My daughter Ida is, well … how should I say this?

My daughter is assertive. She’s got a lot of words for her age and usually has no problem expressing herself. If she wants that sandwich you’re eating, doesn’t want to share her ball or if she isn’t in the mood for a hug or kiss, you’ll know it.    

My daughter is totally OK with not meeting your expectations.

Old Man at Trader Joe’s: “Oh, sweetie! Look at that hair! You’re so pretty! Can you give me a smile?”

Ida: “No. I don’t want to smile.” 

My daughter is … leadership material. After spending several afternoons with Ida when she was around 18 months old, a 4-year-old friend of ours took to calling her “that bossy baby.” She will arrive at the playground, scope out the group of rowdy big kids and slyly join them, demanding full inclusion. Then almost immediately she will begin to slowly but surely take over, casting herself as leader and director. Nobody taught her how to do this. It’s just what she does.  

My daughter is smart and uses this to get what she wants. I’ve been bamboozled again and again by her unsuspected negotiation tactics. I think we’re having a conversation about what we should have for lunch, and I realize a couple minutes later that Ida is 12 moves deep in a premeditated ploy for unsupervised time with her finger paints (a.k.a. unsanctioned mural number I’velostcountatthispoint).  I once said, “Hey! Those shoes are the same as yours!” to which Ida replied, “No. They’re similar.” 

Don’t get me wrong, she’s sweet and kind – a lovely kid. I’m all for teaching her to use considerate manners and for cultivating empathy. But she’s also a girl who knows what she’s doing and isn’t afraid to push you, or me or anyone else in her pursuit of what she wants. She’s a little bit different. She’s strong. She’s rebellious. She’s 2.  

And if all of this sounds a little braggadocious, well, that’s because it is. It’s because I have to hear it this way; I have to hear this loud, positive spin on my assertive, bossy, rebellious girl in my head so I can spit it back to Ida, so she can hear me talk about her this way to the people in our lives. Because another tape plays behind that cheerleader-mom mix. It’s the tape that makes me a little uneasy with my rebellious girl – the one that makes this sound a little bit like an apology. It’s the source of my instinct to tell her to just smile nicely at the stranger because he asked her to, or to leave the big kids alone and find a way to play by herself or with me so she won’t bug anyone. It needles me to cajole Ida into sharing the toy that another kid wants to play with – to please people by almost any means necessary.   

The other tape is 30 years in the making, and it’s garbage. It’s the collected responses of others to my own strides making my way in the world as a big, strong, loud girl. It’s dialogue snippets from evangelical leaders who were uncomfortable with my faith and take-charge approach to making more opportunities for girls’ voices to be heard in the church. It’s condescending brush-offs in meetings with privileged businessmen who would casually toss the word “bitch” around. It’s as old as Andy W.’s voice on the playground telling me I was in his way when I just happened to be standing in front of him in line for the slide. It’s every time I hear Kristen Wiig referred to as an “emerging female comedian.”   

I’m not naïve, so I imagine Ida will have her own crappy tape by the time she’s my age. But my voice won’t be on it. I’m trying to move past my own junk and support Ida in not always smiling, in playing how she wants to play, in dodging expectations.  And even in just doing this – just supporting my kid being who she is – I’m dodging expectations as a mother. It’s not always comfortable. This act is in itself a rebellion.  

Having grown up as a rebellious girl myself, it’s hard not to be nervous for Ida, knowing that she’ll have to navigate a world that is at turns fundamentally opposed to her flourishing. But then she wows me again – with some feat of being strong, or smart, or audaciously bossy – and suddenly I feel a wild sense of pride well up inside of me. The future is coming. And strangely, new tracks wear onto my junky mixed tape. A hopeful tone emerges and slowly starts to eclipse the bullshit. And as I watch and learn from someone who is so much better than I am at not buying society’s crippling hype, I find myself becoming braver and stronger along with her and for her at the same time.   

 The future is coming. And lucky for us, she’s a loud-mouthed boss with a plan.    

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