My daughter has changed so much since school ended a month and a half ago. I was expecting this summer to be a summer for me to grow and change. Or, I expected this summer for me to slim and change. But I haven’t slimmed down that much (or at all) but I have changed a great deal.
But I wasn’t quite prepared for the changes in my daughter.
She’s getting ready to start middle school. All right. So are thousands of other girls.
And I expect my daughter to change and grow like her peers are doing. Which is fine. I’m really not the type of parent who wants her children never to grow up. Quite the opposite, I enjoy each stage of my children’s growth and development. Some phases I especially enjoy disappearing; others, I mourn.
At the beginning of the summer, my daughter was very much a little girl, a child of elementary school who was standing on the brink of her pre-teen years and seemed to be excited and seemed to be incredibly shy at the same time. She didn’t fit in very well with her peers; she was a feminine tomboy, a sarcastic child whose sense of humor bordered on the weird.
Which is fine except it means that many of her peers don’t understand her which means my daughter is frequently thrust to the sidelines of life and play and expected to be a bystander–a silent bystander.
But my daughter has too much voice and too much spirit to stand there, quietly, for long. Her vivacity and spunk make her a natural participant in life and she yearns to be out in the middle of the world and circle in one direction while the Earth sings under her in a completely different direction. She is a gyroscope, burning friction circles into the ground. with her arms thrown out wide as she embraces life.
Summer began with a birthday party that was legendary and beautiful and wonderful as my daughter finally pulled herself gently away from me and sat at a table in Shoney’s with her three friends and were a giggling, squealing, happy group of girls who simultaneously celebrated the Girl’s entrance into eleven and their own transition from one part of life to another.
Summer began with her getting the tips of her bangs colored a brilliant peacock blue that has now washed out into a rather muted, somewhat pitiful teal. But my daughter still tosses this lock of hair to the side with pride, still examines herself in the mirror. In some respects, this is her trying on her own style without it being relegated to fingernail polish and clothing Mom-And-Dad-Approved-Of. She has taken her love of color and her flair for her ownself and put it in her hair where she can’t easily wash it out or comb under or behind her ears.
And then came the hikes, the miles and miles and miles of roads and paths and trails that my daughter and I have walked. Together, we told stories to one another and discussed life and how to navigate the treacherous roads that lie ahead. My daughter is so much like me and my husband. We don’t fit in and she struggles with finding how to be comfortable with both her oddball family and her quasi-normal friends (normal being a hugely ambiguous term).
But as we walked along the Appalachian Trail or splashed in the waters of Doyle’s Falls, I saw more and more of my daughter’s spectrum personality and relished in the joy that she has such a powerful spirit, one that I hope and pray is indomitable to what might lie ahead.
Sorry, middle and high school were not necessarily wonderful and pleasant for me. Nor was it horrible. I am not a victim of malicious, incessant bullying. But…still…..I wasn’t always very happy either.
The week before New York City, my daughter and I sat on the edge of the bathtub and I taught her how to shave her legs. I was seventeen and terrified when my mother initiated me into the destruction of hair follicles. I decided to teach my daughter earlier than my own rite of passage because it was a method of helping my daughter decide if she was going to continue and, if she was in the locker room at her middle school and all the other little girls were shorn lambs, then my daughter could opt back into leg-shaving. What I know is that once I thrust aside the awkwardness and the discomfort, the Girl and I were laughing as we compared our legs and their rates of smoothness. We swapped jokes and talked about my seventeen-year-old terror of cutting myself. With a dull electric razor that wouldn’t even crop my hair down to the skin. Yeah…I was a chicken.
In New York City, I saw my daughter’s world explode with riotous color and brilliant pinwheels of laughter. Over the course of the week, she and I became partners for almost everything. My son, bless him, made sure my mother-in-law was comfortable; he carried her backpack. He matched his pace against hers. I spent my time staring upwards, forgetting that I was on a corner waiting to cross the street. And, frequently, my daughter’s head was kipped backwards as well as she studied the stippled New York horizon and loved the city as much as myself.
When we were in Toys R’ Us, I was my daughter’s tether, ensuring she didn’t get lost in the labyrinth of candy and toys. While standing in a “Claire’s” alcove, my daughter suddenly admitted, “I think I want to get my ears pierced.”
I have been waiting to see if this was going to happen. The Girl has talked wistfully about getting her ears pierced but then backed out due to the terror that she really was allowing someone to punch holes in her ears. This makes sense to me. I was twenty before I finally overcame my anxiety about needles and allowed a woman in Wal Mart to punch holes in my ears. I just wish my brother was with me; he had been offering to pay for me to get my ears pierced for years. It wasn’t so much of a dare as he was trying to walk with me into my own awkward form of womanhood.
The Girl and I negotiated. I wasn’t going to keep her from getting her ears pierced, but if anything negative happened, I wanted us to be on our home turf and not in the middle of a vacation. She agreed. We left the store and the subject was dropped.
But the morning after we returned to our own city, the Girl was at my heels, reminding me endlessly of my promise. And I couldn’t break my promise because of a migraine or exhaustion or an achy knee. I had made a promise which locked me to her side.
Finally, after several futile attempts at finding something more local, my daughter and I succumbed to the mall. We entered through Macy’s and immediately the Girl reminded me of the nine floors of the flagship store in New York City where she and I had searched for just the right dress for her. With pleasure, we realized that she truly had bought something original in the city, something that was nowhere near the racks of clothing lining the local Macy’s and my daughter’s pride in her originality beamed out of her.
But the earrings were still calling to my daughter and with a bit of trepidation, we finally made it into the mall’s walkway where we encountered it….The Piercing Pagoda.
I don’t know about the hygienic differences between Claire’s and The Piercing Pagoda. What decided me that this was the place to go was simple and stupid. The girl behind the counter looked like Elsa from Frozen. And that made my daughter happy. Which made me happy.
My daughter picked out pink stars. She wanted blue stars, ones that would match her hair and her shifting sense of style. But she chose pink stars which helped ease my anxiety because everything else was rather expensive.
And then she perched herself in the stool and bravely watched as the “guns” were loaded with her earrings and Elsa approached my daughter, drew purple circles on her ears, and then finally took the first white gun and used it to punch holes in my daughter’s ears.
My girl’s mouth dropped in shock and she said something like, “Holy crap! That hurt!” But it was more of a shocked whisper that didn’t register above the music playing over the loudspeakers and echoed down the hall. And once the other ear was pierced and my daughter had a two star constellation on her head, I saw the future woman she could become.
I pray for my daughter all the time. She worries me with her headstrong personality complemented by a lack of observation skills. She is blindly impetuous, stubborn to a fault, and imperious with her decisions. She is self-aware and completely assured of her rightness. And sometimes, she is right. And many times, she is walking an edge that she can’t see but I can and I worry and I worry and I worry some more.
But my daughter, who was born with a knotted cord wrapped around her neck and a hole in her heart is more than just the cumulative properties of all the things that can go wrong. I believe in God. I don’t know how I feel about fate. But I trust in the stars that my daughter has chosen to go into her ears. They spin. They catch my eye as they sparkle in the summer sunlight. They hide against the pink of her skin. And then, when I least expect it, they remind me that the woman hiding in the chrysalis is still just a little girl spinning a cocoon.