Melody Lumpkin


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Girl Scouts and Flying

I pulled up in the carpool line yesterday and saw my child waiting with the widest grin.  She came bounding over to our car waving an envelope, barely able to contain her excitement.  She was yelling, “I can learn to fly!  I can learn to fly!!”  For months, she and three of her friends (dubbed the Fearless Flyers) have been trying to figure out a way to fly.  I was eager to hear of her latest plan.  Most of the plans up until this point have involved balloons, cliffs, trampolines, feathers taped to cardboard wings, or any combination of the above.  I’ve gently discouraged the more dangerous trials.  Today’s plan was different.  Inside her envelope was her Girl Scout cookie sales form.  One of the prizes for selling cookies was lessons at a trapeze school shown with a picture that said, “Learn to Fly.”

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Of course to get this prize, one has to sell 1,500 boxes of cookies (at $4 a pop, that’s $6,000 dollars worth of cookies).  We talked about what that would look like.  Last year she sold sixty-ish boxes of cookies, her entire troop sold around 1,200.  I told her to sell that many cookies, she would actually have to talk to people, maybe even people she didn’t know really well (which has traditionally been very hard for her).  She thought about this.  As soon as we got home, she was out of the car and asking neighbors to buy cookies.  She has plans to reach her goal.

When I got a chance, I put a status on Facebook announcing that she is selling cookies and her (outlandish) goal.  Then something amazing happened.  People started messaging me, and sharing on her behalf and cookie orders started coming in.  My child is surrounded by people who believe in her and want to see her succeed.  This overwhelms me and humbles me regularly.  Thank you friends.

While I don’t really expect my kid to sell 1,500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, it wouldn’t surprise me too much.  She’s kind of amazing, and she’s got a great support team.

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Train Ride

I was sitting in the Hollywood/Highland Metro station, reading and waiting for the train that would take me home.   Giggles and movement behind me drew my attention, the kind of giggles that sounded like teens who were doing something wrong and laughing at their boldness.  I started listening.

Two girls, young teens, were trying to get the attention of a man sitting directly behind me (we were back to back).  I listened as they claimed to be strippers and offered him a “private show.”  He enjoyed their attention and gave them contact information for sending pictures.  They claimed to be 18 and 21 years old, but I’m pretty sure they were much younger.  As I sat and listened, my mind raced, trying to figure out what to do.

The train came and the girls got on the same car as me.  They turned their attention to a new man and did something that resulted in him giving them three one dollar bills.  Then they moved to the seats directly across from me.  I watched as they turned all their attention to the young man closest to them.  He was not interested.  Just before they got off at the next station, we briefly made eye contact.  They saw the pity and sadness in my eyes and they laughed.  It wasn’t a laugh of mirth, but a hard laugh of fear and defiance.

The rest of my ride home those two girls dominated my thoughts.  I wish I would have said something, done something.  I wanted to tell them, “You are worth more than this.”

When I got home, I scooped up my two young daughters and told them again that they are smart, wonderful, and full of potential.  I snuggled with them as they watched the end of Ice Age 2, listened as they recounted their favorite parts.  The difference in the two experiences was jarring.  What I didn’t say to the girls on the train, I say to my girls.  I hope the girls on the train have someone who will say these things to them, over and over until they believe it.


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Cinderella the Slave

I have two daughters that I am raising in the United States, which means Disney princesses are a part of my life.  For the first few years of my older daughter’s life, we were able to keep the princesses out.  Around her third birthday, they started creeping in.  As a feminist and a Christian, the princess narrative is not one I want my daughters to internalize.  We are a talky family–we talk about anything and everything.  As the princesses started to make their way into our home, we started having conversations about them–about marketing, “why do you think a company put Cinderella on this cup?”; about the damsel in distress role, “what could she have done to save herself?”; about relationships, “can you really love someone you just met?”.

I wasn’t really surprised yesterday when Disney’s Cinderella came up in conversation yesterday.  My older daughter was reimagining the story line, adding in zip lines and “super secret spy outfits.”  As we were talking about the story, she asked, “Why didn’t she just leave?”  This is when I realized that Cinderella was a slave.  The story of Cinderella, like many fairy tales, is a way of introducing children to the harsh realities of the world.  Cinderella was an orphan, one of the most vulnerable groups of people.  After her father died, she lived as a slave in her own home.  She was abused, neglected, and made to work for long hours.  If she complained or asked for anything, she was punished and her situation became worse.

As we were talking about the psychological aspect of slavery (how the slave is made to think they have no other options), I thought of Shyima Hall.  When Shyima was eight years old (the same age as my oldest), her poverty stricken parents sold her for $30 into slavery.  After a couple of years, the family that bought her moved with Shyima from Egypt to Irvine, California (less than an hour away from us).  For two years, Shyima lived with this family in a nice house in Irvine.  She was made to cook and clean and not allowed to go to school or even leave the house.  She slept on a dirty mattress in the garage.  The family told her that if she went to the police she would be beaten.  It wasn’t a fairy godmother that saved her, but a neighbor who called a hotline because they suspected something wasn’t right.

Yesterday as we were talking about Cinderella and Shyima, about slavery and foster care, we talked about what we can do to end slavery.  (As talky as we are, I haven’t explained that many slaves in the US and in other countries are young girls forced into prostitution.)  I want to teach my girls to be the fairy godmother, not the princess.  I want them to use what power and privilege they have to help others, to make the world safer and better, not by singing “bibbity bobbity boo” but by being aware of the people around them and what they need.  By raising money to help agencies that work to free slaves.  By buying fairly traded chocolate.  By giving money to help families feed their children.  By working at the food bank.  By treating each and every person as though they are made in the image of God.

If you want to read more of Shyima’s story, her book Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern Day Child Slave was just released yesterday.