Monday, September 9, 2013

Thinking the Unthinkable, and Other Thinkable Thoughts

The unthinkable has happened.

I thought it was unthinkable, but now that I think about it, it was probably pretty thinkable. I just didn’t think about it.

My daughter lied to me. She did. She looked me straight in the face and told a big dirty lie. And I let her. For about seventy two minutes. Then I called her on it and she did a quick backpedal and I called her on that and then she gave me a puzzled sort of look. She twisted her mouth a little to the left and then the right, looked up toward the ceiling for some divine illustration of how I could possibly be so confused. Well, really, I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about… perhaps you’re a crazy person… said the look. Then I gave her a look that said Child, DO NOT trifle with me! and turned back to the dishes in the sink. I let her squirm a few minutes while I tried to put my finger on what exactly I was feeling. I wasn’t angry. Just perplexed. She’d lied to me about something utterly unnecessary in my eyes. Why?

When I’d gone to pick her up from school, she came out to the curb and asked if it was okay for her to walk downtown with friends to buy a birthday present for her little sister. When I asked her which friends, she told me two names, one boy and one girl. The girl I know very well. She’s sweet and smart and kind. I know her family very well. We’re friends. Of course she can go downtown with this friend. The boy I have met. I know his mom casually and really, really like her. He seems sweet and shy, and I have absolutely no problem with the fact that he and my daughter like each other. Like, they like-like each other. They are eleven. It’s sweet. Of course she can go downtown with this friend too.

I pulled away from the curb. I knew that she was lying. I knew that the girl wasn’t going, but I stalked her a little just to be sure. I saw the two of them walking, just my daughter and the sweet boy. She saw me see them, then pretended not to. Just to make absolutely sure that I knew what I thought I knew, I called the dad of the girl and explained the situation. He confirmed that his daughter hadn’t even asked to go downtown, then wished me luck.

Sooooo busted!

I spent the next hour wondering why she’d lied, and wondering what I was going to do about it. Why?

Here are the things you need to know if you don’t know the girl in this story. She is the heartbeat of our family. She has boundless love and energy, and she unites us in that day after day. She likes to hang out with us, likes to play games and talk and cook and read with us. She has some flighty habits that make me want to rip my hair out, can’t keep her room clean longer than four minutes, and forgets where she puts almost everything. She is strong and fast as lightning. She is curious and explorative and fearless yet. Oh, and she’s also stunningly, heart-achingly beautiful. She is perfect. Entirely perfect. I trust her. It stung that she didn’t trust me with the truth about what she was doing or with whom. Again...why?

When I was done with the dishes, we sat down. I asked her why she’d lied. She was sorry. Her beautiful face was cracking into tears. She said she lied because she thought I’d say no. Okay, we can work from there. Why did she think I’d say no? This was the first time a situation like this had come up, so why did she not even test the waters of truth before diving straight into a lie?

Another quick backstory: her dad and I have very different attitudes about her new interest in boys (actually, she’s just interested in this one boy). Her dad plays the chest-pounding intimidator, pressing one closed fist into his other palm while declaring No boy better not ever look at my baby girl.  These macho calisthenics are, I assume, designed to help him feel like he has some measure of control over when, where, how and with whom she becomes romantically involved… and how far she’ll go. I say assume because I’ve never been the father of a beautiful daughter. My approach to her… what… dating? is it dating when you talk to someone at the dance and walk downtown for a chocolate covered strawberry after school? my approach to her wanting to hang out with this kid is different than her dad’s, but I failed to communicate that to her. She mistook my grins and nods and commentary of Oh? on the matter for disapproval. What she heard from her dad, often and loudly, is that it’s not okay for boys to like her, so where does that leave her when she likes a boy? When she was younger and the issue was far, far into the future, he was only making reference to something that didn’t exist, so it was a big joke. They’d laugh about it and I’d roll my eyes and think we’ll see, we’ll just see… And so we are seeing.

I am the mother of a beautiful daughter. My job is to help her stay comfortable in her ever-changing body (I swear, sometimes I see her hips rounding by the minute!) and to guide her through adolescence with as little trauma as possible to her self-esteem. That means I have to help her to develop an independent relationship with her own body and mind, and then allow her to maintain it. Right now she needs my permission to do everything. She needs rides, she needs money, she needs my help. That won’t always be true.

Someday she’s going to like someone enough to hold his or her hand. Someday she’s going to like someone enough to want to kiss him or her. Someday she's going to think she loves someone and find out later that they're sort of a dirtbag. Someday she’s going to really love someone. Someday she’s going to have sex. Someday… When she does, I want her to be there. I won’t be there, and her dad won’t be there, so I want her to be there. I want her to know herself so well that she is present for those moments to learn from them, to know what she wants and honor it, to maintain her kindness, and to protect herself and anyone else from any emotional or physical damage.

It took this situation, this uncomfortable and hurtful lie, to shine a light on the hazards of an overly-possessive mentality toward our daughters. I submitted to her dad that this attitude is not only hazardous, it is completely inappropriate. I know that the intention is to protect her, but to characterize the relationship of two sixth graders as potentially threatening or sexual is to frost it with the qualities of an adult relationship. It’s a HoHo, not a wedding cake. The innocence of her early romantic (?!) relationships is the perfect place for our daughter to test her independence and self-reliance. There is danger, too, in intimating that she is our property, that her judgement is not good, or that there is shame in someone of her same age being attracted to her. Isn't she (and aren't we!) better served by showing her that she is capable, that she should trust her intuition, and that she is beautiful and worthy of admiration and respect?

I’m watching these glorious wings unfurl, one feather at a time. I know that they have miles to stretch and years to spend doing so. Sometimes it’ll hurt us to watch. Sometimes it’ll hurt her too, if I can recall that many years ago.

In the end, I was so grateful for the conversation that I couldn’t find it in my heart to punish her for lying. I kicked myself for that the next morning when I remembered that the chicken coop needs cleaning. I missed an opportunity there, but I’m consoled by the one I didn’t.

She’s awesome, and that is all her.

She is no one’s property; not mine, not her dad’s, not a friend’s and not a partner’s.

She is her strong and fast body. She is her flighty mind. She is her kind soul. She is her enthusiastic spirit.

Mostly, and all too soon, she is her own.

I totally wasn't exaggerating. Heart-achingly beautiful.