by Kat Kelley
Age 3. My mother is so round, and they tell me I’m going to have another sibling. I ask the perennial “where do babies come from?” My mother does not shy from the question. She sets an early precedent; she will not teach me that sex is shameful, taboo, she will teach me that she is safe, a resource. She returns from the library with age-appropriate picture books and explains just where babies come from.
Age 8. It takes about four reminders from Mom before I clean the bathroom floor. The dogs haven’t been walked and you can’t really see Rose’s floor. It doesn’t bother my father so much. My mother caves- for her it is easier to clean up herself, than to keep harassing us. Until it isn’t. She goes on strike for two weeks. Refuses to clean a single plate. We laugh, I think we even mock her, but now that Mom isn’t picking up the slack, Dad quickly tires of the dirty dishes. The eye rolls stop, and we hurry to start our chores.
Age 11. School is over, and we all walk to the library. They sit us in a quiet room in the back, all of the girls in the 6th grade. We eat our snacks as my mother places the recording into the VCR. We watch Oprah– an episode on eating disorders. She leads the conversation, and we talk about eating disorders, about our bodies, we talk about the pressure to be thin, the pressure that has already affected us at this age.
Age 14. I am devastated, but I want to be stoic, just like Mom. From being a diesel mechanic to dominating every sport, from her audacity to surviving a childhood in Dorchester, she defines tough, which I’ve always admired. But today, she teaches me that it’s okay to not always be tough. We rent Beaches and Steel Magnolias, oscillating between laughter and tears.
Age 17, 19, 20. I’m off to Egypt/Oman/India for the summer, and I realize I’m not as much of a grown-up as I pretend. I call my mother and she says all of the right things. She simultaneously helps me appreciate my experience, while validating my loneliness and frustrations. She understands, truly. I say just a few words and she takes all of the feelings I have and explains them to me, reminiscing on her days of adventure. She recites the Forgotten Poem and I know that thousands of miles away, she is here.
Age 21. She tells me she’s so proud that her daughter identifies by the “f-word,” a feminist. She comments on my blog, and refers to Eve Ensler as a “shero.” She travels to D.C. to watch me perform in The Vagina Monologues. I call her when I’m down and she makes it all okay. I call her when I’m up and I can hear her lips rise into a smile. I imagine her by my side as I walk the streets she once roamed.
Today. Taylor Swift’s Best Day begins on my iPod, and as with all Taylor songs, it’s too cliche to not relate. The words “I love you for giving me your eyes / Staying back and watching me shine” remain on my lips. Reminiscing, I know just where my brand of feminism came from. She taught me that being a feminist never meant “having it all,” but rather making intentional choices and defining what “it all” means for you at that time of your life. For my world traveling, labor organizer of a mother, having it all meant not having it all, but instead taking a part-time job to coach U-10 soccer and lead the girl scout troop, and for that I am eternally grateful.