“No, I have my own high heels.”
Such is the tenor of the discussion between my daughter and her dance instructor. Four is the new 14.
This is the same daughter who I found hiding in the pantry eating the jelly beans that I told her (three times) that she could not have before dinner. And the same one who recently asked me, “Are you really going to wear that to my school? Didn’t you wear that the last time you helped out in class?” The one who melts her father’s heart mid-scolding by cooing, “Daddy, you have such beautiful eyes.” And, yes, the same one who will not be rushed into putting on her socks. Come hell or high water, the seam line will be straight across her toes or we will just have to be late to story time at the library.
It is a curious and wonderful and maddening thing raising a daughter who has her own ideas about everything. There is a fine line between cute “I can do it myself” stubbornness and “I’m not eating that” rebellion. Now I adore Alice Paul as much as the next gal, but when my daughter acts as though she is an Iron Jawed Angel after a 50-minute standoff at the dinner table, this mom has had enough. But when I yell out, “It’s broccoli, not suffrage for God’s sake,” she just continues to glare at her plate with the same level of tenacity. She knows that she will lose this battle, but, much like her mother, her inner-Xena just can’t seem to give up the fight. Maybe, just maybe, with enough willfulness and grit, tonight will be the night that she can achieve dessert status without finishing up the green stuff first. I feel her pain. Stubbornness is a powerful force and runs deep through our matriarchal line. I’ll let you in on a little secret though -- I want her to keep fighting. As much as I am exhausted by our 10-round bouts, she is going to need that skill when navigating the world outside of our cozy home.
Sometimes I try to rationalize her strong will. “She gets it honestly,” I tell myself through gritted teeth. My great-grandmother, Elvie (isn’t that a great name?), used to run moonshine during prohibition. She was the lookout for my great-grandfather who, legend has it, made the best moonshine in the whole county. While he would stir his famous concoction in an old bathtub out in the middle of the back woods in Arkansas, she would stand out on the road and whistle if she saw any lights. Once a week, she would bottle it into two big jars, pack the jars in a suitcase and walk to the bus stop. The bus driver would always ask, “Elvie, what do you have in that suitcase woman?” (Side note: she was 85 pounds soaking wet and the suitcase probably weighed half that much.) To which she would reply, “moonshine.” He would laugh at such a silly notion and she would get on the bus and make her weekly stop to the police station to sell the best moonshine in the county to the local sheriff. You don’t get much more badass than that.
But how do you encourage feistiness while at the same time discourage reckless abandonment? I want my daughter to take a solo trip to Europe in her 20s to visit all of the gothic cathedrals that she’s read about in her college world history course. I do not want my daughter to take a trip to Vegas on her 18th birthday to visit a little white chapel with a cute boy in a fast car. See my conundrum? How do you temper the fire without snuffing it out completely? It is a delicate balance with girls.
I want to raise strong women. I want them to raise their voices, raise objections, raise hell, and raise their own stubborn baby girls someday. I just don’t want them to do it without thinking about why they are doing it first. I pray that their DNA contains even the tiniest bit of their father’s calm-headedness and pragmatic approach to life. While I’m pretty sure my oldest daughter is a shiny red apple sitting right underneath my tree, the jury is still out on the baby.
I own this shirt that says, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I freaking love that shirt. I want my daughters to love that shirt. But I also want them to listen to their teachers, and be respectful to their elders, and show deference when it is appropriate. Long story short – I want them to follow the mantra painted in the locker room of the Dylan Panthers – “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.” Because kind hearts are just as important as strong minds. Level heads are just as important as unbridled passions. Tender hands are just as important as strong fists. There is a time for both, I just pray that they will know the difference.
So, as I’m tucking my sweet girls in tonight and kissing their beautiful little foreheads, I will say a silent thank you to all of the fearless women who’ve fought mightily over the ages to blaze a trail for my two girls to reach heights unimagined for women of my grandmother’s generation. And as my oldest whispers to me before drifting off into a dreamland filled with moonbeams, rainbows, and unicorns, “I love you so much mom, but I don’t miss you when I am at sleepovers” - I will only allow myself one brief pang of sorrow, because a girl who conquers sleepovers today will be a woman who conquers the world tomorrow.