Yesterday, you turned eight. Before bed, you said, “I am ready to say goodbye to seven. I have better luck with the even ages.” It hasn’t been the easiest year, this is true. Maybe you are little angry with me and Dad. You don’t really understand why we did this to you, why we made you move mid-year. You had finally felt your feet sink into the sandy shores of Scituate, and now you are one those cats on a poster in the Scholastic Book Order; you know, the one with a kitty dangling from its claws on a tree limb with a goofy caption like: I didn’t sign up for this. It’s true, you didn’t, which is a downside to being a kid with parents. But here’s the upside: you don’t need to dangle there with your claws digging, hanging on for dear life. You can let go. Because as long as I am around, I will catch you. And even if I am not, you will be ok.
Believe me, if I could run underneath you with a safety net 24/7, I would. I see you try to do it with Phoebe by being the big, protective sister. A few weeks ago, while riding in the car, you quizzed her on preschool social etiquette in the backseat:
“Now Phoebe, let’s say you are coloring with a purple marker, and your classmate comes up and takes it right out of your hand. Do you:
a. Say, “Can I have that back? I wasn’t done using it.”
b. Tattle to the teacher
c. Say, “Back off, Dude.”
Phoebe, as if on cue: “C. I go with C.”
I looked at you in the rear view mirror, your eyes closed, shaking your head. “No, no, Phoebe. The answer is A.”
Phoebe just shrugged. Pretty sure she stands behind C.
At my writing retreat last week, I watched a documentary called What I Want My Words To Do To You. It takes place in a women’s prison. The prisoners are given the opportunity to write their story through a writing workshop, and then actors come to the prison and perform the prisoners’ stories, reading their own words back to them.
I think everyone should have this opportunity, because you don’t have to commit a crime to feel imprisoned. Sometimes all our feelings can build an invisible cage that keeps us trapped; we want to escape but can’t find the key.
I’ll tell you a secret: your words are the key.
You are pretty amazing with your words – you can articulate feelings in a way many adults cannot. Just the other morning, you were trying to tell me how you felt about all the changes in your life and at school; about all the drawers in your head that are jammed with too much stuff. You even drew a diagram, pausing only to say, “You should use this in your blog, Mom. This is good stuff.” And in my head, I got all cocky, thinking, This IS good stuff! Now we are getting somewhere! We are making diagrams, here People! I am NAILING this parenting moment.
Which of course is the moment it all falls apart.
Because I started giving a lot of advice.
I don’t remember exactly what I said – some paltry, parent-y sounding words of wisdom that ended with my closing statement of “it’s just going to take time.” Whatever I said, it caused you to storm off, because I “clearly don’t get it,” and what does that even mean, it takes time? What about right now? What about right now?
I sat there, abruptly alone, stunned. Crushed that I had blown it, this wonderful diagraming moment we were having. Then, I went for a run.
As my feet hit the pavement, I repeated your words in my mind. What about right now? What does she need from me right now? Right now, I need to stop and listen to the story that is taking shape for you, day by day. RIght now I can support you best by being with you, not doing for you. Right now I can ask more questions and give less advice. Right now I can be a little softer, because everyone is a little delicate. Right now I can paint your toe nails. Right now I can try and make you laugh, or buy you a milkshake, or take you to yoga. What I am NOT going to do is pretend I have all the answers. Because here’s another secret: I don’t.
I thought of the women in that prison, writing their stories. I thought of you, only eight years old, already writing your own story as you stumble through these new challenges, trying to make meaning out of these new – and sometimes uncomfortable – experiences.
But just as Phoebe is going to pick “C” even if you think the answer is “A,” she’s still going to do what she feels is right. And while you can offer your opinion, that’s her story. You don’t want Phoebe to get in trouble, you want to protect her by prepping her ahead of time. I get that. But you need to trust Phoebe enough that she can handle it, and if she get’s in trouble, that will be her lesson. I understand the desire to feel prepared; to go into recess or lunch clutching a script written by someone “older and wiser,” with all the “right things” to say. But you don’t need a script; the right words are already inside of you. You just need to believe that they are there. And I need to give you the space to find them.
I know that coming into a new school midyear is intimidating. But you – my sassy, strong-willed, pink-fedora wearing, Gwen Stefani loving daughter – are courageous. And you’ve got this.
Last night, after your birthday dinner, you said to me, “Maybe we could write a book together, about moving and how its stinks, since we are like experts. I bet it could help people, to know…they are not alone.”
You are an amazing kid. At eight years old, you already understand the healing power of sharing our stories; of using our words to better understand ourselves and the diaphanous, cobwebby strands that tie us to others.
Your words are teaching me about what it means to feel compassion, to just be with someone, to really listen.
Your words are teaching me how to be humble, how to say I don’t know, how to release my grip on life, and on you.
Your words are teaching me how to trust that we know more than we think we do.
Your words are teaching me that maybe those we love need us to do less and be more.
That, my Emma, is what your words do to me.