I love having a teenage daughter. I love her independence, sense of humor, and the way she is able to analyze her growing education and apply it to her life. I love talking with her. I love how we both learn when we converse. We learn about each other’s perspectives and I am learning how she is processing the things that happen within her world. I pray that our conversations will lead her to an understanding about the importance of being empowered, feeling secure in her life, and the significance of being a female. At her age, conversation is my biggest ally. We do not play Littlest Pet Shop anymore and her social outings tend to happen with her girlfriends more often than with me, so conversation is sacred.
However, sometimes having conversations with my daughter is like holding water in my hands. I start with a full cup of water and squeeze my fingers together, trying to shore up all the gaps so water won’t leak through. When I first start the conversation I have her full attention. But slowly she starts to look at her phone, the eye contact diminishes, and I soon realize I am walking a tightrope trying to balance her emotions, hear her words and hold her attention — all while keeping the classic eye roll at bay. Eventually her attention, just like the water, will seep through my fingers and disappear. And, in the end, I am left with damp hands.
When we do talk, the conversation tends to happen in the 8 minutes right before she leaves for school, the 10 minutes after curfew when she returns from a date (with a guy who could only talk about football), or around the dinner table, where she is held hostage and her phone does not get a seat. Most of our talks are me listening, soaking up anything and everything she will give me. I respect her space and keep my questions light and airy — or the appearance of light and airy — which at times is beyond excruciating, because sometimes I want to ask a million questions and invade all of her secret spaces. (And I experience impulses to tell her to kick the football player to the curb and date the guy who likes art. But I don’t.)
Yet, sometimes I do push my way into that 16-year-old brain and attempt to pull a conversation out. For instance, the other evening she mentioned that one of her teachers stated that there really wasn’t any protesting until the late 1900s. And, of course, this statement made my world stop spinning. After a couple of dramatic deep breaths, I asked her to repeat herself and give me some context. She said her class was having a timely discussion about all of the marches that have happened over the past year and a half and, in this conversation, her teacher mentioned that protests really didn’t start happening until the later 1900s. All I could think was: What about women’s suffrage?!
There are a bunch of things in this world that I am incredibly passionate about, and I am sure you can imagine where history and women’s rights rank on that list. So, when you combine those two things together with misinformation being shared as education, you get Heather on her soapbox and forced conversation — because I am a mom and every now and then forcing a conversation goes under the job description. This conversation was going down. In that moment, I was determined to fill my daughter’s head with all the information necessary for her to understand her history as a female. I was on fire, unstoppable; I was a mom on a mission to empower my daughter and make sure she understood what our early Sister Suffragettes did for us. I stepped on my soapbox and passionately retold the history of the suffrage movement. (Yes, I have memorized it, because … hello, have you met me?) I started with Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, Sarah Grimké and Lucretia Mott, effortlessly moving on to Susan B. Anthony and the story of Alice Paul being jailed and force-fed, finishing with women finally winning the vote in 1920. I made sure to include how, in the next presidential election of 2020 — when she gets to vote — it will be the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Oh … There. Will. Be. Partying.
I then proceed to “help” (which may have more closely resembled “force” under these passionate circumstances .... whatever) her understand why she needs to embrace this history, to own it as a young woman and to defend it. I emotionally reminded her that women in developing countries are still fighting for equality, so the fight for women’s rights is not yet finished and her generation will have to take up the torch. She was silent during my whole speech. I had all of her attention.
At the end of my speech I may or may not have been sweaty, out of breath, and gulped down a bottle of water like I had just finished a marathon. I am pretty sure I heard slow clapping from my son and husband. I looked at daughter. I knew I had impressed her; I knew I had moved her. I knew I had done my job in arming her with knowledge. This was the most powerful conversation I had ever had with her.
Now that my daughter had the floor, she opened her mouth and spoke. “Um, yeah; I knew all that already and knew he was missing a big chunk of history. I told him sooooo. ’Night. I am going to bed.”
As I was getting ready for bed that night, I replayed the “conversation” in my head, thinking how it had backfired on me. Still, as I was washing my face, I had a revelation. Apparently, at some point, we did have a conversation that helped to empower her and arm her with the knowledge of women’s history. Whether I told it to her in bits and pieces or all at once, she knew it. She knew what women had given, she knew her teacher’s statement was false and didn’t mind telling him so (which he realized).
I watched water seep out of my hands and thought about my conversation with her. I realized that maybe I looked at conversations with her in the wrong way. The water seeping out wasn’t her attention going away. It was my knowledge and love slowly seeping from me to her.
The lesson I learned is that I have to keep conversing with her, because she is listening. And all of these conversations, no matter how small they may feel, add up. They add up to wisdom and confidence, resulting in a young woman who is learning to speak her mind — as she recently did in a classroom lesson on Mom’s favorite subjects: women’s rights and history.