Piercing the Veil of Shame

When I was first found out that I was pregnant, I knew that the little bean growing inside of me was a girl. It didn’t surprise me, then, when the ultrasound confirmed it. Dave and I decided on the name Maya soon after. “Maya” has many different meanings, but the one that resonated for me was the Hindu or Buddhist connotation of “illusion”, that the world around us is illusory. But if we learn to pierce the veil of that illusion, ultimate reality or ultimate truth is revealed.

When Maya was born I hoped at that moment that she and I would continue the powerful bond that I feel with all of the women in my family. I hoped that the world she was born into would value her unique gifts, not despite being female, but because she is female.

That hope has been put to the test by some recent, very tragic events which have forced me to really look at the world she will grow up in. In the last several months there have been at least three reported cases in Canada and the U.S. of adolescent girls who have taken their own lives after photos of them being sexually assaulted were circulated on social media and then used to torment and shame them. I cannot imagine the pain these girls endured and the terrible grief and loss their families are now left with.

It is difficult not to feel disheartened and demoralized when faced with the ugliness that continues to exist in this world; ugliness that seems disproportionately to impact children and women. And I wonder how I will possibly be able to prepare Maya to navigate this new reality, a reality for which I am, admittedly, woefully ill-equipped. Smart phones, capable of sharing your darkest secrets with the world, did not exist when I came of age.

The sensible part of my brain tells me that there are, of course, practical strategies I can employ when Maya is older. I can teach her about safe sex, forbid her to go to parties that are unsupervised, warn her of the dangers of drinking, do my best to ensure that she trusts me enough to be able to tell me anything. But if she is anything like I was, those strategies may be rendered useless.

My own adolescence was filled with painful lessons I learned the hard way despite the many warnings, prohibitions and groundings. I was forbidden from going to unsupervised parties and drinking underage. I did it anyways. Of course I had no idea how to drink. No one taught me that. And like most teen girls, I desperately wanted to fit in without really knowing how to go about doing that. I wanted boys to like me. I didn’t want anyone to know how dorky I really was, so I showed off to appear “cool” and “older”. If offered a full glass of straight brandy, I would take it and chug it down. Looking back, those attempts at being grown up were ridiculous, like a toddler thinking they’re grown up because they can put their pajamas on by themselves. But that is the point really. Adolescents live in a strange world in which they know little about, but are required to fake knowledge and sophistication just to survive in it. Their inexperience is quickly spotted by the more worldly (or opportunistic) and easily exploited.

My determination to :”fake it” in that world resulted in being perilously close to alcohol poisoning on a few occasions, leaving me with few, if any memories of that period of time. The memories I do have aren’t pretty. Thinking about it now, I realize just how vulnerable I was, and how completely dependent on the good-will of the people who happened to be around me, most of whom I had never met. It didn’t help that they were also drunk and barely had the capacity to take care of themselves, let alone me.

For the most part, I was fortunate. Any pain, embarrassment or humiliation I suffered was relatively minor. However, had there been photos or video to serve as constant reminders of my youthful lack of judgment, I am very aware that my humiliation would have been compounded exponentially. I was lucky. I got to put the events out of my mind as “lessons learned” and move on. Young women today do not have that luxury.

Social media has become an effective weapon to propagate something that has been used to control women from time immemorial: shame. Women and girls have been and continue to be indoctrinated to be ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of their sexuality, ashamed of their own power, their own voice. They have been taught that their worth is to be determined by others. When the propaganda “takes”, particularly in relation to sexuality, girls and women come to accept those messages, that they are ugly, bad, dirty, defective, blame worthy, worth less, valued less, unloveable. Shame is used to silence women and to subjugate them. It works by making them feel responsible and defective if they are sexually assaulted. Its success is mostly due to the fact that the institutions of our societies, our laws, our religions, cultures, education, health, media, families, communities and our governments, frequently reinforce those same messages.

How does a young woman withstand these powerful messages of shame, particularly at a stage of development when she is experimenting with her sexual identity? It takes heroic amounts of courage and strength. Education can help pave the way for an alternate discourse and allow her voice to be heard. Teaching boys and girls the notion of “enthusiastic consent” might help. I think that we also need to explicitly focus on deconstructing shame itself. It is the toxic effects of shame that poisons people’s ideas of their own worth. This is where the significance of “maya” and illusion arise.

I remember a professor trying to explain the concept of “maya” to me; that the reality we perceive is essentially illusory. I wasn’t getting it. He pointed to a table and explained that the table, on a molecular level, is not solid at all. There are vast amounts of space between each tiny molecule. He told me “The solidity of this table is an illusion.” Then he sat down on the table. “But it is one powerful illusion.” I got it.

So it is with shame. Shame is merely an illusion, albeit a very powerful one. That women should feel ashamed for being consensually sexual or sexually assaulted is a lie: it is an illusion. But because it is backed up by many of the institutions mentioned previously, it is an incredibly powerful one, even lethal.

In order to see the ultimate reality of women, that we are magical, beautiful, wise, valuable, nurturing, creative, sexual beings, powerful beyond measure, we as individuals and as a society need to pierce the veil of shame and see it for what it is; a tool for subjugation, a weapon used to silence girls and women and keep them in their place.

Is combating shame the last battleground of the women’s movement? If so we must re-claim our warrior side. Our battle cry: “No more”.

How do we pierce this veil? How do we, as women and men, girls and boys, withdraw our consent, opt out of the propaganda? What small and large acts of protest can we engage in? How do we deconstruct shame so that we no longer permit it to be associated with women’s sexuality or as part and parcel of sexual assault?

I believe that in many parts of the world we have reached a critical mass where it has become safe enough, for most people, to speak out. There are other places in the world, however, (not just countries but families too) where women who have the courage to speak out risk physical injury or death. But when the critical mass has been reached, and speaking out does not risk one’s physical safety, the only weapon left is shame. And shame requires our participation, our agreement. If we withdraw our agreement, the veil is pierced and shame is revealed for what it is: a smoke screen, a magician’s trick, an illusion.

Piercing the veil of shame is like climbing a mountain; one small act of protest after another. Each time someone speaks out against messages of shame the veil is pierced. Each time someone stands side to side with the person being shamed the veil is pierced, the illusion is revealed for what it is. Each time a community comes together to demand justice for children and women the veil is pierced.

We cannot expect our girls and boys to do this alone. Shame is too powerful to withstand in isolation. We all, each of us, men and women, need to support any act of protest against shaming by standing together. We can be silent no more.

What would happen if shame is exposed as illusory? Would all of its power to silence and devalue women simply evaporate? If shame lost its power, what would change? I think everything would change. I think it is already happening.

What small (or large) acts of protest have you participated in or witnessed that has pierced the veil of shame? Mine are in the comments section. Please feel free to add yours.

Diary of a Working Mom

The last few weeks have been quite hard on Dave. Maya is going through another mommy phase where, as soon as I walk through the door, it’s as if Dave ceases to exist. I can imagine watching this little love affair between Maya and I must be difficult for Dave, who takes very good care of her all week long. I know that the fact that she is taking him for granted is a good sign; it means that he’s doing an amazing job with her. I also know that this intense bonding between Maya and I is necessary to make up for the five days out of every week that I am not there to applaud when she figures something out all by herself, to cheer when she learns a new skill, or to soothe her when she is hurt.

The mommy phase started on the Easter long weekend, which was the first time I had been able to spend four entire days in a row with her in months. Most of that weekend she spent playing with her cousin, who is about 8 months older than her. Being an only child, cousins are as close to siblings as Maya will have. As she hadn’t seen him in almost a year I wondered how well they would get along. They were inseparable, which made me very happy. It was the first time I didn’t have to hover in the periphery, ready to intervene should a conflict arise. Aside from the few times where he needed a break to play alone, they got along famously. I was in awe that these two toddlers could actually manage 3 days together without one volcanic eruption of “He/she won’t share with me!” or “That’s MY toy!”

That weekend, watching the joy on her face as she played with her cousin, made me realize how deeply I love this child. Although there were other adults around for me to interact with, what I wanted most to do was to watch my daughter play. Perhaps it is the fact that I’m a full-time working parent, or that I had been resigned to childlessness before she arrived in my life, or the fact that I am an older mother, but I find that I want to spend every spare moment I have with her. My time with her seems more precious. What broke my heart when I was struggling with barrenness was that I would not be able to love a child the way I had been loved. I wanted to be able to pass that love on. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel that Maya’s presence in my life is sacred. I don’t want to take a second of it for granted.

It’s for that reason that I often turn down invitations to be with my colleagues (aka other adults) after work. Truthfully, most of the time I’d rather be home playing with my daughter. Being the only parent out of my colleagues at work has left me feeling rather isolated. They likely think I’m incredibly rude. So I’ve tried to make an effort to meet up after she’s gone to bed. But by the time we’ve had our dinner, had our nightly bath, read stories, and I’ve spent an hour in a dark room waiting for her to fall asleep (I know, terrible parenting practice), the thought of putting adult clothes on again, getting into a car and driving somewhere seems like a punishment and not a pleasure. Of course when I force myself to do this very thing it is invariably enjoyable and I’m glad I pushed through the inertia.  But more often than not, the inertia wins.

Although being away from Maya during the week is difficult, work is very important to me (although I likely would not work full-time given the choice). At this late stage of my life I’ve chosen a challenging career, which is a perfect fit for someone like me who needs stimulation to feel human. I love my work and derive a lot of personal satisfaction from it. For most of my life it was my work that primarily defined me and it continues to be an important part of who I am as a woman. I think it would be difficult to give that identity up.  Despite this, however, the most memorable moment in the past few weeks was not my work accomplishments. It was the moment when Dave picked me up from the seabus after work. There was Maya in her car seat, holding a bouquet of dandelions tightly in her little hands, with the proudest smile on her face. “These are for you mommy!” she exclaimed, her face beaming with joy. It made my heart sing.

And it also made me ask the question, what would I be willing to give up to have more moments like those?

Three Hopes for my Daughter

As an older parent, I am more aware than most of my mortality and the fact that I may not live to see my three year-old daughter achieve all of her dreams for her life (particularly if she’s as late a bloomer as I turned out to be). In times of doubt I may not be there to offer her my unwavering faith in her if hers should falter. When faced with the brilliance of her own potential I may not be there to cheer her on as she embraces that light. Knowing that she may only have my words as guidance, here are my three hopes for her as she grows up and becomes a woman.

1. I hope that she will dream boldly and without limits   

I once revealed my own bold dream that I could do something important, that I, perhaps, had something valuable to offer the world, that I could even be Prime Minister. That confession was promptly diagnosed as mental illness. I was informed of the many helpful medications available to treat that particular symptom and sent on my way. I am convinced that part of that reaction was due to the fact that I am a woman. It is only recently that women have claimed the right to dream boldly. However in my experience, we are, in many respects, still tentative. I remember being shocked by what seemed like a phenomenon of young women apologizing in advance of stating their opinion. They didn’t want to offend anyone. After weeks of this I finally said “I’m offended by these relentless apologies! I am not so fragile that I can not withstand a different opinion for the love of god!” My favourite quote reflects this reluctance. It is often attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I have been told that he was quoting Marianne Williamson, who said “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” I wonder if this will still hold true for my daughter when she takes her first steps into the “real world”.

I am curious to see how being female will impact, or not, my daughter’s dreams for herself. I hope that the legacy of the women in my family will be passed on to her. In my adoptive and birth family I come from a long line of amazing and accomplished women. My great-great aunt was one of the first female doctors in Canada. When she graduated, however, she was not permitted to do her research in Canada. Why? Because she was female. How did she respond? She left. She took a boat across the ocean (right after the Titanic sunk) to a place that valued her intellect.  People told her she was mad. She went on to discover a mathematical equation that is the foundation of all pharmaceutical research. After her death she was inducted into the medical hall of fame by the same country who had summarily rejected her.

In many ways I have followed a similar path (although I have yet to discover anything useful). I refuse to be devalued. If my contributions are not valued in my field or by my employer or by my husband, and my efforts to change the situation are futile, I will leave and find a place that does value them. There is nothing that infuriates me more than hearing the words “no that’s not possible” in response to a suggestion or an idea or a dream. There is something within me, normally dormant, that erupts. I like to describe her as my warrior, ready to battle the enemy. For that word “no” is the enemy. It represents fear, barricades, doubt and death, which are the kryptonite to the miracles and magic that is possible in this world. I hope that my daughter is as audacious and cheeky as I imagine my great-great aunt was, and that when she hears the word “no”, she will use it to propel her to new heights.

2.  I hope that she will question everything

This is a quality that not everyone will appreciate. It will require an enormous amount of courage, fortitude and a good sense of humour. Even now, as she is fully entrenched in the “why” phase, I do my best to encourage her. Instead of attempting to answer the thousand “why” questions, which are followed by yet another “why” question, I invite her to think about it. “Why do you think that happens?” She has recently adopted the answer “because that is how it has to be”, which strangely enough, is often the best answer to many of her “why” questions.

The reason that this is in my top 3 is that if life has taught me anything, it is that life is complex. There are few easy answers, but many, many questions. When people stop questioning, stop deconstructing their assumptions; their ideas become more rigid and engrained. Support of simplistic ideas can be incredibly harmful and destructive. Take the arguments against gay marriage for instance. My favourite are the slippery slope arguments. If we allow gay marriage people will start marrying their pets! The institution of marriage will come crumbling down! Those “what if” beliefs, which are founded in nothing more than fear mongering, have been incredibly destructive to the LGBT community and the people who love them. They have been impacted by real hate and real violence. Those rigid and engrained beliefs have real consequences.

To all of those Chicken Littles who think the sky will fall if gay marriage is allowed, we here in Canada have had same-sex marriage for over a decade. No one has married his or her pet. The world as we know it has not fallen apart at the seams. The sky has not fallen. In Canada, religious leaders can refuse to marry same-sex couples (but most do not) because it infringes on their freedom of religion. Public officials, on the other hand, cannot because they represent the state. In our definition of democracy, the protection of minorities is a foundational principle. In allowing for the complexities of balancing people’s liberties with people’s rights to equality, we have found a compromise and it seems to be working.

My hope for my daughter is that she will have the courage to question, to challenge, and to protest against oppressive, destructive beliefs and actions, even when it is unpopular.  I hope that her voice will be confident and unwavering. I hope that she will be a force to be reckoned with.

3. I hope that she will never lose her connection with the magic in this world  

What I most love about my daughter is that she is in love with the world. She has the most beautiful open heart. Like most children, she finds the most mundane things fascinating. If there is a spider in our house she will talk to it and follow it and wonder where it is the next day. Each new discovery is magical. She is often filled with wonder and awe. As adults, I find that we are very susceptible to losing that openness, that wonder. We have been hurt so we close ourselves off. We have more important things to do than take the time to really look at a flower and marvel at how nature has created such diversity and beauty.

Without that openness, without those moments, however, life becomes grim. We start to question the meaning we make of our lives, until it is lost all together. Surely there is more to life than the drudgery of commuting, working and a constant state of exhaustion. The staggering rates of mental illness in the modern world suggest that the civilization we have created is not sustainable. What would happen if we reintroduced our connection to the magic of the world around us? If we took the time to appreciate its beauty, its quiet wisdom? Would we be as willing to accept a life that is less than extraordinary? Would we still use our spare moments trying to connect to virtual people trapped in our smartphones? The mystery and magic in the world exists everywhere, inside everyone. It is all around us, just waiting for us to notice.

I hope that my daughter takes the time not only to explore all of the mysteries and magic of her outer world, but also explores the nooks and crannies of her and others’ inner worlds where dreams and hopes and wisdom live. Exploring those worlds has resulted in the greatest adventures and learning in my life. I hope that her love of life endures and is the guiding light to whatever path she finds herself on.

My Top 3 Not So Easy Steps to Raising a Daughter

When I was an angst-filled teen I remember a family member saying to my mother “It’s so much easier raising boys. I’d rather raise 10 boys than 1 girl.” I recall feeling rage, initially, which morphed into a kind of shocked surprise. I had no idea that girls, as a group, had a reputation for being difficult. I thought it was just me! Perhaps I wasn’t as alone as I had felt after all. Looking back on those cringe-worthy teen years, I suppose it was not surprising that one might think raising me was a tad more difficult than raising my brother. I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to meet up with boys, got sent home from a junior high dance for being completely drunk, and so on and so on. When my parents suggested I should see a psychologist for my bizarre behaviour, I informed them indignantly that I was completely normal, which would be proven when my little brother started rebelling in the same way when he got to be my age (I think it was 14). Unfortunately, my hypothesis was flawed. My brother was a perfect child who grew into a perfect teen. He never got into trouble. Not once. (He may dispute that). So much for that!

When I discovered that I was pregnant four years ago, I knew that the little bean growing inside me was going to be a girl. She had to be. All of the first born children in my complicated family tree have been women. I was right. Now I have my own daughter (which still seems surreal). Dave, my partner in crime, is already preparing for her tumultuous teen years by practicing the line, “Go ask your mother.” Having worked with troubled teens for several years, I am well aware that many young women struggle at the age that I did, 13 or 14 (or in my case from 13-21). It seems to be a well-known phenomenon. Being one who handles anxiety by being as prepared as possible, I have developed a list. It mostly represents a blind hope that something I do now can help to inoculate her from the misery of being a teenage girl. Or at least make it slightly more bearable.

1. Encourage mastery

Mastery, in my experience, involves two things that are equally scary; failure and stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Some of the most important learning I have experienced, however, is when I was nudged out of my comfort zone. Even (maybe especially) as an adult, I think it is important for us to do things that scare the crap out of us. It helps us discover that we’re made of stronger stuff than we had thought, that we can master more than we thought possible.

I remember one moment distinctly when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I had been taking piano lessons since I was 5 and had been asked to play in front of the whole school. I had agreed without comprehending how terrifying it would actually be. I stood backstage waiting for my turn. I could feel my whole body shaking with anxiety. “What if I screwed up? Everyone would laugh. It would be the worst thing in the whole world. I can’t do it.” As those paralyzing thoughts were going through my head, I experienced something completely extraordinary. I can only describe it as another part of me appearing from within, rising up through my body and becoming me. This part was totally calm and confident. She knew, without a shred of doubt, that I would play beautifully. My body stopped shaking. I became totally focused, like I imagine athletes are right before the shot of the starting gun. I walked to the piano with confidence and I did play beautifully.

That part of me may never have appeared had I not needed her to help me navigate something new and scary. She has come to my rescue many times since and is the source of much of my confidence. As a result I encourage my 3 year-old daughter to try new things and to take risks (within limits of course). I do my best to encourage curiosity by providing opportunities to explore the world around us. Walks in the forest are adventures where anything can happen. At the playground I let her climb things that the worried part of me thinks might be too high. When she falls I hold her and soothe her, and when she’s ready, I encourage her to try again. I am there to offer small, barely perceptible assistance when she needs it, but not more; what Vygotsky called the “zone of proximal development”. The look on her face when she has mastered something difficult, all by herself, makes my heart soar.

2. Encourage generosity and gratitude

In a world that seems to be ever more focused on consumption, generosity seems old fashioned, like hand-written letters. I admit that I am not immune from its seductive power. Maya is an only child and I like to spoil her by buying her things. Part of it is likely guilt from working full-time. I want her to know how much I think about her when I’m not there. I tell myself that spoiling her now is inconsequential, as she won’t remember any of it, but the truth is that I am creating a set of expectations that will be difficult to break. Consumerism reminds me of addiction. It fills people’s feelings of emptiness, but it is a temporary fix. The good feelings that come from new things are illusory. There is no substance to them. I remember reading a study about people who were chronically depressed, helpless and hopeless. What turned their lives around was not consuming. It was giving; giving of their time to their communities. It gave them a sense of purpose, that what they did mattered. Their emptiness was filled up with something real, solid and lasting; generosity and compassion, which in turn led to self-confidence and a feeling of being connected to the world around them.

A definition of generosity that really challenged me was to be given something you coveted and to then immediately, with an open heart, give it away. I wondered if I was even capable of that kind of giving. There were possessions I had that I treasured and couldn’t imagine giving away, let alone with an open heart. So I decided to experiment with this. I had dolls that my grandmother had given me. She had died several years before and they were the only things I had left from her. The thought of something happening to them filled me with grief, as if I was experiencing her loss all over again. But the dolls were not her. If they all burned in a fire I would still have her memories, would still feel her love. I decided to give one of them to a friend of mine who would take good care of it. That act of giving was very powerful.

Giving invariable leads to feelings of profound gratitude from recognizing just how much we are given. I have often found that in encouraging myself to feel gratitude, to really feel it right into my bones, is the best antidote to depression. It opens my heart, helps me to understand how connected I am to the world around me, how much I am loved.

Even though Maya is not yet 3, and in the “mine!” stage, I try to encourage generosity. I try to involve her in daily routines like cooking and cleaning to show that we are a giving, helpful family. We put together care packages of her old clothes, books and toys and talk about how we are going to give them to the new baby and how happy the new baby will be to receive all of her things. Weeks later she will talk about how the new baby will be “sooooo happy” to have all of Maya’s clothes.

At Christmas Maya helped me wrap presents for my aunt’s mother, Old Gran. We talked about how much we hoped Old Gran would like them and how happy she would be to receive this gift from her. Maya was so excited to give her these presents. Every twenty minutes or so during dinner she would get down from her chair, walk to the Christmas tree, take them from under the tree and bring them to her. “We have presents for you Old Gran!” she would exclaim excitedly and with a huge smile. Even though she likes presents, I have yet to see that huge a smile on her face when she opens them.

Even mundane acts of generosity are important to acknowledge. During our dinners together I will make a point of thanking Dave (when I remember) for making us such a delicious dinner. Now Maya on her own will often say “Thank you Daddy (or Mommy) for making such a delicious dinner! It’s so yummy!” Of course it’s a daily commitment; she still demands things with a furious look on her face (I want JUICE!!!), we still have crying fits when she doesn’t get what she wants, and when she has opened her last present at Christmas or on her birthday she be disappointed that there aren’t more (“Are there more presents?”). It is a work in progress.

3. Encourage wisdom

Looking back on my youth I often marvel at the fact that I survived. I got myself into so many messes that it is truly by the grace of god that I made it through adolescence relatively unscathed. Since Maya has been born I have wondered, often, what I can do to help her through her own messes. How will I help her know who to trust and who not to? How do I help her embrace life to the fullest, but with awareness that there are people out there who may want to hurt her? The only thing I have been able to come up with is helping her to trust and honour her own wisdom.

One of the most difficult lessons in my own life has been to acknowledge and value my wisdom. There have been countless times where I have experienced intuition or a gut feeling and ignored it to my peril. In the aftermath I would wonder, “Why I had ignored my own knowing?” It has been a long process filled with successes and failures to learn to first recognize my knowing, and second, to give voice to it. I grew up in a time where children were supposed to be seen but not heard, although this was changing. The unfortunate consequence of that is that a child’s fledgling knowledge about themselves and the world around them is also silenced. It is in that silence that terrible things can happen.

When I was in grade 4 my science teacher, Mr. Alan, was overly friendly with the little boys in the class. He constantly brought them up to the front of the class and put his hand up their shirts to pat their backs, and patted them on the bum. He never called on the girls, despite me having my hand up to answer every question. I remember thinking that the way he touched those boys was not right. No other teacher did that. But instead of trusting that knowing and speaking out, I decided that my unease must be wrong. My mom and dad touched me like that and they are adults, Mr Alan is an adult, so it must be okay. My mother remembers me telling her that Mr. Alan didn’t like girls. I wonder if she had been curious about that statement, if she had asked me more about it, if he would have been caught sooner. One day when I arrived at school we were told that Mr. Alan was no longer a teacher, but not why.

I know that standing up and giving voice to one’s intuition is a scary prospect. It makes you vulnerable, the lone deer in a crowd of wolves. There is a reason that people don’t do it, that they conform to the silence. It takes courage to speak up, particularly when all you are relying on is the little voice inside your head or that feeling in your gut that is telling you that something is not right. I want to help Maya develop the courage it will take for her to trust and give voice to her own wisdom. I have already shut her down once, out of embarrassment. It was at the Christmas dinner at my cousin’s house. Their two boys are older than Maya and weren’t particularly excited to play with her. Dave and I spent a good chunk of the evening trying to lure her away from them and their toys that they didn’t want her wrecking.

At the end of the evening, when we were at the door getting our shoes and coats on to leave, Maya looked at my cousin Matt and his wife Tracey and said, calm as can be, “I don’t really like Matt and Tracy.” I was mortified. I told her sharply that she was being silly and to please stop it. She repeated herself, more forcefully. Tracy, bless her heart, said “If that’s how you feel Maya I think you should just go for it.” I could feel the discomfort, and heard Tracy’s dad jokingly tell Maya, who was 2 1/2, “that’s my daughter I’ll have you know!” I suspect he was only half joking. I just wanted Maya to be quiet. Instead, she used a version of a line I had used to try and explain why some kids won’t play with her. I would say to her “Some kids are friendly Maya and some kids aren’t. That’s just how it is.” Still calm, Maya held up her hands in an “I can’t figure it out” posture, and said to Tracy “Some people you like and some people you don’t.” And on that note, we left.

What bothered me later wasn’t the fact that she expressed herself, I was sure it was directed more at the boys, but the fact that I had done my best to silence her, purely out of embarrassment. I never did ask her more about it.

Since then I have made a conscious effort to ask more questions and to coax out her own knowledge into the open. When she asks her million “why” questions, I more often than not respond with “why do you think?” I encourage her to tell me stories, instead of me telling stories to her. I am trying to refrain from offering my opinions on her accomplishments, and instead invite her to explore her own opinions. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I’m sure that as I ponder this question of raising a daughter more steps will come to mind. What are your thoughts? Your experiences? What have I missed?