Words have power. Written words can be powerful if arranged in the perfect combination. Written words can be powerful if read at an important time.
But, spoken words. Spoken words hold a power that is hardly ever matched. Look at Churchill and how he inspired a damaged and hopeless nation. Look at Lincoln and how he united and freed and led. Look at King and how he changed the world and accomplished something impossible.
I’m watching my two-year-old discover the power of her voice. A couple months ago, she didn’t have any words. Now, if you’re listening, she’s telling you everything on her mind. Everyday she learns new words, and figures out how to pronounce them. There is a power in her words, and she’s just learning how to use it.
I can’t tell you how many times during each day I say, “Use your words.” I’m not only telling my kids to communicate what they need with words, but I’m telling them that their words have power. I’m telling them that their voices have power.
There are some words that hold more power than others. One word I teach my girls to wield and use is this – no. No. When we are playing and they say ‘no,’ or ‘stop,’ I stop. It feels like my girls are too young to even be affected by the rape culture in which we live, but I know that it is irresponsible to just ignore it. I need to teach my girls to honor themselves, and to know their worth.
I teach my girls that they can say ‘no’ to anyone. If I ask for a hug and they don’t want to hug me, they have the power to say ‘no.’ If grandparents are saying goodbye and want a kiss, but they don’t want to, they have the power to say ‘no.’
Sometimes, when we’re out, Alma will scowl at strangers and refuse to talk to them. She won’t give them high fives or say hello. I appreciate this from her, I know that she’s doing what feels right. It feels strange, but I try not to change her in these moments.
“I won’t raise her to be nice, to give her laugh away… I can’t trust this world to teach their sons how to treat my daughter, so I will raise her to be a sword, a spear, a shield.” – Elizabeth Acevedo
I want my daughters to know the reality of their world, and I want them to be prepared for anything. I am teaching them to talk, but I’m also teaching them to use their words. I want them to see the world with wonder and joy, but not naivete.
This is a world where they need to be spears and shields, but it’s also a world “made out of sugar, it can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it… Always apologize when you’ve done something wrong, but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining, your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.” (Sarah Kay)
I also want to teach my daughters the power of another word – yes. I want them to go out into the world with hope and excitement. I want them to embrace the world and everything that comes their way. I want them to try and say yes and yes and yes. I want them to see me as who I am – a positive, hopeful woman. I want them to know that their mother isn’t scared to live in this world. I see the wonder in the world every single day.
Sometimes when we’re out, Alma is amazingly outgoing and personable. She will ask strangers if they want to come over to our house. She will hold hands with someone she just met. She will smile and dance and play. I also appreciate this from her. I love her innocence and her belief that the world is good and that people aren’t out to hurt her – I agree with her that this, for the most part, is true.
I want my daughters to trust that this world is good, but to be ready for when it isn’t. And I’m going to show them poems, and teach them words, and tell them to never stop using their words.