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Scheme of Things

What Makes A Captain?
By Nan S. Russell
May 5, 2013 - 6:48:40 PM

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A favorite game with my granddaughters, ages 3 and 6, is an imaginary one they call, "Princess Pirates." In the early days of its evolution they labeled it "Pirate Ship," but this year it evolved to have a gender slant.

Played on the guest room bed, where we stay while visiting, the hardwood floor is a place of peril, which everyone needs to avoid by staying on the ship. Sometimes there are alligators, bad fairies, or mean pirates to contend with. But always it's an evolving story made up by the two of them, complete with hand-drawn "maps" and on-board "supplies," which look a lot like toys, but are magically transformed into food, communication devices, enchanted weaponry, and crew. It's always great fun.

On this visit, the plot changed to involve a captain. "You be the captain, Nana," the youngest commanded. "No!" her sister remarked. "Only GrDad (their name for their grandfather) can be the captain, because he's the boy." Mind you, GrDad was not in the room or playing at the time, nor has he been a "boy" for a long time.

Despite my insistence girls can be captains, too, my oldest granddaughter was not swayed. Even when her grandfather joined us and explained to her the gender-neutral role of "captain," Neva would hear none of it. To her a captain is a boy. Where that came from is unknown; certainly not her parents, grandparents, or adult relatives. But messages, subtle and otherwise, are everywhere.

At a time when debates over whether it's "glass ceilings" or "stickie floors" holding woman back, whether work-life balance is even possible, and what equal opportunity really means, I'm wondering, in this month where we pause to honor our mothers' contributions to our lives, what messages my mother, their great-grandmother, would have for these princess-pirates about work.

Growing up, my mother was the only mom who worked in our neighborhood. Working full-time as a school secretary wasn't something she desired. But, it was challenging times. Our possessions had been consumed in a house fire, my father was out of work, and my brother quite ill - so when the job was offered she eagerly accepted, retiring 30-years later.

Her job made the difference in our family's ability to pay mounting medical bills; made the difference in moving from a rental home with mattresses on the floor to an owned one; and made a difference in college as a possibility. My mother's work, eventually augmenting my father's, created undreamt of possibilities for our family. It wasn't her title that mattered. But, at a time when working outside the home for women was unusual, it was the fact that she did.

Decades later, her great-granddaughters live in a different work-world. Whether they want to run for President, strive to be a Supreme Court Justice, a CEO, or the Secretary of State, it's possible. Whether they want to start a business, command a ship, build houses, or engineer roads, it's possible. And whether they want to write books, design software, run a household or a farm, it's possible.

In the scheme of things, that's the message I want for these little granddaughters of mine. With each generation, something more is possible. I am grateful to all the women and men who have, do, and will continue to make things more and more possible for every little girl, and boy!

(c) 2013 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved.

Nan S. Russell is the award-winning author of "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." Her third book, "The Titleless Leader," was published May 2012. More about Nan and her work can be found at www.nanrussell.com.  Sign up to receive Nan's free monthly eColumn at: www.intheschemeofthings.com


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