When six-year-old me brought a clipboard to first grade to collect signatures from teachers and classmates for a petition to bring back the newly off limits student-favorite playground, the signs were as clear as the L.A. skies that my mom raised me to be an independent thinker. Every Mother's Day, you see the same platitudes heaped onto moms thanking them for their past fertility and willingness to change diapers, which I suppose, are both relevant gifts bestowed upon children before they develop self-awareness. But this year, I want to say thanks, Mom, for encouraging me to be the headstrong, unabashedly curious, independent thinker that I am today.
It's amazing to me how many grown-ass people have expressed surprise at my independent nature over the years like they've never met a woman with an opinion before. See, when I was a kid, I was raised to speak my mind and ask questions. I never heard the Mr. Wormwood defense for anything my parents wanted me to do. You know the one, from Matilda where the towering Danny DeVito points at Mara Wilson and explains, "I'm smart, you're dumb. I'm big, you're little. I'm right, you're wrong." And that's because my mom truly respected my brother and I even when we were too young to explain what that really meant.
Here are some signs that your mom raised you to be an independent thinker.
1. The books and movies of your childhood were about standing up for what's right
In retrospect, I think my mom set me up for a lifetime dedicated to sticking-it-to-the-man. From the extremely underrated Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken to The Lorax and the classic musical 1776, the books and movies that I was exposed to were largely about sticking to your guns even when the odds are stacked against you. Newsies, a childhood favorite, is all about organized labor and collective bargaining, for God's sake. Sure, I was raised in the South in the golden age of the Disney Princess, but I had other more three-dimensional fictional female role models from Anne of Green Gables to Josephine March. Thanks for showing me that a girl with conviction could be twice as heroic as some spoiled prince.
2. You were encouraged to question authority
My mom sat through plenty of conversations with teachers about my eye-rolling, explanation-demanding, injustice-intolerant ways and never for one minute discouraged me from challenging the grownups to explain themselves, because kids are people too. And when kids grow up to be adults, they should have the mental capacity to demand solutions for big things like the gender pay gap or street harassment. Thanks, dude, for explaining my incurable insubordination to every small town lemming that ever wondered about it.
3. Your mom trusted you to make your own choices
I will never forget the day in fourth grade when I told my mom that I was going to the movies with my friend on Friday night and she didn't give me any grief about it. She literally threw a sweater at me on my way out the door, not because of my outfit, but because I'm pretty much always freezing. Through the years, I was able to be great friends with my mom. I never felt the need to rebel because, if her answer was no, there was always a logical explanation as to why. I dyed my hair fire engine red (much to my boyfriend's surprise), came up with inventive new uses for everyday expletives, drank too much, adopted a 100 pound dog, and my mom was never condescending and always supportive. So thanks, Mom, for trusting me to totally blow it and to bounce back, as adolescents do.
4. She told you trends were meant to be set, not followed
Ah, middle school — the bizarre time in a child's life where their entire world can change from blue skies to #FML in a single lunch period. I distinctly remember my mom telling me that not only did I not have to participate in a trend just because everyone was doing it, but also that "everyone is doing it" is a pretty lame reason to jump on board any given trend. Thanks for introducing me to the fist-pumping glory of being the first one to a new style.
5. She values and makes time for your opinions
Once I started developing my own musical appreciation, finding new favorite TV shows or films, and dialing in my personal style, my mom took the time to learn about those things and was the first one to hop on board when I became super obsessed with The Fratellis, and decided that PBS's Masterpiece Classic was the source of all future British celebrity royalty (wassup, Ruth Wilson and Tom Hardy). I even got my mom to buy a pair of skinny jeans last year, because that's how much she trusts my opinion. Thanks Mom for validating all of my super-awesome opinions.
6. She made you look things up
If you were curious about something as a kid, your mom told you to look it up. Look it up in the encyclopedia if you're old like me, or Google it, if you don't remember the days before the internet. This seemingly small habit has lasted into my adulthood, and I'm pretty much always looking things up, learning stuff, and clearing up little arguments because, in the age of the internet, nobody needs to wonder why female cats hate the mating process — you can just know. And, if you're curious now... look it up.
7. You were encouraged to cook for yourself
Sure, your mom made you home-cooked meals for years, but by the time you could reach the stove, you were encouraged to take the lead on making food. I don't even remember the first time I dove in and took the reigns on cooking a meal, but it led to a love of cooking and all things kitchen-related... except for maybe doing the dishes. If you think about it, cooking is a fundamental part of what puts humans at the top of the food chain, and I can't think of anything that instills more independence in a kid than knowing how to make a killer meal without relying on anybody else.
8. You were encouraged to do most things for yourself, actually
My mom would always ask my brother and I, "are your arms and legs painted on?" This question, translated from the Southernness with which it was delivered, meant "do you have functioning limbs such that you can get up and take care of yourself" with a side of "don't be lazy" wrapped in the vivid imagery of a human torso with watercolor extremities. I learned pretty early that if you want something accomplished, doing it yourself was the most efficient way to get it rather than waiting for Mom to come to the rescue. Also, I say this to everyone, especially to strangers in parking lots.
9. Literally no one coddled you if you fell down
This is a gift that I never could put my finger on until very recently. When I was a kid and I fell down, unless I was in some sort of actual danger, nobody rushed to my side cooing and indulging my desire for attention, which taught me a lot of things about how the world works. Being manipulative and dramatic wasn't going to get me anywhere. Rather than escalating the situation with howls of concern, my mom would tell me to hop up, take a deep breath, count to three, and carry on living my life. She would even occasionally go so far as to ask "are you hurt or did it just scare you?" And learning to recognize the difference between pain and fear is a pretty great lesson for someone who will have to stand on her own two feet in a few short years.
I bet Blue Ivy knows what I mean.