I caught Chickadee in a lie this evening; I gave her two more chances to recant–neither of which she took–and then when I revealed that I had evidence to the contrary, she dissolved into tears and demanded to know why I hate her. Having come to this interaction fresh out of trying to make her brother try on his Easter clothes (“Take your pants off and try these on. Take your pants off. TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF! Monkey, please PUT YOUR UNDERWEAR BACK ON.”), I did the logical thing.
I announced that as soon as they were in bed, I would be phoning the Easter Bunny to tell him to skip our house.
Eventually all was set to rights. I allowed as to how perhaps I had been hasty about the Bunny; Monkey’s clothes were selected and laid out; Chickadee and I had a discussion about what happens when she lies and also that I love her no matter what. Many tearful apologies later (no, I’m not saying from whom) the kids were tucked in for the night.
I want to say something more profound and less trite-sounding than “I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats” but, well, I laughed and I cried and I really never understood why everyone thought Cats was so great, anyway, because frankly parts of the story really creeped me out when I finally saw it at the ripe old age of 32.
What I CAN say that will perhaps convey how important I think this book is, is that I will read it again. I almost never reread books. I devour books on a regular basis and am the sort of person who will read utter schlock rather than be without a book in my hands, but there is perhaps one shelf reserved for the few works I will read again and again. This book will join the others on that shelf, assuming that I take it off of my nightstand for any length of time, which may not even happen.
I can say that I think this book is required reading for any woman raising a girl, or thinking of raising a girl. My only complaint is that it wasn’t out eight years ago when I found out I was going to have a daughter. Every woman I knew acted as if I’d won the lottery, while I guiltily kept my doubts and fears to myself.
The first essay in the collection (“Her Perfect Woman” by Carolyn Alessio) starts with the author’s description of her initial conviction that she would fit into her child’s world much more naturally as a doting but essentially absentee presence, so daunted did she find herself by the day-to-day care a baby required. Well, I reminded myself as I came to the end of the first page, I was the very model of maternal instinct, at least, thanks to years of babysitting, and so perhaps this piece would prove interesting, but not particularly relevant to my own experience.
And then I turned the page, and read:
Friends called me a bad feminist when I confided that I was hoping for a boy. Wanting a male is such a ridiculous, old-school cliche–an heir, a farmhand, a business associate to carry on the name. I knew this, but I feared having a girl child who might have weaknesses similar to my own, especially struggles with self-confidence.
And so I was hooked, half a page in, relieved to know that I was not the only person on the planet who had dreaded raising a girl. Not because girls are hard or bad or anything like that, but because I feared seeing my own struggles transpiring anew.
Much later in the collection, in “Daughter Dread” by Vicky Mlyniec, it was summed up exactly as I would’ve said it if I could’ve found those right words:
Having a daughter would mean adding to the already huge responsibility of child-rearing the task of untangling my past from my daughter’s present.
Right. That’s it, isn’t it?
It’s an entire volume of women laying themselves bare to discuss those complexities that so often get buried in everyday life or are too painful or personal to speak about as a matter of course. It’s a compilation of love letters to our daughters from imperfect, searching mothers. Moms like you. Moms like me. It’s different stories but a very common theme: It’s nothing like I thought it would be, and so much more than I expected.
Thank you, Andi, for undertaking this project. I spent hours mentally interjecting, “Yes!” to so much of what I read. When evening came and I was fielding another “why is this child so DIFFICULT?” moment I felt buoyed and calmed by my afternoon of reading. I knew we’d get through it. I felt brimming over with a fierce love for my girl instead of just frustrated and tired.
Many of the writers in the collection have sons in addition to one or more daughters, and discuss the differences in raising the two. No two examples were quite the same and yet they all spoke of the same simplicity, with sons, while daughters just seemed more… complicated. It reminded me of something that happened earlier this week.
Chickadee was telling me about girl at school, and commented that she doesn’t really like her all that much. When I asked why not, she said, “Well, she’s kinda bossy.”
I feigned shock and horror. “Bossy? WELL!” I snaked a finger around her waist to administer a quick tickle. “That’s TERRIBLE. I wonder if you know anyone ELSE who’s bossy? HMMMM?” I was–of course–inferring that she herself knows quite a bit about bossiness, and that I was finding her distaste for this trait somewhat amusing. She knew exactly what I was getting at, too.
But do you know what she did?
“Yeah, I do,” she responded, trying VERY hard to look contemplative. As I awaited her epiphany and remorse for being bossy, herself, she broke out into a wicked grin. “YOU’re bossy, Mama!” She shrieked with laughter as I gaped and chased her out of the room.
Now ensued a good fifteen minutes of good-natured bickering back and forth, where I denied it and she continued to cackle and insist that I am TERRIBLY BOSSY.
[Sidenote: I am bossy. You wisenheimers in the back needn't point it out; I'm aware. This is not the point.]
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are! You’re SO BOSSY!”
Monkey observed this drama unfolding in front of him and fairly quivered with his desire to join the fray. Chickadee and I were–although play-fighting over a less desirable characteristic which, let’s face it, we share–enjoying each other and having something of a bizarre bonding interlude over the unspoken acknowledgement of our similarity. Neither of us were paying much mind to the boy, when he spotted his opening.
“Stop it, I am NOT bossy,” I said.
“You are TOTALLY bossy,” she countered.
“Yeah, and also you’re FAT!” shouted Monkey with abandon.
Chickadee and I turned to behold Monkey–his declarative, punctuating finger held high in the air for emphasis–and then locked eyes with each other and laughed until the tears streamed down our cheeks. Monkey felt this was a victory and regaled us with variations on the original (“You’re SUPER FAT!” “You’re fatty fat FAT FAT!” etc.) while we gasped for breath. I doubt it would’ve been so amusing if I really was overweight, but as it was, his ridiculousness trumped ours.
So, yeah. Having a daughter is like that and a son is more like that and I love them both but “different” is sort of an understatement. An entire book about the thatness was a great reminder that 1) I’m not insane, 2) I’m not alone, and 3) I’m so, so lucky.