This week, I discovered the joys of having four daughters. Today, I realized why I never really wanted children.
When I first got to Mboi’y, I told myself that I would like to start a club for girls, a place where they could come together without their household cares and be girls: not surrogate mothers or house workers, not young women for the high school boys to use. Ideally, they would learn to think independently, responsibly, and creatively. We’d develop intellectually, socially, and spiritually—all without making a task of doing so. I wanted my home to be a refuge of sorts, not just for me but also for “my girls.”
This plan began to crumble almost immediately. Primarily, the most disadvantaged girls are the ones who cannot leave home as much, meaning that they can’t come on strolls around the neighborhood or bake cookies after school. They have mouths to help feed, clothes to wash, homes to maintain. The girls who did have this time available generally didn’t associate with the girls who didn’t, either because they didn’t have time to get to know them (the latter group is always working and rarely in school) or for prejudice based solely on appearances (“Why is she so dirty and awkward?”). Lastly, I am simply not accustomed to being a big sister, rarely a mentor, much less a mother. I am also unaccustomed to sharing my space.
Although the plan was crumbling I wanted to salvage what I could and give my girls club a try. After dance practice, I invited my younger girls over for mandarins and terere (like cold green tea, or drinking lawn clippings). The boys followed, annoying the hell out of us and trying to climb into the trees for mandarins. Aside from defending the trees (la dueña expressly said that she didn’t want boys breaking her branches) I also had to keep an eye on my computer which had become the impromptu radio. (Note: a mixed group of kids can never decide what they want to listen to.)
I relaxed a bit after the boys left. I let the girls entertain themselves. They did fine with the computer—other than greasy hand prints—and considered themselves helpful by cleaning and rearranging parts of my house; they swept, pulled a curtain out of a box and decided to use it as a tablecloth, washed dishes, and hung pictures that I had taken down on purpose. They meant well, and I smiled so much inwardly that I forgot how disturbed I was by children moving my belongings. I tried to relax and let them feel helpful, let them feel comfortable, but in the back of my mind I knew that I couldn’t let them think this was “their” house, only that they were welcomed in it.
After the next practice I was looking forward to their visit. They made it even better by bringing me gifts! I received fruit and two homemade cards, one with a full page picture. I instantly fell in love. I taped the pictures to my bedroom wall and grinned every time that I thought about them. They wrote such nice things in the cards. I was diggin’ my big sister-ness, although I was only being a big sister to rich girls who had time to play after school. I figured I could wiggle in some others soon enough when the regularly scheduled dance classes started.
I love each of them for different traits. J is the daughter of two very socially active parents. As such, she has developed a strong sense of opinion and independence. She is also my linguistic and cultural translator. Having grown up in Asuncion, her Spanish is very strong and she understands diversity a bit better than others. She is also worked with volunteers in the past, so she gets the bad Spanish thing. On the downside, she is a bit lazy and used to getting her way, though in her defense I have noticed her actively trying to explore the opinions of others.
JM is a pint sized punch of pretty, opinionated, and funny. She has a way of treating boys like they’re morons—and justly so—which really helps when I am trying to round up the dudes for fitness class. I hope to God she finds an amazing guy and doesn’t loose a single touch of her sparkle. Fun thought of the week: she knocked on my door, and when I asked who it was she responded in a man’s voice (though obviously from a 12 year old girl). I opened the door and there she crouched, trying her hardest to look mean, with a kitchen knife in her hand and her purse thrown over her shoulder. Love that memory. Anyhow, she is the only girl in the family and her family is recovering from the loss of her older brother. That instantly makes me want to jump into big sister mode with her. On the downside, I think she knows that she is pretty and she knows that she is richer than most of her peers so that plays into her personality. She never talks down to others, but she doesn’t go out of her way to uplift anyone either.
P is my spitfire protege. She dances beautifully, though with the errors expected of a girl that hasn’t worked with choreography before. She is just fine dancing to her own tune. She is also one of the most mature girls, a sixth grader who likely already knows what’s up with boys. She doesn’t care to bicker and seems to let things roll of her back easily (like running through the house, flying over the stairs leading to the outside and landing on her face; or burning a pot of oil, pouring the hot oil into a class cup which subsequently exploded; nearly dropping my kitchen table in the mud, etc.)Did I mention she has a great sense of humor? She isn’t condescending, seems to want to please, acts responsibly, and the list of “likes” continues. Downside is that her Guarani is much stronger than her Spanish and at times I think she avoids talking to me for that reason, though she always smiles at me and makes sure that she is getting my attention. Love her to bits! A tad worried that she is getting the attention of boys and not getting the attention of her parents, which is a disastrous combination.
Lastly is LP, who is only last because she is such a closed book. She is the tallest girl in her 5th grade class and wears the awkwardness accordingly. She rarely has an opinion about anything, and just giggles and wiggles when placed in the spotlight. She is, however, a good cook and responsible older sister. She has such a cute gait when she walks, and is stunningly beautiful in my opinion, though she likely seems plain to most people. She has a rich voice and seems thoughtful, though she doesn’t share what she is thinking. She is never mean to anyone and is likely to be the most receptive to everyone—and maybe unfortunately, everything. Not having an opinion can be a problem in the fifth grade. She is by all definitions a follower. If I accomplish anything with her I hope it is self confidence and a sense of direction.
Well, those are my girls!
So why do I not want children? Well, J’s mother entrusted me with the care of J and P today while she went into Santani. The morning was fine, as was the early afternoon. When I thought they should be bored to tears, they didn’t even complain. Anyway, the “problem” (if I can even call it that) came after we split up. I decided not to go to the last day of the rezo (memorial service) and they decided to go, promising they’d be back after it was over. It was only two houses away so I didn’t see a problem. Well, they didn’t come back immediately and I began to worry. 45 minutes of them not returning had me putting on my raincoat, trudging outside and searching for them even though there was no chance of them being lost, and little change of them being kidnapped or otherwise harmed. After fretting for a good 20min I received a response from my text that they were with their mom at a friend’s house.
The 20 minutes of worrying was enough to convince me that I don’t need to be a babysitter or a mother just yet. There is so much responsibility when caring for kids, even reasonably responsible kids in a reasonably safe environment. I didn’t want this to be the one, exceptional day where they weren’t responsible or safe. I would rather not deal with any of that at all.
So what does that mean for my girls club? Do I want that responsibility? Can I be flexible enough to accept half-washed dishes and not knowing where my box of matches has been placed? Am I okay with girls taking too long in the bathroom and likely playing with my face cream? How can I draw the proper boundaries and still be fun to hang around?
Two days later, as I’m walking home from school, a woman stopped me in the street and began talking about her daughter. From the flow of the conversation I finally figured out who her daughter was (the woman kept using some nickname I hadn’t heard before). In the end, the woman said, “You know, she thinks you’re really great. She talks about you all the time, about your dancing, your stories, and the foods you make from all over the world. She thinks you can do everything!” At that moment, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to fly or bury myself in the ground. It was great to hear that her daughter thought so highly of me, but daunting to think that this girl thought the world of me. She thought I could do everything? What happens on the earth shattering day when she realizes that I’m only human?
The conversation revitalized my desire for the girls’ club. I needed all the girls to know that I’m human like they are, yet I’ve developed a certain group of skills based on hard work, creativity, and exposure to many good things in life. They can do the same…