To my daughters: 15 truths about being female

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avniainsleyI was convinced I was having a boy. Complete strangers at coffee shops predicted it too, confidently sharing with me their unsolicited predictions while I was carrying my first baby.

Prepared for conversations full of gory villains and disgusting bowel movements, I imagined our closets would be filled with a tiny wardrobe of grass stains. In a few months, I thought I would comfortably hand off the leadership reins to my husband for him to share lessons of chivalry and tie tying, while sneaking in a few pointers about how to use cologne without smelling like a sock.

Later that September, I gave birth to a baby girl. I suddenly felt unprepared and quickly realized it would be my job to teach our daughter what it means to be a strong, independent and caring woman in a world filled with never-ending stereotypes, unrealistic expectations and unhealthy diets. Dove recently conducted a social experiment and showed just how critical women are of their own beauty.

Fast forward two and a half years. We have welcomed another little girl into our family and our toddler has no trouble wearing grass stains. While I know society will do its part to leave an impression in their young minds, I can only hope some of the advice I share with them about being a female in our society stands out a little more.

  1. It’s OK to get dirty (even in a skirt). Throw a baseball; dig for worms; sleep in a tent. Your clothes can be washed and won’t last forever. Memories will.
  2. Clean and cook because you want to, not because someone else expects you to. Knowing how to do both well will give you peace of mind.
  3. Don’t expect flowers.
  4. If you’re hungry, eat. It’s important to take care of and listen to your body. Eating will keep you healthy (and much happier!). Splurge on some chocolate every now and then, too.
  5. Be who you are. If you like science, great. If you would prefer to write a poem about the purple flowers blooming outside your window, that’s fine too. But, whatever you do, don’t be who you think others want you to be.
  6. Invest in a good bra.
  7. There’s only one man who loves you the most. Your Daddy loves you in a way no other man can. Even if he doesn’t always seem to know how to connect with you, he still loves you.
  8. Men don’t get it. They don’t understand females and it’s likely they never will. It’s hard enough for us to grasp the idea of periods, child birth and mood swings. It’s best to give them a break.
  9. Challenge yourself – physically, emotionally and mentally. Your body is more resilient than you can imagine. Find ways to test your limits and allow yourself to fail. Once in a while you might be surprised and do something you never thought possible.
  10. You will cry – sometimes for no good reason. There’s also a good chance you will fail to cry when others expect you to. Bring eye drops and thank your hormones.
  11. Speak up. Share your thoughts without apology and instead exhibit confidence, respect and tact. Anything you believe in is worth the fight.
  12. Be alone. Live by yourself and find out who you are. Find happiness and success by standing on your own two feet.
  13. Find an older brother. Well, not really – but, really. Every female should grow up with an older brother, and since you don’t have a biological older brother, find a male to stand in. While their pranks, burps and punches might not seem like an advantage now, you will thank them later.
  14. Wear comfortable shoes.  
  15.  Age is just a number. We are all in this together. Whether a teenage girl or a woman in her 80’s, all females share a common thread. You can choose to reject our differences or embrace the similarities.

I will always be a few decades older, ready to navigate this world alongside of you.  But for now, I am going to work on removing the grass stains.

 

Stop acting like a fish and sit where you want

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Stereotypes. You’ve heard of them, and probably taken part in using them. Usually a popular belief about one specific group of individuals,it’s no surprise using stereotypes to define others can be somewhat misleading. What is even more interesting, however, is the same principle seems to hold true when identifying ourselves and where we ‘belong’ – in social settings, at school, work – and in coffee shops.

It only takes a few minutes after walking through the door of an aroma-filled building to scan the customers and recognize the “rules” of a specific coffee shop — who sits where and how one should act in the given environment. Nearly all coffee shops are the same, collecting patrons from all walks of life while overlaying invisible seating charts to designate where a person should sit.

Most visitors can be grouped in one of the following categories: 

1. Businessman/Businesswoman: Professionally dressed, confident posture and an uncanny fixation on the computer screen in front of them. Usually order the largest coffee and consume in one sitting, only pausing to take a quick (and noticably important) phone call. Watching sometimes gives me the urge to instate a “don’t drink coffee and type” rule, as I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen unnoticed coffee dribbling down the chins of these folks and onto their shirts. Without saying a word, it’s evident others in the establishment understand their message: “I came here to work, so please don’t bother me.”
Location: Sits around the perimeter of the room, hoping for less noise in case needed for an important phone call.  

2. College Student: It’s common for these individuals to sport sweatpants, glasses and half-brushed hair. Books with titles I cannot yet pronounce cover every inch of their table, except for the small space being occupied by a silver laptop and flashy iPhone.   A calm and relatable air to them, the college student nonchalantly orders the largest drink on the menu. He/she has open more than five web browser tabs at one time, alternating between social media sites and email to try to forget about the blank Word document lingering in the background; a reminder of an unfinished assignment.
Location: Near an electrical oulet, close to the front counter in preparation for a quick coffee refill.

3. Parent: Usually a mother, the parent enters the place with children attached, as if desperately looking for a break from reality (not to mention a fix of caffeine!). Food and drinks are ordered for the kids and the stay isn’t long thanks to the screaming toddler leaving a trail of crumbs, even on their way out.
Location: Far away from anyone in the place without kids, hoping for less interuption and feelings of guilt.

4. The Others: A ‘catchall’ for those not fitting nice and neat into the categories above, among them: couples, girlfriends of varying ages and ranging from teenager to adulthood, middle-aged women reading alone with a cup of tea and the weird woman in the middle of it all, writing in a small pink notebook (that’s me!).
Location: Varies

I find it interesting that no matter the location of a coffee shop, they all have a similar theme – a common place, collecting people who enjoy coffee and others who don’t. Either way, there’s no dress code, no prerequisites, no judgement. And yet, stereotypes and unsaid cliques still exist.

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo shares an experience a friend of his had while cleaning a fish tank and found it resembled something we often see in our society among humans.

“[He] put the fish in the tub, so he could clean their tank. After he’d scrubbed the film from the small walls of their make-believe deep, he went to retrieve them. He was astonished to find that, though they had the entire tub to swim in, they were huddled in a small area the size of their tank. There was nothing containing them, nothing holding them back….I began to see just how much we were taught as children to fear life outside the tank.”

I recently overheard someone say “find yourself in everyone you meet.” I am, and have been, in every one of the categories above. Yet, I too continue to stay in  the same corner of the coffee shop based on my identity on a given day, sipping coffee among the others in my school of fish.

The next time you walk into a public place, look around. Have the fish gathered? If so, find your fins and join a new school of fish. Because whether in life or as a fish, it’s better to swim than to float.