Today is the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment, the one that gave women the right to vote. While it seems utterly bizarre to me that there was a time when women couldn’t vote in the past, it is just as bizarre to me that there are so many women who can’t speak their mind, in the present. I don’t mean voting for president, but simply stating what they want and believe in the workplace, amongst their friends, or in their most intimate relationships. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, as a woman, an entrepreneur and a mother. The mother of a daughter. A daughter who is home sick with me today.
My daughter spent most of her summer away at camp on the East Coast. She flew out there alone, spent 5 weeks in the wilderness in an environment specifically crafted to help her develop her sense of self, and confidence that she can do and be anything she wants. This matters to me because, although elections happen a few times a year, she makes little decisions every day that will shape her life. That will validate her or alienate her. That will empower her or confine her. That will help her become who she wants to be, or catch her in the trap of other’s expectations. That will bring her pleasure, or bring her pain. It is her ability to make these little decisions that I care most about. How to say “yes” to the things that are good for her, and “no” to the things that are bad.
She can do this because men and women, long ago, stood up to say that women’s rights matter. It is up to us to remember that women’s lives matters, everything about them.
As part of the camp that she goes to, the counselors right affirmations about the campers. These deeply personal observations cut to the core of who the kids are. This year, Celia’s made me cry:
Celia, your level of honesty is so inspiring. You are so often honest about how you feel and what you need. This level of honesty allows you to be so confident in yourself and so open with sharing your personality. Not only do you have a strong sense of self, you also have an extremely strong sense of other’s needs and extend so much empathy towards everyone. This empathy shone brightly in your concern for strengthening our cabin’s community.
I was thinking about this when the phone rang this morning and her friend’s father informed me that she was sick, throwing up, and needed to come home. She has, thus, spent all day fading in and out of sleep, my beautiful baby, and I have been making her chicken soup and sourdough bread, an all day process that has allowed me to think more about what it means to have the right to vote, 1,000 times and ways a day, about the life we choose to live.
CHICKEN SOUP INGREDIENTS
1 whole chicken (or the equivalent bits) with bones and skin and all
Oxtails or marrow bones
1 red onion
1 white onion
5 or 6 stalks of celery
5 or 6 big carrots
3 ears of corn
1 big can of diced tomatoes
herbs and stuff
Duck fat, bacon grease, lard or butter
CHICKEN SOUP STEP ONE
In a big stock pot, melt some duck fat or lard or butter or some REAL fat in the bottom. Drop chicken, skin side down, and let it get sizzly and crispy and drippy and messy. Turn it over a few times, browning all sides and hoping that bits stick to the bottom. Take each piece out as it’s done browning.
When all the chicken is done, do the same with the oxtail or marrow bones. You want to brown the meaty bits, and the marrow will get brown and start puffing out of the bone. When all the pokey-out bits of marrow are brown, put the chicken back in.
Add ½ of each onion. Add a couple celery stalks, a couple carrots, some garlic cloves and whatever herbs you like. Rosemary and Bay Leaves are my favorite.
Fill the pot with water, bring to a boil, then turn it down to simmer for 3 hours or so.
The house is now full of the smell of soup simmering. Celia is sound asleep, as she has been for hours. How is it that this girl who is the same size as me, exactly, again looks like the infant that I gave birth to 12 years ago? What we see is all a trick that our soul plays on us. Our vision is made up of wishes and memories that we choose to focus on in order to create the life we want to live.
I look at her and still, I see the future in front of her. And it baffles me. I have no idea what I want for her other than for her to be really and truly happy, whatever that means for her. And I hate it, because I cannot tell her what that is or how to get it. There is no recipe to follow.
But I do know, without a doubt, that it is dependent on her ability to speak up for herself. It’s great that she has the legal right to, but we do not yet live in a world were she really has society’s permission to. We do not yet live in a world where she can marry another woman, if she wants to. We do not yet live in a world that will validate her beauty if she’s larger than a size 6. We do not yet live in a world she can be brazenly proud to be a dominatrix, a housewife, a receptionist, a housekeeper, or an artist who lives in a yurt in the woods – if she wants to.
We so cavalierly say that we want to teach our children to say “NO” to things that are “bad” for them. But how can we do that if we, as a society, don’t teach them how to identify and say “YES” to things that make them feel good?
Until we, as a society, stop fearing things that are different, none of us will be free to be fully who we are. But that’s what I want for my daughter. How do we make that world?
CHICKEN SOUP STEP TWO
After the stock has been cooking for 3 hours or so, place a strainer into a gigantic bowl, or another stockpot. Pour the whole mess through the strainer. Set it aside.
Into the stockpot (the one you have been using) toss in all the remaining veggies, diced.
Add a bit of oil – something natural and high-temp, like walnut, grapeseed or wheat bran oil – and sautee the veggies up a bit.
Pick out ALL the chicken bits from the strainer and add it to the veggies.
Add the can of diced tomatoes
Add enough stock to cover everything, as much as looks right to you. (Freeze the rest!)
Add salt, herbs, pepper, whatever.
Cook for a couple more hours.
I am in no way a perfect person, or a perfect mother. Nor is her father perfect. But both of us, from day one, have been committed to being fully honest and present with our daughter. We have not sheltered her from our own mistakes, our own fears, our own joys and our own process of figuring out who we are and what we want.
Celia, for her part, is academically gifted in an off-the-charts sort of way. (Though we have never told her that.) When she was very young, we were told that we “should,” (yes, they used that word) accelerate her into the gifted programs. She did not want that. She wanted to stay with her friends. Torn about what to do, we consulted a child psychologist who gave us the best advice I have ever received.
In a nutshell, she told us that the job of childhood and early education is not to learn facts, but to learn how to function. The patterns we set for them in youth are the ones they use for the rest of their lives. Patterns, not facts. She pointed out that Celia, who was 5 at the time, was able to verbalize that she was happy, curious, successful, engaged, enthusiastic and worked well with others. (Which was true.) She pointed out that if Celia spends the first 10 years of her life knowing that she is happy, curious, successful, engaged, enthusiastic and can work well with others, that’s how she’s going to feel in the world, for the rest of her life. Conversely, if we moved her into a highly competitive environment, she MIGHT feel stressed out, underachieving, judged, fearful…..
Put that way, the choice was obvious. We did not accelerate her.
And now, though she’s sleeping like a baby at this moment, we seem to have a girl who can express her feelings, stand strong in her convictions, and facilitate community engagement.
When I read the affirmation that she got from camp, I think we’ve taken a step towards women’s rights. The groundwork was laid by those who fought for legal rights for women. But it’s up to all of us to remember that the rights of individuals run far deeper than the right to vote. We need to move past that and give people the right to be who they are. To contribute how they can, and have that valued.
She is so magnificent, this daughter of ours. And so sick, right now. I can do nothing, really, to help her – except make her soup, and be there for her. And it seems like a metaphor for her whole life. I can do nothing to tell her who she is or what will make her happy, but I can nourish her soul with the permission to be who she needs to be. And be there for her.
And 90 years from now, her granddaughter can write about being raised in a world in which she can be whatever she wants. That’s women’s liberation. Hell, that’s human liberation. Let’s vote for that.
(Soup’s ready now.)