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Sarah Kay: What Advice Would You Give Your Future Daughter?

Apr 6, 2018

Part 5 of the TED Radio Hour episode Turning Kids Into Grown-Ups.

About Sarah Kay's TED Talk

Spoken word poet Sarah Kay imagines what it would like to raise a child in a world of happiness, heartache, and everything in between.

About Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay first began performing spoken word poetry at age 14, at New York City's Bowery Poetry Club. Since then, she has performed at venues such as HBO's Def Jam Poetry, the Lincoln Center, and the United Nations.

She is also the founder of Project VOICE, an organization that uses spoken word poetry as a literacy and empowerment tool.

Kay holds an MA in teaching from Brown University and an honorary doctorate from Grinnell College.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

On the show today, Turning Kids Into Grown-ups - ideas about the choices parents make for their kids and how those choices can ultimately affect them. So we're going to end the show today with a poem by Sarah Kay about what it would be like to raise a child in a world of happiness, heartache and everything in between. Here's Sarah Kay reading her poem "If I Should Have A Daughter" from the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SARAH KAY: If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she's going to call me point B because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I'm going to paint the solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, oh, I know that like the back of my hand. And she's going to learn that this life will hit you hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt here that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry.

So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn't coming, I'll make sure she knows she doesn't have to wear the cape all by herself because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me. I've tried. And baby, I'll tell her, don't keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick. I've done it a million times. You're just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him, or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place to see if you can change him.

But I know she will anyway, so instead, I'll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can't fix. OK, there's a few heartbreaks that chocolate can't fix, but that's what the rain boots are for because rain will wash away everything if you let it. I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind because that's the way my mom taught me that there will be days like this.

(Singing) There'll be days like this, my mama said - when you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises, when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape, when your boots will fill with rain, and you'll be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say, thank you, because there's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it's sent away.

You will put the wind in the win some, lose some. You will put the star in starting over and over. And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life. And yes, on a scale from 1 to overtrusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don't be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it. Baby, I'll tell her, remember your mama is a worrier, and your papa is a warrior. And you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.

Remember that good things come in threes, and so do bad things. And always apologize when you've done something wrong, but don't you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining. Your voice is small, but don't ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

(APPLAUSE)

KAY: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

RAZ: Sarah Kay - she's a poet and founder and co-director of Project VOICE. It's a group that runs poetry workshops in schools and communities around the world. You can see all of her talks at ted.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLORY")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) The most amazing feeling I feel - words can't describe what I'm feeling, for real. Baby, I paint the sky blue. My greatest creation was you, you.

RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to our show, Turning Kids Into Grown-ups. This week, if you want to find out more about who was on it, go to ted.npr.org. To see hundreds more TED Talks, check out ted.com or the TED app. Our production staff at NPR includes Jeff Rogers, Sanaz Meshkinpour, Jinae West, Neva Grant, Rund Abdelfatah, Casey Herman and Rachel Faulkner, with help from Daniel Shukin. Our intern is Diba Mohtasham. Our partners at TED are Chris Anderson, Colin Helms, Anna Phelan and Janet Lee. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to ideas worth spreading right here on the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.