08 March 2006

Hope and Competence

edited to add:welcome to readers following any of the blogging against sexism links!

Blog Against Sexism is hosted by vegankid.
Elizabeth had a post a while back about how one of the most hopeful or optimistic things she’s ever done is have a child. When I thought about Blogging Against Sexism, I wanted to write about the hopeful nature of parenting against sexism. Battling sexism requires hope and optimism—and lots of other things, like critical thinking, a voice, persistence, willingness to speak out. But fundamentally it requires hope, hope that culture can be changed. And as I parent Curious Girl, I’m parenting with hope, trying to give her the skills and attitudes and strength to make the world a better place for girls and women and boys and men.

Of course, parenting with the intent to create future effects is an iffy proposition. Some of my favorite parts about being a parent are the moments that just are. They happen when I'm just hanging around with Curious Girl, playing paper dolls, walking in the woods, playing at the park. They are times when I'm not thinking ahead, not looking back, just experiencing the momentary wonder that is seeing the world through the eyes of a curious child. At other times, of course, my parenting brain is planning ahead: what elementary school do we want to plan for? should we be saving for college? how can I help CG to think about her birth family? what quality of relationships are we nurturing with our distant family? how can I help CG prepare to navigate the world? Those thinking-ahead moments sometimes make me crazy, since I can get a little obsessive as I worry the details of things I can't know in advance. And saving the world from sexism, saving even one little corner of the world from sexism…how can I even know it’s possible?
When I was growing up, and my best friend became the first girl to play in the local Little League, I really thought that the US would be a very different place by now. I thought I'd see a woman president. I thought my friends and I would all be easily having careers with partners who were pretty equally sharing work/home/child burdens. I thought women would mostly stop changing their names upon marriage. I thought we would have an Equal Rights Amendment. I thought everyone would be a feminist. OK, these were the naive predictions of a pretty sheltered child, and as my political thinking has matured I understand all the reasons why my expectations seem so naive now.

But now I have a daughter, and I think a lot about what I want her to have in the world she'll grow into. And I really want her to grow into a world that’s better than the one she has now. And to get there, I want her to have competence.

We had a naming celebration several months after CG joined our family. Not a naming ceremony, as she'd had a name all her life, but a naming celebration. We opened the ceremony with some silence, and then explained that we gathered in community to celebrate CG, to honor her first, birth parents, the orphanage staff who cared for her, and her birth culture, to hear our promise to love her unconditionally, to hear the stories associated with her names, which reflect our wishes for her to be a wise woman with the passion to act in ways that will repair the world, and which also reflect our respect and remembrance of her birth heritage and experiences. We gave thanks for our wonderful daughter, and we promised to nurture her body, soul, and mind. We invited special people to make blessings on CG: Uncle Urban Architect blessed her with passion; FriendsSoCloseSheCallsThemAuntandUncle blessed her with unconditional love, silliness, and the wish that there may always be so many books and so little time; my parents blessed her with faith; my sister with family (making adorable handknit animal puppets for a little play to present some family stories and love); Morfar with argument; Friends In Need of Pseudonyms wished her integrity and independence, working from Alice Walker’s "I Am A Renegade, An Outlaw, A Pagan":
Be nobody's darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.

We invited all those present to sign her naming certificate, as a witness to her presence in our lives, and as a pledge to help her to grow to be a woman of integrity. We want all these things for her.

And should she have these things, they will come together in competence. I don’t want to wish that she will know she can do anything in this world; I want her to realize the ways in which our actions are constrained by race, class, culture, gender, education, networks. I want her to feel competent to protest injustice, and competent to pursue her goals. I want her to be competent to do some home repairs, and competent to learn what she needs to know in order to get things done. I want her to be competent at making friendships and sustaining relationships. I want her to trust herself, to feel competent at being in the world, competent at trying to change the world. Lately—perhaps because we’ve had contractors in the house for months now daily—she says she wants to be a builder when she grows up. I think that’s great. Builders are competent, and I want her to be competent building what she wants: a train set, a bedroom, a relationship, a home, a career, a family, a world. Building happens in many ways, and I want her to be a builder. Someone who creates.

I’ve been collecting links to posts that have inspired my thoughts on parenting. Elswhere—whose fabulous blog is on a little hiatus at the moment—wrote a post that almost took my breath away. I want to write like that, I thought. It’s one of the posts that got me thinking I should have my own blog (since jealousy is so unseemly!). Elswhere wrote:
I want Mermaid Girl to feel like her life counts. All of it. Not in some scary "this will all go on your permanent record" way, which is how I always felt when any adult tried to convey this wish to me as a Young Person, but more like: it's all a gift, all of her life, every moment. It's a gift to her, and a gift she gets to give back to the universe. It's not a gift she has to wait to unwrap until some specified time: when she gets to college, or gets out of college, or finds a Real Job, or buys a house, or whatever. And it's not a gift that expires when she turns thirty or forty or has a child. It's all real, it all counts, no one gets to tell her what it is, or isn't.

When we hope like this for our children, I’m hoping we’re battling sexism. When Liz wished for Annika that
I wish for you what I wish for my son....Get healthy. Stay stubborn, or when
Phantom reflected
My sweet little boy. My sweet baby girl. The day will come when LG will want nothing more than to escape the constrictions of our family, when Baby Blue will prefer her own dreams to the rhythm of my breathing. That is what I want for them. But.... How I wish I could hold on to this -- these sleepless, irritating, unbearably sweet days and nights of their childhood. This blog will not confer immortality on me or my memories. But if the act of recording these moments can preserve them for the length of my days in this world, it will be all I have ever wanted. Everything, and all

They were creating hope. Hope for a future.

I know hope alone doesn’t create change. It takes actions, knowledge, and the kind of sustained and smart policy analysis that I love to read at Half Changed World and Bitch PhD and other places. But to start to take action, we need to have hope that the actions will have some effects.

And so I wish for Curious Girl to have competence, for with competence, comes hope and self-confidence. And those are beautiful things for a little girl to have as she grows.


susan said...

I edited a typo and somehow the comment that Laura left got eaten. And since she comments on some of the posts I linked to, I'm reposting it (which I assume she won't mind):

Wonderful post! It's interesting that the same posts you've drawn on, I have too. I remember them well. I think that's what I love about this community. We share things that we may not always be able to share with those immediately around us. Here we can reflect. When we're out there, we're rushing. We're muddling through. We can't pause to tell the other parents at the bus stop how wonderful we think all the children are.

Posted by Laura to Crunchy Granola at 3/08/2006 10:10:12 PM

Mommygoth said...

Lovely post. Your naming celebration sounds like a wonderful ritual - I hope you have good pictures of it you can show her.

You both will teach CG every day with who you are and what you do, and that's the best hope you can give the next generation.

Rana said...

Beautiful. And hope-full. :)

Elizabeth said...

I think I actually said that having children was the greatest risk I'd ever taken -- but I like your interpretation of it better.

liz said...

This is a beautiful post.

susan said...

You know, Elizabeth, now that you say that, I think you're right. Funny how what I remembered wasn't quite right, but I'm glad you think it fits with the sense of what you meant.

Mommygoth, we not only have photos, but a certificate that everyone present signed, which is framed and hangs in our dining room. So we think about that every day.

mendi-la said...

this is the most beautiful thing i've seen written - you have said exactly what i wish for my own two girls; to any child really - if you don't mind, i may print this out and keep it in their baby books since i lack the words myself and you have done such a lovely job

susan said...

Welcome to the blog, Mendi-la, and thanks for the compliment (which is pretty much exactly what I thought when I read Elsewhere's post about her daughter when she wrote it). I'm honored that you'd like to share these sentiments with your children. I've certainly put poems and some other sayings from other people in my daughter's books--please credit the source!

halloweenlover said...

Just beautiful. CG is such a lucky little girl.