Lisa Sloane recalls of her teenage years that nothing remarkable accompanied her transition to adulthood besides a shift in biology. When her daughter Eliza entered the same life transition a couple of years ago, Lisa sought to do things differently. Religious ceremonies that celebrated coming of age weren’t a good fit for their family, so Lisa would have to create something anew. “I called the moms of the girls who were in the seventh grade with my daughter at Mountain Laurel Waldorf School,” says Sloane, “and got them together. We talked about our own experiences at that age—how there was no honoring, no acknowledgment, a real sense of aloneness. We didn’t have many people to look toward to offer guidance.”
These mothers envisioned something better: a multigenerational sisterhood of sorts, to support their girls as they moved out of the nest. “We wanted to give them a safety net of women besides their mothers,” says Sloane, “where the girls could spread their wings in new ways and discover themselves.” Around that time, Sloane met David Brownstein, director of Wild Earth Wilderness School in New Paltz and one of the men in a mentoring network in the area for young men and boys. (See Chronogram’s December 2009 issue, “A Mentoring Community.”) Brownstein recommended Amy McTear and Hilton Purvis, both of New Paltz, as creative, positive role models who might help the mothers create something for the girls.
McTear is a mother of two daughters and a spiritual counselor and sound healer, who also brings her music and art to children in public schools “to empower and revitalize the spirit of children.” A few years earlier she and some of the mothers met for a while, each month at the full moon, with their daughters to support the girls at this critical time. “We wanted to strengthen our daughters against the fairly negative image of the female they get from the popular culture,” McTear explains. “A lot of research proves that girls dumb themselves down and become submissive after a certain age. We didn’t want our daughters to lose their vitality, their power.” McTear was happy to devise a program for the Mountain Laurel girls.
Hilton Purvis was already involved in the mentoring community of her sons and husband in New Paltz, and was delighted to cocreate a coming-of-age process for girls. “I wish more kids could have this,” she says. “There is something about the pivotal age of 13. So much happens so fast after that—there is so much in media, computers, and some really poor stuff to distract them. The goal is to develop consciousness in kids earlier.”
The Power of Challenge
McTear and Purvis planned out a program of nature adventure for the half-dozen girls that lasted a year and a half and ulminated with a weekend rites-of-passage ceremony. Says McTear, “We wanted the girls to be who they truly are, to stand in the world and give their gifts in the greatest way. We met once a month for a long day, sometimes overnight in the woods. We covered survival skills, so they could feel strong and capable. We talked about such things as body image, self-esteem, and relationships with parents, the opposite sex, and self. Among the requirements we had of them was to find something they really loved, and learn about it with a mentor, then teach that to the community. They also learned about their ancestral backgrounds.”
Eliza Sloane, now 13, describes one feature of their outings: talking circles. “To start off each meeting we would have a check-in circle about how we were doing, and what was going on in our lives. It was one of the basic things we did, and it was a kind of stress reliever. Then the group leaders would bring up a topic they had planned ahead that we’d talk about. It was different from the sorts of conversations girls my age would have, where there is no grown-up. We were seeking advice a little.”
Sharing personal things with others can be a challenge, but it’s also growthful and bonding. The same was true of the outdoor activities. “Some of the activities were hard for a lot of us,” Eliza recalls, “testing our boundaries—things like building a fire with only one match, swimming one at a time across a lake that was muddy and murky, and going for hikes and staying overnight. But once we did them, we liked it.”