When my mother was young, she was a somewhat apprehensive kid, afraid to try new things, on the shy side, easily hurt. She didn’t like to get dirty or touch bugs and animals. But when she was 12 years old, she saw the movie In Search of the Castaways, and everything changed. In the movie a boy and girl (played by Hayley Mills) experience adventures and escape peril. In one scene, sitting in a tree over a cracked-mud desert, the two of them having just escaped a flash flood, the boy says to the girl, “You’re not like other girls. You’re not afraid to try things.” After my mother saw this movie, she determined to be like its heroine—unafraid and willing to pursue adventure.
“I thought about that scene at specific times,” my mom said, “such as when I was signing up for biology. I was nervous because I was going to have to dissect a frog, which I didn’t want to do. But I signed up, dissected a frog, touched it with my bare hands. I held a snake in health class to prove that girls weren’t afraid. I took Spanish. I went to China. Ultimately, I made life-changing decisions. I got out of my books and lived an authentic life.”
My mother told me of her silver screen epiphany when I was young, and this, in turn, became a sort of motto throughout my life: I wanted to be a girl who tried things, who wasn’t afraid. When faced with a decision, I would think to myself, Don’t be like other girls, which gave me license to be courageous and a little bit different. As my mom told me recently, “You were never really a tomboy, but you also sort of made your own path.” I climbed trees and dug for worms. I played trumpet in the school band and took to the stage in drama club. I went to college nine states away in a place I had never been and played intramural football. I fell in love, got my heart broken, and learned to love again.
I hesitate now to stoop to pitting women against each other in the low-brow game of comparison. These days, instead of Don’t be like other girls, I might say, Do something unexpected. Regardless, as an adult, I’ve discovered there are other girls, now women, who also weren’t “like other girls” growing up, women who also did things a little differently from the crowd and have the stories and scars to show for it, and they’ve become my tribe. Their authenticity, thirst for life, and pursuit of beauty and adventure make them wonderful friends and companions.
My mom modeled and continues to model a life of courage and adventure and laid the groundwork for a relationship where I could trust her advice. Even though I had my mantra, there were still times I got stuck on some decision or paralyzed by the possibilities and my mom was there to talk to and give me just the push I needed. She was always there when it counted.
As parents, we have an immense opportunity and responsibility to shape and influence our children. They watch us. They listen to us, even when we think they don’t. I doubt my mom knows how much it affected me when she told me of her experience with In Search of the Castaways, but it is those times when we share the transformative moments in our own lives that we are potentially changing the lives of others.
Rachel Womelsduff Gough and her family ditched the city for a patch of earth in the Snoqualmie Valley. Cheered on by her husband and two blonde babes, Rachel learns by getting her hands dirty, whether it’s gardening, chicken farming, neighboring, or adventuring with soulmates in wild places. She is a Master of Divinity student at Fuller Theological Seminary, and she can’t live without books, coffee, and mountains.