After confirming that I “really have three girls,” the next insight offered me by most strangers is, “Oh, your poor husband.” (He calls himself “Blessed among women.”)
The third apothegm invariably runs along the lines of consolation to the downtrodden, “Oh, well, don’t worry. Girls are so much easier than boys.”
If I have allowed the conversation to get this far, I am obviously either too weary to deflect their advances with humor or I have become so accustomed to the inane babblings of puerile minds (I do, after all, have three small children) that two or three more idiocies don’t even register.
But, really, people. Girls are easier than boys? Have you spent much time with a 12-year-old girl? Have you spent much time with any woman between, say, puberty and menopause? I look at my three angelic daughters and hear echoing in my head, “The days are coming, sayeth the Lord, when I shall strike the land with doom.” My parenting challenges are only just beginning.
We women are sugar and spice for about 5 years, then fade into a sweet sort of lemon-zest dessert, and then… just plain lemon juice.
Take, for example, my poor, 6-year-old Miriam. She’s had a brilliant 5 weeks of second grade. She’s had a brilliant childhood, in general, to be honest. She’s smart. She’s gorgeous.
But, oh, the drama. The drama really kicks in this year.
Today the world fell apart as we attempted a simple home school exercise: I asked her to narrate for me (just me! her mother!) the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. She knows this story (we’ve been reading it since she could talk!), she loves to narrate (she’s been talking since she was 10 months!), and she has memory like glue (when she was four, she memorized an entire Dr. Seuss book!).
Today, however, she froze. She couldn’t even begin. Because I was asking her to do something different: “Just tell me the story.”
“Mommy, I can only think if you’re writing it down!”
“Miriam, I’m not going to write this one down. I’m helping your sister build her Lego house, and this is also an important way of telling for you to learn. Just tell me what you know.”
Tears. A full-out fit. Neither of us backed down. But what struck me was her (ir)rationale: “Mommy, it’s too embarrassing!”
Embarrassing is her code word for: I might mess up. I’m going to make a mistake. It’s not worth trying, because I can’t do it perfectly. It’s the same reason she won’t try her new bike: I might mess up. I might get hurt. It’s not worth trying. It’s the same reason she won’t play the new piano song: I might mess up. It’s not worth trying.
Embarrassing makes her immobile. She can’t function. She is angry with everyone and with herself. She says nasty things to those who love her most. In short, she has drama and it creates more drama. She’s a tragic little blue-eyed snowball rolling down that emotional hill.
Drama runs deep in the family, in both the males and females: It’s too hard. Our over-achiever front belies a deep insecurity: What if I mess up? It’s better not to try.
For the woman, the feminine genius for intimacy and passion becomes the female stupidity: I’m going to sit in my hidey-hole, feel miserable, and spread my misery to the world. Infecund, miserable me.
I remember clearly those piano pieces I refused to learn, races I refused to run, classes I quit, and professors I never went to for help. All because of this fear, paralyzing and ugly. The woman hates to be wrong, but even more so to be caught being wrong. I don’t mind a mistake that no one can see, that I can fix on my own (Spanx, anyone?), but oh! to be seen in my imperfection. That makes me throw a fit.
So, today’s drama was less about my daughter than about me: I can see with a magnifying glass into her soul, even at the moment she feels most alone.
And that, too, is the mark of a woman. Our intensity gives us–poor children of Eve–the possibility of that deeply personal bridge: I know you. I have been where you are. I will be there with you again, if you will have me.
I want to try to teach my daughter, poor little daughter of me, to take that drama all locked up inside herself and let it out. Let her recognize that her struggle goes on in the hearts of so many others. Let the drama breed, not more drama, but womanly compassion, communion, and a fierce devotion to the weakest souls still in the grip of that struggle. Let her drama and fear of embarrassment translate into understanding and gentleness.
The feminine genius, without which the world could not be saved.