I am the mother of four little boys. "No girls, just five boys and a mommy," as 4-year-old Isaac likes to say. As I completed the final pages of my book about women, I imagined what I would like to tell a 20-year-old daughter, if I had one, of my lifelong search to find peace and God and happiness.
I would take her on my whole convoluted journey, through Buddhism and meditation and macrobiotics and EST and bodybuilding and journalism. I'd tell her what it was like to come of age at the onset of feminism and the sexual revolution, of the euphoria and agony that resulted from being freed to sort through a staggering array of choices in life and love. I'd talk to her about the generational angst that sprung from attempting to Have It All.
I would reveal that when I was her age, I wanted to be stronger and smarter than my housewife mother, that my outrage at the oppression of women stuck in their kitchens helped turn me into a savvy Woman of the World who was determined never to become stagnant and subservient.
I would pull from the shelf my yellowed "Be Here Now," Baba Ram Dass' 1971 book on finding enlightenment by plunging yourself into the present, which I read as a college student until the pages fell out. I'd admit to her that "Be Here Now" didn't work; that I grew into a woman ablaze with ambition who was always racing past the Now to try and get somewhere better, a woman who was after the perfect job, the perfect body, and the perfect relationship all at once.
Then I would tell my daughter that no matter how high I climbed, what I craved in the deepest cave of my heart was a good man to marry and to have a bunch of kids.
I would share that my dream for her as a woman was to live a substantial life, a life in which she was productive and passionate and charitable and open-minded. I would pass on what my parents told me: You can be whatever you want to be if you work hard and never give up. But I'd attach this personal addendum: Don't let your profession be an obstacle to knowing and loving your family; raising good kids is a noble goal in itself.
I would then draw her close and tell her that I may be able to save her a few lost years if she heeded these words: When the ancient and instinctive desire to become a mother starts surging, follow your gut, go for that lasting high, even if it means taking some of the steam out of a Hot Career and giving up adrenaline-laced adventures.
I would tell her that should she decide to make children her priority, she should never feel as if she were failing the feminist cause. Her liberated mother had been independent and successful and had delayed marriage until the age of 33, and here is what she found: that after years of trying to find power in various gurus and exotic boyfriends, in interviews with movie stars, senators, and even a queen, surrendering to motherhood was the most liberating and powerful thing she had ever done in her life.
I would reminisce about sitting in San Francisco cafes in Indian-print skirts and halter tops with my college pals, talking about going everywhere and being everything and trying everything and being the best of all. Then I'd shrug and laugh and admit that two decades later, I was content just to sit at my kitchen table, and that what I wanted most of all was to be a great mom. I'd warn her that being a mother would suck her dry, and that she may fight it and resent it and run away from it like me. But that eventually she would come back, that she should come back, fully and forcefully, and she too would discover a primal and breathtaking happiness.
Alas, there is no daughter in my nest, but the experiences I allude to that rocked some sense into me over the years certainly are not gender-specific. My boys will hear plenty about loving too much and living too outrageously and right turns and wrong turns made along the way. And hopefully, in these tales of old, they will learn something about What Really Matters in the long haul.
My women friends always remind me that my primary job of a mother of four sons is to turn out sensitive and nurturing males, and I take this assignment quite seriously. I work very hard, every day, toward building good boys and great men, men who will be tender and flexible and responsible husbands, men who will become fathers who will love their children with all their might.