“You have to learn to tell the server what you want,” I insisted.
For some reason, my outspoken, truth-telling, totally-not-shy ten year old is having issues asking for a waffle at the neighborhood diner.
This is the diner where we know the staff by name, and they all know to specify “crispy” before we’ve even finished ordering the bacon. They’ve seen Sage grow from a baby nursing in the booth to the toddler in the multi-colored booster, to the pre-teen who would currently really, really like a waffle.
But for some reason, she doesn’t want to say it.
“It’s important,” I said to her again tonight when we were cuddling up on the couch.
“But I like when you do it.”
“It’s your order. You’re ten years old. You need to be able to tell people what you want. You have a voice! You have so much to say! Be confident about it! Why don’t you want to use your voice?”
That’s when it struck me – struck both of us – that it really wasn’t about ordering waffles.
I’ve always wanted my daughters to grow up feeling confidence in expressing themselves, speaking truth to power, saying whatever it is they feel they have to say. Let’s just say it’s a trait that runs in the family.
But lately, it’s become clear that it’s more than something I want for them, it’s something they absolutely need.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s politely correcting the ice cream scooper when she reaches for the chocolate sprinkles instead of the rainbow ones; answering a long division question in class; or asking the doctor to please explain that thing about the thing one more time because you know, it didn’t really make sense to me and I don’t know all the words you used but I want to make sure I get it right.
Girls need to know that their words matter. That their feelings matter. And that there will always, always be adults here to talk to about anything at all, even if it’s something that feels embarrassing or awful.
I have been gutted with the inescapable news over the past weeks. Over the past year, really. And so our conversations at home have been particularly…blunt. To say the least. I’ve explained male masturbation and what it is and tried to answer questions about why a man would do it in front of a woman he doesn’t even know. I’ve talked about men rubbing up next to me on the subway. We’ve talked about elbows to the balls and fingers in the eyes. We’ve talked about roofies. I’ve also defined terms like pedophilia and statutory rape, sexual harassment, abuse of power, and age of consent.
(They’re already experts on “grab them by the pussy” unfortunately.)
And, because they asked, I’ve tried (if awkwardly) to explain the messy, complicated, difficult reasons that women don’t come forward when they’ve been harassed or assaulted. Funny, that was even harder for me to describe than public masturbation.
But most importantly, I wanted to remind my girls (for the zillionth time, they’d say, rolling their eyes) that they can always, always always tell me anything at all. And that there’s a whole lot of people all over the country right now working to change the system so that girls and women feel safe to speak up, safe to just be.
It wasn’t at all the conversation I was expecting to have tonight. But it was the conversation we needed to have.
And this weekend, I’m making damn well sure she orders those waffles.