When I decided many years ago that I wanted children, I didn’t give a lot of thought to what that would actually mean. I didn’t consider the endless layers of nuance and intricacy that actually raising children entails; nor did I give a lot of thought regarding their gender. I figured I’d have a couple sons, and a couple of daughters, and all would be ‘Leave it to Beaver’ levels of picturesque. Of course, like most things in life, none of these things ended up being true.
I had my first daughter when I was 25, and my second at 28. Two years ago, I experienced a miscarriage and have been unable to get pregnant since. At this point, it feels as though my child bearing days are gone, as we’ve tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant again since a few months after the loss of our precious babe. Most days I’m okay with that, some days I’m not. Some days I yearn so fiercely for those flutters in my belly again, and the weight of an infant in my arms that I can almost taste it. Mostly, though, I’m exceedingly grateful for the brilliant, healthy girls I’ve been gifted with. Then I remember that I’m raising girls in this terrifying world and the wave of panic and terror that rolls through me almost knocks me on my ass.
I worry every day, all day about what it means to successfully raise children. Will they be independent? Will they be kind? Will they be strong? Will they be compassionate? Will they be bullied? Will they BE bullies? More than anything, though, I ask myself over and over again: Will they be SAFE?
My oldest daughter, Sophia, is the picture of sensitivity, almost to a fault. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. She cannot bear anyone being in pain, whether she knows them personally or not. When a kid at school messes with her, whether out of malice or jest, it tears her apart and breaks her tiny, pure heart. Yet, she does not want to defend herself. She refuses to inflict any sort of pain of anyone, even if they have done the same to her. She looks up at me with those big blue eyes of hers, framed with thick, black lashes that any grown woman would kill for, and when the tears well there as she asks me why anyone would want to be mean to her for no reason, I feel a piece of my own heart snap, and I want to inflict violence on the little asshole that hurt my baby girl. More than that, though, I want to inspire and empower her to stand up for herself.
My anxiety about Sophia revolves entirely around this concept. I want to do everything in my power to ensure she keeps that sweet, sensitive nature of hers. We NEED more of that in this world; but the world is not made up of Sophias, and that is where my terror lies. How do I instill in her the absolute surety that she is worth every bit of consideration that she bestows upon everyone else? The conversations she and I have had usually consist of, “You would stick up for someone else if you saw someone picking on them, wouldn’t you?” Her response is always, “Yes Mama, I always stick up for people if they’re being bullied.” To which I respond, “Then why, my sweet girl, do you not give yourself the same courtesy?”
I do not worry about Sophia herself, I worry what the world will do to Sophia. The world is unforgiving and unkind, and loves nothing more than to squelch the spirit of the pure and the sweet. Nothing would crush me more than seeing that sweetness extinguished because the world has jaded her. And yet…
Part of me wants her to be jaded. Part of me wants her to understand that the world is not sunshine and rainbows, like her childhood has been. I feel that, as her mother, it is my duty to prepare her for the real world, to ensure that she is armed to the gills with the weapons needed to be a successful, productive adult. I want her to be ready to fight off any men or boys that make unwanted advances on her. I want her to be prepared for the crushing disappointment that will follow when her male colleagues get promotions that should have gone to her and when their paychecks are fatter than hers. I want her to stand her damn ground when some idiot tells her to get back in the kitchen and make him a sandwich. Above all, I want her to respect herself, as much as she does others.
You see my dilemma, yes? How do I instill strength and fierceness while also continuing to nurture the sheer goodness that is my sweet Sophia Maye? I cannot change the world– many have tried, most have failed in that undertaking. Who knows, maybe it will take true heartbreak to finally fracture that shell of candy-coated sweetness. And, while I’d like to pretend I can shield both of my babies from pain and harm, the pragmatist inside of me knows that that is unrealistic. The only thing I can do is make sure she knows that, no matter what, I am always going to be there, to help her pick up the pieces and put them back together again.
Vivian, on the other hand, is a warrior woman in the making. On a particularly bad day with Soph, I told her than if she is ever feeling meek, she should repeat (in her mind) our new credo: “I am a fierce woman and I don’t take NO shit from no one!” (Yes, I allow my angelic little girls to curse when the occasion calls for it). Soph was reluctant to repeat it, because, A) she didn’t truly believe it and, B) she didn’t want to curse (yes, really). Vivi adopted the credo with gusto, though, and will gleefully repeat it multiple times a day, then again, for any bystanders that may have missed it.
She is as fierce as the day is long and already has such a strong personality and sense of self at four-years-old that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will never have to worry about her defending herself, or others, for that matter. She absolutely will not do anything she does not want to do (outside of those pesky requirements like wearing shoes and brushing her teeth that I insist upon) and has no qualms with putting someone in their place– boy, girl, child, adult, it matters not. If she believes you have wronged her, you will hear about it, at length, and with some impressively colorful expletives. When she is not giving someone a tongue lashing, she is the snuggliest, sweetest, funniest toddler I know. She forced herself into this world seven weeks early and has made it her bitch ever since.
It astounds me how wildly different these children are. They’ve been raised in the same environment, with the same people, principles and ideals from the jump. I suppose this is where a conversation about Nature vs. Nurture would be appropriate, but that’s a topic for another day. Soph and Vivi are luckier than a lot of kids in so many ways. They have never wanted for anything, they have always had nice clothes, delicious food, and a warm, loving shelter to call home. Most importantly, though, they have a never-ending supply of love and support. They have a daddy that thinks the sun shines out of their behinds and who will be an exceptional male role model for them throughout their formative years. I am so grateful to my husband for this, because they will see first hand what a real man looks and acts like. They will see that he treats their mama like a queen and that he treats all of the women in his life, especially them, with respect and reverence. They have grandparents, great grandparents, aunt, uncles, great aunts and great uncles, a (seemingly) ceaseless rotation of cousins, and our friends that adore them and would do anything for them.
More than anything else in this world, I am grateful for the love that surrounds them. Having nice things is all well and good, but those things are superfluous. They break, they die, they get lost. They are REPLACEABLE. But, when life knocks them down, as it inevitably will, they will have a cushion of love to fall back on, and there is nothing more precious than that.
Parenthood is terrifying. It is hard and it is exhausting. It is the sole reason for the increasing number of gray hairs that stand out like a sore thumb amongst my naturally dark locks. Then I look at my daughters and their potential futures flash before my eyes and I realize that I have been given the most beautiful gift. I have been given the chance to raise the next generation of warriors and nurturers. It is my honor and privilege to try and lead these tiny humans by example and teach them the wisdom and knowledge that has been bequeathed to me by the generations of women that have come before me. And on the days when I doubt my abilities to adequately raise these girls to the standard of which they deserve, I square my shoulders, look myself straight in the eye in a mirror and proudly proclaim that “I am a fierce woman and I don’t take no shit from no one.”
Works every time.
Dani Strehle, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder, is hoping to reshape the narrative to leave behind a better world for her daughters, so that they may sustain, rather than battle and rebuild.