pregnant for the first time, the newspaper I worked at had no maternity policy. None. Didn't need one. No female reporter had ever returned to work after giving birth. Today's newsrooms are filled with talented young women who wouldn't put up with such folly.

While our attitudes and expectations have evolved, our behavior sometimes still tends toward the traditional. So I find myself in an awkward position in this post-feminist era.

When I shop for the girls, I'm attracted to the frilly-bottomed tights, the flowery headbands, the lace-edged ankle socks. The girlier, the better.

To counter this, I've filled a plastic play bin not with boas and tiaras but with treasures from my backyard: a desiccated lizard, a cracked robin's egg, an abandoned beehive, a sliver of snake skin. I've demonstrated how to catch a grasshopper with bare hands and insisted that Rapunzel owns a national chain of hair salons.

Do they hear me? Will it matter?

Years ago, up to here with a dinner table conversation dominated by her brothers, my daughter blurted: "There's so much testosterone in here." I hadn't noticed, so inured was I to their raucous exploits.

Now I'm shifting gears. Assessing. Questioning. When I cradle little Claire in my arms, I chafe at the idea of biology as destiny, of biology as anything. I want her to be fearless and feminine, to learn how to wield a pink hammer and deconstruct the molecular makeup of her nail polish. I want, I want, I want.

For her, I want no boundaries, just clear sailing.

(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)

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