I don’t know if you’re going to remember this later. I don’t know if you remember it even now. But you and I were at the park the other day, when this younger kid showed up on his big wheel and started chasing you.
You weren’t the slightest bit threatened. You were on your brand new big girl bike, that you just got for your 5th birthday, which you love. You still have training wheels, but that doesn’t mean you can’t kick up some serious dust. And we’re both insanely proud of you for it. You’re proud of yourself. And I’m proud of you. It makes us both just stupid happy.
Which is mostly everything that you and I were thinking about, the other day in the park, when this wild three-year-old roared onto the path on his big wheel. You knew you were the bigger kid. And you knew you had the bigger bike. You just carefully went around him, and you kept on riding back and forth, just the way you and I had agreed you would, from one end of my line of vision to the other end of my line of vision. I stood and watched you and gave you a thumbs-up sign every once in a while and we both were stupid happy.
That’s the part that maybe you do or maybe you don’t remember. But something else happened that you didn’t know about, and that’s the part I want to tell you. That kid on the big wheel had a grown-up, too. And that grown-up stood next to me and he started up a conversation. He was talking about the kid on the big wheel when he said, “He has a two-wheel bike, too, but we don’t take it for walks. He wouldn’t stay on the path like she does. Boys don’t do that.”
And I froze.
I froze and I looked at you, my wild little girl, my rebellious daughter, riding up and down. I looked at you in that special moment of happiness and confidence — a moment in which you were NOT FIGHTING — and I flashed back to the seventeen times that day that you broke the rules. The seventeen times that day that you did exactly what I asked you NOT to do. The seventeen times that day that you established yourself as a rebel.
Because, you know, Stella, that’s kind of your thing. You don’t like to follow rules. And you want to make sure that everybody knows that about you. Did you know that your mother was like that, too?
That’s what I was thinking, when I looked at you, riding your big girl bike, and this total stranger thought he could peg you as the type to stay on the path, just because you were wearing a pretty dress that billows out behind you when you go fast. I felt the panic and the anger, just exactly like I used to feel it for my own sake. I felt it, but this time it was for you, and this time I thought, Oh, baby. I see it. THIS is what we’re up against.
This is the reason why we don’t let down our guard. The reason we don’t relax into sleep or kindness or self-confidence. Because all it takes is one moment of riding back and forth on the path for somebody to pop you into the Docile Girl box and snap the lid shut.
I fought this for a whole big chunk of my life. And I ran away from it, too. For decades it was my obsession. Like you, I painted giant flags of “I WILL NOT STAY IN THE BOX YOU WANT TO KEEP ME IN,” and I shaved my head clean and started fights and used swear words strategically and produced avant garde theatre and BROKE ALL THE RULES ALL THE TIME.
Your father did, too. Did you know this can happen to boys, too? Boys, too, get put in boxes. And while your mom was cutting all her hair off and listening to Riot Grrls, your dad was growing his hair long and driving a VW bus. We both stayed off the main path as much as we could. We both rebelled, hard. We both couldn’t bear that risk of getting put in boxes.
So, listen up, Stella. We get it. If you’re thirteen and you want to shave one side of your head and dye the other side orange, fine. If you swear a lot and listen to music that expresses deep rage, fine. If you want to reinvent the wheel every single day so you never follow in anybody’s footsteps, fine. But hear this, too.
You have a whole life coming to you that is full of moments where you’re riding your bike and kicking up dust and you don’t care who’s watching. You have a whole life coming to you which is about freedom. And you will realize that you make your own path, wherever you go, no matter how much pavement has been laid ahead of you.
Your freedom comes from within, girl. And baby, you’ve got it.
You’re no docile girl. But you will find your way to rest. You’re no wallflower. But you will learn to listen. You’re no weakling. But you will find that you don’t always have to use your teeth. And you’re no cookie cutter cutout, but you will find that you have hearts in common. You don’t have to do this world alone.
Stella, I know you’re not in the habit of listening to me. And probably that will be the case for a long time. And yeah, that drives me nuts. But I’ll survive it. And whether you’re listening to me or not, I’m going to keep saying this. I believe in you.
I believe in you. And I believe in your freedom. Even your freedom from the fight.
Get it, girl.