Julie Levine's daughter
Julie Levine's daughter

She used to ask about fairies. Now she’s ready to fly.

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We used to take rain walks, and I’d let her jump up and down in the puddles. Some days, we’d make up silly songs. After visiting the doctor, especially if vaccinations were involved, I’d get her a chocolate chip cookie from the bakery down the street. There were weekly library trips. We’d check out picture books, our arms full as we counted each of the library’s steps on our way home. Before bed, we’d read books about fairies and angels and farm animals. She wanted to know why the fairies had wings, the names of different flowers, what sound the cow makes.

Now, she’s closer to voting age than bat mitzvah age. She tells me things — about the murder of Mireille Knoll, the 85-year-old French Holocaust survivor who was stabbed and burned to death. She wants to know, did they really murder her because she was Jewish? She wants to know why people aren’t paying attention to the Syrian refugees anymore. She wants to help. What can she do? She wants to know a lot of things for which I have no answers.

We don’t talk about fairies and angels anymore. We talk about #MeToo. And school shootings. And gun control. And social justice in the age of social media.

These days she explains things to me. We watch “Homeland,” and I can’t always connect the dots. She has to hit pause on the TV and connect those dots for me. When she starts talking to me about Syria, I can’t remember how and why this war started in the first place. This she explains to me. She knows where places are in the world, countries I didn’t even know existed.

I sometimes still make her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. When her room is a mess, clothes all over the floor, I like to go in and fold them while she is at school and put them away in the same closet that used to house her red tights and Dora nightgown and her corduroy jumper dress.

I tell her stuff about the world I’m not sure I should. I tell her that anti-Semitism has leached into the women’s movement. I tell her that three of the founders of the Women’s March movement have ties to Louis Farrakhan — who once called Hitler “a very great man.” Should I not have told her? I tell her because I want her to know that Jewish women were at the forefront of the women’s movement, leading the way forward for all women. But once I begin to tell her about how I discovered feminism in college in a women’s studies class, I’ve lost her. That was then. It’s her time now. I get it.

I worry about the rise of anti-Semitism. As she begins to make her way in the world apart from us, I wonder if she will be as comfortable in the women’s movement as I once was when I was at her age. Will she have to choose to align with only certain parts of her identity and hide others to belong? Maybe I’m making something out of nothing. I read too much about what’s happening in the world, and I worry that she’ll be left awful things to deal with. I worry things are going backward and forward at the same time. I don’t know what this means for her future. Will she know when to lean in, and will she know when to take a big giant step out? I should bite my tongue.

She works too hard, and I worry about that, too. There’s so much pressure. Studying for college tests, studying for school, extracurricular activities. Is it my fault, all this pressure she’s under? I miss those days, puddle jumping, picture book reading, chocolate chip cookie eating. But I love now, too. She’s my daughter, and she’s so brave and bright, curious and hopeful.

This piece was inspired by one of the columnist’s favorite short stories, Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” from “Tell Me a Riddle” (1961).

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.