I used to be fierce.

Not as fierce as Linda Hamilton in T2, although I coveted her biceps.  Just fierce enough.

It took me a long time to get there, and didn’t really happen until I was in my twenties.  I’d been shy as a kid and a teen, but a combination of factors pushed me over the edge:

I landed an exciting job, with a boss who was tough and expected me to be too.  The first time I came back with a story that didn’t have the hard questions answered, he made it very clear that what I had wasn’t good enough.  If I wanted my story to run (and wanted to get paid) I need to call back my source.  And call again.  And again, until I got the answers I needed.  It was difficult and terrifying and somewhat exhilarating, and I had more than one person hang up on me.  I don’t think it ever got any easier, but it changed me in a good way.

I also fell in with fierce friends, women who thought nothing of hopping on the back of a thousand pound beast and sailing it over a four-foot fence, of galloping DOWN a hill with a broken arm, of marching into the boss’s office and demanding a promotion.  If you wanted to hang with them, you needed some backbone.  And while I can’t honestly say I cleared too many four-foot fences, I managed to hold my own.

And then I had kids.  With my first pregnancy,  not much changed.  I still made the tough calls, rode until I was about eight months pregnant, power-walked two miles a few days after the emergency c-section (Can I tell you what a bad idea that was?).  I took my baby on interviews, hired someone to watch her a few mornings a week so I could write, took care of the horses with her strapped to my back.

With the second child, I rode for about five months — much more cautiously.  I’d fallen in love with baby breath and fat baby knees by then, and since I couldn’t bring two kids on interviews, and hated to leave them, I found other writing jobs I could do around their schedules.  The horse died, and I didn’t get another.  I traded hanging out at the barn for hanging out at preschool. I stopped asking the tough questions.

The other day, I was at school for pickup and another mom and I were kvetching about the parents who always cut the pickup line.  “I’m waiting there patiently for my turn for like 15 minutes,” she said, “And then they just zoom in front.  It makes me so mad.”

I agreed, and we talked about how we’d like to say something.  How we’d like to honk the horn, even, but we won’t, because it wouldn’t set a good example.  It wouldn’t be polite. It would be too fierce.

It’s a dumb small thing, but it got me thinking.  Those friends of mine, the ones I made in my twenties and love dearly, are still fierce. They (mostly) have chosen not to have children, and are doing well in their careers. They are lovely women, all of them, but you cross them at your peril. You might cut them off in line once, and they’d let it go.  Twice, they’d say something.  The third time, you wouldn’t have to worry about driving, because you wouldn’t have any knees.

It’s not that my mom friends aren’t fierce in their own ways. They’re fabulous women and I’m lucky to have found them. Hurt their kids, and they’d kill you without thinking.  But on a day-to-day basis, they’re like me — busy making sure everyone is getting along, everyone is happy, everyone has friends.  Too busy being civilized to be ferocious.

Last year, I reconnected with my old boss.  He threw me a few softball assignments, and I loved it — a part of my brain that had been unused for too long kicked into gear.  But after those articles were completed, I decided to hold off on doing more for a while.  The deadlines were a big part of it , for sure, but there was something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  And then it came to me — I was getting a big old adrenaline rush from chasing down sources and asking a few tough questions.  I was feeling fierce, which isn’t always compatible with raising well-behaved children.

I’m speaking for myself only here — I’m sure there are plenty of moms who are still just as fierce as they ever were.  For some reason, the few I know have only one child, and manage to keep a balance between the challenging careers they have and the quality family time they need.  More than one child, and something seems to have to give.

It’s a luxury to have time to think about something like this, but it’s come up a lot recently in stuff I’ve been reading.  Justine Musk has done a few posts that made me think, like this one, and this one here.  And John Scalzi recently wrote about the different ways male and female bloggers are treated — in part because there is the perception that women are too gentle or nice or not fierce enough to fight back.

I’ve passed a few barns recently and thought hmm.  I could take a quick lesson, and nobody at home would be the wiser.  I’ve held off on getting back into riding for a bunch of reasons, (the money!  the time!) but one is that I’m not sure I want to watch my daughter take the chances I did, both stupid and smart.  I don’t want to put her at risk.  I want to keep her safe, and if I start riding again, she’ll want to too.

But what message does it send to always play it safe, to (almost) always be polite, to avoid asking the hard questions?   Is being fierce a good thing, or a bad?  Does it change as you get older?  What do you think?

Liz Michalski


  1. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) on September 13, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Sometimes I think we were separated at birth. It’s eerie how often we’re mulling the same things. I think you’ll enjoy the WU post I’m working on for next week.

    I think ferocity for ferocity’s sake is a mistake, and I think we’ve often equated power with the masculine model of task-oriented, hill-climbing rawwwr. The kind that doesn’t always serve our testosterone-baked companions very well, either.

    I don’t think it’s the outward action that determines ferocity at all. I think it’s the reason behind the behavior. If it’s done to be pleasing, to win approval, or out of fear, it could walk and talk like a Fortune 500 CEO and still not be ferocious. On the other hand, I’ve known lion-hearted, far-sighted women who owned their kitchens and homes. It’s in the “why.”

    I think you should go riding, for what it’s worth, and I think your daughter should know. Every time I’m brave in the real world I’m braver in my writing.

    • liz on September 13, 2011 at 5:20 pm

      Jan, you are such a wonderful writer and your comments/blog posts are always so thoughtful. Thanks for this.

  2. Vaughn Roycroft on September 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    I agree with Jan, go riding. I was raised around barns, and tough women. My work happens to be fraught with kickass women (who love their horses, btw). My brother was always the dare-devil; a hunter-jumper ametuer champ at a young age. At 57 he still rides, still jumps, (even after breaking just about every bone in his body). I’m seven years younger, and was never moved to risk my neck in the same way, in spite of his example.

    But the toughest person I know is my wife. She’s not a mom, but she’s great with kids (she would’ve been a fab mom). She toughed out the old-boy network of the wholesale lumber world, winning great respect. In all of our good-cop/bad-cop scenarios with employees, vendors, and customers, she was always the tough one. She has a no-nonsense reputation that everyone who knows her respects. My nieces always site her as one of their primary role models.

    None of my wife’s current real estate customers would ever call my wife ferocious (unless they crossed her improperly), and I don’t think any of our former lumber employees, customers, or vendors would say she was ever mean or unfair. I think ferocity can be tempered and utilized in any situation. And I happen to think that women are more adept at walking this line than men. Just my two cents.

    Great post, Liz!

    • liz on September 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm

      Vaughn, your wife sounds amazing. To be in that industry must be difficult, and kudos to her for earning the respect of her peers.

  3. karenselliott on September 13, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    This is my first visit here, and this is a lovely blog (a little hard to navigate at times, but lovely!). Your subject – It gets easier as you get older. I couldn’t stand up to anyone early on – and I was raised by two forward-thinking women! I was somewhat abused by male bosses (the typical chauvinist crap). Then I got pushed around by the ex, then I pushed around by Family Court, then I got pushed around by another ex, the list goes on. Now that I’m 54 and in business for myself, I try to stay away from people I don’t care for, people I don’t want to work for. But I feel the same way about my family and close friends. Diss them, hurt them, mess with them – you’ve messed with the wrong people. I’ve not been abused online, though I’ve had vehement and sometimes mean comments to some of my posts. I usually just delete them. At 54, I don’t really give a hoot what people think of me – though I try to be politically correct, diplomatic, and kind in all my business dealings. Great post!

    • liz on September 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm

      Karen, thanks for visiting! I definitely have found that I care much less about what people think as I get older. It’s one of the main advantages I’ve found to aging!

  4. fran on September 14, 2011 at 9:39 am

    I think being fierce is a wonderful thing. It leads us to exciting jobs and interesting friends, but frankly as I get older I find it is exhausting to maintain that level of energy using fierceness.

    • liz on September 14, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Fran, exhausting or not, I would not mess with you or any of the ladies of the LH generation! You all are/were fierce!

  5. Mom on September 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    LHSN grads were fierce…even more so now with our canes!

  6. Rosemary on September 17, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Had no idea you were a journalist! I did features for a parenting mag for ten years, and now teach journalism and advise a staff of eager, enthusiastic and yes–fierce–young reporters at my high school.

    • liz on September 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm

      I’ll bet that’s both energizing and exhausting, Rosemary! : )

  7. mapelba on September 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I came over here from WU on FB.

    I’m not sure we keep our children safe by teaching them not to be fierce. How will they protect themselves out in the world? Predators, abusers, all sorts of damaging types choose people they can bully, push around, who will not stand up for themselves.

    The world is full of amazing and dangerous things–horseback riding is one of them. We can be polite and be fierce, and pick our battles wisely. And you have very little control how your daughter will see your choices anyway.

    My family has recently taken up inline speed skating. It isn’t the most dangerous sport, but it is not safe either. At the last competition one of our teammates broke his arm crashing into a wall. If my 8 year old son keeps up with this sport, he’s bound to get hurt–he’s already gotten road rash and bruises. It terrifies me most of the time. But he’s good at it, he loves it, and we can all participate. He’s learning so much and it has helped him with his intense shyness.

    Then he also sees me try to sell my art and my stories, and he sees how much failure I face, and I still keep trying. I want him to learn not to give up his dreams.

    Besides, children are shrewd. They see more than we realize, and they draw conclusions that surprise us–and may not know for years.

    • liz on September 18, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      Mapelba, I love this: ” We can be polite and be fierce, and pick our battles wisely.” One of my children is also quite shy, and finding activities that give her self-confidence has helped a lot. Kudos to you for not letting your own concerns influence your son. And thank you for stopping by.

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