By: Shannon Ralph
I am sitting in my living room right now watching my four-year-old daughter enjoying one of her favorite pastimes: wrestling with her brothers. As I type this, Sophie’s legs, shrouded in pink and purple butterfly-emblazoned leggings, are tightly wound around her brother’s head in a classic WWF tactic used to gain the upper hand. She is emitting a wonderfully evil cackle as her twin brother screams that her tutu is tickling his face. I think to myself, I should intervene. I should tell them to stop wrestling. Sophie is a bit of a beast and can quite easily overpower her twin brother. Before I can get the words out, however, Sophie suddenly growls. “You knocked off my tiara!” Her poor brother is going to pay the price for that one, I am afraid.
Looking at my daughter, I have to admit to my shortcomings as a mother. Despite my genteel Southern roots, I am not raising my daughter to be a lady. I want her to be kind and generous and gracious. I want her to be well-mannered and well-intentioned, of course, but I have no real desire for her to be “well-behaved.” Women have been well-behaved for far too long. Sophie is certainly not. She is not quiet or meek. As a matter of fact, she can get the neighborhood dogs howling with her signature shriek. She is not reserved. She speaks when she is not spoken to. She is rough and tumble. She can hold her own with the boys. She is not the perfect little docile child our daughters are expected to be. As a matter of fact, she is often a raging wildfire of emotion that can’t easily be contained. Rather than being the female ideal, my daughter is the female reality. She is what I would even consider the epitome of female perfection. She is headstrong, brave, smart, competent, loud, unyielding, and beautiful. The perfect amalgam of ragamuffin and little lady. My tomboy princess.
Yes, I realize that is a bit of an oxymoron. Who’s ever heard of a tomboy princess? I never had. That is, until my daughter came along. She is a tutu-wearing, tiara-sporting, dress-loving tomboy. She is as happy in a ballet leotard as she is topless, running around the backyard playing superheroes with her brothers. Perhaps it is because she is the only girl in our family and her only playmates are her brothers and boy cousins. Regardless of the reason, I adore Sophie exactly as she is is. Full of spunk and spirit. Full of the infinite potential that exists in all little girls.
When my sister and I were growing up, I was the princess. She was the tomboy. I played with Barbies. She played with Matchbox cars. (I have YET to forgive her for destroying my beautiful yellow Barbie Dream Camper by riding on it like it were one of her dirty old Tonka trucks, but that’s a trauma-filled story for another day.) I wore sundresses all summer long. She went topless all summer. I cried at sappy movies. She laughed at the movies and at me (thoroughly pissing me off). We were as different as night and day as children. However, I don’t recall my mother ever trying to change either one of us. She accepted us completely as we were. We were Shannon and Amy. Her princess and her tomboy. As we grew older, I became a bit more of a tomboy and Amy became a snippet more princess-like. We met in the middle and became wonderful friends. I credit my mom with allowing us to become the well-adjusted (somewhat), well-rounded (sort of) adults we are today. Surprisingly, both the princess and the tomboy grew up to be lesbians, proof-positive that there is no one “gay” personality or temperament. Gay people are just as diverse as humanity, at large. (We often jokingly tell my mother that she is above average—an exceptional mother –as fifty percent of her children are gay. Well above the national average.) By allowing us to be ourselves without any constraints—by not defining within strict boundaries what it meant to be a girl—my sister and I were both allowed to be the girls, and subsequently the women, we were meant to be. Looking back, I believe that was probably the greatest gift my mother could have possibly given to her daughters.
I am trying to be that kind of mother to Sophie. Next year, she will be entering kindergarten. Suddenly, her world will open up immensely. She will make friends who will influence her. She will have teachers who inspire her. She will meet other adults she will want to emulate. Yes, I will always be her mother. But I will no longer be her everything.
So how then do I keep Sophie from buying into the expectations society likes to place on little girls? How do I show her that girls do not have to be docile? Girls do not have to be accommodating and tractable? Girls do not have to defer to boys? I want her to realize that girls can be fierce and fearless. Girls can be intelligent and creative and competent. How do I get this message across to Sophie as she grows older and enters the world outside of my home? Society will want her to doubt herself. Our culture will tell her that she is not smart enough…not pretty enough…not thin enough. These are the messages girls are bombarded with every day.
Right now, my daughter thinks she is capable of anything and everything. She believes she is the world’s greatest athlete (despite her bruised-up knees, which tell a different story). The greatest singer. The greatest comedian. The greatest ballerina. And yes, the greatest wrestler. She is only four years old, but the sky is the limit where she is concerned. I desperately want her to hold on to this notion. I want society to keep their grubby, self-righteous paws off of my daughter. I want her to remain the little girl she is today, in all of her beastly glory. She is perfect exactly as she is.
She is my tomboy princess. And I wouldn’t want her any other way.