These days Ziya smiles all the time with Stone and me, and that first smile in the morning is addictive. She bubbles with pure, unmediated joy. Too young still to say hello, not yet saying mama, but saying so much with her eyes and crinkled nose. Unlike many others, it took her more than five months to start smiling. When I would take her out, she’d give friendly people the most deadpan reaction. I didn’t really know babies could look sceptical, but she’s got this look which tells people that she may or may not want to interact with them, but she definitely doesn’t want to be touched. Some babies smile and go off happily with everybody. Not my child. She not smiling with yuh jes so. She not going anywhere with you at all. She doh play. She’s one tiny tough crowd.
Times have changed, and girlhood doesn’t have to be all cutesy anymore. I tell Ziya that her emotions are hers. Feel what she wants, show what emotions she wants. If anyone does anything to her she doesn’t like, I’m going to tell her what a friend’s mother told her, when she was still little, to shout. Not, “No!’, not ‘“Stop!” but, “Eff off!” You have to raise girls for a tough world these days. Boys learn this early. We call boy babies, still in diapers “small man,” giving them a respect and authority even big women may not always get. We expect boys to be rough, to shout, to be tough and to learn how to defend themselves.
We teach girls to be good, pretty and nice. Not Ziya, she has a serious screw-face when she’s ready, and she going to have to learn when to use it as part of being a girl too. Still, I get that first smile when she turns her head in the morning. I get her last smile while breastfeeding before bed.
I see her smiling in her sleep. Such smiles fill precious, fleeting moments, where the everyday difficulties of life are outshone by a silver lining so luminescent that everything else falls in shadow. I teach in Women’s Studies that it’s important to value women, not because of what they do or how they look or how good they are at something, but simply because they are. I feel that way about Zi. I hear a lot from other parents about how early their baby is walking or how they just love brushing their teeth or combing their hair and, of course, how they’ve been sleeping through the whole night since four months old and never give trouble to eat. I try not to get into those conversations. Who she is right now is her call. I value her just because she is and, as she grows into womanhood, that’s something I want her to know she deserves from others too. So I’m appreciating her and me, just because we are, and somehow, inside and out, I’m smiling too.