I have an eleven-year-old, a seven-year-old and a three-year-old.
It’s fascinating to watch them navigate the relationships and pressures and learning of life as it goes on around them.
In one moment I have such disdain for how easy their lives are. I feel like they are coddled and lack the minimal survival skills of bike riding and playing outside till dusk. I get infuriated that they don’t hold a high enough respect for their elders—whether it be by five years or fifty.
In the dawn light of an old “Nescafe” commercial, my oldest daughter and I sat on the deck this morning before school and discussed the “lunch table debacles.” She was trying to avoid drama by sitting at this table or that table, or by declining a hang out with old friends for the new ones.
Then I saw it! She had that flash of disappointment glaze past her eyes. I saw it.
Without hesitation the mama hen in me wanted to shake her and tell her never to shrink herself for others, or to do anything that makes her feel less like herself.
I’m not talking about being selfish; I’m talking about making choices, one by one, that you know you can live with. I clearly have not done this to my full capacity, hence my plethora of stories to tell about my messy traipse through it all. I, however, had no parental supervision, lived alone at 14, and never saw a parent every day who could take a general pulse on my mind-space, self-esteem and well-being.
Instead of going into one of my yawn-worthy lectures on life that gets lost in her day-dreaming of what Instagram picture she thought was funniest, I just listened.
I’m good at this with most people but with my kids, I am not. I struggle not to jump in. I find myself wanting to blurt out how I had crossed the Atlantic ocean alone by her age and that no one packed my bags or cleaned my room. I want to throw on my cape or wolf suit and make it rain reality all over these bratty kids who are guilting my baby or judging her.
I stayed quiet. Though It may have taken everything I had, I did.
She is at the end of a cycle of sorts and she will be going into junior high after summer. She’s grappling with mixed emotions. I can feel in my soul that there is a delicate balance I have to walk here. Some impossible to define grey area of not overbearing or scaring her with truth and thereby shadow casting on her own experiences, and stepping back to let her figure this stuff out at the possible cost of some innocence, self-acceptance and healthy confidence.
“It sucks.” I said to her.
“It sucks to be changing and look older and want freedom and friends but also have to temper yourself to avoid embarrassing fallouts. It all feels so, so…important right now. I get that.”
“It is everything, Mom. It’s school, and peers and people and the difference between sitting alone and getting to just relax and be normal.”
She let it out like a secret that escapes at the speed only truth moves—too fast to take back.
Strangely I remembered my eighth grade yearbook quote, an incredibly beautiful lyric that I haven’t thought of since. I’m still a little embarrassed that the thirteen-year-old version of myself was debatably wiser than I have been these past couple of years.
The quote was this: “If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them they know. Not me.”, from the song: “Father and Son,” by Cat Stevens.
She pondered it.
“That’s about being yourself, right?” she asked.
“It’s about realising the difference between who people can sometimes get you to believe you are and who you really are. Yes.” I said as nonchalantly as possible, so as not to sound like I was lecturing, or God forbid, thought I knew better.
For today, I think it resonated, but who knows. With Minecraft and Youtube and puberty I’m just a relic house-maid weirdo to her.
I do know, however, that we both could learn some things from the bravery to stand in your own skin that I carried in my heart as a little girl.
With so many things we have to unlearn from our childhoods—the old programming and societal junk food for the soul—perhaps sneak away for a moment or two and take a look back through your yearbook, diary or maybe just consider who you believed you could be.
That is the self-belief we need to reengage.
Okay, I’m not going to be Jennifer Aniston, but I’m talking about the essence of that bright and unstoppable inner child who proudly declares they are the fastest, or will be a magician in front of huge applauding crowds. Find a piece of that stuff before we learned about all the contorting and bending we would take on to fit in molds.
It’s them they know, not you. Be you.
Author: Laila S. Lyons
Editor: Erin Lawson; Caitlin Oriel
Image: Author’s own