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.