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Dear children, it's never too late to change the world

Posted November 27

When I was 20 years old, I decided that my calling in life was to change the world, somehow, some way.

I wasn’t sure how I would do that until I took an international relations class at Brigham Young University. To this day, I remember sitting in a forum with refugees from around the world, hearing about the atrocities that occurred during their lives. My substantial compassion did not feel like enough to aid their plight, and I felt powerless to actually make a difference anywhere.

It was then that I realized the greatest difference I could make in the world might be through my children. I wasn’t married and I didn’t have kids, but I started thinking about how I would raise my children to respect their fellow human beings, stand up for injustice, care for the environment and add love to the universe. I thought about taking my future children on long hikes, stopping to eat granola and discussing the poetry of Maya Angelou while communing with nature.

Then life happened. We take hikes, but I hear more of complaining than communing, and I have yet to review “Phenomenal Woman” with my 8-year-old daughter.

Sometimes, I wonder what kind of people they will turn out to be.

More than ever, I feel compelled to teach them that yes means yes and no means no, that skin color and birthplace don’t determine who’s a good person, and that kindness precludes judgment and derision against those who walk a different path in life.

I asked my 5-year-old son a silly question to see what messages he was picking up on.

“Who is stronger, boys or girls?” I asked him.

“Boys, mom,” he said. “Of course. I’m so strong.”

Then he repeated the question to me. Who did I think was stronger?

It depends, I said. Boys and girls have different strengths. Sometimes women can do things men can’t, and sometimes it's the other way around.

“Like what?” he asked.

“Like having babies,” I said. “I had you.”

“But having babies is easy!” he exclaimed.

I laughed his comment off — what did I expect? He’s 5 years old. And judging his future character based on such a question was an act of futility. Still, I kept thinking, what kind of man will he be? I have such hopes and dreams for him; it’s dangerous and I know it.

As a woman, I look around and I see plenty of examples of men who treat women with respect, and plenty of men who don’t. I want him to be the kind of man who builds women up and doesn’t tear them down.

My grandfather Irvan was that kind of man, I have been told. In 1966, when my grandmother Fleeta, who died before I was born, received her master’s degree, she credited her husband, Irvan, for driving her to school every day, helping her stay committed and supporting her through her goals.

Irvan could have thought it was silly for a woman with two children and a job working as a nurse for the military to get a higher degree. And I don’t know if they ever argued over her choice to go to school, the money it cost or the time it took her away from the family, but either way, in the end, his actions were those of a man who loved and respected his wife enough to help her achieve her dreams.

I wish I could have met Irvan, and I wish my sons could have met their great-grandfather. To me, his contribution to the women in our family is worth acknowledging by today's standards, but all the more so considering the time he lived. I hope my children have that foresight in their DNA.

I take back what I said about hoping my children change the world. All I really want is for them to care.

What happens next is up to them.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.

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