Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Things I want my daughter to know

I've been thinking a lot over the last year about what I'd want my child to know. Some of these things are specifically because she is a girl, and will have to deal with a world which can be much harsher to the "fairer sex". Some of it is just what I hope any child will grow up knowing.
Shane and I talked about this briefly a while ago. When I said that my number one hope for our girl is that she grows up to be a good person, he pshawed. But, I pointed out, I have no doubt that she will be intelligent and pretty and all of that. So what do I most want to teach her? To be a good person. I think the following things might help with that. Here's my list of life lessons I want her to know, and approximate ages that I hope she'll at least have a grasp on the concept.

From the beginning: I want her to know that she's loved. Not just in the "oh, they're my parents so they have to love me" sort of way. I mean deep down in her bones, in the depths of her soul, as her first and last thought every day. Not every child is lucky enough to receive such love, and it breaks my heart. I am so in awe of this tiny, wonderful person I made and birthed. I hope she grows up secure in how much her family loves her. This is the start of self-confidence, which she will need in this big crazy world. I have stated before that one part of having a high needs baby is that she's already strong willed, and no one's pushover. I hope she keeps that all her life, and that our love for her will give her the confidence she needs to not back down when she's knows she's right, and to reach out to help others when they need it.

By elementary school: Damn those post-pregnancy hormones! My emotions are more raw now than when I was pregnant. I was listening to the Pandora "Lullabies" station the other day and the song from "Dumbo" came on. You might not remember it, but I always thought it was such a sad lullabye. In fact, I never liked that movie much because I knew I'd cry at that scene. So here I am, nursing my daughter and listening to this song. It hit me, powerfully, that one day in the not-too-distant future, someone will make fun of my perfect, wonderful little girl. It will hurt her and there's nothing I can do about it. More than that, though, I felt a sense of companionship with every other mother, ever. No child escapes being ridiculed by somebody, and every mother feels it just as keenly as their child does*. I thought back to elementary school, and what jerks we were. Of course, there was one kid everyone picked on. Brian. He peed his pants in first grade and that was an unforgivable offense, especially since he was kind of shy and weird anyway. Now that I'm older, I wonder what his home life was like. I actually wonder a lot about him. Whatever happened to him? I have no memories of him after middle school. But I do know that he was picked on and shunned and bullied for all of his school days that I saw. Even worse, I participated. I wasn't the worst, not even what you'd call a bully. But I took part in the shunning and laughed at the mockery. Now I can't get out of my head how many evenings his mom must have spent comforting him, telling him that things would get better. At least, I hope she did. For all the hell his schooldays put him through, I hope he had (has) awesome parents to make up for it. And wherever he is, I sincerely wish Brian well. I hope that life got better for him, and the people around him more understanding.
Just as much as I can't stop other kids from making fun of my girl, I can't stop her from at least occasionally being a jerk to other kids. That hurts too. Because every mom feels just the way I do right now, that their child is the best and most perfect being ever. We should feel that way! Certainly our babies deserve it, because they are beautiful and wonderful and perfect. My girl might not understand this lesson until she's older, but I'm going to try to carry it with me. To be more forgiving and understanding and just plain nicer to everyone I encounter. If nothing else, I can lead by example.
Going along with that, I hope she has empathy for others. There are plenty of ways to help your child learn empathy and I'm already starting some of them. I think that one of the benefits for kids who grow up with pets is that they learn early lessons about other creatures having feelings of their own. So when I help her pet the cat or the dog I talk to her about not only how soft they are, but also how they feel about being petted. (And I praise them hugely for letting the baby touch them.) If the cat backs away from us I talk about how he's not in the mood to be petted right now. Baby Girl might not yet be vocal, but I want to get myself into the habit of showing her the thoughts and perspectives of other creatures.
I want her to have a basic grasp on manners. Not just please and thank you, but actual respect for others which manners are meant to show.

By middle school: This is such a tough age. Puberty and hormones, oh my! Through it all, I want her to know that she's beautiful. There are so many distorted ideas about women's and girls' bodies in the media, including people who think that beauty doesn't matter. It does. I want my girl to know that she's beautiful. Not that she's super hot, or glamorous, but it is important for her to know that she's pretty. And I mean her. I want her to know that makeup can be fun but isn't necessary (and that too much is awful). I want her to understand that there's much more to life than being fashionable, and that clothes which suit her matter the most. This all goes back to self-confidence. I want her to know these things because, for so many of us, puberty is an awful time and most kids look painfully awkward during this time. Even if that's the case with her (as it was for me--glasses and braces on a late bloomer with too-long, unkempt hair? yeah...) she deserves to know that it's just a phase and that she is, and will be, beautiful.
Along with her beauty, however, I want her to know that she is strong. Exercise was never really emphasized in my house growing up, but I think it would have helped my self esteem a lot more if it had been. I became used to thinking that I couldn't do things, when in fact I could have if I'd just tried. It's taken me many years to get over that attitude so I hope that Baby Girl never has it to begin with.
This is also the stage when I think we'll start mandating that she cook, or help cook, dinner every once in a while. I think it's important for every adult to know the basics of how to feed themselves without resorting to a box. She will grow up cooking and baking with me (in fact, we baked our first cookie together this past weekend!) but this is when I'll feel comfortable letting her have more, er, solo flights in the kitchen. I started baking bread by myself when I was 12. Yep, there were plenty of failures. Like the time I killed the yeast? Or the one I put in way, way too much salt. Or the time I did both of those things. Ha! I look forward to seeing what kitchen disasters my little girl comes up with.
Going along with this, I want her to have a basic understanding of building and fixing things. I mentally thank my dad a lot for teaching me how to swing a hammer and use a screwdriver. It gives me confidence to attempt new projects, and to figure out how something works so that I can fix it myself. And, as a woman, it's fucking beautiful to not have to depend on a man to do these things for me. I want her to be just as capable.

By high school: Most parents dread teenage rebellion. You know what? I welcome it. I want her to test boundaries (safely), and to get into some trouble, and learn life lessons. More than any other time of life, this is when kids start figuring out who they want to be. Good! I want her to try many things, and fail at plenty of them. She'll find what works best for her, and what her deepest interests are, that way.
I also want her to have a basic grasp on finances. I don't mean of the "how to balance a checkbook" variety. (Does anyone under 40 actually still do that?) Monitoring finances is important, but it's one small part of a much larger picture. I want her to understand that expenses trump income any time when it comes to building wealth (that is, keep your expenses low and save the rest) and the best ways to utilize her money.
I don't want or expect riches from her. Wealth yes, but not Scrooge McDuck status. I just want her to have the independence which comes from not needing to work for a terrible boss, or to make hard choices because of money. I also want her to know the joys of being generous with others, which is a lot easier when you have a firm grasp on your finances.
I want her to think critically. I don't want her to take things at face value, including what she learns in school. So much of it is actually wrong, or interpreted in such a way that it changes your understanding of a situation. It's up to her to look at the actual facts, or dig deeper into a text, and figure out how she thinks/feels about it all.
I want her to invest in her health. We will, of course, try to instill healthy eating habits in her, and get her into sports, and lead by example in these things. However, by high school I hope that she'll be doing these things not because we want her to, but for herself. It's really, truly hard for most high schoolers to recognize just how young they are, but the things we all do at that age have lifelong consequences. I hope we can show her enough of the long view so that she doesn't take youthful health for granted and instead cherishes it and takes care of herself.

By college: Ok, so maybe she won't go to college. I hope she will, not because I think it's so necessary for a good job or a good life, but because I want her to have a lifelong enjoyment of learning. I also think that there are life lessons which college teaches that you don't necessarily get (or get in a harsher way) in "the real world". My family has a long tradition of going to college (even my grandmother went to college, which not many women did in the '40s) and I would like her to continue this for truly intangible reasons. There is a benefit in education for the sake of education, and I think that we've lost sight of that in our society and especially in current conversations about whether college is worthwhile or not.
One of the opportunities you don't really get outside of college is to study abroad. Shane and I are disappointed in ourselves for not pursuing it when we had the opportunity. We cited how expensive it is, and worried about trying to go somewhere together, or what it would do to our relationship if we had gone separate places. We should have just done it. There are things about other countries that you simply can't learn by visiting. To go, to immerse yourself in another culture and truly live there, is a special thing. I will very much encourage her to do so.
Whether she goes to college or not, I really want to show her that a car is not a necessity. In fact, it's a fitness destroying, lazy-making money pit. I find it a pity that so many people are so dependent upon their cars. I used to have a roommate who would drive two blocks to go get cigarettes from the gas station. I'm still in awe of that. I hope my daughter is more dependent upon herself and her own strength to get around than she ever will depend upon a car.

Eventually: I want her to know true love. I'm sure most people want this for their kids. But what I want for her is not some fairytale, storybook romance. I mean true love; the kind where you have fights that can last a couple of days without thinking that it's all over, where you see something funny and your first thought is of how much your partner would laugh, where spending an evening in with them is just as fun and exciting as all the nights you ever went clubbing and bar-hopping. I don't care if it's with a man or a woman. (I might find it a little hard if it's with a space alien, but for different reasons.) Even if the relationship ends, I want her to know what that's like at least once in her life. Of course, I do hope she ends up happily married. And yes, I do hope she opts for marriage because I think there are many benefits to marriage, and a different sort of commitment than just "living together". (Not to mention all the legal and tax ramifications, oy.)
I also hope that she chooses to become a mother one day. Why? For one very simple reason: because I feel like I understand the world so much better now. I mentioned above when I felt a kinship with every other mother on the planet. How many other life experiences help you to feel that way? I also understand my own mother so much better than I did before I was one. The intense love, unlike any other. I don't want to diminish my love for Shane, who is and always will be the love of my life, but I never knew I could be in love with another creature the way I am with my baby.
The highs in life are higher now that she's here. When I hear her laugh...words cannot describe it. When she cries, part of me cries too. And things which wouldn't have touched me so deeply before now do. I read an article the other day about all the new gadgets which are being marketed to parents which play on fears of SIDS, and in it they discussed a device which needed to be recalled after a couple of babies got tangled in the cords during their sleep and strangled to death. That sentence was hard even to write. When I read about these deaths, I actually gasped aloud. I just can't even imagine what that would be like. Before having a child, I understood the pain in the same way I imagined it to be painful if one of my siblings died, without having to experience it myself. This...is so much more. With the intense love comes the intense pain. But, I wouldn't want her to shy away from romance because of the possibility of a broken heart. Neither do I think she should avoid motherhood for the same reason. Being a mom is worth it.

There are many, many other lessons that I want her to learn, and skills I want her to have. How to read (and I mean truly read, the way I was taught as an English major to pull everything possible out of a text) and write well, how to speak, optimism, etc. But this short list will do for a silly blog post.

*I feel the need to clarify: yes, I do understand that there are shitty moms out there. I'm not referring to them, as that's a whole different topic.

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