In the eerie flourescence of the ultrasound room, the technician turned to my husband Mike and I. She smiled.
“It’s a girl.”
Suddenly, I felt my heart seize up in my throat. The ultrasound goo felt ice cold on my distended belly. A dull panic set in.
What am I going to do with a girl?
I looked over at Mike, whose eyes lit up as he leaned over to give me a kiss on the head. “A girl, sweetie,” he breathed. “How cool.”
I gave a weak “Yay” in response and started to feel a sheen of sweat build on my neck. Most of my girlfriends rejoiced at having baby girls — “I get to dress them up!” Yet my first thought: “I get to mess mine up.”
I don’t proclaim to know much about little boys, so I’ve given myself the breathing room to learn as I go with Max. But shouldn’t I already be some sort of expert on daughter-rearing? I suppose I’m technically a grown woman, but feel like I’m still wondering, discovering and searching every day.
Am I that role model that my daughter deserves?
As the youngest of three daughters raised by very traditional Chinese immigrant parents in the white suburbs of New Jersey through the 80s and 90s, I was constantly in struggle over identity, self-worth, and fitting in. Ah, to be teenaged with all those feelings that you want to have… Feeling confident. Feeling normal and empowered. But my angst was always so closely tied to ethnicity. I used to pinch my squat button nose to train it be more pointed and slim. More like the white girls. In sixth grade, I tried to bleach my raven black hair, thinking that lighter hair would make me that much closer to blonde. And blonde is beautiful. It came out a horrifying shade of puke orange, and I had to live with it for a year before the evidence of my folly would grow out. I’d walk around school halls with my eyes googly wide open, trying desperately to make people forget their natural almond shape. To be smart was not enough. I had to look like those models in Glamour.
If my ethnicity was not debilitating me enough, my gender seemed to be the omnipresent achilles heel. In high school, I found myself wanting to try out for the lacrosse team. Team sports made me feel strong and included. I loved being around other athletic girls, and pushing myself in the process. The thing is, my father forbid me to do it — after I had made the team, as a captain, no less. He stated, “That’s not what girls do.”
I know Eva will think I’m hard on her. She needs to know she can’t skate by on her cuteness or when she’s older, her feminine wiles. I want her to face challenges head on and not make excuses. The world will make enough excuses for her, as a woman of color. What’s more, I’ll be her lifelong partner in this, because this… this is hard stuff.
1) Not everyone has to like you… but you have to like and live with yourself all the time. Make your decisions based on how proud you would be of yourself. Be kind without expecting to be rewarded or recognized. And remember: What others think of you is none of your business. The great Patrick Ewing reassured me once when I was feeling my lowest while working in Sacramento, “Just do the best you can. Don’t worry what others will say. You do you.“
2) Don’t strive for beauty. Some people might tell you you’re beautiful. Exotic, even. Don’t mistake that for real respect. Beauty inevitably fades, standards of beauty will change through time. Let the authentic you shine through, in any kind of light. I would take “Eva is funny” over “Eva is pretty” any day of the week. You are always the perfect you. Those who truly matter will see real beauty in that.
3) Instead, strive to be resilient. This is not the same as building a wall around you. Quite the contrary. As much as I crave to protect you from all hurt in the world, it’s important that you know what a broken heart feels like. Or how crushing it is to not make the team, or get that job. You’ve got to love and lose, you’ve got to suit up, play the game and fall short, to understand just how strong you really are.
4) Good girlfriends are a gift. Treasure them. I haven’t seen your Anita Aunty, Mitra or Alicia in months, but I could call them any time of the day or night, and it would be as if no time has passed. They have seen me at my most vulnerable, my “worst” and still manage to love me despite my imperfections. Your impassioned Titi Nicky would drop everything for the chance to hang out with you. Soomi will teach you how to tumble, give you your first bites of kimchee, and encourage you to follow your artistic instincts. These women are my sisters. Most of all — when you date someone new, make sure you continue to spend time with your girlfriends. They are restorative, honest and can tell right away if he’s a big ol’ loser.
5) Ask questions. Lots of questions. There’s nothing stupid or off-limits. Be bold in your curiosity, and admit freely when you don’t know the answers. But then set out to find them yourself … and enjoy the adventure along the way.
Photo credits: dirty sugar photography, Michael Beard Photography