Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Holy CRAP!  I Have a Daughter
by Kim Lane

Recently, it has been brought to my attention that one of my three-year-old twins is a female -- a realization that has flattened me like a cartoon steamroller. I suppose I should have known this was a possibility when two completely different psychics -- one in Texas, one in Michigan -- told me I would one day have twins, a boy and a girl. 

"Your children are in a hurry to get here," the Michigan psychic said, "In fact, this particular generation of children is especially rushed to get on the planet. They have much work to do." 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah...," I replied, "...but what about the LOTTO NUMBERS? Letís get back to THOSE, shall we?"

Maybe I was a mite distracted.

Regardless, there's the wee surprise right over there, lolling on the floor. See? Little Ella, a.k.a.: "Ella Bella," "Ella-Bo-Bella," "Ella Smella," Baby Biscuit" and "Show-Pony Head." A lithe little bird already bursting at the seams with daddyís eyebrows and mommyís temper.

And now I find out sheís a girl.

See, this is the deal: I canít possibly teach, guide or direct another person at this female business because it's just too damned complicated, frustrating... and I have my suspicions that I'm not very good at it. I mean, I'm comfortable with who I am, but who I am took a long, long, loooooonnnggg time to get here and it seems I've lost the map.

There are vague recollections of going for miles down rocky physical, emotional, and spiritual roads; taking a left at a couple of eating disorders; then a right or maybe it was another left into a dimly lit relationship or two.  Itís a blur now.  Wish Iíd have left bread crumbs, but I probably would have just eaten then thrown them up. It's all so pretty isn't it?

And speaking of "pretty," how exactly does one instruct another on navigating around and through a word that HUGE? A word that, in our society, has such rigid conditions imposed on the meaning. A word that seduces with such promise of power.

I was chatting recently with a three-year-old friend. She was sharing some pictures of her trip to Mexico, when we came to a photo of her on the beach. She pointed to herself in the photo and said, "That's me wearing one of my swimsuits I don't like."

"Oh?" I replied. "Why don't you like it?" 

"It's ITCHY," she stressed with a grimace. 

"Then why did you wear that one?" I questioned. 

"Because it's pretty," She said, in her best "duh-ese."

As soon as my daughter's old enough to pay attention, the messages will start coming at her, blaring at all hours and in all directions. Thin lashes? HOW HORRIBLE! Cellulite? GASP!  

Here, have a big ol' slice of the American Equality Pie but for GOD'S SAKE don't eat it or you'll get fat.


And it's not as easy as just turning off the TV. The assumed requirements of being a girl are draped on every facet of our society and not easily cast away. It took me ten years to consider questioning why I continued to use mascara even though it obviously irritated my eyes, and why I continued to pluck my eyebrows even though it was painful and I didn't like the look. It only took me two additional years to muster the courage to stop both -- too attached, I suppose, to the false sense of belonging that cosmetics and popular practice sometimes offer.

And how does one entice a young girl to aspire to be strong-minded, opinionated and ambitious in a society that barely recognizes publicly those qualities as feminine? How does one convince a girl that her intelligence can carry her in a society where a respected male judge still thinks he has the right to demand all female court personnel, including lawyers, wear skirts?

I watch Ella boldly carve her place of power and purpose in our family, keeping stride with two strong brothers -- such determination and confidence. I wonder what will be the first thing in her life to make her feel less than she is; the first to make her question her confidence. Who or what will make her feel she lacks the appropriate whatever to belong? And how can I get between that thing and my daughter?

I suppose not especially new to some, these potholes in the politics of girlhood, but to me they are.  I've certainly stumbled on them, and now I see my daughter possibly twisting an ankle someday too.

Last night I had a dream that Ella and I were in a large tub filled with moving water. It was dark and I was holding her in the crook of my arm, trying to wash her hair with one hand while buoying her slick little naked body above the rolling water with the other. My ability was awkward and her head kept going under water briefly, which horrified me and made me panic. But every time her small water-soaked head emerged, she blinked the water out of her eyes, looked at me with such intensity and laughed hysterically.

Right now, as I'm slowly becoming aware of the water rising around her, I'm going to try to hold on to that dream of her laughing at the ride, feeling safe and loved, clearing her eyes to see through to the trust, and hope I can stave off the deep that I know is lurking just below her feet.
Kim Lane's work has been featured at Salon.com, Oxygen Media, Mothering magazine and Pregnancy magazine to name a few.  She is currently a commentator for National Public Radio's All Things Considered and Publisher of AustinMama.