So, now it is time for the next confession—I am amazed at how far ahead in personal growth our children are compared to me. I attended a “red tent” event in the Bay Area while picking up my daughter from camp this summer and walked away in awe, especially of my daughter. For any guys reading, a red tent is exactly what you think, a celebration of being a woman. And the red cords on our wrists are the reminders of the joy of this celebration. If you have questions, there is a book this is modeled on and you are welcome to read it. Me, I’m already blushing thinking about having to explain in any more detail, so enough said…
Having to drag my youngest to this event I wanted to go to was not my best plan, just my only one. What do you do when your host for the weekend wants to take you and your daughter with her and her daughter that is radically different than anything your child has been exposed to in her brief lifetime? Now me, I used to attempt to live at a women’s bookstore, Southern Sisters, my entire college career and attended anything that would help me sort out the war between the sexes going on in the early '90s and what being a woman could mean. And my friend had met me at that time, so she felt comfortable inviting me.
Unfortunately, opportunities like that are few and far between in San Diego and so my daughters have little exposure to the strong woman ideas beyond our family’s espousal of them. We usually hit them when visiting my friends from college, usually friends cultivated from my women’s studies classes (and yes, this means men and women), who live in New England, New York, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Austin, Colorado and the Bay Area. And these are strong men and women who believe women should not be kept in a very small box, the way my family in the rural South likes to keep them. Women and men who never considered changing the wife’s last name when they married, whereas my father’s family still doesn’t realize I have their last name and not my husband’s. This, after 20 years of marriage … but enough of my ranting.
As a parent, you strive to balance helping your child grow and make mistakes in a safe space with trying to impart the hard-won life lessons you learned without them going through the same struggles you did. As a child and a young adult, the hardest struggle I encountered was tied to gender, my gender. It was the limiting factor in my life. From girls can’t do math, abuse, men taking things out of my hands when I was carrying them, the lectures I earned from opening doors for other women when that is a man’s job, having female relatives who only voted the way their husbands told them, and to the furor when my great-grandmother died and her caregiver, a minister and a woman, was denied the right to speak her eulogy in our small Baptist church, I learned women occupied a very small space in my community’s world. But then my grandfather, very much the product of that rural slice of the South, was the man who taught me to think outside the box, to reach for dreams and let no one tell me I cannot do something. Mind you, he gave conflicting messages—girls always cross their legs, sit like a lady, girls don’t climb trees in skirts—but they were little conflicting messages tied to decorum, not the life-seizing opportunities he pushed me to grasp.
Anyway, I struggled on this issue and naturally rebelled a bit. I think my parents considered disowning me when my college roommate and I made our answering machine message read “we’re out burning bras right now,” but somehow got over it. I sorted through my angst and reached a point where I was happy with myself and my lot. And then I had children and the worries for them, being daughters, overwhelmed me. I realized I had to find some balance or I would warp them. And so I modeled the behavior I espoused, made sure they had time with my friends who complemented that, drew firm lines with media consumption to limit those things I found a detriment to women and largely left them to form their own opinions. This is one of the hardest things I have found as a parent, letting them do it themselves, and with self-image as a woman, it was incredibly difficult, especially since you might not know the outcome, how they really view and value themselves, for years into their adulthood.
But back to my daughter. We walk into this beautiful space 15 minutes late, a circle of women all ages that graciously made room for us. Having no idea of what to expect, I told my daughter to participate in whatever parts she felt comfortable. It had New Age, feminist, and some other elements I had never encountered. Then it started and she was herself and comfortable with everything. First, they passed the red cord, to wrap around your wrist several times as you introduced yourself and your lineage (i.e., Valerie, mother of …, sister to … daughter to … granddaughter of), and passed it to the woman next to you. We ended up all connected, a community of women. My daughter was seated so she was on point before me so I was privileged to see her thoughts and reactions independent of anything I could say or do. No modeling mom’s behavior that night. So I got a glimpse of what she might look like when she grows up. And let me tell you, she’s going to be one strong, opinionated, caring woman. To be the youngest in the group, she knew her mind and spoke with authority. Unbeknownst to me, she has already absorbed many of the difficulties facing women and has her own solutions to handling them. Watching her afterwards with a circle of mothers and grandmothers around her, celebrating her poise and self-confidence, and valuing her input in a way no one had ever valued mine until much later in life, I was in awe. She taught me a few things that night. And even more on the car trip home, when she asked me if we could start a women’s center in Rancho Bernardo … the dream I have had for here since I moved down, one I have talked to many female friends about but never my own daughters. So, how about you?