So I grew up in the age of Girl Power. Us girls were told that we could do anything, be anything. We were presented with posters of women playing sports and dressed in astronaut gear. We were shown women in suits. Power suits with shoulder pads. You didn’t mean business if you didn’t have shoulder pads. We even got a woman, Ally McBeal, in a suit that came with a scandalously short skirt. We were told that the lists of careers was ours for the taking. College, girls, is for you too. Girl Power.
It’s a great thing to go from the presentation of housewife, teacher or nurse to everything— well, almost everything. We won’t get ahead of ourselves. I heard you female firefighters and soldiers.
For me growing up, success meant a career. Success meant using your brain and your God-given talents. For me, all of those things took place outside of the home. We were told, after all, to push boundaries.
My mother, who spent most days out working to come home to cook and clean; my mom who spent most of her weekend hours mopping and doing laundry; my mom who rarely traveled but to her homeland of Haiti, was not the picture of a strong 21st century woman that I had been presented with. Not the ones that I was shown as role model and inspiration. This was a mistake.
As is the case with most children, we think we know until we realize that we don’t know. I didn’t know until I was well into adulthood that my mother was not the definition of a strong and independent 21st century woman, but an example of one. You see, inspiration and strength come in many forms. And sometimes in our zeal to forge one path, we close another. This is sad.
You see, when I one day realized how much money my mother actually earned when she was keeping our household running, my mouth literally fell open. When I was struggling to be motherly and care for my two young children, I remembered how she woke up early before school and made us: myself, two siblings, and always 1 or 2 foster children, breakfast, and I was in awe. This was all before going to work herself. So, when I see the hot mess that I am in the mornings; the frantic move, move, move record player that I am, it makes me humble. I witnessed her strength and dignity during times of personal struggle and her badass sense of humor that could leave an entire room in tears.
When I was struggling financially because I had left all the ugly financial stuff to my husband who became my ex, she surprised me with a wealth of knowledge that I had only associated with a college degree. She has street smarts. She’s a hustler and sharp as a whip. She can find a deal in any place. She bought fabric and sewed me a prom dress two days before the prom. And it fit perfectly. It was beautiful. She made dinner: rice and chicken and beans and plantain in what seemed like 30 minutes after arriving home from work. Everyday around 4:30, I say, Ah damn, what are we going to eat for dinner? I can count on one hand how often I’ve heard her raise her voice.
Would she have been pictured on any Girl Power posters? Absolutely not. Did this lack of representation shade my appreciation for the hard work that it takes to run a household and raise a family? I believe so. When I moved out of my parents house, I got quite a shock. My appreciation has grown because of it.
Would I like for her to do more, to have done more, experience more? Of course, I would. But moving to America while barely speaking English, working 3 jobs at one point, and her and my father buying a home within a decade of arriving here is something to sleep peacefully on at night. That’s girl power.
Now, I must add that my father did amazing things as well and he is much appreciated. But I’m speaking on women here. Let’s not forget that in talking of the stories of women and the power of women, that we remember ALL stories.
I’d add a photo of my mom, but she is way to shy. If she ever found herself onto the internet and found my site, she’d be horrified.
Using the internet is not one of her powers. Did someone say, kryptonite?