“Listen up, baby girl. Pretty girls have fun but smart girls have everything. So be smart. Ok?”
These priceless words of wisdom were imparted to my 7-year-old by two “smart, sassy and a little smart @ss-y” twenty-something “nieces” whom I’ve watched grow since birth. Their mum, my cousin-in-law and 15 years my senior, was the older sister I never had — my confidante and adviser. I, in turn, aimed to be “the cool aunt” and confidante to them, chaperoning their birthday parties, kidnapping them for outings to the beach or movies, and when they grew older, hearing them out on topics that might be hard for them to discuss with their mum. And now, I’m grateful that they’re like big sisters to my otherwise sister-less little girl. Of course, I told Nieces that the buck stops here when it comes to our generational code of keeping secrets from “Mom” (i.e., me) for one another, but they dismissed me immediately. “No way, gomo (auntie). You know that’s not how it works.” Dangit.
Maybe I am a bit of a tiger-mom (tiger lady genes run in the fam), but I wholeheartedly believe we parents should have high expectations of our kids, because kids tend to live up to only what’s expected of them and all too often, not much more. So why set the bar low? Let life and circumstances check them, if needed. But us? We should be their champions, cheerleaders, coaches. We pick them up when they fall, we brush their knees off, and we give them good luck kisses and thumbs-up, but then, we send them off, with confidence. Kids are keen; they sense and absorb our confidence in them.
When I was a child, my mom clearly wanted me to be a girly girl. She put me in ballet, ice-skating, piano and art lessons. She never even considered putting me in martial arts or sports as she did my big brother. She’d dress me like an Asian Nellie Oleson – poofy dresses, hair ribbons, the whole shebang. She’d be so pleased when people would remark that I was pretty. Imagine her horror then when she’d catch me, a tomboy at heart, barefoot and sweaty, my skirt hiked up and panties showing, running and playing baseball in the cul-de-sac with Brother and all the boys on the block, or riding on the handlebars of their bikes, or high up in a tree I’d just climbed. And my knees. Ohhhh, my knees. I don’t recall them ever not being bloodied or covered in dry scabs. I used to try to hide my fresh scrapes from Mom for fear of her scoldings: “Eh-nee-tah! What happened?! Who’s going to marry you with knees like that?!” (Um, I’m seven, Mom. Not really thinking about marriage just yet.)
By the way, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell y’all that, were it not for dear Mom’s old-fashioned, preconceived notions about how a girl should be — I’d probably be showing Serena Williams a thing or two on the court, or terrorizing Laila Ali in the ring, or out-mushing Susan Butcher on a dog sled or something. (Okay, maybe not, but you get the picture. I was held back, people!!) Now the world will never know what fierce talents, had they been fostered since childhood, I’d be blessing the world with today.
Okay, end of digression. In contrast to how I was raised, if Brother struggled in a school subject, a tutor was hired. If I struggled, it didn’t matter as much because “girls don’t need to be as smart” anyways. (Note: This sentiment was never expressly stated in our home but I inferred that that was the deal.) But because I was motivated, I studied my tail off and paved my own way to academic success. When I was deciding among universities, Mom suggested I stay in-state, primarily for the cost savings but also because I might “meet [my] future husband at school”. She calculated that if future husband and I meet and graduate in California, there’s a higher likelihood we’ll stay/live nearby or in-state after graduation. (Funny, I don’t recall future marriage and spouse being factors when the geographical location of my brother’s university choices was discussed.) And while my folks footed the bill for my brother’s private university tuition, I took out loans (and repaid them myself) to attend public university. After that, I earned a merit-based partial scholarship and took out the remaining half in loans to attend a top-tier private law school. Ironically, because my parents worried less over me, I learned to figure things out on my own and that has turned out to be a tremendous blessing in life
When I gave birth to my daughter, I vowed never to hold her back or treat her progress, pursuits or successes as any less valuable than those of my sons. We gave her “a boy name” for a middle name in case she turned out to be a tomboy or just preferred it. We encourage her to read…a lot, so that her knowledge of the world, history, geography, literature and culture grows. We push her to try her hand at any sport she fancies. Luckily, she’s bright, coordinated, and mentally and physically capable. Unfortunately, she’s not all that eager to hone her intellect or physical skills. For now anyways, she rarely finds pleasure in reading, challenges in chess or other mental exercises, or playing many sports. We encourage her to cultivate more rugged or academic pursuits, but she prefers art, singing and make-believe play. Her handwriting, drawings (from both imagination and imitation) and creative talents are clear and impressive. But I want her to know and experience everything, free of gender-specific limitations or expectations, so she never looks back and says “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” So, against her protests, I signed her up for voice, piano, swimming, golf, softball, Krav Maga (Israeli military martial arts) and basketball. (She protested mostly because she was afraid of “being bad” at those things.) And you know what? Fine – she isn’t good at all of it, but she has the kindest heart, a beautiful voice that can carry a tune well, strong form and endurance in swimming, a decent hand at golf, agility, prowess and drive in basketball and some day, the ability to kick butt (or at least defend herself), all of which have boosted her self-confidence. Never underestimate yourself or avoid trying for fear of failure, baby girl.
Baby girl, be kind, wise, strong and confident, choose your friends, circle and spouse wisely, and show love for God and others in all you do. If you have that, you will be smart, brave, kind and beautiful, inside and out. And you’ll have more than just “fun”. You’ll have “everything” — everything that matters anyways.