Saturday, February 25, 2017

Growing Up

Last night when I tucked the girls into bed, I went to Abby's room last. I usually do. She's the oldest, so she can stay up the latest, maybe listen to her clock radio and read while I put the others to bed. Last night, she was sulking, and I could see something was on her mind. When I asked her, she gave me answers like, "I don't know," "Nothing's wrong," and silence. I began to rub her back while my words massaged her walls. I told her I was there to help. I reminded her it feels better to put feelings to words and talk. I promised her that no matter what, I would listen first and work through it with her. Still nothing. I sat in the quiet with her, rubbing her back, under her twinkle lights. I asked her if she wanted to breathe with me. She started to cry.

She was thinking about something mean a kid at school had said to her. From there, the tears came fast and heavy as she thought about what a rotten sister she must be to get so many reminders to be kind to them. Things began to snowball and I could see that she was in a very upsetting place where she was stuck in a loop, reviewing all the instances that had caused her to feel bad in the last few days.

I wiped her tears. She pulled me in for a hug. I helped her name each feeling, put each upsetting thought in a bubble and we blew them away. I told her the kid at school may have been trying to hurt her feelings, but she doesn't need to let him. They are her feelings, not his. I told her she is a wonderful sister, and recounted examples of times she has put them first and shown them kindness. I told her all big sisters are bossy and sometimes mean. It's more important that she keeps trying to do what's right. I don't want a kid who never makes mistakes, I told her. It's in the mistakes that learning happens. And what are kids doing as they grow, every day, but learning?

She smiled, we cuddled and when she went to bed, I could feel she was lighter. I turned off her twinkle lights, walked downstairs to tidy up, and felt grateful that I knew how to handle that one. Abby is eight years old, and I feel equipped to handle eight. I know her the best of anyone in the world.

It won't always be this way. She will grow into a teenager. She will start to exist apart from me, first in subtle ways. Maybe she'll keep a journal. Or sneak out sometimes. Or change clothes at school, into something I wouldn't think is appropriate. Or maybe more. Maybe she'll face situations I haven't prepared her for, and she'll make a bad choice. Maybe she'll close me out. Maybe she'll be a victim and I won't be able to fix it. Or maybe she'll always be my little girl and let me guide her until she is an adult and we skip into the sunset together.

The thing is, I can handle eight years old. I know my job is to help her develop coping strategies and tools to figure things out for herself. But 13 years old feels like it is coming so fast. And Grade 8 girls can be the worst. I see this little girl, my oldest girl, sleeping soundly in her pink heart bed under the twinkle light reading canopy I made her, wearing her unicorn pyjamas and I can't imagine her facing some of the things Grade 8 girls face today. I can't imagine her dealing with things I dealt with back then.

It's a scary deal sometimes, parenthood. I exhaust myself trying to be a good role model, create a comfortable home, fostering a strong family bond and setting them up for a world that is always changing the rules. Part of the deal is doing all of this and knowing that I will have to watch them do it themselves, learn the hard way sometimes, make big time bonehead decisions and maybe even choose to shut me out. I am conscious of that tonight, after watching a documentary about online bullying and high school-aged sexual assault cases and teen suicides. Scary, heavy stuff. It's out there, it's been out there, and my little girls are asleep upstairs and it is so hard to reconcile those two realities as co-existent.

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