Rising through the clouds

And oh, my darlings, what if we fly?
And oh, my darlings, what if we fly?

We are cruising at 40,000 feet and the weather at our destination is expected to be stormy, writes Lis Breslin. 

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

It's the first time I've heard a female voice coming from the cockpit and I'm 40. And I'm thinking of the time I came home to find my daughter crying. I caught her in her bedroom, my hands full of laundry and a head full of work and bills and balancing, and she had tears of anger on her 4-year-old cheeks and she said: "It's so unfair, mum. I'll never be a pilot.''

And I wanted to wring the neck of the errant illustrator or the thoughtless speaker who taught her these things, because where do you get those ideas at 4?

But I backed up, and I breathed. Because isn't that what all the parenting things say?

Because maybe there was a sight test I missed that week. Was this not, after all, an insidious thing?

"Tell me, my darling? What makes you cry?''

"I'll never be a pilot because I'm a girl. I'll never be a pilot because I'm a girl.''

I am raging in 40,000 ways. This is not, this is not in any way OK. How does it play that a twin in birth, in opportunity, in every material thing gets a message so clear? You're a girl: girls not wanted here.

Personally I blame the parents. The mothers, I mean.

We are cruising at 40,000 feet, because looking too closely we don't like what we see.

The long lens, the system, the ceiling. We are falling, falling, falling. And I don't think Googling "Jean Batten book for pre-schoolers'' is going to cut it this time.

And oh, my darlings, what if we fall? And oh, my darlings, what if we fly?

I don't think I cried in my bedroom at 4 about gender bias. I don't know if at 12 I knew how to wield my body as a weapon or shield it from eyes that judged its curves as salient, desirable. As a child. Nobody explicitly taught me maths that told me more breasts equal far less (or is it more?) pay and I wouldn't have listened anyway. But it was there, the gender bias, it was always lurking or out on parade. At uni after the second rape when the women were advised to walk home together, early, so we wouldn't be a target, "and by the way have a rethink of that clothing, yeah?''. My thighs have never felt so weak or cold.

It was there when that guy for that job asked "What about kids?''. It was in all those happy corporate endings I've been saved from. (I never really tried.) It's there in negotiating the picket lines of girl child pink things, boy child blue. It's there in what do you look like young lady? It's there in, "get you, leaving your husband at home with the kids''.

"Get you, sending your wife out to work''.

Look at people sneering, scared, in this new world.

I am cruising at slightly above coping levels. I am learning, my daughter. I am learning, my son. How to build on the groundwork and go out, take flight.

I am dreading a maybe day that you meet a ceiling that smashes you separate ways.

And - though I can do anything and everything, everything as a woman, as a mother, as a human - I will think that I have failed. And sit in my own room with my hands full of laundry and a head full of work and bills and balancing, and cry.

But wait. Hands on. Reframe. It's us here in the cockpit - I can see the instruments, the view. It's clear up here at 40,000 feet. We're steering this thing into new territories to shatter or evade and map new ways.

And oh, my darlings, what if we fall? And oh, my darlings, what if we fly?

The weather at our destination will be weather. We know so much more than we've ever known. I am taking off the cruise control. And oh, my darlings, and oh.

This was written after Erica Jong and Erin Hanson and for all the weavers of Te Whare Pora.

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