My mother is pretty. Quite pretty, actually.
After almost 40 years I have the landscape of her face imprinted in my mind. Though I no longer recognize it as distinct, those new to her face may notice a scar from the outside of a nostril down through her lip.
The scar has been hers almost since birth; the story repeated often enough we all know it.
My grandmother cooking in her 1940s kitchen, her baby girl old enough to sit up, but not yet crawl, playing on a blanket in a corner. Close enough to watch, far from the heat and knives of cooking. Glass meat trays were common then, I'm told. Long before polymers were commonplace. It slipped from my grandmother's hand (I imagine because they were wet from washing or slick from Crisco) sending shards in all directions.
Any mother knows her baby's cries; they can frequently determine the problem just by the breath she takes before letting out a sound. So I know my grandmother turned cold when she heard this primal wail from my mother. Colder still when she saw blood and the hanging lip. I can't imagine having to help hold down my child while they hurriedly sew her flesh, the gap deep enough that her top lip is now two pieces, no anesthesia, no twilight sleep. But that is what my grandmother did.
Always at the end of the story she said, "The worst thing that ever happened to Rebecca happened by my own hand under my own eyes. There was nothing else of which to be afraid."
There was nothing else of which to be afraid.
I don't ever recall thinking there was something I COULDN'T do; there were things I shouldn't do and things I didn't want to do. But nothing ever seemed impossible.
As a little girl, I didn't realize how rare that was. It was only in the 6th grade, when I said I might like to be President one day (Collective sigh of relief that that never happened!) and someone responded that only men can be president, that I realized my thinking was different. I remember walking to the encyclopedia on the shelf, pulling out the P volume (was Q attached? Maybe O.) and reading the qualifications for president to the class. Being a boy wasn’t listed. No one in the class agreed, even the teacher said the President has to be a man. It doesn't speak well of my stubborn streak, but I argued with facts, albeit not precedents, on my side until everyone let it go. Even then I wasn't deterred. I remember thinking if there wasn't a girl president already, then I would just have to be the first.
It is this fearlessness, this confidence, this boldness that I want my daughter to see.
I don't believe I have to teach it to her, though; I know that deep down we are all born with something innate that allows us to be brave. It is only through custom and conformity that it is dampened.
1. I want her to have her own adventures, far from me and the home she knows.
Just two weeks ago I sent baby girl on a week-long school trip almost a day's ride away to Washington, D.C. Parents were invited and encouraged to go, but she and I both knew she needed to go alone. And she did. Climbed on the bus. Waved good-bye and didn't look back.
A few days into the trip I had lunch with a friend who asked me if the trip and separation was harder on me or baby girl. I answered as honestly as I knew how, "It is probably only hard on my mom."
Not that I didn't miss her some or gladly look at the pictures and videos her teachers shared, but I never wanted her to feel that there isn't life outside the woman who bore her and the walls where she grew up. Never as a parent has it been my aim, to have my daughter NEED me.
2. I want her to believe that she can do things without knowing how.
I am not a cook; I know how because I can read; but I don't enjoy it, and I'm not at all adventurous or spontaneous in the kitchen.
I have never taught my daughter to cook, but I never told her that she needed to be taught either.
When she was 10 or so, cooking became an interest, so she went in the kitchen and started to cook. (Lest you worry out there. She has been taught safety in the kitchen since she could crawl; stoves and ovens are hot. Knives are sharp. How to use a fire extinguisher.) Her first meal ever was chicken stir fry and rice. No recipe, no help. Just her in the kitchen and trial and error. She has made countless things in the years since. She never knew she needed to be taught how to cook, so she simply cooked.
The same logic applied when we moved to a new house and wanted to paint her room. Husband showed her some basics and she proceeded to paint 75% of her room alone. It looks fabulous. There is no paint on the floor.
3. She has what she needs inside of her.
The world can be scary. (However, the world is statistically safer than the days you and I grew up in, adults!) While it is not likely that someone would try and abduct or physically harm my child, it is possible. From the time she could talk, I told her that some people aren't nice and that if a not-nice person is hurting you with words, walk away. If a not-nice person is hurting you with force and making you uncomfortable then do everything in your power to stop the situation, including but not limited to yelling, cursing, spitting, scratching, hitting, peeing, and kicking someone in the tweeter-tots (I'm a nurse. she knows the real names.).
We were walking home one evening when she was in the 5th grade; it was fall and already dark at 5:30.
"Mama, I need to tell you something I got sent to the office today."
"J_____ took my pencil and when I told him he couldn't have to give it back, he threw it at me. Then he took it back and I reached up and grabbed it from him, and everyone laughed. Then, Mama, he got mad and hit me in the face three times."
(My baby was SLAPPED. IN THE FACE. THREE TIMES. Even now, my stomach turns as I type. One day I want to tell you how the school handled it (no phone call) and what I was told. One day. But in case I can never type it; here's the gist:
There is a rampant "boys will be boys" attitude in our culture.
It is dangerous and deadly to our daughters.)
I stopped then in the middle of a street and looked at her. "Go on."
"And then I stood up and punched him. Hard. He didn't hit me again after that."
(There was a lot more to this discussion, too long and too fresh for this page. And while I am not naïve enough to think that domestic violence would cease if survivors used violence against their attackers or that violence is always the way to settle something, what I learned in that moment were two very important things
1. My daughter knew she deserved better treatment, both than stealing her pencil and being hit.
2. And my daughter used what she had inside of her to distance herself from a bad situation.
I would be wrong if I didn't admit that I've thought of that little boy's face over the years, imagining him smirk when she stood up, thinking she was going to run away, and then the smirk clouding as she rares back (remembering she has at least 6 inches and 50 pounds on him), and then her voice so matter-of-fact, "Do not hit me again.") )
Later, I asked her what she could learn from what happened. She told me that she didn't want to hit anyone again (and to date she hasn't), but that she knew that she could if someone were hurting her.
4. I want her to have her own opinions.
Usually. Most days. There are moments when I silently wish that whatever voodoo Michelle Duggar has to make her children fall in line, was for sale but those moments are fleeting.
It was a hard blow when I discovered my child didn't share my love of reading. Or that really enjoys being outside in the hot, sweaty sun.
It has been trying, at times, when she is pushing boundaries and trying to discern what she really thinks.
My mom and I talk about it often. She remembers well our epic battles. And though it isn't mentioned as often, the subsequent heartbreak that can come when you have to let your child fail miserably, all alone, and learn from the hurt.
I thanked both my parents recently for never making me feel afraid. As a 6 year-old I was told the truth when my thoughts were right and wrong. As a 15 year old I flew to a conference in Washington all alone, no one from my school, no adult. At 17, I drove states away to visit a friend for her high school graduation. (These were the days before cell phones and internet. I had a map and change for the pay phone.)
Never once, was I worried that there would be something I couldn't handle.
No one taught me to be fearful, so I never was.
5. And I want her to grow up and leave me.
One day, she will likely move out. Maybe far away. She may travel or end up on the opposite coast. Or she may live two streets over in the same small town. Regardless of any geographical distance, I want her to live her own life: her own family (Weekly Sunday dinners just won't be a thing.), her own career/calling, her own beliefs (though I will complain to anyone who will listen if she's a Republican), and her own space.
It pains me sometimes to see families of grown people so uncomfortable with anyone who differs even the slightest bit (try being the odd-man out if you're the only stay-at-home-mom or the only brother who doesn't fish). I want her to never have to worry about what I will think if she does something different, even radically different.
And to know that she was reared for these very moments-to leave and make her own way.
And while I hope that she will visit from time-to-time; I hope more that she climbs on board, waves good-bye, and doesn't look back.