The truth is, I was scared of her, and I will be again and again, but not right now. Today I’m remembering that we’re simply here to learn alongside each other.
She’s my not even two-year-old daughter, and I have feared her. Maybe it’s not her, exactly, but rather, her fierce femaleness.
Even the very best things, like femininity, can be terrifying and misunderstood–a girl, a lady, a woman–beautiful and complicated and strong, gentle, sweet and soft and then mean.
I only know so far that my Elsie Jane will never stop surprising me, and that’s maybe what brings on the fear–the unknown. She goes from slightly shy to an uproar of out-going. She goes from falling asleep quickly and quietly for many nights to fighting it again night after night, like she forgot she was trying to win at something and now she’s going to take it to a whole new level. She acts aloof when I come through the door, walking away with a furrowed brow and then the next time I return, she runs at me squealing, arms open wide. She is soft and kind and then hard and angry, switching back and forth, always.
This may sound like your typical toddler and in some ways, that’s true. But you’d have to meet Elsie to experience the ways she amplifies everything that can sometimes be more subtle in other people, other girls. She’s Michelle Obama’s poise, Adele’s soul, Tina Fey’s humor and Beyonce’s hips, bumping to the beat.
Elsie is fierce. So fierce, and today I’m not scared. She has so much energy and emotion, sensitivity and fear of her own. She is insecure and at peace, aggressive and nurturing, all at once. And she’s only 1.5 years old.
I didn’t really know what that would mean, until I had her. Girl. The ultrasound tech said it and I didn’t really believe it because somehow she was so foreign. We had two boys, what’s a girl doing in there? What do I do with a girl?
Here I am, almost 38 years into being female and I’m still trying to figure out what makes me a woman and what I think about being one. I have all of this estrogen and these cycles, physically and emotionally–this predisposed stage for drama set within me–and I’ve always thought that made me weaker somehow, at least subconsciously.
We get confused, I think. Feminism is not about women being stronger than they are so they can be treated more equally in every situation. Feminism is more about seeing femininity as the strength that it already is in and of itself with all of its parts. We should be considered equals as we are, not after changing. It is not a weakness to hurt easily or remain soft, in your thin or thick skin, or to struggle against one’s own passive-aggressive manipulative ways occasionally brought on by nothing we can control. It is not a weakness to remain in tune with your emotions or contemplate colors of polish or even to like doing laundry or knitting or baking while it is assumed men are doing the harder and bigger things. That’s not true. Being a woman or a man is not only about what we do with our hands, despite popular opinion.
You throw like a girl.
Damn straight. And I still hit the target.
We all miss sometimes, but that isn’t the point. Elsie is teaching me that no one can define you outside of you. Raise your voice. Wave your arms. Freak out. Calm down. Rest. Get up. Fight. Hurt. Scream again. Be you.
It’s like she came along and allowed me to see myself, all the things that make up a girl, so I could love all those things more unconditionally within the both of us and in other people. It’s not like we’re all the same anyway, simply because we’re female.
Sometimes I compare those supposed differences in my friends that seem wiser and stronger and not so sensitive, like me. Like I’m worse. But then I look at Elsie and I see she’s always both and then I look at that woman that has it all together and fights back and stands up and is successful and fists clenched with a furrowed brow and I see right through her. The rest is still in her. Just like me. We are all more the same than we are different, I always end up finding that out.
We can both be feisty and we can also fold under pressure and we can boss people around and own companies and preach and still cry at night because of that lame comment someone made that twisted the heart-knife.
Elsie screams her demands a lot and she gets her way a lot. We’re trying. We’re giving her boundaries and being consistent but she is who she is, that’s what it comes down to, and so she’s fierce. She throws things and hits and she screams.
Most of the time, when she gets in trouble, she pretty much laughs in the face of consequences. (I know, I know. Don’t even make me start thinking about her teen years.) But other times, when she can see we are truly upset at whatever thing she has done to hurt someone or the dog or how she’s made a huge mess, she crumples up. She hurts. She crumples like her little face, her lip sticking out. She cries hard and long and needs a whole lot of reassuring that she’s okay. It’s like some days she just plain forgets to put on that armor she likes so much, and then her heart is broken. She rests her head on my chest and whines after crying and she sniffles and rubs her eyes and then she takes a deep breath and climbs off my lap.
One of the best things about being a woman is that no matter how many times our hearts are broken, in tiny ways and really awful ways, we get back up. We keep going. So let them break. Cry. This is not a weakness. That’s what Elsie teaches me. The next thing you know, she will tell you off, and she’ll probably be right. Because women are intuitive and wise, connected and without our vulnerability we couldn’t be those things.
The world teaches us to hide behind closed doors on the days we forget our armor–the armor made up of masks and great shoes and good posture, our chins up, nothing but thoughts of how confident and fierce we are.
Because we are, so fierce, just ask the mama bear in every mother. But lets not be fierce for anyone else; let’s be fierce because we already are, underneath and sometimes right out in the open.
We’ve got jobs to do and we do them well, feeling our broken hearts. Stand up straight.
Having horrible posture has always been something I don’t like about me. I’m simply terrible at sitting up straight. For years, I’ve been folding myself nearly in half, like I could hide or something. Don’t look at me. Don’t come to your own conclusions about me. Don’t judge me. I’m sensitive.
Elsie is going to sit up straight. Not because it’s the proper way, but because we’re going to keep allowing her to be all the parts of her. She’s a girl. She is going to change the freaking world. I know it.
Big blue eyes, a concentrated stare and furrowed brow. A loud voice and a stomp and sweet smelling soft skin, not thickening for expectations but thinning to feel the world and serve it. Crying openly and then a finger in your face to tell you how it should be, Do the right thing! Keep your hands off of me! That’s not true! Get back up!
Elsie Jane is a girl. I am a girl. We are a force and so are you and yours. We get to be who we are, thick or thin, weak and strong, always both of everything and it’s as it should be, it just is. Unpredictable and dramatic, scary and then not.
Feminine. Sensitive. Emotional.
Before her, those words defined weakness–too soft, too sad, too much, too dismissed.
With her, I see these words as a part of the armor of womanhood. A package deal that could not be the intensely productive, change-making, world shifting, voice-using, advocating, passionate beast that it is.
What do I do with a fierce girl like Elsie Jane?
Let her go, get scared, watch her, get stronger, lose fear. Remember that we’re all the same, every last human one of us. We’re weak and we’re terrified of snakes and hurricanes and guns in our children’s schools and of not being right and of being looked down on. Our strength is all pretend, until it is grace and then it’s not even ours anyway.
So throw like a girl and cry like a girl and get a little dramatic if you’d like. Fight like a girl. This is not weakness but we are all lacking strength and wearing masks and it would be so much better to just be exactly as we are. Broken and vulnerable, human and messy and somehow still getting up, rising up, to change the world. Fighting like girls.
That’s all I know, so far, and only because my girl is teaching me. Thank you, Elsie Jane.