Dear Lily June,
I have always been a little afraid of self-confidence. Where does one draw the line between being a woman who knows what she wants and goes for it, and being the caricature of a proud peacock, with one self-adored foot planted over the line into arrogance? How does one know that their certainty–in themselves, in their beliefs–won’t end up showing them off as a fool? How does one avoid, for instance, the pitfall Mark Twain describes when he says,
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
I have spent my whole life mentally checking myself whenever I think I seem too sure of something. As a result, I use nursery rhymes–like a child–to make decisions for me: what to wear, what to eat. That way, I can blame chance, not choice, and have no decisions reflect immediately back upon me. (It’s a flawed system, built of mental instability and emotional insecurity.)
And only just yesterday, my mother told me, when I was a child, I used to take so long to decide on anything that she’d give me a warning. “Alyssa,” she’d say, “you have 10 seconds to choose between those two toys you’re holding. If you can’t pick in that time, we’re leaving without you getting anything.”
I don’t know what came first–the chicken or the egg–when it comes to my inability to pick what I want. Did my mother’s pressure internalize in me, so that, in the back of my mind, there’s always an anxiety hourglass pouring boulder-sized grains of sand upon grain-of-sand-sized me? Or was my inability to be self-assured hard-wired from birth, some quirk of my mental machinery, that she, as the last resort of an overworked, tired mother who just couldn’t spare more time standing in the umpteenth store, tried to “scare straight” out of me?
It’s only what scholars have been debating for centuries: Are we a product more of nature or of nurture? I just have to have the confidence to decide.
In the meantime, it’s a moot point with you, Lily. At less than two, you abandon my hand to rush from my side, ahead of me. You bolt through the store with the confidence of a toddler who knows your doting mother will follow you. You rush to a stand of books, amidst all the toys and clothes surrounding us, and you–like an adult already–choose confidently. “Doggie book!” you squeak, as you tug the heavy hardback Clifford tale from its place on a bottom shelf that you can reach.
Though the book is almost half the length of you, you refuse to let me carry it for you as you drag it, a tiny reader on parade, throughout the length of the department store–three whole times. There’s this line of dialogue that runs through my mind from the movie 10 Things I Hate about You as I watch you. The female lead, Kat, says to the male love interest, Patrick, “You’re amazingly self-assured, has anyone ever told you that?” to which he wittily replies, “I tell myself that every day actually.”
I wonder this of you: Already, do you have a mental story you tell yourself? Do you know, Lily June, that you have the right to do as you please, pick as you choose, be as you are, without anyone outside of you tempering, frightening, discouraging that out of you? I’m sure every mother thinks this of their children, but I see a natural born leader in you.
I see it when you tug at my hand like a dog chafing at its leash, attempting to drag me across the street rather than being pulled reluctantly behind me. I hear it when, last night, as I said each letter of the alphabet, you unwaveringly repeated each letter but “you” and “vee” back to me. You weren’t afraid of what you might mispronounce. Your voice was solid, even as it tried on sounds it was using for the first time.
I know it when I look into your eyes. I recognize that even if the only person you ever lead is you, you’ll be able to do it, even if you have to learn it more from yourself than from my teachings (i.e. in spite of, not because of, me).
And yet, Lily June, I think you could do more than follow in the footsteps of women like Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman (in 1964) to ever run for a major-party (Republican) presidential nomination in America. I think you could do more than following the footsteps of women like Hilary Rodham Clinton, the first woman (last year, in 2016), to ever succeed in securing the nomination (Democratic) and actually running for President.
I truly think you’ll do more in this life, my little love, than follow.
- By Vegas Bleeds Neon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14470006