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This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail, and our contributor community. This week’s newsletter was written by Guelph, Ont.-based writer Brianna Bell.

“A tegu can crush your entire hand with one bite,” the reptile handler said with a smile, while my four year old sat with the black-and-white lizard nestled comfortably in her lap. She was enamoured with the prehistoric-looking Argentine tegu, her pudgy fingers cradling his scaly belly as a small grin curved the corner of her mouth.

I’d never even heard of a tegu before, but we’d decided to visit our local library’s live reptile event. Just 20 minutes earlier, I’d held a tarantula in my open palms while fellow parents gasped around me. Holding a giant spider was not something I really wanted to do, but I was determined to put on a brave face while my daughter looked at me with wide-eyed admiration. As it started to crawl up my arm, I gritted my teeth and smiled – creepy-crawlies are nothing to be scared of, was the message I hoped I was sending her. Girls don’t have to be afraid of anything. My plan had one drawback, though, as my preschooler was now on the verge of begging to bring home a relative of the dinosaur as a pet, one with a mouth strong enough to break our fingers at any moment.

This wasn’t the first and it definitely wouldn’t be the last time I found myself in a compromising position while trying to teach my daughters a lesson about what womanhood, or girlhood, can look like. I’m a mother to three girls; the little tegu lover is now eight, and I also have a 10- and five-year-old.

Having three children who happen to all be girls is a fact about me often met with a mixture of raised eyebrows, chuckles, grimaces and every unsolicited opinion you could imagine. I feel like I’m constantly trying to protect my daughters from the expectations of the world. “Oh, your house must be so quiet without boys,” some well-meaning stranger will say to me. “Three girls! Say goodbye to all your money!”

I feel the heavy weight of these assumptions – my girls must be constantly fighting, some people will say. Or, they must just be obsessed with pink. It’s a cacophony of noise that fills my head and overwhelms me, and none of it represents the individualism of my own children, who are three unique human beings and don’t fit neatly into three girly little boxes.

For my own part, I’ve chewed on bugs, hiked into the crevices of caves, climbed rocks and foraged deep into the woods for edible plants. As a journalist, I’ve also written controversial opinions about challenging topics, and proverbially split myself open for the masses to consume and dissect my words.

While we may have drifted away from the outdated adage that girls are “sugar and spice, and everything nice,” there are still societal norms that tell us what a little girl should be like. She probably doesn’t cradle reptiles on her lap or entertain the idea of a tarantula crawling up her arm. She doesn’t collect taxidermy (ahem, we do). She doesn’t scream and slam doors, question well-meaning rules or stick her nose into every conversation about perceived injustices. She doesn’t shop in the boys’ clothing section or have rough calluses on her hands or tattoos or unshaved legs. She doesn’t flaunt her stretch marks as if they’re a badge of honour. She doesn’t, she doesn’t, she doesn’t – the list goes on.

When I look at each of my girls, I see three little individuals who are exploring what it means to live and breathe in a world fraught with fears and challenges. I don’t worry too much about which gender stereotype they’re latching on to – or which ones they aren’t – as much as I try to push aside the thought that any idea, activity or experience is off-limits to them.

When I look back on that day in the library, I see a room full of people watching a mother and a daughter face a new experience together. While that tarantula crawled up my arm, I locked eyes with my child, and I sensed a silent message passing between us. I knew that she was capable of being or doing anything – and in that moment, she did, too. That day, her dream was to hold onto a bone-crushing lizard. And so she did.

What else we’re thinking about

Last year I discovered the world of adorable woodland tattoos – and luckily for me, two exceptional artists with expertise in the matter are located where I live. I’d never planned to get a tattoo, but I couldn’t get the image of a cute anthropomorphic critter wearing a sweater vest out of my head. Earlier this month, I arrived at Guelph’s Spring Fever Tattoo and got my very first ink – an adorable little mouse wearing a sweater and reading a book, his cup of tea nestled beside him. My soft, fleshy bicep is now home to the most non-threatening tat you’ve ever seen. It evokes autumnal feelings and gives me comfort every single time I look at it. “I want a tattoo, but make it cute,” artist Taylar Dobbie joked while she gently (kind of) tattooed me. “Exactly,” I thought. No skulls and crossbones here. Give me all the adorable, soothing, storybook-critter tattoos.


Open this photo in gallery:

Marianne Kushmaniuk for The Globe and Mail

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