Raising the Girl I Never Was
“If we want to give our children what they need to thrive, we must honor their basic nature- boyish or girlish, introverted or extroverted, wild or mellow.”
-Wendy Mogel, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children
The other day my eight year old daughter stood beside me in front of the bathroom mirror. “I look like you today, Mommy.” Clad in tank tops, leggings and messy buns, we were ready to start our weekend. I stood there looking down at her white blonde hair and twinkling blue/green eyes. In those moments when she wants to be just like me, I am taken aback. If she only knew how hard I fight to become the girl she wakes up as every day.
My son does not try to look like me or imitate me. He doesn’t need to; he was born like me. He has all my neurotic, Type A tendencies. My daughter, on the other hand, draws nose rings on her face and decorates her skin with self-designed tattoos using her tool of choice. I envy her innate gusto for living. She is equally excited when she gets a new set of colored pencils or when the family gets a new frying pan. Her energy and laughter are infectious. She makes her own clothes because, unlike me, she is crafty and Pinteresty. She is also brave in a way I may never be. I didn’t become comfortable in my own skin until my mid-thirties, and here she is living each day in such a big way before even hitting double digits. She told me her motto: “In the end we only regret the chances we did not take.” With jazz hands framing her shiny face she exclaims, “I take ALL the chances!” As you can imagine, she is quite terrifying to parent.
Yet, she is funny and passionate. There is always a light in her eyes and a song in her heart. She is disciplined and practices self-control as a gymnast, but most of her time is spent wide open, exploring her surroundings with an imaginative and boisterous spirit. Her room is a disaster, a self-constructed shrine of “Life with Lila.” But best of all, when she grabs my head and aggressively smashes her face against my cheek for a welcome-home kiss, her love is palpable. Still, none of these details reveal the reality that so much of my time is spent pulling my hair out asking, “WHY?”
In my favorite parenting book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel writes that whatever traits we see in our children that make us crazy will one day become their greatest strengths. Almost daily, I try to remind myself of this silver lining as I battle with my free-spirited child to finish a task she has started, clean up after herself, consider using a filter before speaking her mind, or end a dramatic tirade. Her passion can take an explosive turn and quickly trade laughter for tears. Some of her elaborate projects have ruined countless pieces of furniture and various surfaces in our home. Frequently, her active imagination embellishes the truth beyond the acceptable allowance of creative non-fiction. She would rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. One day she will probably backpack across Europe, but right now I can’t keep her attention for more than two minutes. She lives in a perpetual state of “ants in her pants.” She worries her poor brother to death. “I’m worried Lila will make bad choices and run away with people with mohawks when she is a teenager,” he confides. Me too, Jude, me too. (Our family has nothing against mohawks. I am not sure how this hairstyle became the dreaded symbol of rebellion in his strange little mind.)
Thus, our task as parents is set before us. How do we keep this wild child, spirited and free, from being crushed and shoved into predetermined boxes? Where can she safely spread her wings and be who she is meant to be? Can we help her maintain this bold nature into her teen years, bypassing the usual roller coaster brought about by self-esteem issues and peer pressure? How often will we need to literally save her from herself or some horrible natural consequences? And most importantly, will we be able to maintain our sanity throughout this whole process?
While I don’t pretend to always “get her” and at times want to reign in her big living just a bit, I can immediately recognize when other people try to silence or dull her passions. My instincts kick in, and I fight for her opportunity to be her truest self. I have no desire for her to spend years building a persona to hide her spirit and conform to expectations. While I am busy excavating and connecting with my real identity, she can be fully living in hers. This is why when I saw a school situation where her spirit was not recognized or appreciated, I jumped into action. My girl has no time for labels: bossy, loud, over-active. She can flourish and taste this life in an environment that celebrates the way she takes in the world and inhabits her own body.
Raising this spirited child is not for the faint of heart. Whether I am extinguishing hot glue gun mishaps or unearthing snails and frogs in her pockets, I have moments of complete frustration. I find myself apologizing or wanting to make excuses for her bold behavior. It is so hard to turn off the “I-would-never-do-that” voice in my head. But then I step back and listen to her tell me about her hopes and dreams or direct our gratitude game at dinner. I listen to her defending the beauty pageants I abhor because, “Maybe it’s their passion, Mom, and everyone should be allowed to follow their passion.” I am reminded that I must keep fighting to honor her wild spirit and help her learn to protect that light in her eyes and song in her heart no matter the cost. In the process, perhaps she will inspire me to take a few more chances of my own.
About the Blogger
Jaime Pollard-Smith is a full-time writing instructor with a Master of Arts from New York University. She and her husband are owners and coaches of CrossFit Jane. They are doing their best to raise two free-range kids in Charlotte, NC. She is a reader, writer, nature lover, teacher, CrossFit coach, business owner, lifter and wandering soul trying to figure it all out. Read her “Unbecoming” blog here. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.