Rules of disengagement: when a little girl grows into a woman
The mother-daughter bond evolves and grows over the years.
Happy International Women's Day for next Friday. I know you've been learning all about how you can make the world a better place for women, thinking about world-wide issues such as poverty, violence, maternal health and gender equity. But, bejesus, you're only 11.
I watch you playing with your Lego Friends (and, yes, we are OK buying the new range that some feminists lambast for being sexist; the little characters are cute, and the sets ideal for role modelling and, you know what, some women like going to cafes to see their friends or baking cupcakes) and you're still my little girl. I see the pictures of teddies and puppies and kittens you download on your Ipod, I see you dancing in the lounge room oblivious to who's watching, I see the posters on your wall, the cuddly toys in your bed. There's still a big jump you need to make and I don't know if I'm ready for you to make it just yet.
At your parent/teacher interview at the start of the year, your teacher and I were discussing independence and I wrote down that I seemed to be struggling more with your independence than you were. She thought that was quite funny before she told me I had to let go.
Well, you know what, and with all due respect, I'm not quite ready to.
But I realise that I have to. But I won't before I pass on some sage advice.
So here are 10 things you need to know before you become a woman (and before mum is ready to let you go).
1. Appreciate your body. It's the only one you'll ever have. Even if you stupidly (and don't you dare) decide to change it artificially in years to come. In the next few years you'll worry incessantly about it. About your weight, your complexion, how it looks, how others think you look. Don't. Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise. Do what feels right for you but never anything in excess. Every night be grateful that what you have is functioning. Function is underrated. Brush your hair more often and wash it sometimes. You have beautiful hair. And nails. I'm envious. But don't worry about what other people think. I told you that. Respect the changes in your body as you age. You cannot be 25 forever. Who would want that anyway? Smile often. You have a beautiful smile.
2. Be kind and surround yourself with kindness. Kindness is underrated, too. Find a partner who is kind. Have friends who are kind. Kind is holding someone's hand when they are sad, it's about doing them a favour they didn't realise needed doing, it's remembering birthdays, or not remembering them and just calling anyway, it's knowing that sometimes people just need to be held. You are all that already. Keep it up.
3. Realise that sometimes your life won't go as planned. Sometimes this will happen because you are a woman. Sometimes it won't. It sucks either way. It may be at school, at home, at work, at play. You'll never know until it happens. But always remember you are stronger than you can ever imagine and people who love you will always have your back. As nice as the saying sounds, you can't live each day as it comes, but try not to worry. Your mother does that enough for both of you. She will always have your back.
4. Realise that at 46 you too may want to drink too much champagne and dance in your best friend's living room until three in the morning. On a school night. You know how you love dancing now? That never leaves you. It just gets bottled up inside and sometimes explodes. Like a champagne cork. You know how dancing is more fun with your girlfriends? It's still the same at 46. Only we dance better.
5. Boys. Men. Where to start? Love your brother. That may seem very hard at times but he is the one person, well, apart from mum and dad, who will always, always have your back. You never know when you may need him to pick you up, literally and figuratively, in years to come. He's the first boy you'll know intimately and he has some fine qualities. He's kind and empathetic and funny. Look for these qualities in your own choice of boy. But not for a good 10 or so years, thank you very much. Your father is these things, too. If you find a man like him, you'll be OK. He loves you. Dearly. Men are simple creatures but they can be complicated. You'll learn that, too. But, more often than not, they're worth it. Just never sell yourself short.
6. Learn how to cook. Or remind your mother to find more time to teach you to cook. The whole process can bring you great pleasure and that's even before you serve it to the people you love. Cooking is not a woman's job but that doesn't mean you don't have to do it. It's the same with cleaning. While you may not appreciate this advice at the moment given the messy state of your room, there is nothing wrong with keeping house. Just don't do it because someone expects you to do it. Do it because you are proud of your home and where, and with whom, you have chosen to live.
7. Surround yourself with girlfriends. You have some fabulous friends now. They may stick with you for life. They may not. But you'll learn that people come into your life for a reason at different times. Whether you're 11, 46 or 70. Look at Gran and see what a fun time she has with her girlfriends, even now. Mum, too. Find friends who'll have your back but aren't afraid to look you in the face and tell you you're a goose. They're the best kind. Be a good friend.
8. Never stop playing sport. You know how good it feels to be part of a team? That never fades. In fact it could become more important. Your weekly game of whatever it is could be one of the few times all week that you get to be just you. Not someone's mother or wife or work colleague. Just a halfback in a team, all aiming to do good. Learn to be humble in defeat, but that doesn't mean you have to like it. Winning is underrated.
9. Be proud that you are clever. Clever women can scare people sometimes. That's their problem. Never act dumb for anyone. You may need to do it occasionally but do it for you. Not for anyone else. A combination of clever and funny and gorgeous is a potent thing. You are all that. Use it to your advantage.
10. Listen to your mother.