In true Supermom fashion – after spinning at 6am, chauffeuring my two kids to two different camps, making dinner for our neighbors, tossing our own dinner in the crock pot, walking both my dogs and my mom’s dog, helping my mom move into her new apartment half an hour away, and chauffeuring the kids home from camp – I was preparing to take them to the pool yesterday afternoon. My six-year-old daughter asked me if she could not wear a shirt like some of the boys she sees there. When I told her it’s a rule that girls have to wear bathing suit tops, she burst into tears: hot, abundant tears that were one part drama, one part fatigue, and one part genuine and raw frustration.
We sat on the couch and she curled up in my arms, my sweet, strong girl in her basketball shorts, no shirt, and her new shark tooth necklace she bought on her camp field trip to the aquarium. She wept as she asked me why. Why can boys go shirtless and girls can’t? Why do boys get to be free and bare-skinned and girls always have to cover up?
I tried my best to answer her, while feeling wildly unequipped to provide the right sort of counsel to both comfort and satisfy her. Oh, and also not crush her self-confidence or scar her for life as I discussed breasts and breast-feeding and tried to make her appreciate this part of her body that she may or may not use for its intended purpose two or three decades from now. I did my best, folks.
For the past year or so, my daughter has gravitated towards toys and clothes that are made for and marketed to boys. She loves superheroes and Star Wars. She wants her shorts to be knee-length and have pockets (why are most girls’ shorts teeny and pocket-less?!). She wants to play football. She wants to someday be a black belt in mixed martial arts.
Just be being her authentic self, she is challenging the norm every day. She is sometimes teased by peers and often mistaken for a boy by strangers. But her desire to be true to who she is outweighs the discomfort she feels. And so she persists.
She does not get this trait from me. When I was her age, I was a shy people-pleaser whose parents had recently divorced. I wore smocked dresses, played with the girly toys I was given on birthdays and Christmas, and just generally tried not to rock the boat in any way, ever. I fit in.
My kid? She stands out.
And now, so do I.
I am not drinking for a year. This choice makes me stand out, from my friends, from my family, from society. I can’t discuss this choice with my daughter right now. But I know she can sense my boosted confidence and the shift in my energy. She can probably sense more than I can even identify right now.
After yesterday’s conversation, I am starting to realize just how deeply my daughter inspires me. How can I effectively parent and nuture a confident, strong girl whose tastes and interests differ from the status quo? By nurturing the parts of myself that do, too. Because these are the parts that make me ME and not just a reflection of what society is telling me to be.
As for the pool trip, we compromised: I put the sprinkler on in the yard and let both kids run around, topless and gleeful in the glorious afternoon sun.