My daughter has just spilled some water on the floor. My husband looks at her and says half-kidding, “Margaux, go in the kitchen, grab a towel, come wipe up the water and bring the towel back.” Without saying a word, Margaux does as she’s been told, wiping up the spilled water and returning the towel to its original place on the counter.
My husband watches Margaux follow his four-part instruction in awe. You see, Margaux is 13 months old at the time. She’s one of our two children, the younger sister to her brother. At the same age, her brother might have found the towel. But, along the way, he would have also stopped to check out a toy train, may or may not have made it to the toilet to pee, and would have returned having completely forgotten that he had spilled water or that he was on a mission to clean it up.
In other words, I have given birth to a “typical” boy and a “typical” girl.
When my son was little and we hadn’t yet had our daughter, I hated hearing any generalizations about kids solely based on gender. I’d scoff at parents of girls who’d look at my toddler boy and say, “Oh, he’s such a boy,” as they’d watch me chase after him at the park while they sat down with their daughters who calmly played. Wilder behavior was always described as boy behavior, while any qualities that one typically associated with being positive or mature were always attributed to the girls. I’d take it personally, as if being a boy wasn’t something to celebrate as a kid. “There’s no difference between boys and girls,” I’d say, hoping it was true.
And then I had a girl—a real baby, I began to joke once I’d had one of each. I looked back on my son’s infant years and realized he was like a turkey that had been taken out of the oven just a little early, because everything seemed to come easily to my girl, whereas my son always seemed like the toddler Mr. Magoo. My boy was a walking Tasmanian devil, leaving a wake of messes wherever he went. My girl came out precise, strong, naturally organized, with the motor skills of a heart surgeon. Meanwhile, it’s entirely possible that my son could spend hours searching for his shoes only to find they were already on his feet.
And so although I acknowledge I only have a sample size of two children, I can’t for the life of me figure out why the hell women don’t run the world. My daughter is special because she’s mine, but she’s not unique. Ask most moms of toddler girls and they’ll tell you theirs, like mine, could absolutely run the country someday. And yet something switches, and strong toddler girls become shy kids, then giggling schoolgirls. We women grow up having to remind ourselves to lean in. Yet we were born not just leaning in, but confidently taking charge.
I think the reason I’m so struck by my daughter’s poise is because I can’t help but wonder if I was exactly the same way at exactly the same age. She’s me before the world got to me and told me to be less me, I think to myself. I think about my own lifelong struggle to become confident and comfortable in my own skin, knowing that I was probably just as capable a kid as my little Margaux is now.
We have to stop letting our girls lose themselves. Just as we have to stop referring to little boys and their behavior in the pejorative, we owe it to our girls to help them remain exactly who they were from birth. They’re born ready to run the world. We just have to get out of the way and let them do it.