It is 10 p.m., and I scoot myself up to Nicole’s dining table, in a room full of her girlfriends. It’s an hour-long train ride from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, but tonight—Nicole’s birthday—was the perfect occasion to make the trip. We all raise our glasses and take turns making toasts to the birthday girl. My turn comes, and while the cubes of oranges and apples bump around in my tiny glass of sangria, I find the words for my dear friend. I talk about how this new trip around the sun will be an expanse of beautiful unknowns for her as a woman.
We each have a daughter and a son. Nicole’s son, Lucas, and my daughter, River, are our oldest and born just a year apart. Our second children, Oak and Lillie, are also close in age, and we’ve shared—and commiserated—at each stage. It’s been wonderful to have a friend who is a mother in the same phases of motherhood, and our sons are much a part of that story. Still, in light of the current political and social climate, Nicole and I have found much common ground around what it means to raise our daughters, despite their age difference.
More than that, we have so much to say about what it means to be a woman. It is on the tips of all mothers’ tongues, weaved into quick texts sent on the playground, mentioned in passing at morning drop-off, mulled over a bit longer waiting for school pickup, and even muttered in passing conversations on the sidewalks of our neighborhoods. It is a prominent and necessary, all-consuming topic that we, as women, are bound to discuss, hoping to find the solution for ourselves and, especially, for our daughters.
The party cools off; I collapse into Nicole’s couch, which I claim for myself for the night. I’m too stirred up from the week, but Nicole’s couch is a safe place to let my body fold into another woman’s. We free our words, letting them float off into oblivion, knowing that the feeling of it, the questioning, the worry, will still lie deep within us. We’ll look for those fleeting moments in our days for a little release, tiny mentions of the thing ended abruptly by some distraction. This is what it means to be a woman with something on her mind. This is what it means to be a grown-up girl, raising a growing-up girl.
This weekend, I felt the Supreme Court news in my body. I felt it presently, not as some pressing future fear. I felt it when I looked at my daughter, and in the knowing that how I raise her is no longer an “if” issue, but a “now” one. I need a clear plan. This week I’ve tracked my conversations with her, like notes on a flip pad that you jot down on the go. Now more than ever, our conversations will be about hard work and hard realities, about sitting with my 8-year-old self and healing her. My knowledge must be River’s knowledge.
In celebration of International Day of the Girl, here are a few things that I find important as a mother today:
1. My daughter is not a pawn in my own healing. She is not healing me, nor is she a substitute for something I’m missing. She is a person. As I am raising a one-day woman, with her own set of realities, gifts, and joys.
2. Everything she feels is valid, even at 8 years old, even when I do not agree or I find it odd. If she feels something, then it is real.3. I am not a good enough example to be the only example. If I want my daughter to have robust ideology, she must be exposed to that. I watched my own mother do so very much, but in this climate, I cannot and should not expect to do it all. My daughter should hear my conversations about community, she should see me ask for help, and she can watch me focus on the work that I value, the things I do accomplish on my own.
4. I need to keep expressing that a body is a great place to be and love. Yes, I do this in my words and actions toward my body, but I need to give her autonomy over her own body as well. She has ownership over the way our bodies engage, whether holding hands, hugging, playing with her brother or friends. Personal body ownership begins at home.
5. I need to be a listening ear, in everything. I listen to the big issues like I listen to questions about fashion and makeup and food. The ear doesn’t stop because the topic shifts or when she grows quiet. I listen to everything, always.
Nicole and I don’t talk about everything on her birthday night. We were both raised by single women and are now raising daughters, and I know I need her voice as I navigate how to go about parenting a young girl. Here is some of our conversation, so that we can all be strengthened by sharing what we know, by freeing our feelings and words.
What has being Lillie’s mom taught you, compared to being Lucas’s mom?
I have just recently started to have to navigate my own ideas of beauty and self-love in front of Lillie. She is so aware of what I am doing when I get dressed, put on makeup, put on lotions, and she wants to copy everything I do. It’s a new page for me in parenting for sure because it’s just something Lucas was never interested in. So, we put on our lotion together, pick out clothes, and adorn ourselves with jewelry—which is something I always dreamed of because I used to do the same with my mother. I understand completely that these small moments can have a huge impact on our daughters so I use it as a time to affirm Lillie and have conversations with her. Usually one activity leads seamlessly into another. For example, she wants to put on a ballerina costume and get dressed up. So, we will blast some salsa and have a dance party in the living room. I think my biggest challenge is just transforming all these scenarios into something positive.
You were raised by a single mother in the Bronx. In hindsight, how has that influenced the way you parent Lillie?
I was raised in the Bronx and went to school in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side. My mom was a single mom who, in my eyes, was and still is a super woman. In my home, women were capable of anything and everything, from tailoring a pair of pants to installing a ceiling fan to grouting the bathroom tile. In hindsight, I get it. You do what you have to do, and if you don’t know how, then you learn. My mother’s tenacity and strength are what influenced me the most and what I hope I am passing down to Lillie. Women are magic, and anything you set your mind to is yours for the taking, and as hard as it is to feel and believe this right now, it is the truth I wish to narrate for my daughter, just as my own mother did for me.
What are some wishes you have for Lillie? More importantly, what are some for yourself this year as she is in day care a few times a week and you have more time?
Deciding to put Lillie in day care was a huge decision for me. She has been home with me for three years, and when she’s not with me, I feel like a piece of my heart is missing. My mother is a retired educator, and she was my biggest cheerleader and helped me decide school was the right next step for Lillie. It has proven to be the best decision—not just for her, but for me. She is in an environment where she can thrive and learn with other children, and in those hours, I am able to push myself with work. I can feel the creative juices, which had dried up, slowly coming back—which is such a wonderful feeling, let me tell you! When I pick the kids up, I feel like I am just so much more present with them. There are fewer distractions. I’m not trying to answer emails or complete deadlines because I get so much done before school lets out.
We are living in a trying political climate. What have you learned? What do you hope to implement into your everyday to not only raise a daughter who resists, but one that is part of a needed revolution?
In our house, we are very open with our children. Although Lillie is too young to understand exactly what is happening in our world, I know that she is watching and listening to me. My hopes are that these moments are starting to form a weave of truths for her, and as she grows I will continue to involve her in activism to the best of my ability. If there’s something I don’t know or am unsure of, we will learn together. My mother always used to say, “You do for people when they are here. Not when they are gone.” I have always come back to this, and I find it to be so incredibly fitting for our current political climate. Make changes in your everyday life. Make phone calls. Donate your time and money, if you are able to do so. Challenge what you believe in your heart to be wrong. My belief is that Lillie will help to create change after watching her family never stop trying for her and future generations.
As I speak with Nicole, I find myself at peace. I mess up. I am no expert. I am entirely flawed. I am often overwhelmed, with too much on my plate and too little help. I’m a healing 29-year-old raising two kids in Brooklyn, New York. I juggle what I can, because I am strong, but I don’t do it all. I’ve learned Nicole’s strength. I know the ways in which both of our hips have made room for kids, arms tired, heads up. I know the energy we both put into navigated the intimate, complicated realities of being a woman today. And I know that, right now, we understand the importance of consciously raising our daughters. This isn’t a message teaching our daughters to do it all—we don’t want that, and we know it’s not possible. This message tells them: Be brave, strong, valid, unique, and beautiful in your own ways. We say: You are human beings, not to be hidden behind a historically patriarchal system that devalues that truth. My hope is that my daughter and my friends’ daughters will grow as part of a revolution with roots sown by many loud and flawed women, right now.