Dear Lily and Monique:
I met you at the showing of “Miss Representation,” that documentary about how the mass media portrays women and girls and about how that affects their standing in business, politics and life in general. You organized the event. You invited people, arranged chairs, prepared questions. You both were poised and prepared in dealing with such heavy, heady material. I hope you got your Girl Scout badges.
I looked at your sweet, still-young child faces and thought of another 11-year-old girl. She once tramped through a back alley pretending it was a secret gold mine, babysat for $1.50 an hour, made Gary Hart for President posters for social studies extra credit, played Pac-Man on Atari, listened to Blondie on a transistor radio, read Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder and was both a child and not a child at the same time.
It was a tender, good age.
At your extra-curricular event, you asked four women questions about jobs and life. And we four women – a former Miss Nebraska, a former Congressional aide, a nonprofit boss and a reporter – might as well have talked in tongues for how foreign it must have sounded hearing about work-life balance and career and the tripwires that come with age, industry, gender, personality and place.
Someday you will deal with all of that. And it’s probably good you start thinking about it. A little.
But right now you are 11. And here’s what I didn’t get a chance to say that night at your school in Bellevue.
* Be kind. The world, as you saw in the movie, can be a mean place. It is also a beautiful place. And that beauty comes from kindness.
* Be curious. Ask questions, especially in class. Ask why, especially of your friends. Why are we doing this? Why did you say that?
* Be smart. Read. Read books. The kind with pages. Turn off the gadgets. Look at a globe. The world is a lot bigger place than we think it is.
* Be brave. Raise your hand. Sound your voice. Say no. It takes guts to swim against the tide, especially at your age. But take it from this former 11-year-old: THE TIDE CHANGES.
* Be yourself. Follow your interests. Do what makes you happy. Do it as well as you can. You are special and you need to remember that and believe it.
* Be a child. For at least a little while longer. Play. Laugh. Be silly. And when you’re older, when the pressures and the bills and the cynics come marching in, still make time to play, to laugh and to be silly.
Know that you live in a place where you can be who you want as loudly as you want. A girl not much older than you was shot and seriously wounded Tuesday in Pakistan by cowards who didn’t like that she was curious, smart and brave. Her crime? Speaking out about girls who are denied an education.
Girls, you will be 12, and then 13. And someday, 39, perhaps staring at a younger version of yourself.
It may hit you that the world changes and it doesn’t and that in the end, the most important thing you can do is be the best person you can, to follow your heart, to learn from mistakes and move forward.
Good luck. God bless.
A former 11-year-old
Erin Grace, a World-Herald reporter, is married with three children. Read her blogs on momaha.
Related story: Read ”Miss Representation’ will be shown today”
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