FLORENCE HOWE

activist, writer, and founder of the Feminist Press




Florence in Words

The Power of Kennedy

October 7, 2011

Tags: family, Alice, Jack, Maban, Kennedy, visiting, Yoya

I’ve admitted to occasional bouts of depression, assuaged usually by a new mind-moving project, and on occasion by dog-sitting Yoya, a delightful Maltese, whose antics are irrepressibly comic, and whose cuddling warms my heart. Last week, I discovered another possibility—house guests who included a two-year old. Four visitors arrived for a week: daughter Alice, grandson Jack and his wife Maban, and their daughter Kennedy who is several months past two. Kennedy was not a nay-saying two-year-old. Her approach was “let me do it”—from feeding herself to feeding others. Fearless, she fed the largest animals in Central Park’s petting zoo, one food-pebble at a time. And fearless also, she fed Yoya small bits of cheese, and thus won her attention as well as her heart.

My family in Central ParkKennedy feeding the animals
My family in Central Park
Kennedy feeding the animals


Kennedy and Maban at the Children's Zoo
Kennedy and Maban at the Children's Zoo


Most interesting for me were the early morning hours when I picked Kennedy up out of her portable crib and brought her into my bed to “play” games of her devising, which I had to figure out. “I want to go under,” she said, and I concluded she meant “under the sheet.” And I guessed then that I was to become the searcher for Kennedy: “Where is Kennedy? Is she under the bed?” I asked. And a little voice responded “Noooo,” with an inflection that conveyed my silliness and asked me to try again. “Is she in the closet? Is she in the bathroom?” As I went on with my questions, the no’s became more and more entwined in giggles, finally ending in a surge of laughter as I “found” her under the sheet.

Kennedy playing in bedKennedy and I
Kennedy playing in bed
Kennedy and I at the apartment


Occasionally, when she had gone to sleep with a book in her bed, she brought it with her into my bed, and I read it to her on request. She knew by heart the book about the “hungry caterpillar” who eats and eats and eats and turns into a butterfly. If I missed a word, she corrected me, and if I paused, she filled in the missing words. If I tried to change anything, she said, “No,” and gave me the language of the book.

And every day Kennedy asked to play with four thumb-sized turtles on my bookcase, each made of different materials, inventing games for them in the bed-clothes. On the second day, the silver one with black markings was lost in play, probably under the bed, and I said, “Lucy would find it.” When Lucy came the next day, she did find it, and for the next five days, Kennedy called that turtle “Lucy.” She also played with a stuffed turtle I had had for years, a gift from a friend. But when she left for her home in Kansas, she didn’t ask to take any of the turtles with her. She wanted only two stuffed animals that had been given to her, a bear from Helene Goldfarb and a dog from Rebecca Seawright. Somehow, this two-year-old knew that those were hers, and that the turtles lived in Baba Florence’s house.

Yes, I left this for last: I couldn’t be called Grandma, since she knows Alice as Grandma. And I couldn’t be called Florence, since her aunt is named Florence (after me). So we settled on my name for my grandmother, “Baba,” the Yiddish word for grandmother. And she loves saying “Baba,” perhaps because she calls her father “Dada” and her mother “Mama” and she certainly is aware of the sounds of words. Lots of photos, some here, including one in bed on the last morning.

Select Works

"Everyone concerned about global feminism, women’s contributions, and humanity’s future will be enhanced and enchanted by A Life in Motion.”—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume I and Volume II
Lecture delivered by Florence Howe on January 8, 2011, at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention
“It is impossible to imagine women’s studies without Florence Howe. Myths of Coeducation shows her vision and courage, insight and dauntlessness.”–Catharine R. Stimpson, Rutgers University
A revised and expanded edition of the classic groundbreaking anthology of 20th-century American women's poetry, representing more than 100 poets from Amy Lowell to Anne Sexton to Rita Dove.

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