Thursday, June 13, 2013
Posted by Maggie May Labels: Babies To Teenagers
I always go to write 'my' when I start a letter to you. It's a reflex born partly of what I think is a fierce and beautiful truth- that you were mine, first, before you were here with the rest of the animals and humans, that you were loved more deeply by me, it feels, than anyone could ever ( even your dad, although that is surely not true, it feels true, because despite being a writer with a vivid, sometimes disturbingly broad imagination, I see things from the same ' I ' place as most of us do ) - and partly from a place of reminding, the way a mother wolf reminds her cub not to walk close to a cliff by nipping his flank. The word is more revealing of me than I care for, of my tendency with all my children to want to hoard them, to keep them close as a pack, forever. In this new world we are expected to toss our children out to the depths of the ocean, the heights of mountains and vast stretches of cities that speak languages I cannot understand, with no strings attached. I am not this kind of mother, and never will be. I hover determinedly over my desire to claim you so that it does not stunt you, or my relationship with you, but I will never be ashamed of or refute my deepest instinct that the love of a mother for her child is a claim that can and should be made for life, because it is in being claimed in the beginning that we can free ourselves truly in the adventure between.
Like most truths in relationships, it has a twin. I claim you, I free you. I do this every day, every week, every year, over and over, and it is the singularly most difficult part of being a mother. It is the singularly most breathtaking part of being a mother. You are eleven. You have graduated today from the Fifth Grade. A monumental occasion in your life, the past five years you have been in the same school, with the same teachers and for the most part, the same circulating group of girlfriends. Your principal, a sweet hearted, kind and strict man, has remained the same, and the line you que up in for lunch remained the same. This summer begins for you in one day, after school ends tomorrow, and you look toward middle school with anxiety. You tend toward anxiety, and today at your graduation I looked up at you on stage with a mix of pride and guilt. I feel badly that you inherited my anxious disposition, the same kind of nervous, jittery snappiness that I remember from my Grandmother, my mother, myself as your mother. I work hard to soothe my anxiety, I eat right and do yoga and read Buddhist books and write, all to calm the beast and see life as it is, and not through the filter of fear. I pass my skills on to you alongside those bad genes, and as I watch you navigate through your worries I know that you are learning well. Although you stood on stage with drawn cheeks and your mouth in a line, you knew to tell me, later " Mom I'm just anxious. I'll be fine when we get out of here. There's too many people. "
This year, your fifth grade year, you matured with a rapidity that surprised me as it filled me with joy. Your friend who had moved away and out of school, then moved back, moving into your circle again, she called you filthy names on your Ipad messenger, and you threw yourself into my arms sobbing, hardly able to talk, to tell me, show me. You were devastated. The very next day, after I walked into the school office and reported this, you began creating a film about bullying. You created a script, held auditions at lunch and recess, and filmed an entire movie about the different ways that kids bully in elementary school. You were the writer and director. You see what I am saying, sweetheart? You are an artist. This is what artists do: take life, and create something from it. This is what strong people do. This is what you did.
You danced in the talent show with two friends, facing your fear of audiences and diligently creating your dance moves and practicing for two months before the show. Your smile beamed from the stage. You loved your baby sister with an utter and complete devotion, sniffling her feet, tickling her tummy, yelling at her in anger when she drags your beloved American Girl dolls from their carefully made beds in your room, bathing with her, reading to her in bed, smacking her booty, kissing her with 'chunky kisses', pulling her hair tight into ponytails while she protested, picking out outfits, cleaning up her messes, holding her hand on walks, criticizing her father and I when we make parenting choices you don't agree with.
This year you dealt with the complex, baffling and sometimes cruel social entanglements between young girls. I watched your sweet and innocent demeanor slowly harden a bit. You are no longer innocent in the way you were before this year began, before girls tore you apart and spit you back out, at one point walking alone at lunch for a handful of days, no one to talk to. You began to internalize some of what you were experiencing instead of working it all out with me, which is what happens when you are 11. Some places inside of your mind and heart are becoming private. I look into your eyes and see those tiny rooms where I am not allowed, and I thrill with the excitement of seeing you blossom at the same time I give a small sigh of sadness to watch you move away from me.
It was a long end of the year, the last few months you watching your friends, one by one, hurt and harass and call each other out. At times I had to remind you, ' Don't be bossy '. Another trait of mine from childhood, my mother tells me, though I don't remember. You want to control things when they get messy, like all of us. The hardest part of this year for both of us was how your loyalty and love were discarded by certain friends. Once you love a friend- and you do love, not just 'like for this week'- you are loyal, to a fault. I tried not to lecture you- and failed- a number of times on how loyalty to someone who is kicking you when you are down is actually disloyal to yourself. It was physically hard to restrain myself from hunting down some of these girls and scaring the shit out of them, a la This Is Forty. I wanted to. I really, really wanted to. I didn't. In some of these girls, many I've known since they were five, I see reflected in their mannerisms and faces and speech the shallow cruelties they feel inside themselves. Silent wounds that they do not refer to directly, but indirectly in the name calling and bullying and hair flinging mocking of other girls. So it begins.
You are gloriously creative, off beat, loving, kind, imaginative, generous and true blue. You are funny, quirky and a beautiful singer and dancer. Your older brothers adore you and protect you and stay up late watching Saturday Night Live with you. Your dad tickles you and kisses you and takes you to the ballgame for a dad/daughter date night- he is a little terrified of you suddenly, the way you are terrified of middle school. He is a man approaching middle age, and you are an 11 year old girl who, we were told for the first time, a boy who lives in our complex 'likes' now. Everything is changing, and yet what is essential remains. Your family. Your soul. My girl.