Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whadda ya mean ya can think fer yerself?

As the mom of a just-turned-10 year old daughter, I recently had a revelation that knocked me back two steps. My girl is her own person.

No duh, mom.

Yes, I know. It's an obvious observation. Why it took me until she was 10 to realize this indisputable fact I don't know. Well, that's not exactly true. Until now, I've always looked at my girl as an extension of myself. What I value, she values. What motivates me, motivates her. My interests are her interests. And for the first 9 years or so of her life, these assumptions of mine seemed pretty solid. 

Oh, sure. She is--and always has been--very different from me. Where I'm impulsive, she's measured. Where I'm eager to befriend, she's cautious. Where I see shades of grey, she's a purist. Yet these differences didn't, in my view, mean we were different. She was just another part of me. 

That's why it often comes as a genuine surprise--at least it has for me--when we, as parents, realize that the little ones we've raised have their own ideas on what is important in their lives. 

So that's where I am now. Though she's little still, I can see the person she's going to be coming through more and more with each passing day. And she isn't going to be a carbon-copy of me. One marked difference between us is the issue or right and wrong. She's  a real "law and order" kinda kid--minor infractions like illegal u-turns or talking to a man in the grocery store (it doesn't matter that the man in question is the produce guy--in her view, I'm married, thus men should be off my radar, period) send her into lecture mode. It's actually quite entertaining--I give her a kiss and promise to do better, all while trying to hide my smile. And the kid absolutely can't lie. She gets red-faced and sweaty, she stammers, and finally collapses into guilty-relieved giggles. I, on the other hand, have perfected the art of "truth-massaging," especially when it comes to hiding recent purchases from my husband! ("This old thing? I've had it for months!")

And she's becoming someone I deeply admire, too. One of my biggest (and I do mean this--it has caused me huge problems in terms of missed opportunities and failed forward progress) shortcomings is my inability to concentrate. That's probably why I like writing this blog--I can pound out an essay in an hour, post it, and move on to the next thing. And for me, there is always a "next thing," even if it is nothing. 

My daughter, in sharp contrast, is one of the most determined people you will ever meet. It's not just in school (where she tackles each assignment like it is a personal challenge that will determine the outcome of her life) but in sports as well. A couple months ago, she joined a youth running club that has produced some of the nation's top runners in the youth division. The first day of practice was grueling. She ran a total of four miles that day, not including the various drills.  I watched her apprehensively from the stands as she bolted around the track again and again and again. The last few times around she was crying with effort, and the coach took her aside and asked her if she wanted to take a break. 

I was half-way out of the stands, ready to take my little girl home and put her in a warm, relaxing bath and write off the whole experience (it was rather traumatizing for me to watch my then 9-year-old go through such obvious discomfort). But my girl didn't want the break. She got back on the track and took off again. After practice, she looked up at me, her face dirty, tear-stained and pink, and said, "Can I come back tomorrow?"

Which leads me (finally, I'm sure you're thinking) to my revelation that, yes, the tiny bundle of baby I still see when I look at my daughter really has grown into a person of her own. There is a good chance that this fall my daughter will be the fourth on a youth cross country team that has gone on to national competition the last several years. The Nationals are in Reno in December. So as we sat around the dinner table, excitedly dreaming aloud about the possibility that my daughter may go to Nationals this winter, and I asked her who she's like to go with her, since our budget will allow only one parent.

I am not sure why I asked her that. Maybe I wanted to give her the choice. Or maybe I just wanted an ego-boost--after all, I'm her mommy. But after a brief moment of consideration, she announced that she would want her dad to go. 

"If I can't have you both, I want him," she said in a conciliatory tone. "After all, he knows more about running than you do."

True 'nuff. My husband is a lifelong runner, and went to state twice as a high schooler, back in '78 and '79. My daughter's practical--and competitive--nature won out over any inclination she had to pick mommy so mommy's feelings wouldn't be hurt. And that's a good thing. I would never want her to live her life based on whether or not she thought the decisions she made would hurt mommy's feelings. That's no way to live a life. And no good parent would want their child to make their decisions that way. 

I'll admit, her words did sting. But it was a very small sting. I smiled at her and agreed wholeheartedly. He'd be the right choice to prep her for a big race--he's big on expectations, careful with praise, and very clear-headed. And that suits the kind of person she is becoming. Level-headed, determined and very, very focused. I, on the other hand, with my emotions flapping about for everyone to see, would be a better cheerleader and nurse than coach. 

I can only speculate at this point what kind of person my daughter will eventually be. But I know that observing her transformation through the loving eyes of a mother will be both poignant and fulfilling. She is her own person, and one I couldn't be more proud of. 

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