I am startled as I see her small body appear on the stairs again, stomping down step by step, avoiding my eyes. She holds a white laundry basket in her hand, and I bite my tongue as I watch it bump into the spindles on my staircase.
Her shoulder bumps into mine as she struggles to turn the corner, and the metaphor is not lost on me.
My relationship with my daughter is like an unfinished chore. Something you don’t want to deal with, but you know needs attention. I want her to be finished, now, so the petty arguments and fights can be done, and we can move on to the good stuff.
The notion that women are caddy and petty to each other is nothing new, but I believe it has moved up a notch the last few months. In the past decade, women have advanced economically and educationally, seen improvements in sexual freedoms and access to health care, experienced political triumphs and increased business success; yet we still criticize individuals looks with such animosity.
And we do so in front of our girls.
I was lucky. My mom was strict and by good fortune I did not put myself in too many precarious situations. I often wonder what would have happened if I had a more serious boyfriend in high school. Would I be brave enough to ensure I used protection every time? Would I have walked into a Planned Parenthood to obtain birth control?
I am not sure of the answer, but I know both are more likely than me going to talk to my parents about it. Anything but that.
I long to hold her back for just one more day, keep her small and uninformed and protected.
But she’s slipping through my fingers as rushes to grow up, a little more every day.
I think we want to pigeon-hole all the things that are wrong in this world on the decisions of someone else, usually a parent. And while sometimes it may be accurate, oftentimes, it’s just a rash judgment on something you know little or nothing about.
When my daughter was in fourth grade, I received an email from another mother.
“I just wanted to say how grateful I am that our girls are friends. A 5th grader started picking on Joy on the playground, and your daughter stood up for her. You are really raising her right!”
I think about how awkward it felt for me to approach a group of parents, a group where we all shared a common interest in our daughters’ soccer team. And then I think of how difficult it must feel when there are true differences between you and other people, when the circles seem impenetrable because they are made of steel.
It is a tight-rope I walk with my daughters. I want them to feel empowered, beautiful and accepted as they are, but I know that self-confidence is more than receiving compliments. Learning to accept and manage criticism, whether constructive or malicious, is an important life skill, yet I feel crushed between the desire for honesty and the motherly instinct to protect them from pain, whether from me or someone else.
They are threats and barbs and put downs and intimidation tactics and insults. They made me feel frightened and nervous and panicky and anxious and uneasy.
Should I be tougher? Should I ensure my daughter is tough enough to handle these itty bitty little words?
So, I wonder, when my daughter looks in the mirror, will she hear my voice saying she is beautiful on the inside and out, or will she choose to purge her last meal? When a young girl ostracizes her on social media, will her father’s words ring in her ears, reminding her of her strength, or will she choose to cut her skin to deal with the pain? When a boy pressures her to move forward too quickly, will she remember her worth or succumb to peer pressure?