I don’t often write about parenting. Actually, I don’t write about much of anything anymore, except books,
Lately though, I’ve been receiving cute videos of my niece, and remembering the days when we took videos of our toddler all day long. And then, just like that, we stopped. Kids stop being ‘cute’ in the simple, heart-melting way. But they keep being wonderful.
My kid is changing right now. She’s nine, and there’s an appreciable acceleration in her maturity and approach to everything. She’s just entering the cusp of adult-ness – peering into the exciting world of self-direction and mastery. I recently recounted her terrible sleeping habits as a toddler and small child to a friend. And then I remembered how when she started school she grew out of them.
First, there were the years where I would gently wake her up for school and help her get dressed, and then one morning I woke up to the sound of drawers being opened. She emerged, wooly haired, in her school uniform. I thanked the tunic’s designers for their oversight with the zipper – she still needed my help to get dressed. (There are multitudinous times that I reflect on my own childhood – mornings in my childhood house were dominated by getting out the door for my Mum to get to work. I had to dress myself and now I take simple pleasure in finding a pair of matching socks or brushing my kid’s hair).
After a change of school, she really got into springing out of bed, ready to charge into another day of tearing around the playground and crapping on about unicorns.
And then, about a month ago, she started hopping into bed with me in the morning, just for five minutes or so. Just to lie there and look at me, to trace her finger down my nose, to ask me gentle, silly questions about the day, or to tell her a story about goats, ‘in a funny way like you do’. My best guess is that she is calibrating herself for another busy day, and, after a quick cuddle, we get up and crack into things as normal.
Parenting is not always the same. I felt acutely aware of my role when she was a baby (obviously) and then a young toddler. I was a full time Mum and although her Dad was very involved too, I felt like she was oriented to me in a very basic, essential way. And then she grew older and more independent. I started working more, and her life was more structured around Dad. And now, as she grows into a new stage, she is reaching out to me more again. Partly this is for added security (I’m guessing this explains a bit of the morning cuddles) but partly I think she is watching me to see how it is to be a woman.
None of us are the perfect woman – I’m a bit of a shambles, I get distracted easily, I’m always going off on some bender about some random thing. I’m both focused and unfocused. A lot of the time I’m not well (physically that is. Mentally I’m SANE AS A FUCKING JUDGE).
I study lots of different stuff – sometimes all at once. Sometimes I worry that I’m not providing a very good model of being ‘focused’.
And I feel her watching me when I’m around other people – to see how to be with them, how to make friends, how to manage other people. Sometimes I’m troubled by this – as women we’re trained to consider the emotions of others constantly. But then again, I don’t want to erase my femininity, just to hold it to account.
The other day she asked me about a friend who kept trying to be nice to another girl who sometimes bullied her. I told her that if a boy is mean to another boy, he just thinks, ‘Well that guy’s a dick, I won’t play with him’. But when a girl is mean to another girl, the victim thinks, ‘I need to make this mean girl like me, because making people like me and affecting their emotions is something that I should do’.
How else can you explain why girls go back to their abusers, be they schoolyard bullies or loseroo boyfriends?
I’m going nowhere with this, other than to suggest that this parenting thing changes massively over time, but it’s pretty fabulous.