Daughters Know Best

Daughters Know Best

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Daughters Know Best

We were standing in a dressing room staring at the mirror. The object under scrutiny was a pair of jeans.

“Bend!” the younger woman in the tight little cubicle—my daughter—commanded, which I did. “Turn!” she said, and I listened.

I am no jeans expert, but this daughter clearly is. She knows her brands, her cuts, the minimum essentials of fit. She leads. I humbly follow.

If somebody asked me to pinpoint the precise moment when I began learning about jeans—and life—from my daughters, I probably couldn’t do it. But something quite unsettling had been going on in my life. I found myself turning to my three daughters for a road map to everything, from where to go on the Internet to find an obscure line of eighteenth-century British poetry, to how to introduce shitake mushrooms into a salad.

I used to attempt casualness when I found myself floundering, a bit reluctant to acknowledge that, more often now, I feel a bit lost in the world that seems to belong to their generation. I used to pretend I was just grazing around in Jill, Amy, and Nancy’s collective wisdom, because accepting this reversal felt humbling, even embarrassing.

Once, I was the queen of wisdom. I doled out advice, and they took it, at least until three fierce adolescences set in. But even then, I took on the role of a consultant on the thorny issues.

The decades slipped away. My daughters left me for campuses where I could occasionally glimpse their lives, but never fully know them. They fell in love; they traveled; they married; they had babies and careers.

My years of sweeping change seemed to end as theirs began. And they are smart! The older I got, the more amazed I was about how much they knew. When I felt particularly stupid or naïve, I had to remind myself that these daughters of mine were the beneficiaries of the powerful women’s movement that came along just a tad too late for me.

Jill, Amy, and Nancy didn’t have to deal with a world owned and run entirely by men. They were not constantly nervous, apologetic, or uncertain . . . traits I know all too well. And they deftly avoided bowing to the twin gods of caution and conformity—old pals of mine.

I was a senior in college when I met and married the second man who asked me. The first danced well, but had no character, which I somehow sensed even at age twenty. The one I married had lots of it, and was an older man of twenty-seven. I went from college to marriage with no stops along the way.

Miraculously, wonderfully, we’re still together. And in those intervening years, I’ve finally grown from girl to woman to person. But there were still so many gaps. Not for our daughters, though, who shared dormitory floors with men in universities that had never deigned to open their wrought iron, ivy-covered gates to my generation of women. My daughters’ generation of women married later, with more focus, and with strong identities all their own.

So increasingly, I would find myself borrowing from Jill, Amy, and Nancy’s enormous stash of self-confidence and certainty. They had it to spare.

I’m playing catch-up. They’re not.

More recently, I’ve just come right out and asked for help. It’s easier and more honest than the pretense of nonchalance. I can’t tell whether it makes me seem appealingly vulnerable to my daughters, or just someone in need of tolerant sympathy.

But oh, what I’ve learned. My daughters have taught me, without ever preaching, that life is an adventure, that even a woman who never played a single sport seriously, because only boys did that, still can learn the exhilaration of a fit body. They have demonstrated that it is possible to fit three weeks’ worth of clothes into one small suitcase.

They’ve convinced me to experience yoga, subscribe to at least one politically correct magazine, and test myself with a vegetarian diet. I flunked.

My daughters have convinced me that women friends are to be cherished because, most of the time, they give unconditional love and support. And when I feel like an imposter as a writer, wife, mother, and human being, my women friends will convince me that I’m not. Or at least make me laugh at myself.

From these three strong, sure young women, I’ve learned to occasionally brush off my misgivings and wear something slightly outrageous, often from a thrift shop. My addiction to these places is a direct result of their initiation.

Most of all, I have been reminded by my daughters that these are not the Doris Day/white picket fence 1950s, even as I struggle with my own ghosts of those years. In the tangle of colliding images and possibilities, it’s still sometimes hard to get my footing in the ongoing process of giving birth to myself.

Sally Friedman

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