Ever since my toddler has started going to preschool three days a week, I have been amazed at the things she is learning. For sure, the things I love most, are the things she picks up from other kids. She came home the first week and suddenly knew how to roll a car across the floor, something that had eluded her before, playing alone in our house where she showed very little interest in cars.
Today, she was sitting in the shopping cart at the store and we passed some toy and she said, “That’s 5 dollars.”
What? I mean, I guess she could have picked this up from me or from TV in some roundabout way, but it was so specific. My mother’s intuition told me this was some statement she was parroting back that she had heard a bigger kid say (she’s the second youngest in her class) while playing. I have no idea if the toy in question was actually 5 dollars, but I doubt it. It was just fascinating to me that we were in a store, she saw something and randomly announced, “that’s 5 dollars.” I laughed so hard.
One of the more random things that she started doing a few weeks into preschool is coming up to me (especially when my attention is elsewhere) and saying, “Afraid Dinosaurs Mama!” Then she asks me to “hold” or buries her face in my leg. This is a little performance she does almost every day. She comes to me, “Afraid Dinosaurs Mama!” and then I have to snuggle her.
As a mom, I sometimes find myself at a total loss for the right way to respond to something, especially seemingly irrational toddler things, especially when I have no idea where they’re coming from. So I had just been holding her up until now saying, “Mama will protect you. I won’t let any Dinosaurs get you,” and trying to figure out where this fear is coming from.
At first I thought maybe it was my step-dad stomping around the house, which can be kind of alarming, but she did it even when he wasn’t around. Then one day at school, she pointed out a giant mural of a dinosaur on a storage building in the playground area of the school. That could totally be it, I thought, she’s remembering this from school and… I don’t really know.
What I do know is that she wants my affection in this moment and she’s pretending there’s a dinosaur there to get it, so I give it, freely and happily. I am her mama and I am not gonna let her down, but today it occurred to me to try something new as well.
I taught her to flex her muscles and say, “I’m Strong. I’m Tough. I’m Not Afraid. I’m Brave.”
She LOVES it. She still wants me to hold and cuddle her, and I do, but now it’s an even more fun game of putting on her “tough girl” face and repeating the mantra. “I’m Strong. I’m Tough. I’m Not Afraid. I’m Brave.” We did this about 90 times tonight because toddler. It was an incredibly good feeling.
I needed it. I needed to teach her something good. I wish that I grew up in a time where these qualities were fostered in me, where being strong and tough and brave was as important for me as it was for the boys around me. I learned them anyway, the hard way.
My mom has been trying to console me all day. She knows I’m grieving over this election loss, over what it means for me and my daughter, for our rights. I haven’t been able to let much positivity in. I tell her, “Afraid Dinosaurs Mama” and she tells me, “I’ve felt this way before too. We will get through this.” She made spaghetti and it was so good. She tells me my daughter will be the first woman president.
I am legitimately afraid for people’s lives. I am afraid for soldiers who may be sent to another unending bloody war at this man’s hands. I am afraid for Muslims, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, refugees, people of color, and women who will lose much at this man’s hands. I am afraid of Black churches being burned. I am afraid of schools falling apart. I am afraid of nuclear weapons. I am afraid of the never-ending bitter objectification of women. I am afraid that so many people don’t care about that, or don’t understand it. I wish these things were dinosaurs. I feel better prepared to deal with dinosaurs.
But I have a daughter, and I have to teach her, and I have to hold her and protect her.
That’s the way forward. Raise more women who know that they are strong, tough, and brave. Support the women in your life who are afraid but still fight. Hold women. Protect women. Teach them they are strong. Teach them they are tough. Teach them they are brave. That’s how we change it.