She steps out of her room, all dressed for the day, and I want to say to her, "You look nice." But I stop myself. I shouldn't say that. I should be teaching her that looks don't matter; that what's important is who you are and how you treat others.
But that's not the whole truth. In this world, her looks will matter. People will make judgements
based on how she looks, and so she'll need to learn how to play the game with incredible skill to be accepted, to get where she wants to go, to avoid danger. She'll need to find the perfect balance of what to wear, when to wear it, wearing enough, but not too much.
I want to tell her, "You can do and be anything you want". That she lives in a world where anything is possible and whatever she can dream, she can become.
But that's not the whole truth. Because, male privilege. Some things will be hard and some will be completely out of reach. And if I fill her mind with "anything's", what will happen to her spirit when she hears "you can't"?
I want to tell her, "It doesn't matter what they think." Be your own person. Do what makes you feel fulfilled. Uncover how your soul wants to be expressed and don't let the opinions of others get in your way.
But that's not the whole truth. It does matter. "They" will have things to say, and it will impact her. She can't help it; we're all connected and so she will feel it. If I tell her it doesn't matter, she'll think she's a failure when it does.
I want to tell her, "We've come so far". It's so much better than it was for the Grandma's and the Great Grandma's.
But that's not the whole truth. When she sees the magazines,
or reads the dress code,
or watches the princess movie,
or sits among the adult conversations,
or hears the story of her cousins' friend who had to strip down and change in front of a hundred people because her wrestling singlet was showing a strap of her sports bra, and therefore deemed "too revealing".
Gender equality is a carnival game - for every injustice we've smacked down, another way to shame and demean women has popped up. Victim blaming, thigh gaps, burkini trials.... every day something new is uncovered, and while we have made huge strides, we're still so far away.
I want to tell her "I'm sorry we didn't fix this before you got here". I want to explain all of it to her. All of the nuances she'll come across and how to maneuver through the paradox.
But that's not the whole truth. Because she is five years old. And even though these forces are shaping her brain as we speak, I want to leave room for unicorns and monkey bars as long as I can.
So most of the time I just hug her in silence, my heart whispering to hers,
"I'm here. I've got you. We'll do this together."