My daughter turns 9 today.
For 9 years, she has been challenging my understanding of what it means to be a woman. Here is what I’ve learned from her so far.
1. There is more than one way to be a woman, and none of them are wrong.
She was about 5 when she thanked me for loving her even though we were different kinds of girls.
“What do you mean we’re different kinds of girls?” I asked.
“Well, you know,” she said. “I like pants and sports and you like…” she flapped her arms about, making what I’m certain is the universal sign for froufrou.
She wasn’t wrong. We are different kinds of girls, and I can be a bit *flapping arms about* sometimes. Truth be told, it wasn’t always easy for me to gracefully accept those differences.
When I found out I was having a girl, I imagined a mini-me in pink cupcake dresses and golden ringlets. I pictured us getting manicures together and maybe wearing matching Easter dresses someday.
Emma made it very clear from an early age that she would have no part of those fantasies. Before she could talk in complete sentences she was letting me know that she hated wearing dresses or anything ruffled. She hasn’t allowed me to put so much as a barrette in her hair since she was two.
But she has also never mocked my own love of up-dos and ruffles, or anyone else’s.
We were waiting to see Santa at Disney World one Christmas, and I spotted a little girl in line wearing a full-on Cinderella costume – complete with the top knot and sparkle hairspray. “Oh, Emma, doesn’t she look pretty?” I gushed.
“She does look very pretty,” Emma said with the utmost sincerity. “And that is so very nice… for her.”
She showed me what it looks like to accept who you are and accept people who are different from you.
2. Labels are containers we use to help us keep things neat, but people do not fit into fabric-lined baskets.
A couple years ago she started calling herself a tom boy. It made me uncomfortable, and I couldn’t figure out exactly why.
I realized that I hated what the term seemed to imply: that she wasn’t really a girl. That she needed another name to describe her because the label Girl didn’t fit.
But this is 2014, and we no longer have to sort ourselves into two opposing categories of real girl or tom boy.
And Emma is so much more than either one of those labels anyway. She insists on playing baseball – not softball – and she begged to have her ears pierced when she was six. She loves Pablo Picasso and Katy Perry. She’s seen every episode of Bones and thinks Dirty Dancing is “totally inappropriate”.
When she started calling herself a tom boy, I asked if she wanted to look like mom or dad when she grew up. I didn’t want to push her into a gender box or ignore any signs that she felt misplaced in her own body. She’s assured me that she feels like a girl on the outside and inside.
“I’m just not what you think of when you think of a girl,” she says.
“There is nothing about who you are or what you like that isn’t part of being a girl,” I remind her.
I want her to know labels are limited, but she doesn’t have to be.
Wanting her to know that helps me remember it for myself.
3. Be who you are, and don’t be afraid to let who you are change.
In nine short years, my beautiful daughter has already grown and evolved so much. She’s been through her Taylor Swift phase and her do-everything-herself phase. She’s been obsessed with Lightning McQueen, Andrew McCutchen, Hannah Montana, and cats.
When I see these changes in her, I’m grateful for the opportunity to witness her growing up.
When I’ve seen similar changes in myself, I’ve dismissed my evolution as a sign of flakiness or “being wrong”.
Being Emma’s mother has shown me that our identity is less about who we are and more about where we are right now. I have compassion and even love for her constant progression, and that’s helped me be more patient with my own never-ending journey.
I always knew my job as Emma’s mom would be to teach her how to be a responsible, resourceful, happy adult. I never expected she’d teach me so much about what it means to be a strong, confident, loving woman.