Oh Girlie, this birthday hit me hard.
The night before your birthday I couldn’t fall asleep. My brain kept doing math, scary math like there are only eight more birthdays before you go off to college. Less than half of what we’ve had together. Scary math like there are only six more birthdays before you’re driving. You’re in the double digits, kiddo! Your friends back in New Hampshire are off to middle school in the fall. Our move to Florida bought us another year of elementary, for which I say lots of thankful prayers.
I’m thankful that you are determined to enjoy childhood as long as you can. You aren’t ready for makeup or crushes or social media and you know it. I was a hypermature kid, always more comfortable with teens and adults than with my peers. This lead to a lot of problems for me, ones I pray you won’t experience. I love that you’re still playing with toys!
At the same time though, I see the changes. There were a lot less toys in your presents from friends than in previous years. You love pop music and playing on your phone. You’re definitely a tween. Not a teen, but a tween.
You have now had a cell phone for a year. We’ve set serious limits with it and you’ve done great. There is an app that your peers have and that I let you have for a moment before discovering that it can be used as social media. You were understanding and respectful when I told you that it needed to be deleted. Other limits you’ve balked at, but again, you know you aren’t ready for social media. I love that you send me silly texts but I especially love that I can check on you easily when you’re out and about.
It seems like teen behavior is being pushed younger and younger. I know that there were issues with boyfriend/girlfriend couples in your class and at your camp. Then again, I remember that fourth grade was when couples started to form back when I was in elementary too. Maybe teen behavior isn’t being pushed younger after all. Maybe parents’ memories are too short and too idealized; sepia toned images from pop culture more than our own realities. Maybe it’s just that parents and kids and teachers weren’t as connected back in the eighties. Your teacher sent a mass email when she had to address the issues of couples in class. As far as I know my teacher ignored the situation and if there were referrals to the guidance counselor there definitely wasn’t a note sent home to the whole class.
I worry about the over-sexualization of girls. I worry about raising a girl in a rape culture. I worry about hookup culture. I worry about bullies, both in real life and in the cyber world. I worry about social media and the regular media and the lenses that they’ll use to try to distort your perception of yourself. I worry about body image and eating disorders and this messed up world we live in. I worry about teaching you to navigate friendships and relationships when those are things I still struggle with. I worry about our family history of mental illness. I worry about raising you to be a strong, independent woman. I worry. I worry a lot.
But then, right in the middle of my worrying, you do something amazing and brave and strong. On the drive home from summer camp one day you told me that some of the girls were passing a note around making fun of the new girl. You told me that you took the note and added your own comment, basically telling these mean girls that they had no right to be making fun of anyone, that it was wrong, especially on someone’s first day. You ended your comment with the words, “and I hope you don’t think you can bully me after this.” You told me that once they got your reply they tore up the note and threw it away. When you told me this my heart became so full of pride and awe that it almost burst straight from my chest and I blinked back tears.
We talk a lot. We talk about silly things and serious things. You’re old enough now that we can have real conversations, like friends. You fell in love with the world of Harry Potter this year and have been working your way through The Goblet of Fire this summer. We snuggle on the couch and watch Gilmore Girls together. We play cards and swim in the pool and sing along with the pop station in the car.
You are ten now. You are my daughter. You are amazing.