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Morning Lecture Series

morning lecture seriesAs she gets older my daughter and I spend less time together, but our drives to school a few days a week have spawned what I refer to as my morning lecture series. Mornings are hectic and we hardly ever achieve a clean getaway; one of us invariably forgets and has to go back for something. Once we’re out of the garage, and on our way though we have about twenty minutes of us time with no interruptions.

Sometimes we go over study material for an upcoming quiz, discuss a paper she’s working on, or college applications. The topics we cover are usually pretty dull stuff, but once in a while she’ll ask me a question that requires more from both of us. We need to think, and I do my best to ask her the kind of questions that will draw her ideas and opinions out rather than imposing mine on her. I succeed to varying degrees in this endeavor.

She is almost seventeen but much more naïve than I was at her age. She has been in the same small school since pre-K, as have most of her classmates and is still waiting for her first kiss. When she asks me about sex, relationships and navigating the adult world I try to answer in a straightforward, honest way. I will not lie to her. I try not to scare her even about the things that scare me for her. Society has changed drastically since I was seventeen.

A year or so ago on a morning drive she told me she thought sex sounded horrible and she couldn’t understand why people wanted to do it. I finally had to end the conversation when I found myself trying to sell her on the idea. It’s not that I don’t want her to have or enjoy a sexual relationship, it’s that she needs to make that decision herself and I don’t want her to ever feel pressure from anyone (including me) to do something she’s not ready for. 

A few days ago we started talking about what femininity means. She recalled her princess phase when she wore only pink and loved all things sparkly; she was four. Neither of us is a girly-girl. She is an athlete, and plays hard. She swims, rows crew, runs and dresses almost exclusively for comfort. Though she is beautiful she’s not the least bit vain. She loves make-up, nail polish and when the occasion calls for it, form-fitting, sexy dresses. Her transformation always shocks me. None of this means she is or isn’t feminine. It is about the broad spectrum of femininity.

“What do you think femininity is?” I asked her as we hit the halfway mark between home and school. Ten minutes left to tackle a subject that could yield a zillion Google hits. She asked me to tell her what I thought. (In my head, whenever someone asks for my opinion I wonder if they’re prepared or if they really do want to know what I think, because if you ask me, I will tell you.) I cleared my throat head and started the morning’s lecture.

I realized how complex the word and all it implies is. Are those girly-girls more feminine than those of us who prefer comfortable shoes to stilettos? Is femininity external, internal or, as I suspect, a mixture? I consider myself very feminine, but you might not draw that conclusion based on my appearance—or you might. All this rushed through my mind as I tried to answer the question; what is femininity? Or more specifically why do I consider myself feminine?

For many years, especially at work, I cultivated the persona of a tough, no-nonsense boss. People described me as harsh, and told me they found me intimidating. I was not being authentic; I was forcing myself to be who I thought I should be and I was failing. Daniel Goleman set me free. Ironically, it turned out that by being softer, kinder, more authentic which (for me) meant more feminine I could be more effective. Work got easier and I had more energy. I stopped looking at everything through a false lens and my world expanded. I stopped fighting with everyone (myself).

Femininity has nothing to do with intelligence or ability I told her. It’s not about packaging or decor. Femininity has nothing to do with who you choose to sleep with or whether or not you wear lipstick. I made it clear I was speaking for myself. For me, femininity is about the strength of vulnerability. It’s about being true to who I am, being willing to be judged or disliked for it and admitting I will cry my eyes out when she leaves for college. My strength is in naming and claiming all my feelings, and not letting them scare me. It means if you aren’t comfortable with those feelings it’s your problem, not mine. 

It’s a challenge to squash important life lessons into short car rides, but it’s those morning lectures that shine a light for her as she makes her way into the world. I hope it’s those conversations she’ll recall when she’s grappling with a tough decision on her own. My job of making her the truest and most authentic version of herself is coming to a close. I admire and respect her and am in awe of her intelligence, kindness, curiosity and femininity. What a gift to have a teenager who trusts me enough to ask me the questions I never asked my mother.

I believe my lecture series instructs me as much as her. As I answer her questions I feel the responsibility of getting it right, of articulating my thoughts clearly and wisely. I try to think before I speak, to make my words and the limited time count. My work is almost done and in this one, important endeavor; raising a fine, strong young woman, I feel like I have been a success. 


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  • February 8, 2017 - 7:52 am

    Peggy Gilbey McMackin - Nice post-Nancy. However, truth is, your job will never, ever, be done. The questions may change, but new ones will occur, morning lectures may transition to other forms of conversation and communication, but end… it definitely will not.ReplyCancel

    • February 8, 2017 - 8:08 am - Peggy, best news in a while, and I suppose you’re right. I still miss my mom’s advice!ReplyCancel

  • February 8, 2017 - 9:22 pm

    Danielle - It seems like you and your daughter have a really wonderful relationship, Nancy. I hope to be that close to my girls as they grow, too. It’s one of the signs of raising girls well, I think, to earn enough trust with them for the tough, scary questions.ReplyCancel

    • February 9, 2017 - 8:05 am - Danielle, I treasure that relationship, I think we often feel it’s just us, and we sustain each other. ReplyCancel

  • February 8, 2017 - 10:51 pm

    Uma - Loved how you approached the topic and have these honest conversations with you daughter. I agree fully when you say that we learn as much when we explain our views to our children. Mornings are rushed for most of us but it’s so important to develop a routine and have an open channel where the parent and the child truly connect.ReplyCancel

  • February 9, 2017 - 12:42 am

    Melony Boseley - Nancy, your daughter is so lucky to have such a vulnerable mother. You seem to be doing absolutely everything right. Coming from a girl who never has been able to talk the tough conversations with my mother, it’s a breath of fresh air that you don’t try to force your opinions onto her. XoxoReplyCancel

    • February 9, 2017 - 8:06 am - Melony, believe me, I am hardly doing everything right! I often joke with her that it will 10-15 years before we know the damage I’ve inflicted on her 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 9, 2017 - 2:15 am

    Kalpanaa - Your post was thoughtful and well written. It took me back to my days of car rides with one or the other of my now adult daughters – the discussions and questions.ReplyCancel

    • February 9, 2017 - 8:04 am - Thanks Kalpanaa, I know I’ll look back on these times with great fondness.ReplyCancel

  • February 9, 2017 - 6:44 am

    Laura Neill - I adored this post. What I liked the most about this is the fact that you ‘stopped’ the lecture on sexuality when you found yourself ‘selling’ your opinion. How incredibly self-aware. For me, these moments between you and your daughter much more interactive than a real lecture though – maybe a Monday morning workshop series?? 🙂ReplyCancel

    • February 9, 2017 - 8:08 am - Laura, perhaps, but I find that I do most of the talking… Sometimes I’m stopped by the eye-roll, other times she is very engaged…

  • February 9, 2017 - 8:54 am

    Parul Thakur - I loved your post, Nancy and I will tell you why. Your relationship with your daughter is absolutely ideal and how it should be. Mums are friends to daughters and they are one like you and yours, the world will be a better place.
    Fabulous piece!ReplyCancel

    • February 9, 2017 - 8:55 am - Thank you Parul. I feel so lucky!ReplyCancel

  • February 9, 2017 - 12:55 pm

    Amy Bee - Well, I always enjoy your writing, and this one was extra good. It tickles me that you call your ride to school the “Morning Lecture Series.” It sounds so PBS, lol! The idea of feminity is an interesting one, and you deftly take us through it. The way you intermingle the topic with your daughter growing up is wonderful and engaging. I especially like the ending; you wrap it all up nicely.ReplyCancel

    • February 9, 2017 - 1:07 pm - Thanks Amy!ReplyCancel

  • February 9, 2017 - 8:15 pm

    Margaret - Seventeen is such a special age. For my girls it was the age they came back to us from the pulling away of the early teen years. Sounds like you are a great mom!ReplyCancel

    • February 10, 2017 - 6:42 am - Thanks Margaret, I try to be a great mom, but as we all know there are plenty of things I’m screwing up 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 10, 2017 - 12:00 pm

    yeah write #304 weekly writing challenge winners and staff picks - […] posts. Whether the post revolves around an evolving definition of seeing yourself or around a physical place (the car) that anchors what would otherwise be a list of too-brief explanations, it’s clear that most writers took a serious look at structure this week. The strong theme […]ReplyCancel

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