Just Ella Is Just Right

In Dis Abled Mom, Family by Amy Blanchard

I’ve recently joined an all-moms book club. The first book we reviewed was Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. It tells the story of a lifelong friendship between two Chinese women living in the early 19th Century. It’s a wonderful book – I really loved it.

During our club’s discussion our thoughts turned to how we’re raising our own daughters, interestingly enough, and purely by coincidence, we each only have young daughters in this group.

Are we raising them to be strong, independent, confident women? Or are we subconsciously conforming to society’s impression of women today – mere objects of beauty with little to no intelligence?

Of course, we all adamantly insisted that we’re raising bold, determined females. But further discussion had us worrying that we are falling prey, at least a little bit, to society’s lesser standards for women.

Do we tell our daughters too often that they’re pretty, not stressing the importance of intelligence and strength? Do we accept their tears far too easily, telling them “there, there little one” instead of “buck up”?

Do we encourage them to play house and hold tea parties while dressed in their fairy princess costumes rather than have them read, explore and play more actively? Many of us feared that just may be the case.

But I had to admit – both to the group and, upon further reflection, to myself – that I actually do encourage the more active play and the more curious nature in my daughter.

She has 1 or 2 dolls, but she ignores them, much preferring to play blocks, read, or imagine elaborate conversations between her Fisher Price farmer and barnyard animals.

I have always tried to bring learning and questioning into every situation, whether she’s sitting with me as I flip through a magazine (can you find the letter “E” on this page) or we’re eating supper at the table “I need you to eat 5 bites of food. If you eat one, how many bites do you still have to eat?”

I also don’t tolerate tantrums and tears. When her tears start I assess the situation to make sure no physical injury has brought on the wails. But once I see that all seems well enough, I solidly expect her to calm down, use her words, and explain to me what has happened.

And I find myself more often telling Ella “you’re such a nut” rather than “you’re so pretty”, not that she’s not the most adorable little girl I’ve ever seen or anything.

Interestingly, Ella hates to have any adjectives whatsoever attached to her name. You know the song “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt? Well, whenever that song comes over the airwaves and into our car, Ella loudly insists, “I’m NOT beautiful! I’m just Ella!”

“I’m just Ella” – something my husband and I hear from her multiple times each and every day. It’s simply part of what makes her “Ella”.

But the book club discussion has me wondering if there is actually more to the “Just Ella” thing than meets the eye. Maybe, even at her young age, she understands that she doesn’t want to be labeled in any way.

Maybe she subconsciously wants the freedom to do what she wants, be whomever she can be, without the oppression of neat little “box” and stereotypes.

I know, I know. Heavy philosophical notions such as these are probably far, FAR from what’s actually going on in that little head of hers. But still, I’ve got to step back and admit – she definitely is her own person and will not accept anyone else’s opinions of who she is or what she can or cannot do.

And to me, this is an absolutely wonderful thing. For as much as my parents and family raised me to feel like I can try any and everything in life despite my physical disability, I still come from a life of physical challenges, always knowing that there are some things I’ll never be able to do or become (a professional dancer? No. Able to roller skate or run a race? Uh-uh).

So to be able to instill in my daughter the knowledge that she has the power within her to be anyone and do anything – with no restraints at all – is the best gift I can receive as a mother.

You know, I kind of felt bad at the book club meeting, admitting that I don’t tell my daughter very often that she’s “cute” and “pretty”.

Don’t get me wrong.

I do tell her these types of things, but not any more or less often than I tell her other great things about herself. I kind of felt like the other moms must have been thinking, “Gee, her little girl doesn’t think she’s beautiful. That’s awful! What a cold, heartless mother this woman must be.”

But you know what? If the manner in which I’m raising my daughter encourages her to think for herself, believe in herself, and strive to reach each and every one of her life goals, then, hey, I think I’m doing this mom thing pretty well after all.

What do you think? Email us at nathasha@audacitymagazine.com .