Nine years old is an interesting age. So is thirty-seven, come to think of it. My daughter and I are both experiencing growing pains of sorts, in both similar and different ways. As a 4th grader, she’s not quite a “tween yet,” although I suspect she may become one in a matter of months; it’s a blurry line. Right now I feel that we’re on the cusp of something, that I know change is right around the corner and I can’t decide if I want to face it head on or pretend it isn’t happening and just savor the last fleeting remnants of this stage of her childhood.
She is changing, and I am changing. I am no longer the mother of babies, but my children have not yet pulled away to exert their independence to the extent I know they will soon. We are both standing with one foot in the world of young childhood and one foot in the next phase to come.
My daughter and I talk about appearances a lot. She’s sensitive and self-conscious, and I know it’s only going to get worse. I talk a big game about how our culture overemphasizes physical beauty and how we shouldn’t buy in. I praise her mind and her ideas and her wit. I tell her she’s brave and loving.
I inwardly cringe when I see her frantically change clothes and worry about how her hair looks when we’re making a five-minute grocery store run. I preach about how much more important our brains are, our sense of humor, our kindness.
I scrutinize myself in the mirror. I, the person who gave up makeup altogether (OK, minus mascara and lip gloss, because there’s no way I could ditch those) in the fall, and I now spend more time on my “winter skin” than I care to admit. I am pissed off that I don’t wear the same size as I did ten, or maybe even five, years ago. When did I become a large instead of a medium? Have my hips always looked like that? I obsess. I think unkind thoughts about my body. I am not setting a good example, in the truest sense, though I am careful to censor my external dialogue around my children.
The truth is that as I continue to age I will struggle with the changes that happen to my body, my face, my skin. I am a vain person. There, I said it. I am inclined to obsess over my appearance, and I’m not sure exactly why, whose fault it is, who to blame, but I sure as hell don’t want my daughter to fall into the same trap. But how do I help her, aside from all the positive coaching I dish out all the while silencing my own inner critic? I don’t know.
My daughter and I share many traits, too many I sometimes think. When she was seven I wrote about what it was like to raise a daughter who was just like me, and not much has changed, aside from the issues we’re facing are becoming more complicated and significant. We are both still sensitive and emotional, prone to anxiety and over-reacting. She fusses and worries over marks on her skin and what they might mean. I become frustrated and short-tempered with her preoccupation. Then the next morning I find myself hovering over the mirror, asking myself what the hell that thing is on my eyelid and has it always been there? It’s no mystery where she gets it, I chastise myself.
The stakes are getting higher now. I read articles about tweens and social media, teens and sex, novels where children become victims, and a pit develops in my stomach. Her safety and self-esteem are at risk. How am I going to protect her from all the potential dangers that growing up in this age brings? Again, I don’t know.
I head out to the garage to dig through shelves of old books and dust off my copy of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. The last time I read it I was eighteen and obviously still an adolescent myself. What will it be like to read it from the perspective of mother? I’ll find out. I bookmark articles to save and print out, to create a file for my daughter. I update my reading list with Peggy Orenstein’s latest; she saved me with Cinderella Ate My Daughter; surely she’ll know what to do next!
I make a note to highlight my digital copy of Kindness Wins by Galit Breen, a wise and gifted online friend who has become an expert on teaching children empathy and digital safety. I need help, I need resources. I’ll start my folder this weekend; there’s so much I need her to know and understand.
I am mindful as I go about my mission to teach and protect my daughter that I am also simultaneously teaching and healing myself. For we are inextricably linked, she and I. Our journeys are separate and the same. She will teach me as we go, as I will guide her.
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**I have been such an infrequent blogger in part because I am immersed in co-producing the Listen To Your Mother Boulder show! If you’re local, I hope you’ll consider buying tickets, and if not, check out the national list of shows near you!