I have this remarkable daughter. Let me tell you about The Girl.
She's adorable, of course. I would know; I'm her mom. She's funny and clever. Aren't all little girls? But this one thrills and unnerves me, too. I mean, who gave her those genes, that she can engage complete strangers with the ease of a motivational speaker, and convince them to follow her lead/project/game, in the blink of a big, brown eye?
She is a force. I remember her crawling into the center of a gaggle of preteens at the library--at age 1--expressly to command their attention. She wanted an audience. She wants what she wants, whether or not it synchs with her parents' ideas. By the time she was 2, my husband and I were flipping frantically through parenting books for clues on how to deal with this iron-willed miniature. What kind of little person defies giant grownups as they escalate from "do this or we take back your library books" to "we will remove all of your books from your room," rather than follow a simple request? At two! Damn those parenting books threatening us to "follow through with consequences" or we'd regret it. I know I regretted having to clear out every one of her bookshelves that night. It was the hollowest of victories to see this tiny, foot-stamping creature glare at us through her tears while we lugged boxes out to the garage. Our first child, she decimated our confidence in our parenting “skills.” Surely we were doing everything wrong, all of the time? Why did our friends make parenting seem easier than this?
From somewhere across the country, I could hear my dad laughing.
At 6, one of her precocious comments stopped me short, so I told her she was getting big for her britches. I was informed that, "Now that I'm 6, that's just the way it's going to be." Nope, Child, it isn't. But that level of self-confidence and stubbornness never abated.
I might be stubborn at times, myself. My favorite childhood pasttime was Make The Person Agree with Me--No Matter What. But in one of those wicked Karmic twists, my wily child with the gift of gab sets us all back on our heels with her drive to convert everyone to her way of thinking. Her poor brother reels from a daily sales pitch to play dolls, play babysitter, play dress-up, play anything but his nice, quiet Legos. Every sentence is finished by her. Every argument anticipated and countered before the words stumble out of his mouth. What chance does he have against this Verbal Water Cannon?
But I worry that out in the wider world, what chance does she have? Because she's a girl, she'll have to work even harder. She'll be labelled "bossy." Because she's a girl, she's already getting signals that girls like nail varnish, not space travel—though she could name the planets and many of their moons at 18 months. Because she's a girl, she's being taught to question herself for not being a "team player." Because she's original, she gets marginalized for not conforming to the expectations of some teachers, some peers, and some parents. In the preteen world when it's natural to want to fit in--not laugh at yourself--this gets even harder. But what does she do? She throws herself further into the breach, inventing ridiculous superheroine costumes for a laugh, and challenging those expectations.
I'm so proud of her I could split in two. I know the tallest nail gets the hammer, but I hope she judges her individuality worth its price. That she never gives up being her self. But I hope she learns faster than I did that compromise occasionally is not defeat. It can win you much needed allies.
Go get ’em, Girl, with all the wiles and wit and boundless (Christ, is there something less limited than “boundless” to describe this one?) energy at your disposal. I feel the world is unprepared for you but I'll always be in your camp, ready to offer myself to the slings and arrows when you need a rest from the fight. Don't settle. Don't fear. Enjoy your talents, and the world will enjoy them along with you. If they're smart enough.