“I feel like a planet with a lot of other planets stuck to me.” Rubina Doreen, Age 3.5
It was one of those off-hand preschool-aged musings said with a sigh in between throwing a tantrum, eating a bowl of macaroni and cheese, and testing out markers in her new Ninja Turtle coloring book.
And for some reason, on this particular day, at this precise time, her little one-liner hit me like a ton of bricks—so much so, that I stopped furiously scrubbing the table striving to rid it of the spilled milk from yesterday’s breakfast and plopped myself down on a dining room chair.
I felt like a planet with a lot of other planets stuck to me. Perhaps it was my pregnant belly, literally harnessing a whole other world inside of it, or just the fact that like most parents, I feel like I am constantly juggling a thousand things just to keep everyone and everything alive and in orbit. I was exhausted to the point that even my bones felt tired. I closed my eyes for a moment and, drawing in a deep breath, I put my head down on the cold, hard, milk-stained surface of the table. I stayed like that for a couple of seconds until I felt a cold wetness creeping into my ear and onto my scalp followed by an “I’m sawee mamma.” I opened my eyes and turned my head only to see a now empty glass of apple juice staring me back in the face. As I got up to grab a wad of paper towels to dab my now sticky hair, I saw the clock and realized we were late to pick up my son from school so off we went. No rest for the weary.
After we had settled in from our walk home from school, my almost six-year-old son, Roman, informed me that he heard something bad during recess. I braced myself as you never can quite anticipate what will follow that sentence describing a scene from a playground shared by students ranging from grades K thru 8. He said that a group of boys were shouting, “Boys go to college to get more knowledge. Girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider” (don’t even get me started on that incorrect grammar). Now, I know that the genders are interchangeable in this chant. I remember hearing about a fair share of boys heading to Jupiter when I was in elementary school, but this still made the back of my neck feel prickly. How does this type of rhetoric survive nearly three decades?!
I glanced at Rubina as her brother recounted this apparently timeless taunt to see how she would react. She took a break from strategically arranging the cards of Candy Land so that all of the “sweet treats” which advance you up the colorful path would be drawn on her turn, and looked up with an incredulous expression as if she didn’t believe a word of it. Of course, this coming from a girl who days earlier at the park told every boy (and girl for that matter) to get onto the merry-go-round so that she could push them. When she saw a well-meaning older boy trying to get off so that “he could push them faster” she started running with such power it literally forced him to sit back down on the spinning metal disc.
I asked Roman how he felt about what the kids were saying at school which prompted a lively conversation between him and his sister about how boys and girls can do the same things.
“Girls can be firefighters too you know!”
“Girls AND boys can be doctors!”
“Boys go to college to get more knowledge. GIRLS go to college to get more knowledge!”
They proudly shouted in unison.
I appreciated their optimism and tried to stay in that space of sheer and blissful naïvety that has not yet been tarnished and shaped by life experiences, but my mind slowly wandered towards those inevitable questions. Yes, she could become a doctor, but would she be paid the same amount as her male counterparts? Will she struggle to be heard or be called on less in class? Will she have to fight harder for every opportunity that might come easier to her brothers simply because she is a girl? I thought of her becoming a middle child in just a few short weeks and how she would need to scrap for her place in a new pecking order.
I looked at my fiercely determined, competitive, loyal, brave, and stubborn young daughter and although I had total confidence that if anyone was up for the challenge, it would be her, the weight of the world on my shoulders suddenly felt a little heavier.
Later that afternoon, as I tucked her into our king sized bed for her nap, I decided that I would curl up with her for a few minutes. The emails, the messes, and even the three recorded episodes of Homeland could wait (that’s how you know I am tired). I smoothed the unruly curls off of her forehead and tucked them fruitlessly behind her ear. My little girl. As I snuggled next to her I said, “You know Rubina, once your little brother arrives, it’s just going to be us two girls.”
“I know,” she responded, “Because Dino is boy, grandpa is a boy, daddy is a boy, Roman is a boy, dadu is a boy, uncle is a boy, and baby is a boy.”
“Just us girls.” I repeated quietly, taking a second attempt at taming the wisps of hair. It was then that she took my face in her hands and gently pulled our heads so close together that our foreheads were touching. A twinkle flashed in her eye and a faint, sly, smile crossed her lips as she whispered, “We’re gonna win.”
At least I know if she’s going to Jupiter, it will be to conquer it.
Marissa B. Niranjan is grateful to be a mamma of a beautifully stubborn daughter and knows that the traits that sometimes make her want to pull her apple juice coated, unbrushed, mamma hair out are the very characteristics that will serve her feisty little girl best in this life, and she is excited to watch her take on the universe.