Nature vs Nurture

- This post was featured on HuffPo's {Parenthesis} and I couldn't be more blushy about the whole situation -

My daughter has this little friend at school, who's name doesn't matter, and he wants to hug her and squeeze her and keep her forever and call her George. I sympathize with him, I really do. I feel the exact same way about her most days. She's scrumdidilyicious. 

However, I still let her have friends. I don't bully the other little boy who also very much so loves her and wants to be in her company all. the. time. I don't intimidate her with threats if she defies my wishes or talks to other kids, and I don't lie to the teacher if she steps out of line, saying she said a bad word or hit someone so she'll be punished for making me angry. 

She's not afraid of me, is my point, but she sure as hell is afraid of Friend Who's Name Doesn't Matter. 

And it's really just depressing. I mean, she didn't even get to get drunk and meet this clown at some bar and project all her daddy issues onto him like it's her goddamn American right to. Oh no, he picked her out of the crowd like she was waiting prey.

Except she's not waiting prey. 

My mother used to warn me that the bad people could smell me coming. She said that they knew how to find the people like me, people who were weak, broken, vulnerable - that they could find us, and they would, and when they did they'd crush us. She told me to watch out for anyone who took an interest in me, because I was walking around with a target on my back. I wonder why I have trust issues. 

My daughter does not have trust issues. My daughter is the opposite of me in almost every way, because I did the opposite of what my mother did in almost every way. I whisper into my daughter's sleeping ear how amazing she is, how strong she is, how powerful she is. I read her Audre Lorde poems that sing of her strength as a woman and a child of the earth. I sing her my own odes of admiration and love. I tell her every chance I get that she is fiercer than the sun, and stronger than the ocean tides. And still, some little man-person with girl issues and cowboy boots who would certainly refer to her as woman if he only knew how to spell it comes along and tries with all his might to possess her. 

I must admit, it's slightly amusing watching him break himself against the rock that is her. 

But no matter how strong she is, and how secure she is, it is a total mindbleep (because I can't bring myself to say that word in a kid post. I'm losing my edge. I know it.) when someone you are totally emotionally invested in turns the tables over and exploits that investment for their own selfish gain. It's horrifying, watching my seven year old daughter have to navigate this pocket of humanity, watching the little heart I've so carefully guarded from any pain learn the hard lesson that people just ain't no good.

I am cautiously mindful of her reactions to this boy as the situation has progressed. I have tried to guide her decisions without injecting myself into the situation. Letting them have their own experiences, not projection of mine, is the hardest element of parenting I've encountered yet. I worry that she inherited my target along with my crooked toes and blond hair.  I worry that victimization is a recessive gene that you don't realize has passed on until conditions become optimal for it to manifest. I worry that it's instead something acquired through nurture, and that watching me waste the first seven years of her life trying desperately to please and/or appease a controlling, narcissistic alcoholic has told her that is what is normal and good and expected. 

So I watch her closely, I listen for the words I know all too well coming from her mouth that would tell me this boy is winning the battle against her sense of self. I never hear them. I hear honest words like, "I am afraid to tell on him" and "I care about him and don't understand why he cares about me all wrong" and I know that she doesn't have this thing that I have, this curse that keeps the amazing, brillant, powerful women in my family subdued by some man, some religious ideal, some terror of the unknown or the different or that which is difficult and brave. 

Today I was going to go into her classroom to speak to the teacher about Friend Who's Name Doesn't Matter on her behalf. Today, I had found my limit, had enough, decided that she wasn't able to carry this burden any longer. Today I also had a gazillion deadlines, so I didn't go in. Turns out, she did get one thing from me - her line in the sand. Today was her breaking point too. Today he pushed too far, and she pushed back. 

And he backed down. 

He treated her with some goddamn respect. 

He was even kind(ish) to her other little super sensitive man-child-friend. 

And I am so proud of this woman-becoming, who is teaching me more than I will ever in a million years teach her.

Square Dances and Full Circles

 

My father wore that cowboy hat at every show he played over the course of my entire childhood. He was the lead guitarist of a (fairly popular, local Philadelphia) band (called Legend, if you care, which you don't) but instead of standing at the front of the stage, like lead guitarists are wont to do, he always stood waaaay in the back corner of the stage, behind everyone else...only ever visible by the silhouette of that hat against the orangish spotlights of smoky, sweaty nightclubs.  

I don't really know why he gave it to me, except that Josh inherited all of his dad's cowboys hats after he passed, and he gave me all of his hats right after he found that out, so I can only guess that my dad wasn't about to be out-cowboy-grandfathered by some dude he'd never even met, or something. Competing with the dead is a weird concept to me. So is my dad. Bygones.

There are pictures of my brother and me both wearing that hat at around my daughter's age, but she's never seen them. She's also never seen a picture of my father wearing it. I don't know that she's ever actually seen a picture of my father at all, now that I think about it.

No matter; there she is, wearing it just like he did a million years ago in another life when he was my father, not a hat I sometimes cup to my ear when no one is looking, so I can hear - across the ocean of time - the strum of guitars through humid, smoggy air, over the hum of a window air-conditioner, beneath everything that hurt, to the precious few moments of time when I got to be nothing else but a little girl who worshipped her dad. 

I think when I cup it to my ear, now, I'm going to hear nothing but the giggles of her childhood, when I got to be nothing else but a mother, starry-eyed in love with her child. 

Six now, forever and ever.

Three nights ago you wept in your bed, crying over the unfairness of all of this happening to you. "I can't grow up, mom. Five is my favorite number."

Five was my favorite number, too. I used to tell you that five was the perfect age to be, because it was just enough to grab your face with and smush it. Five was also the perfect number to hold your little baby foot with.

Still crazy after all these years

Your foot isn't so baby little anymore. Nothing about you is. You learned how to say 'th' this year and I can't believe that I am the kind of person who could spend all day listening to a child say tha-ree! but it truly is the most beautiful sound in the word, you soaking in the world and wringing out little bits for the rest of us to taste. One of the many things you've taught me about myself that I never would have guessed on my own is that there is nothing I would rather do with my days than listen to you sound out the world around you.

I imagine you on the school playground with your friends learning how to jump rope and braid hair. You come home and you tell me all the things the other little girls have taught you and I wonder what you're teaching them in return. You know so much more than I ever could have imagined you would, so much more than I ever did at your age. 

At the same time, you know nothing that I knew when I was six, and I don't think I'll ever be given a greater gift than that. I have to lie to you so often about my childhood, because the stories you do hear are so far from fathomable, they frighten you.  You with your magical little ways have taught me somthing I guessed all along, that any story can become truth if it is simply told enough times. You are making the stories I wish I could tell you come alive every time you make me re-write the oral history of my life and whisper it sweetly into your sleepy ears.  

You ask my why I love you so much and I reply why, of course it's your giggle, except when it is your hugs, but of course when it isn't your smile, and only when it isn't the way your beautiful little mind works. I tell you that I love you today, and I will love you every day of your life, because I have to, the same way I have to breath in and out. You ask if I will ever stop loving you and I tell you that loving you is the air around me and inside of me, in my veins and my lungs and the very fiber of my being and that my love for you is what has made me a complete person. 

Six years ago, right off of 9th and Colorado in Denver, you with your collapsed lung and prolapsed cord, born purple and raging if for no other reason than to scare the living shit out of your brother on the very first moment of your aquaintance, you breathed life into a woman you hardly knew but who had been waiting her entire life to meet you. I held you all night that night, watching you sleep for the first time.

Sleepy

Every night since then has felt exactly the same way. I can never escape the wonder of you, and I don't ever want to. Every day with you has been as amazing as the first day you came into my life, because you continue to be the most incredible creature this world has ever known.

My favorite number will always ever be whichever you are, little girl, forever and ever, amen.