To My Daughter
Last weekend we went swimming at a nearby state park. One particular swimming area has cliffs on the bank of one side of the river from which people jump. Before the rest of us could put our things down you were in the water, swimming across the river to reach the cliffs on the other side. Even though you are a very strong swimmer, just seeing you swim across the river made me anxious. But you are confident with your own abilities. You are not like me.
Your momma doesn’t like heights, or thrill rides, or scary things. As I examine this I realize that I don’t like these things because I have always felt that real life is scary enough, thankyouverymuch. But you are not like me. You do things like run for Student Council, something I never did because I was afraid I would lose. So many opportunities in life I have let pass me by because the fear was holding me back. That’s crazy isn’t it? You probably don’t know that about me, you see me just as your mom. You march to your own drummer. You wear sneakers with every outfit, because you “never know when you are going to want to run somewhere.” (I hate to tell you that I know because I never want to run anywhere.) You take competition very seriously, that’s the thrill of sports for you.
You climbed up the face of the rocky cliff, surefooted and agile. You were the only little girl over there and one of the few females of any age. I joke that the lack of females is because women have brains that they use. And those brains say, Danger, Danger, Danger! However, I think the truth is that many females, like us but my age, were discouraged starting at a young age from doing brave things, both literal and figurative. We got the message that being brave and strong is about physical size, when nothing could be farther from the truth.
You climbed to the top. You watched a few older boys before you jump off and then you stood up and claimed your turn. You looked across the river to us and I imagine I saw I twinkle in your eye. You waved. And then you jumped. There were college boys sitting next to us on our side of the river. One of them turned to me, “Is that tiny girl yours?” he asked. And when I said yes he replied, “Wow, she is fierce.”
Dear child, not once in my 44 years on this planet has anyone described me as fierce. You are not like me.
You jumped off the cliff to the whooping and clapping of people who don’t know anything about you, except that you were brave enough to climb up those rocks and leap. That you were more fearless than most of us who were content to lounge about in our inner tubes.
You swam back across the river. The young men next to us high-fived you when you came out of the water. “You are awesome,” one of them told you. You just shrugged, as if they were telling you something you already knew. I love this about you. The way that you are comfortable in your own skin is something that I admire. I never want you to lose that.
I never imagined that I would have a daughter. I always thought I would be the mother of sons. Having a daughter was frightening. How would I be able to watch my daughter navigate the same path I had walked. How would I teach her to avoid the pitfalls upon which I had stumbled? When I was pregnant with you I couldn’t even imagine having a girl, which is why you ended up with an unisex name that suits you so perfectly. Somehow before you were born I didn’t realize that you would not be reliving my life. Your life would be your own, with different paths and different things to stumble over. The map I hold, for avoiding all the painful things, is virtually useless. Despite this I still clutch it anxiously.
You catch me staring at you. “What?” you ask, half exasperated. “Why are you looking at me?”
I wonder how it is you don’t know that your beauty make me stare in awe. For all the things I don’t accomplish in my life, I can point to you and say I made this. I MADE THIS. You can keep your mason jar crafts, Pinterest. Whatever else I do with my life raising you and your brothers will always be my greatest accomplishment.
I wonder often about walking the tightrope of telling you how beautiful you are. Do I tell you too often, not often enough? Will you think that only outer-beauty matters, or if I don’t say it enough will you think you aren’t beautiful? I measure and weigh my words with you in a way I never do with with your brothers. I know that this comes from a place of my own insecurities. And I suppose that is half the battle. You are nothing like me. The insecurities I feel, the baggage I carry, the past I lived are all mine and I try hard not to let them color how I interact with you. Try being the operative word.
I don’t know where this confidence you have came from, but I would like to bottle some of it up. Maybe wear it in a little vile around my neck like Billy Bob Thorton did with Angelina Jolie’s blood. Yes, that was creepy. I wonder what the upcoming teen years will bring. Will they be full of self-doubt? Or are you confident enough to weather them with ease?
We were lounging in our inner tubes on the river. You leaned over in a whisper to me said, “That was really scary, mom.”
“Was it? You didn’t look scared at all.”
“Everyone up there is a little scared. You just have to pretend you aren’t. Then the next thing you know, you’re not scared.”
I nodded. There is wisdom in those words.
“I’m going to go jump off again. So I don’t forget I can do it.” And, off you swam.
So far, none of the things I have worried about have come to pass. You are nothing like me, in all the best ways possible. Where I am shy, you are confident. Where I am weak, you are strong. Where I am laid back, you are fierce. When people talk about grrl power (without the i, why without the i?) you are what they imagine. There are times when I wish you would be more assertive vocally and stand up for yourself, but I am beginning to realize that the quiet way you claim your space is also powerful. And that my desire for you to be more assertive has more to do with me and my own issues than it does with you.
You stand at the edge of cliff again. I scan your face closely and still I detect no fear.
You are not like me. Yet, everything I wish I could be.
Published July 15, 2013. Last updated June 26, 2018.