A Conversation About Consent With My Two-Year-Old Daughter

Kick and I have a morning routine.

She wakes up and lies in bed yelling “Up, Mama!” until I give up, curse the hour, and open the door. I make breakfast while she chatters and sings to herself. I make toast with cream cheese for her and cut up a banana. I make coffee and watch it brew, thinking about how someday she will be a teenager and I will have to drag her out of bed. I hand her the plate and a cup of milk, and she narrates the journey down the hallway into the living room.

Then we watch cartoons. Inane, insane, annoying cartoons. PBS Kids is a demonic plot to drive parents into the whiskey bottle before the sun is up. I want to punt everyone involved with Thomas & Friends into outer space. Curious George is only tolerable if you imagine the whole thing taking place in the fever dreams of the Man with the Yellow Hat as he twitches in an asylum’s padded room.

But by far the most twisted is Super Why, in which a series of fairytale characters transform into superheroes, fly into books and sing about the alphabet. I know every word to the theme song of this horror show. Kick loves it. Every morning the animated pig wiggles his ass and yells stuff like “Lickety letters!” and I suck on my Starbucks and think about his death.

The other morning the show’s idiot storyline was about a prince who wanted to play with a princess who had to go home for dinner (or something, the caffeine hadn’t fully kicked in). He didn’t want the princess to leave, so he stole her things and hid them to make her stay.

These are cartoon characters from nursery rhymes; this show is so dumb when I explain it to people they think I’m making it up. It was 7 a.m. and for the past week, a candidate for president was talking on TV about how he could grab any woman he wanted, any time he pleased. A bunch of other men said yes, he can.

My hands started to shake.

I turned the TV off. I sat in front of her.

“That boy should let her go,” I said. “If she wants to go, he shouldn’t stop her.”

“Turn the show back on, please?” she asked politely.

“Kick baby, if you don’t want to play with someone, you don’t have to.” I realized my voice was rising, that I was explaining this poorly. “You don’t ever have to stay by someone if you don’t want to.”

She looked up at me, toast crumbs at the corners of her mouth. “Mama, show please?”

She loves the sandbox. She got her first haircut two weeks ago. The other day on the playground another little girl asked her, “Do you want to swing with me?” and Kick said, “Yes!” They ran off together holding hands; an instant friendship based entirely on being the same approximate height. She just learned how to pronounce her own last name.

And in a moment, in just a moment, someone will think he has a right to her attention, her time, her body. Someone will tell her to smile. To be nice. To shut up. To put up. He’ll think he can comment on how she looks, what she’s doing, how she’s doing it. Because he has fame, or he has power, or he has money, or he happens to be breathing in the same basic vicinity and he is a he and she is a she.

The other day on the train platform I heard, behind me, a woman shouting at a child not to ever, ever, ever talk to a strange man again, because he might be bad people, he might hurt you, he might kill you. I turned around; she was speaking to a first-grader with pink bows on both pigtails.

I’m not asking what I tell my daughter about Donald Trump, about his supporters, about the men who take what they want and the men who go along with it to get along with them. I know what I say because I live in the same world she does. I say: No one can touch you unless you say they can. I say, you are in charge of you. My wish for her, since I first felt her move inside me, was for courage. No one can touch you, I said, and if anyone hurts you, you tell someone who can help.

This is the world. I don’t lament it: What would be the point? But it’s the world because we’ve made it that way, and it’s important to recognize that. We made it that way and we can unmake it. I have a friend who emphatically insists her daughter only hug people she chooses to hug. I watch with joy as younger women, powerful women, tell their harassers to get bent. They fight back in every space where women are, which is everywhere, as women always have.

I’ve heard so many awful stories this week, about women who’ve been hurt and then lied to, hurt and then insulted, and I’ve heard so many other people saying that won’t happen to you ever again, or to anyone else. Trump’s polls are collapsing, not because he said naughty words, but because he said what every woman has heard at least once: I can do whatever I want to you, and you can’t say a thing. Millions of women, who’ve heard that exact thing millions of times in millions of ways ranging from minor inconvenience to major trauma, are finding they have quite a few things to say.

I hugged Kick as tight as she’d let me and I turned the cartoons back on, fast-forwarding through the rest of Super Why and stopping on Nature Cat, which is about a Robin Hood-cosplaying housecat’s suicidal ideations. I was rewarded with a brilliant smile and a pat on my hand.

“Thank you, Mama,” she said. “I’m happy now.”



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9 thoughts on “A Conversation About Consent With My Two-Year-Old Daughter

  1. “Every morning the animated pig wiggles his ass and yells stuff like “Lickety letters!” and I suck on my Starbucks and think about his death.”

    That punchline led to a whiskey spit take. Glad I missed the keyboard and hit the monitor. Great post, A.

  2. As the parent of a 4 year old I totally relate to this article. THANKS for articulating the thoughts and feelings of sooo many parents.

    Palm Beach Gardens, FL

  3. Be glad you missed the days of Boohbah. It made the Teletubbies look like PBS Newshour. And if OSHA ever got to the Island of Sodor, that railway would be shut down in a New York minute.

    Speaking as the mom of a 13 year old boy, here’s to also informing our boys and young men that treating women like Drumpf treats them is at best antiquated, and at its absolute worst (what we’re seeing now) is the center of a horrific shitstorm guaranteed to hurt many, many people. It goes beyond keeping your hands to yourself or refraining from bragging uncouthly and boorishly about your supposed sexual prowess – it’s a state of mind we’ve got to instill in all our kids at every stage of their development.

  4. A few years ago, while living in Florida, I looked after my friends’ two little boys semi-regularly. (I was still working nights at the paper, so I’d get hit up for daytime babysitting.) If you think PBS is Satan, then I’m pretty sure the Disney Channel is his butthole. There was this Canadian show called “The Doodlebops,” which I can only assume is Canada’s revenge for the Alaska Purchase. Well played, Canada. Well played.

  5. Tae Kwan Do lessons. She’s not too young if she’s out of diapers. For serious.
    Fearlessness is fine. Being able to defend it — and yourself, and your same-height new friend — is priceless.

    1. All of the TKD lessons in the world don’t help a girl raised in a society that teaches her that whether she wants it or not doesn’t matter. Most assaults AREN’T violent. Most times she didn’t actually need to engage in defense. Most times what she needed was the confidence that she too was a person and if she doesn’t want it, she doesn’t have to give it and anyone who says otherwise is … well, wrong.

      I’m 31 – not young, but not old enough for my education to be antiquated. I went to 13 years of Catholic school and was taught over and over, implicitly and explicitly, that it was a woman’s duty to submit to a man. I didn’t even realize that “I don’t want it but if you need it then I guess you should take it” was at all fucked up until one person shook off their mildly bad day and looked at me in absolute horror when I said it.

      1. That’s why you start ’em young. I think I was five, maybe, when I had my first lesson in not laying down for a thicknecked dipwad. He wrote my mom a hot check for $25, which was half our mortgage payment back then. She went down to his place of work and parked where she could see him, and he could see her. We were from Texas, and this was a backwoods kind of Ozarks town, and I really believe he thought she had a gun behind the pickup seat.
        It was the jack handle, but he gave her the cash she was owed.


    But on a more serious note, I love the message you convey here. Beautiful. I can tell you’re a marvelous mother, and your daughter is happy to call you mom. I love and respect your parenting style, telling Kick the truth, and not just what she wants to hear. You’re preparing her for the world she is going to enter, which she is DEFINATELY going to need preparation for, saying as she will be growing up in a country under the dictatorship of the monstrosity Donald Trump.

    A little tough love can go a log way. In my opinion, a lot more parents need to understand this. Us kids are not growing up in a perfect world, we’re slowly being corrupted by the people we see on the screen. Since Curious George teaches us that it’s okay to flood a whole building and get away with it, that means we can do anything right? “WRONG.”

    I know I’m getting off topic, but just the mention of Donald Trump and of the disappointment that is PBS Kids gets me mad. Anyhoo, thanks for letting me vent. 😉

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