Christopher Hitchens describes parenthood beautifully by recalling Yeats’ juxtaposition “terrible beauty.”
“Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: [parenting is] a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body.”
When you become a mother of daughters, the world looks at you a bit differently. The first girl is always graciously accepted into the fold, but by the second, well-meaning family and friends will shudder on your behalf to think that you have not one, but two potentially unruly women to struggle with for the next two decades. I am one of these women. As of July, I will be a mother of daughters.
Girls throughout history have always had the expectation by greater society (men and women) to be well behaved, gracious, educated, beautiful and more. While males, too, have great expectation thrust upon them, I have seen with my own eyes the displeasing eye that follows a girl when she doesn’t toe the line. Boys will be boys of course, but girls are always ladies first.
Even more notorious is this notion that relations between mothers and daughters are wrought with strife and conflict, constantly battling between the rights and wrongs of rebellion. This may be true with my own mother, who I love dearly but seldom agree with, but I will fight to the end for a different balance with my own girls.
Isla is my oldest, and she will have two-and-a-half years experience being an only child before her little sister, Mavis, arrives. In that time, she has broken the mould 10 times over for doing as the world expects. Born with a minor medical condition, Isla was tube-fed from birth until one-and-a-half. She refused to eat. At two-and-half she is a medical mystery because she also refuses to walk. Concerning looks are cast my way when well-meaning folks ask what we’re doing to figure it out. My simple response has always been that Isla will figure things out on her own time, in her own way, as she has always done. And she will do it with a fierce independence that often brings tears to my eyes.
Not walking has not slowed her down and she has not a single ounce of trouble asserting herself in a world that was not made for kids, and girls, like her. I have every confidence that she represents a new wave of feminism (and humanism for that matter) in her tiny three foot body. But within this beauty is the terrible struggle of being two, that I will likely experience again with her at 16. That struggle to find your own way, while also adhering to eating all your peas at dinner.
What I wish for more than anything this Mother’s Day, is to see the world bend much more to accommodate the women I am raising these girls to be, and that I can hopefully be this example along the way. I do not wish for preferential treatment, nor accolades they have not earned, but a staunch better bit of encouragement for them to go forth and be wild. Test boundaries and limits, remove glass ceilings in favour of open air, and find love within themselves before seeking it in the world.
As for me, a mother of daughters, I take comfort in knowing that if there is strife ahead, it must mean I have raised them right (and also that I was due for some karma). At the very least, when they cannot turn to me in times of trouble, they’ll have each other as examples of what can be achieved with a little willpower.