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Trees 1, Etiquette 0

If you missed the phenom called Meghan Markle, you are likely living in space with no telecommunication. Markle is the little girl who grew up to be a duchess. The first mixed-race member of the British royal family. The successful TV star who readily abandoned social media for her knight in shining armor.

As Tarun wryly notes, I watched the wedding along with millions across the world so I am guilty as charged on being enamored by this fairy tale. My perception of the coverage changed rapidly after the wedding when the media shifted the equation from the improbable dream to etiquette. One particular narrative caught my attention. I forget where I read it but I was stunned enough to save a snapshot of it on my phone:

“... biggest etiquette mistake a lady can make is to cross her legs at the knee. Instead, women should sit with their knees and ankles together and should only cross their legs at the ankle if needed. It’s sophisticated, protects vulnerabilities and looks fabulous in photos.” — commentary by a male style specialist.

Alrighty then!

It’s not often I see the words lady, legs, ankle, and vulnerabilities in one sentence. My dissonance was not merely from being lectured by the opposite sex on how a woman should sit but also the assumption that we are idiots and need a constant reminder of our “vulnerabilities”. I even found illustrations on cross-legged, vulnerability-protecting positions because clearly we need a written guide.

One of the first instructions little girls get is “keep your legs together”. Almost as soon as we get out of diapers. So thank you, O Style Patron, for the delayed reminder to womanhood.

Which brings me to how excited I was at the possibility of having a daughter before I had two boys. Failing the right genetic recipe, Tarun and I frequently talk about how we would have raised a girl. No matter how many times it comes up, we unhesitatingly arrive at the same conclusion: just as we raised our sons, of course. Yes, there would be additional nurturing for gender specific precaution and safety. In return my sons got the equivalent nurturing on respect and care for women.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents because they raised me like they did my brother. Bad behavior, poor performance in school, ill-focused career goals, lackluster enthusiasm in extra-curricular activities, and social incompetence were met with “the eye” and the dreaded talk.

In 4th grade, I brought home a double whammy in the form of 19 our of 100 in Hindi (35 being a passing mark) and “fair” in behavior. That particular talk still rings in my ear, 40-odd years later.

I was never berated when tree climbing ended in a fall or when I took off on my bike to visit my friends. Instead, I distinctly remember numerous wallopings by my brother for dubious reasons because he was an equal opportunity offender. But I don’t remember my mother or father ever lecturing us siblings on etiquette. That alone was the best gift they could have given us.

In their honor, to parents of little girls: to heck with etiquette, make sure your daughter climbs trees. She will learn more about creativity, adventure, danger, physicality, math and science from climbing trees than she will from any lecture on etiquette.

And while your daughter is at it, climb with her. Or give me a buzz and I will happily hang upside down with her.

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