I acquired my very own Mom Face. The utility of it became more apparent as my kids got older. I honestly didn’t even realize my mom had one until I developed my own, but she did; I think most moms do. A mom face is a default facial expression that you can use when a question/behavior has totally caught you off guard. It’s meant to give the impression that you appear to have everything under control. I try to absolutely never seem to be avoiding topics. I want my kids to feel like they can ask me anything. I keep the answers simple and to the point, but there are some things I just haven’t figured out how I’m going to address with my kids. That’s where the mom face comes in handy. 2020 brought up a tornado of challenging topics: racism, coronavirus, the White House Administration. Now with recent political events, 2021 doesn’t seem to be shaping up much better.
This past November, just before the Presidential election, I came home to “I’m going to be the first girl president of the United States!” being confidently announced as I walked into the house after an exceptionally long day at work. It was the middle of my work week. In my exhaustion, I really just wanted to get along with the evening to-do list, baths, clothes, books, bed. Still, her excitement was contagious. Her brown eyes were full of the type of wonder and curiosity that only a five-year-old, unfamiliar with our political system, could be. She asked me if I could read her the book my cousin sent for her birthday. My cousin is hip, politically conscious, and sends the best kids’ books for every birthday.
The book is about a young girl and how she realizes there have only been boy presidents. Appropriately she decides this is totally ridiculous and proclaims her intention to be the next girl president. The book is fantastic, going into detail about the electoral college and election process. And is also evidently very convincing. My five-year-old too wanted to be the next girl president shortly after reading it. This may have something to do with the fact that the book’s heroine got to have her image carved into Mount Rushmore at the end.
What the book did not get into was the “why.” Why were all the Presidents so far men? I suppose that is meant for the parents to explain. Naturally, the question popped up shortly after we got done reading the book. “Why haven’t we had a girl president in America yet?”
Great question, kid; tricky answer though. With my Mom Face in place, I explained it as simply as I could, but my explanation sounded harsher and more callous than intended. “Some men did not think women could or should be president, and since women have been allowed to run, no woman has actually won.”
At the moment, that is all I had — and even now, months later, I don’t have much more. How do you explain misogyny and sexism in a child-friendly way? You can’t, and you don’t. “It was a different time” excuses the old times … but what is our current valid reason? How do you explain that it is really possible, even with qualified women in politics, that we have never had a female president? That we almost had a female president once, but even she ultimately lost. Regardless of the complicated history and many reasons, the ugly fact is that men were always favored.
I could tell by her expression that my answer was a bit unbelievable. In her world, she is surrounded by women who work hard, who build things, who take care of babies, and homes, their families, and each other. The men in their lives support them and encourage them to be their best. In her world, a woman can do anything a man can do.
I have always told her that to achieve her goals, to be genuinely excellent at what she does, she will have to work hard. What we have not discussed are all the hurdles. Mostly because I don’t know how. We don’t talk about how many times Mom has been talked over, looked over due to her gender or race. Mostly because Mom herself has made hundreds of excuses about why she wasn’t good enough to get where she was going even knowing that she was. I digress; simply put, we all know life is not fair, no matter how hard we try sometimes, but this is a hard concept to help our children navigate.
Luckily for the American women, come election day, we found ourselves with our first-ever female Vice President. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like maybe we were getting closer to seeing a female president. When my baby girl asks me if I think she can be the first girl president, I am not just saying she can out of motherly love. I can say with actual conviction that yes, if you want to be, you can be the first girl president.
I look at my half-Pakistani, half-mostly-Northern-European baby living in central Texas. My mom heart knows that things will not always be easy for my baby girl, but I also want her to have the confidence to dream big. I want my kids to feel like they can be anything they want. I want to fill them with the belief that nothing can stand in their way.
For now, I plan to set aside my own worries and continue to encourage her to be whatever she wants to be. She understands enough, and there is plenty of time in life to learn about the bad stuff, the hurdles. I want nothing more than my kiddo to be the first girl president. Still, I hope that someone else’s little girl beats her to it. We shouldn’t have to wait another 30 years for equal representation.