One day when I was pregnant, Toby and I were standing in front of the bathroom mirror, preening side by side. I think I was straightening my hair and he was moussing his. I looked at him and said, “How are we going to convince our daughter she’s beautiful just the way she is, if we’re both so vain?”
He shrugged. “Maybe she’ll make us better people.”
That sums up the dilemma that keeps occurring to me when I think about raising a girl. Well, children really, but there are some dilemmas that are pretty female-specific. There are contradictions in this world, real and perceived, that I am still in the process of understanding if not accepting, as a feminist who gets waxes, wears ridiculous shoes, thinks mowing the lawn is Toby’s job, who kind of liked it when the nice man at the deli called me ‘sweetie’, who can only see the world in shades of grey rather than anything even approaching black or white.
There are things I will say to her, over and over again if I have to, because they are the truth, the core truth of life. If they are all she ever knows, she will be okay. But after the truth comes the parentheses, containing another layer of the truth that says something not about life but about life in this particular world, this time, this country. Maybe this is the truth I won’t have to say out loud, that she will figure out on her own, hopefully not the hard way, if we do our jobs right. This is the layer I wish didn’t exist, that I hope one day won’t exist. With any luck, Emma will never have to worry about her own daughter or granddaughter needing to articulate this extra layer, because it won’t be there.
Your body is perfect, just the way it is. (But if lip gloss or dying your hair makes you happy, that’s ok.)
You are in charge of your body and how you present yourself to the world. (But you are not leaving the house like that.)
It’s okay to have casual sex if that’s what makes you happy. (But be prepared for what people will think/say/post on Facebook about you. These people may be the same ones you’ve slept with.)
Sexual assault (any assault) is never, ever the victim’s fault. (But you still need to look out for yourself, and your girlfriends.)
Other dilemmas are equally important for sons and daughters.
You don’t need to yell or cry to get my attention. (But I’m not going to come rushing with every little sound you make.)
Having the latest and greatest clothes/gadgets is not what life is about. (But it’s ok to want them, and to really enjoy them when you’re lucky enough to have them.)
You are always, always welcome in this house, which is your home. (But you really need to move out.)
And perhaps, the biggest one of all:
You are the centre of my world. You are not the centre of the world.
I’ve only been a parent for six months but already I can see a great chunk of the next 18+ years of my life will be spent pondering this, turning it over in my mind, getting it wrong, hoping I’ve got it right.