That's my daughter, Scout, in the picture above.
My sister and I are both raising girls, and yesterday, Nora sent an article entitled "Ten things my daughter should know by ten."
And it was fine. In a WASPy, mall-culture, school-centered sort of way.
My kids, though?
This is not what I want for them.
"Explain to them in no uncertain terms that no drugs are safe to try even once"?
What kind of bizarre thinking is that?! Caffeine is a drug. So is alcohol. So is aspirin, and Tylenol. Do I really believe my kids are never going to try caffeine or alcohol or marijuana?
I want my kids to actually believe me when I talk about drugs. Telling them lies about how safe they are is setting them up for trouble. Marijuana is safer than tequila. That doesn't mean I want my kids using either one as a substitute for courage, affection or confidence. We will talk about drugs, in a real, honest way.
Appearance is important? You should be able to make a sandwich? Everyone won't always be nice? These are things that my four-year-old girl already knows. She can make a tuna fish sandwich, though I have to open the can for her. She knows that you brush your hair before you go out in public. And she has two brothers -- she knows they're not always nice. And neither is she. I have higher hopes for my kids than making a sandwich or eggs at age ten.
My list would be very different.
What do I want my daughter to know by age ten?
I want her to know her rights. Her rights as a human being, as a citizen of the U.S., and as a female. I want her know she has the right to walk into any public space without being harassed, regardless of any men who think differently. I want her to know that women suffered and went to prison to give her the right to vote, and that her great-grandmother was born without that right. I want her to know that she has a right, and a duty, to free speech, and to public assembly, and to protest against whatever she finds to be wrong. She has a right to human dignity. A right to wear a short skirt just because she wants to, or a burqa if she so chooses. She has a right to not be beautiful, or sexy, or cute, and to be as dowdy as she pleases. And she has a right to glam up, wear high heels and twirl around in a princess skirt. And no one has a right to stop her, or make her feel ashamed of her choices.
She has a right, when she gets older, to not have sex with anyone. Or to have sex with anyone she chooses. She has a right to use birth control, and to be informed about how her body works. She has a right to have as many children, or as few children, as she plans.
She has a right to a free, appropriate and public education.
Those things are her birthright as an American girl. And there are women and girls all over the world who do not have those rights, and she needs to know how hard-fought those rights are, and that there are people who are trying to erode them.
I want her to know how to be proud of herself.
The easiest way to be proud of yourself, and to have confidence, is to know that you're a useful human being, with a skill set that matters. Shakespeare is fabulous, and knowing how to use "their/there/they're" is critical, but it doesn't matter much when what you really need is someone who can change a diaper or cook an omelette.
According to one of my favorite writers, Robert Heinlein, every competent human being "should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
I have always agreed with him, and have tried to do my best to make sure my kids have a broad knowledge of real-life skills.
Will my daughter be able to do all of this by ten? Nope. But I want her to know that it's the goal. My son Sawyer, who's 14, can cook, do the laundry, mow the lawn, hang a picture, give first aid, save someone from drowning, groom a dog, put air in a tire, write a short story, put together an IKEA cabinet, help with plumbing, raise a batch of chicks, make and can applesauce, help butcher a hog, trim goat hooves, sail a boat, man a kayak, shovel manure, raise vegetables, decorate a birthday cake and rappel down a wall. He just won blue ribbons in the county fair for cobbler, applesauce and gluten-free bread he made from scratch. I expect nothing less from Scout.
I want her to know how to say, not just no, but "HELL, no!"
As in, "What are you thinking, my parents will kill me, no way in hell, I'm OUTTA here." To drugs, to sex, to hurting people, to bullying, to seeing a movie she knows she'll hate. I want my kids, but Scout in particular, to be able to simply walk away from bad ideas, bad friends, and bad situations. When she says "No," to me, I listen. She is four. If she doesn't want to wear that pair of pants or wear her hair that way or eat that bite of dinner, I say, "OK."
Because the minute I tell her that her opinion and wants are worth less than mine, and that her "No," really means nothing, I am inviting her into a world where she has to beg to let her voice be heard, and where she has to say, "I'm sorry, but I don't really think that's a good idea, but if you really want to, I guess I will," when she should be saying, "Good GOD, what a terrible idea. I'll see you later!" If I control her choice of clothes now, teaching her that she doesn't know what she likes, then I'm setting her up for a world where fashion magazines and friends control it later. If she learns now, "It's my body, and I'm going to wear what I like, what's comfortable, and what I think looks good," then later, she'll have the confidence to be her own person.
I want her know how to be kind.
I want her be kind to people who are less fortunate. But also to those who are more fortunate. I want kindness to be a verb. A way of life. A guiding principle.
"Be kind, always," is our family motto, along with, "You're either weird or you're boring." Those two phrases and the ideas behind them have taken us a long way. "Be kind, always," innoculates girls against bullying, against turning into a mean girl and against a whole lot of bad decisions.
I want her to know how to learn, and to follow a passion. This is the very crux of the reason we homeschool. Because I don't believe that schools create students who know how to learn. That list of skills above that Sawyer has? None of them were learned in school. He's been homeschooled his entire life, and learned those skills from Boy Scouts, from living with siblings, from reading, and from following his passions.
Scout's too young yet to know what her passions are. But with cows, goats and chickens on the farm, a library of 3,000 books, a father who's an engineer and a mother who's a writer, all doors are open to her (well, except maybe singing. She was born into the wrong family if she wants to sing.) Whatever she loves, she will have the freedom and the support to learn about it and follow it. My younger son loves animals. Sander has followed that path so far that we now have a farm and a 4-H club. I'm sure Scout's passions will go just as deep.
How to love, and how to accept love and compliments.
I want her to know that loving someone is actions, not words or gifts. That it's staying when you want to walk out. That marriage is hard, and family is hard, and having children is hard, but it is, in the end, entirely worth it.
I want her to know that you can fight with people you love and still be kind to them. That it's OK to be angry, but it's not OK to be cruel. That she deserves someone who loves her completely, just as she is, and who comforts her and holds her and loves her not in spite of her faults, but because of them. And I want her to love someone that much.
I want Scout to know that she deserves someone who loves her the way her father loves her mother. I want her to know that she will grow up and love someone who makes her as happy as her parents are. And that she should never, even for a minute, settle for anything less. And I want her to accept love as much as she gives it.
And when someone who loves her says, "You're beautiful," I want her to simply say, "Thank you," and to believe it.
I want her to know how to live outside her comfort zone, and why she should -- often. Even when she's ten, I want her to do the hard things. I want her to talk to homeless people. I want her to be able to approach the cashier who was mean and discuss it, and ask for an apology, or talk to the manager. I want her to know that not everyone is white, or straight, or even comfortable with being male or female. That most of the people in the world are not Christian. Or white. Or American. That there is an incredible difference in how we live and in how many of the people in the world live. I want Scout to yearn to travel, to see different lands, to want to know more. To be able to sleep in a tent, or to travel without complaining, and to see the world with open, questioning eyes. So that when she's ten, she can travel with us, and when she's twenty, she can travel alone. And so when she's thirty, she still questions, still welcomes a new perspective, still wants answers, still questions authority.
I want her to have friends of all races, creeds, ability and background. And I want her to learn from them, and have something to offer them.
I want her to know to how live in a family.
Because soon enough, she'll be living with a roommate, or with friends, or with a husband. And I want her to know that good manners, and saying "Please," and "Thanks for doing the dishes," and "Good morning!" make a person much easier to like, and to live with. Talking in a calm voice about how to resolve something goes a long way. She'll have to know how to share. She'll have to know not to leave dishes in the sink, or dirty towels on the floor, or wet laundry in the machine. Sharing a living space with other human beings is hard, and it's harder if you don't have the skills going into it to ease the transition (I didn't, and my college roommates brought me up to speed, fast. And painfully.) Having siblings is a good start toward having roommates, and a husband, and children.
I want her to know how to let go.
Too many people spend their lives miserable over past grievances. Over pain caused by fathers, mothers, ex-boyfriends. I want Scout to learn early to forgive. Not because the person wronging her deserves it, but because she deserves to have a life free of the baggage of hatred, resentment and anger. That's the path to drugs, to misery, to unhappiness. Scout only gets one life. It's too short to be angry and bitter.
If she can learn to let go when she's young, and let insults slide off of her, because she doesn't base her self-worth on the the opinions of others, then she'll be far ahead of the game. I want her to know that her appearance doesn't matter (except, of course, when it does,) and that she can let go of what others think of her and her looks. And if she wants to play the game and follow a life where looks matter, let her realize it that is a game, and a tough one, and let her be prepared well to play it. But if she's able to let go, then when she's ready to move on to something else, it will be easy.
Most of all, though, I want Scout to know herself, and to be herself. I want her to know where she comes from, who her aunts and cousins are, and to accept herself the way she is. It took me until I was 45 to be able to embrace my quirks and my differences (probably because I have so many,) and now that I see them as part of what makes me special, instead of "areas I need to work on," I am happier than I've ever been. I hope Scout can learn a lot of these lessons earlier than I did. From the looks of things, she's well on her way.