Katie's musings, mostly on things related to family life

Sunday, June 09, 2002  

Stage Mother

by Katie Allison Granju

Have you ever seen one of those documentaries on children's beauty pageants? You know, the ones that snarkily reveal a world
of heavily made-up tiny girl-children who all look a bit like Dolly Parton-meets-JonBenet Ramsey, each of them attired in
impossibly poufy polyester pageant dresses? You probably have, and I have too. What has always amazed me the most in watching or reading anything about children's beauty pageants has been the mothers -- women who, in the parlance of my native rural Tennessee, look like they were "rode hard and put up wet."

But behind the pastel-colored sweatsuits, the over-permed hair, and the strong regional accents are women with a steely glint in
their eyes. These mothers are out to WIN. As youthful pageant competitors themselves back in the day, they may have never had the opportunity to make it past Miss Hickman County 1984, but their little girls are going to go all the way, dammit, and woe to anyone who gets in the way.

I never imagined that I could have anything in common with these infamous "pageant moms" until a recent evening as my sister watched me carefully packing my six year old daughter's riding clothes, boots, helmet, gloves, hair ribbons, saddle, bridle, and snacks in [reparation for a horse show the next day. My daughter, Jane, had already gone to bed, but I stayed busy
for the rest of the evening finishing up ironing, saddle-soaping,and polishing her gear.

"You're acting just like one of those beauty pageant moms," my sister remarked sarcastically.

"What are you talking about," I snapped at her as I continued my packing and organizing.

She just laughed at my crankiness, but I actually knew exactly what she was talking about. Since Jane has taken up horseback riding, I have been enjoying a vicarious sort of thrill in seeing her ride and begin to compete and - dare I say it? - to win.

I grew up riding horses myself and was pretty successful as a local competitor. I never had a real trainer to guide me, or a good enough horse, or the funds to show at a higher level, but I always wished thatI could. My parents were extremely supportive to the extent they were able. I certainly can't complain; after all, they did provide me with a horse and saddle, and they spent many weekends carting me around to horseshows. But showing hunter-jumpers is an extremely expensive and time consuming endeavor
and with three children in private school and then college, there was only so much my mother and father could do. I understood
that and ended my own horsey activities while in college.

After I became a mother myself, I began to secretly harbor the hope that one of my children would want to learn to ride. I struck out
completely with child #1, my son Henry. Henry informed me early on that he had little use for horses, hates to compete at anything,
and certainly wasn't going to be caught dead in those "tight pants" (jodphurs) that he saw riders wearing on ESPN2.

Then along came child #2, a girl! With her head full of shocking black hair and lust for life, baby Jane made it clear early on
that she enjoys being the center of attention and likes to compete. As she moved out of toddlerhood, I began talking up the idea of riding to her. I opened my old tack trunk up for her and showed her my now-musty saddle, as well as ribbons I had won in my limited show career. And at age five, Jane finally began taking lessons at a local hunter-jumper barn.

Within only a few weeks, it became clear that not only was Jane quite interested in riding, she clearly had some natural ability.
Her once-a-week lessons were bumped up to twice a week. She asked for and received a saddle of her own for her 6th birthday. We
carted my tack trunk over to the barn for her to use. And in September of last year, her trainer matched Jane up with an adorable pony named Lemon Drop with lots of hunter-jumper show miles under his girth for Jane to ride and show.

All of this has happened for Jane due in large part to the generosity of her grandparents. Riding is more expensive than ever and
without that support for Jane's chosen sport, she would have to pick a cheaper activity - like jumping rope or something. But since they have made this possible for her, she - and I - have approached it with a passion. That's right, I said I, as in, her mother, the frustrated former rider. Sure, Jane has to actually ride the pony and do the considerable practice and work necessary to become
competitive. And her trainer handles the task of molding her desire and enthusiasm into horsemanship.

But, mom has to do the behind the scenes work that will help Jane win. In our case, that doesn't involve makeup, hairspray, sequins or talent routines, but shiny boots and properly monogrammed shirt collars. I have come to realize, however, that it's really the very same thing. And when I stand on the rail at a horseshow in my frumpy barn-mama chic watching my amazing and beautifully turned-out child sail around the ring on her pony, I am certain that I have the same steely glint in my eye as those pageant moms I used to malign. I want to see my child go all the way.

COPYRIGHT KATIE ALLISON GRANJU 2001 - 2002 ~ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ~ For Reprint or syndication info, please contact Katie at

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posted by Julie | 11:21 PM