I begged her not to make me go.
"It's going to be just fine. You can do it."
I was seven. We had just moved to Uzbekistan a month ago and my parents were sending my younger sisters and I to daycare to make friends. I didn't want more friends. I already had a few girls who shyly shoved their dolls in my hands (the universal little-girl code for "we're friends") and played hide-n-go-seek with me even though I didn't know what any of the words they were saying meant.
But my mama was not to be argued with once she made up her mind. We were going. That was that. So we did, trembling and holding hands like sisters who are trying to be brave do.
(I suppose I should mention that my youngest sister, Sami, had none of the fears I did about going to a new daycare. She marched her three year old chubby legs up to the door and was immediately, universally adored. Because she's Sami, that's how she rolls.)
My mom cringes when we girls remind her of this story.
"I shouldn't have made you go! A good mom would've listened to you!" She buries her face in her hands.
But I don't know if I agree. You see, I love the way my mom raised her girls. She raised us to be independent, adventurous and unafraid to try new things. No daughter of her's was going to whine about not wanting to do something. We had to at least try it.
So we fought back. That's the trouble with raising stubborn and independent girls-- they could turn on you at any moment.
The first few weeks we gave it a try. We awkwardly fiddled our thumbs while the teachers talked; and clung to each other on the playground where everyone seemed to already have their friends; we stared with wide eyes during music hour much to our teachers dismay who thought we should probably know a few words of Uzbek by now; and we did our best to stay still during nap time.
But finally enough was enough. One day I took Micaela by the hand and said "We're getting out of here." So after playtime in the garden, instead of following the kids into the building, we marched out determined to go home and never come back.
(Full confession: we left Sami. Because let's be honest, she was having the time of her life. Plus a three-year-old would have just been extra weight and we couldn't carry her untold miles all the way home!)
So we headed out passed the gates and in the direction we thought was home. We didn't make it very far before one of the daycare teachers came running out in her white uniform waving her arms and going on in Uzbek. We didn't have to speak Uzbek to know what she was saying.
I crossed my arms and shook my head. Micaela and I stood there until our mom came and took us home.
The next day, we did it again. And the next. Until finally our mom gave in. We waved good-bye to our daycare and hello to the dusty streets by our house.
I love this story from my childhood because it shows me what I'm made of, and the kind person my parents were raising me to be. (Although I did carry this habit of running away and skipping school well into my middle and high school years, honestly it's amazing I even have a college education!)
But I love the spirit of what they were trying to do. My tiny, petite mom is one of the strongest women I know. She's the woman who pushed me out of my comfort zones, and then gathered me up her arms at the end of the day and read me books. She's the woman who let me tromp around the foothills of the mountains near our house alone, knowing that I had it in me to find my way back. She's the one who stood up for my friend when we found out her family was beating her, who set her tiny jaw and said enough was enough. She's the only person on our street who took in the gypsy woman and fed her tea, pomegranates and bread every month for a year. She visited women who's husbands had left them, the single moms, the girls who found themselves pregnant, she spread her wings and took them in. She baked them bread, made them meals, found them jobs, empowered them to be leaders of their own lives.
So when I said I didn't want to do something that was hard, you can understand why that didn't go over well with my mom. She was the woman who taught me how to read, and gave me Madeleine L'Engle, Charlotte Brontë and told me about how journalism was a real job.
I hope that someday if I have a little girl, she'll know I'll always encourage her to do hard things-- and that she can always fight back. (Respectfully of course, the number one rule growing up in our house was "You WILL respect your mama.")
I hope I don't just tell my daughter to do bold and independent things, I hope I show her how they're done.
Yeah, so that's a story about how I grew up.