In my mother’s era, even girls could roam their neighborhood unsupervised, playing with children, visiting neighbors and collecting assorted species of fish, frog and fauna in ravines or nearby streams.
The majority of children of Ziya’s generation will never have that experience. We adults have almost irreversibly polluted many of the rivers near our homes with garbage and poison. It’s risky for any mother to allow her young daughter to wander freely. Living at odds with our environment and each other is a cost that will be borne by those now being born.
I try to make up for that generational loss by taking Zi to clean streams or empty stretches of beach as often as I can. I avoid Maracas, and dream that the $78 million planned upgrade includes rehabilitation of the river’s ecosystem. Anything is possible with a vision, and we are responsible for protecting mangroves, coasts and fresh watercourses for our children.
Teaching Zi that girls can be explorers, not just the “princess-mermaids” that she and her school friends pretend to be, we study tadpoles in various stages of growth, assess the shape and colour of shells, rocks and plant life, and look for fish and crabs. Mostly, I’m hoping that her trips to Yara River, Avocat waterfall or Balandra enable her to become the kind of woman who is curious about and committed to the earth, wildlife and science.
I don’t want her to be afraid. I want her to be aware of what roles bats, lizards, bees, bachacs and snakes play, and why they have a right to be here. I want her to be willing to hold grasshoppers in her hand, catch little crabs without harming them, and carefully dissect unfamiliar dead insects.
This weekend, we showed Zi a dead Titanus Giganteus beetle caught in the backyard. Even lifeless, it is intimidating, and I had no plans to hold it in my hand. To Stone’s horror (I mean it, I saw him sway on his feet with herculean effort to appear nonchalant) and to my own surprise, Zi nimbly picked it up like she was selecting a cupcake from a tray. The body was bigger than her hand, and the legs and antennae dangled for inches. Girl didn’t flinch. I was impressed. It was one of those mummy moments when your child surpasses you, does something that you’d been teaching her to do, and just so shows you how it is done.
It seems irrelevant, but children, especially girls, are taught so much fear. We parent through fear. We teach girls to fear strangers and especially men. We teach them to fear their bodies and their sexuality. We teach them to fear being seen as too powerful or too dominant or too unstoppable or too feminist. We teach them to fear the wild, the dark and being outside alone.
Resisting this, I want Zi to learn everyday fearlessness, like Jane Goodall who went out into the forest and sat with gorillas for hours by herself, like my youngest sister Giselle who handles cobras with skill and due respect, like my women friends who are not intimidated by local tarantulas or by surfing the deep ocean. I want her to fear everything less than I do, to show me her nurtured instinct for a braver world.
Curiosity, courage and connection with the planet don’t seem like skills that girls most need, but they translate to confidently asking questions of the status quo, valuing widespread freedom and diversity, understanding how to contribute to a bigger ecology, and bringing fearlessness to whatever vision Zi decides should succeed.