Even as young as age 8, girls begin to label emotions as good or bad.  Unfortunately this perception can lead to their future attempts at avoiding those they consider bad.  “Bad” emotions are generally those that make us feel less comfortable…such as fear, anxiety, anger, frustration and boredom.  “Good” emotions tend to fall on the “more comfortable” side of feeling…joy, happiness, excitement, peace.

Lesson five in our Girls on the Run curriculum provides an experience for the girls to reframe the words they use to describe this emotional spectrum.  The words bad and good are virtually eliminated as descriptors for emotions and the words “comfortable” and “uncomfortable” become their replacements.

I won’t ever forget Emily.  Emily was in fourth grade when I met her.  Emily had strawberry blonde hair that cascaded in ringlets to below her shoulders.  She had the fairest of skin, pink cheeks, noticeably blonde eyelashes and a spunky little spirit that was as bouncy as her hair!

We had just completed the warm-up.  The group had decided, thanks to some fabulous insight and processing on their part, that emotions were not good or bad, but simply comfortable or uncomfortable.  Learning to deal with our uncomfortable emotions was what growing up was all about!  “I may not have it figured out yet, but as I get older, I’ll bet I get more comfortable with the emotions that, right now, feel uncomfortable to me.”

Each girl is given a bingo card with 12 different emotions typed into each of the 12 boxes.  When one of the girls completes a lap, the coach gives her an “emotion” that she then marks off the card.  The object of the workout is for each girl to run laps, learn what constitutes an emotion and in the process get as many bingos as she possibly can!

About five minutes into the workout, Emily walked up to me.

“Coach Molly.  I’m not feeling very comfortable.”

“Okay, Emily.  I hear ya, girl.  What’s up?  Are you feeling an uncomfortable emotion?”  I had naturally assumed that her use of the word uncomfortable was connected to how we had used it only moments ago, within the context of the lesson.

“Well,” she replied completely exasperated.  “I forgot my jog bra…and well… you know.”  She pointed down to what would be breasts, if she had them and nodded her head.  “Running without it, is just..kinda…actually a lotta…uncomfortable.

It was hard for me to not chuckle.  Emily was in fourth grade.  The girl wasn’t showing any signs of puberty.  There were no buds, no curvature of hips, no signs of anything other than being the fabulous fourth grade, free-spirited, spunky, straight-waisted girl who stood before me.

I had, however, noticed earlier during the lesson, that Emily was sporting a brand new “cuppy bra.”  A cuppy bra is what many stores are now selling to girls, at an age long before they need it, to create the look of real breasts.  They come in a variety of sizes, but suffice it to say…they are soft molded shells that basically house nothing but empty space when worn!

“Oh Emily, sister.  I totally get it!  I know how that is.  I know how uncomfortable it is to run without my running bra.  So girl, I can only imagine.  You just feel free to walk today.  Okay?  No problemo!  You just walk on with your fabulicious self!”

She smiled at me.  We were bonding.  We were having a woman-to-woman, heart-to-heart conversation about womanhood, our changing bodies and all the trials and tribulations of growing up and out!

I’ll never forget watching her walk away from me on her way to her next lap.  Her step was bouncy.  Her hair was bouncy.  Her spirit was bouncy.  And unfortunately so too was her cuppy bra.  With nothing underneath to hold it in place, the darn thing kept sliding upward.  Walking was bad enough, but my guess is that running would have brought that stinkin’ bra all the way up and out of her shirt collar. Eventually the uncomfortable device would be wrapped around the top of her head with the straps tangled up in the sleeves of her tank shirt.  No wonder the girl couldn’t run!  Those molded cups would have ended up on her eyes!

The lesson continued.  Girls were laughing, giggling and running by me securing new “emotions” and filling in the squares on their bingo card.  Spring was here.  The sun was bright.  Our spirits were bubbly, our energy was high and the mood was celebratory; but poor Emily was confined to walk…strapped in by her new cuppy bra and her first try at “being grown up.”  Her step wasn’t bouncy anymore.  It seemed that even her hair was less so.

Fifteen minutes later, Emily had only done two laps.  “Come on Emily.”  The girls were asking her.  What’s up?  You normally are running like everyone else.  What’s going on?  Why won’t you run?”

I could see the novelty of the once fabulous and mysterious cuppy bra wearing off.  She had tried running again, but was SO distracted by needing to hold the stupid thing in place, that running now became an impossible feat.

“Whoohooo!  Good job girls.”  My assistant coach and I were cheering on the girls as they progressed around the track, when I noticed that Emily had disappeared.  I did a rapid-count again and yep…I was one short and it was Emily.

Directly across from me and on the far side was a utility shed…a small metal building used to store landscaping equipment.  For whatever reason, my eyes were drawn to the exterior of that building…when the door to it mysteriously flew open.  The metal door clanged loudly against the exterior wall as the door was forcefully pushed open.

And then…she…emerged.  Emily was standing there looking quite wonder-woman-esque.    Her arms by her side, her eyes and face upward toward some distant (and very dramatic) horizon.  She was still, silent, strong and weirdly  (humorously) stoic.

(Insert long dramatic pause here and some really powerful instrumental music.  Follow it by a small drum roll and continue reading.)  And then the girl, with rapid-fire motion threw her right arm up into the air, statue of liberty-like-ish and began to run.  Waving in the wind of her forward movement and bubbling up like the fire within our very own Lady Liberty’s torch, was the cuppy bra, grasped tightly in the hand of that uplifted arm.

Emily was leaping, running, twisting, turning, running backwards, forewords, sideways and everyways in between.  When Emily made it around to me, with that cuppy bra lifted high above her head, she said with a fierce determination and a no-nonsense tone of voice, “Free at last.  I am free at last.”

And I’ll be darned if she wasn’t right on! She WAS Free at last.  Free of the cuppy bra.  Free of the need to be something she really wasn’t. Free of any thought that had trickled into that innocent 8 year old brain of hers that somehow her body wasn’t okay the way it was, that it needed enhancing, embellishing, more than it was in its fabulous current state of perfection.

Yes the girl was free at last!  Free to be the goofy, wacky, spring-haired, bouncy Emily she was meant to be.  No wires, no straps, no objects were going to restrain or limit this girl.  NO WAY, NO HOW!!!!  Just try her!

She tucked that bra into her book bag, kicked into high gear and proceeded to run around that track like there was no tomorrow.

As I fondly remember this day in Emily’s life, I am reminded of many in mine.  The coming and going, the in and out, the wish for and rejection of the Girl Box’s power.  As I write to you now, I take this moment to celebrate Emily and her willingness to assume the lead role in her own life’s story.  I marvel at her ability to intentionally take risks, step out and test the waters of womanhood.  To define it as she sees it.  I honor her zeal to learn from her mistakes, missteps and miscalculations. I am grateful for Emily who reminds me of the precious, innocent and vulnerable 9 year old Molly…you know, the one who always did her very best.  The one who hit a few bumps, scraped a few knees and fell down a few times as she stumbled along the challenging path of learning the rules to playing human; the evolving Molly I am now, who tries so hard to be strong;  to stand up for herself;  to remain alive, real and herself while exploring the unchartered waters of aging, motherhood, leadership and her future.

I yearn to, as Emily (and many other well-known leaders) so succinctly put it,”be free at last.”  Free at last to be, to love and to live!  To remove the fears and facades of the restraining cultrual and societal expectations and tuck them peacefully into the book bag of my past and run, uninhibited, free and like there is no tomorrow!!!!

What messages/elements/thought processes growing up still linger (or distract you) in your life as you evolve, learn and “grow up”?