A little over a week ago, #1, my first-born, turned 12.
She celebrated it first with her friends by having a water fight after school followed by a movie and then with family by having another water fight and good food 2 days later on her actual birthday. Simple fun that reflected her desire to still have one foot firmly planted in childhood. It was a relief to witness her requesting a themed birthday party with her friends (‘Alice in Wonderland’) and I loved watching her plan the details – from designing the invites to cutting out decorations and assembling the loot bags.
Although she had a wonderfully childish birthday, I have noticed her slow lean into young adulthood commence in subtle and almost unnoticeable ways. There have been many instances where I have felt myself tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole as I try to help her navigate these early stages of adolescence.
People with older daughters have warned me about the changes in attitude and demeanour that girls experience when they turn 11 or 12. I have been warned about the selfishness, the know-it-all remarks, and the mean-spirited behaviour toward younger siblings. When I tell people I have 4 girls and that my oldest is 12, I get that look which seems to be a mix of pity and sympathy which is often accompanied by a “You’ll see.” I often defend my daughter and boast of her grace and compassion only to be dismissed by yet another “You’ll see.”
Because of all these foreboding predictions from family, friends and strangers alike, I have tried to be more observant of her this year, almost holding my breath as I awaited the rebellious pre-teen to rear its ugly head.
I can proudly report that the monster has not surfaced and what I have witnessed is more gratifying and amazing than I had ever expected:
I have watched her choose who she wants to be.
This is the first year I have seen her make her own decisions about her friends, her extra-curricular activities, how she spends her free time, how she tackles school work, and how she interacts with her family. She still defers to me and her father at times and still asks for advice when necessary but this year she has asserted herself more. She has become an active participant in shaping her life. She is more aware of the fundamental physical laws of cause and effect as she discovers for herself that every decision she makes has a consequence. This has been the biggest learning experience for Ever-Patient and myself – letting her weigh the decision, make it, and own it, even if she has to suffer unfavourable consequences. She is forming opinions and not only finding her voice but using it.
I have seen her struggle – struggle with employing tact vs honesty, struggle with her need for independence vs her need to feel taken care of, struggle with the choice to spend time with family or friends, struggle with the need to be alone with the desire to still feel included in our family shenanigans, struggle with discerning what she wants vs what we want vs what she thinks we want her to want. I have seen this in her distance even though she is sitting across from me at the dinner table. I have seen this in her eyes as she faces decisions that I will no longer make on behalf of her.
In the last couple of years, she has demonstrated her need for solitude and the desire to independently choose. But this year has been different. Ever-patient and I have been different. We have slowly and deliberately stepped back. She has relied on us to make the best decisions for her or influence her in ways that satisfy our own motivations. Now, she hears more often than not, “What do you think?” “What do you want to do?” “This is your decision.” We tell her to weigh her options, reflect on the potential consequence of each alternative, and decide for herself. Because in the end, her choices affect her and she is accountable. I am here when she needs me and I give an opinion if and only I hear these 5 words: “Mom, what do you think?” My answers are seldom concise. I never tell her, “You should…” I give her an informed opinion with supporting experiential anecdotes but in the end I try to emphasize choosing an option that reflects compassion, respect, and integrity. Whatever she chooses, I make it clear that she needn’t look for approval or disapproval from me. The outcome of her choice and how she feels about herself in the end will be its own internal reward or punishment that she alone will have to live with. Though I have adopted a trustful approach, I am still working to provide an environment in which she has the opportunity to explore all the possibilities that life has to offer which includes giving her a safe sphere in which to make choices.
I’ve just let her be. I have instinctively followed her lead. I have been quiet when she needed a listener. I have spoken up when she needed to feel supported and validated. I have held her tight when she has been frustrated trying to find the words to match her emotions. I have been patient when she has been impatient (for the most part). I have let go when she needed to breathe her own air and live her own life. I have ached at every “I love you Mama” because I know it’s not a reflex statement but a declaration of gratitude and appreciation.
Here is a scrapbook layout I made…a message to her from her father and I:
“Yes is a world, and in this world of yes live all worlds.” e.e. cummings
12…always say ‘Yes’ to this day. this moment. this story. this life.
Love: Mama and Daddy