Katie: “I think I’ll write a song and learn to play it on the guitar.”
And so she did. In about 12 minutes.
For all of the times I forget to say it: This child is awe-inspiring. I love her so.
We visited my parents last week and the kids were baffled by broadcast television.
“Fast-forward!” demanded Lizzie.
“Don’t like that ducky!” declared Henry, age 2, when confronted with yet another commercial for AFLAC insurance.
Try as I may, I could not effectively explain why the talking duck kept interrupting their program.
For the duration of their little lives, my children have watched videos on Netflix and Amazon. They have never had to sit through TV commercials.
Listening to the car radio is a similar experience.
“Can you play Katy Perry?” asks Katie.
“I want Taylor Swift,” insists Lizzie.
“‘Gangnam Style,'” begs the 2-year-old.
For my kids, all the world is a mix tape, piled high and deep with songs they know and love. They use their weekly allowance to purchase tunes instantly. They never have to wait by the radio hoping “Material Girl” or “Livin’ on a Prayer” will come on.
As I reflect back, my own childhood seems so much duller. I went to school. I played soccer. I ate sandwiches. And I waited.
That’s what childhood used to be for. Waiting. To be able to watch PG-13 movies. To walk uptown with friends. To let our bodies to catch up with our daydreams.
But my kids can’t seem to wait for anything.
My 9-year-old and I have had arguments lately that my own mom and I didn’t have until I was 13. Why can’t I watch music videos? Why can’t I wear makeup? Why won’t you take me to the mall?
I hold the line wherever I can. I am making her wait until she is 16 to get her ears pierced. (“Sixteen? OMG, Mom. You might as well make it 116. You are sooo strict.“) My kids must wait to spend birthday money until after they write thank-you letters. They wait for me at the corner when we bike into town.
But I can already tell this is a losing battle. I put up tiny roadblocks, while the rest of the world offers an express lane to tween-dom. Mean mommy is no match for the 9-year-olds with cell phones, Facebook accounts and televisions in their rooms.
So, what is a parent to do? I usually take pride in my willingness to embrace pop culture. I Pin. I Tweet. I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass. But when it comes to my kids, I’m all about patience and caution. Why rush to give them grown-up toys and experiences?
I guess this is my generation’s angst. My grandmother was mortified whenever I picked up the phone to call a boy. “Let the boys call you,” she said. My mother hated when I drove to pick up a date in high school. “A woman should never drive in heels,” she chided. Maybe my admonitions about earrings and cell phones will sound equally arcane to my kids.
Maybe 9 is the new 13 and I need to get on board.
But I can’t. I’m the mom. It is my job to say, “Go slow” and “No selfies.” I will keep setting up those roadblocks. I will keep teaching patience. I will risk being called old-fashioned if I can let my kids be kids for a little bit longer.
Even if it means we have to sit through more talking duck commercials.
[Published on Huff Po today.]
I took Katie to her first audition today.
My child wants to be in a musical. She likes songs. And attention. Thus, we donned clean t-shirts and biked over to the community center after school.
She did not wear make-up.
Or a costume.
I did not curl her hair.
We did not cut in line.
Or prepare a resume.
We did not bring muffins for the director.
Katie did not claim a space near the door in which to practice vocal ululations and pirouettes.
She did not psyche out anyone with her competitive edge.
Because she is nine.
And this is not Broadway.
This is a room with a ping-pong table scooted to one side.
And the production is not Lord of the Flies.
I believe in my child. I love her confidence, her enthusiasm, and her go-getter spirit. I do not care if she is cast as a princess or an oompa loompa. Whatever the role, she’ll learn some lessons and have some fun. I don’t need to make other children feel small so my daughter can shine.
You are approaching that age now, when you look around and see how other dads raised their daughters. You are noticing that I did things differently, that you are not like other little girls, the ones who never leave home without a ribbon in their hair. You are brave and curious, and are beginning to realize that these qualities are not accidents. I want to explain why, because it will help you understand the way you are.
I taught you how to punch. Not because you should grow up fighting, but because, if ever forced to, you should know how. I once saw a little girl in Afghanistan who had acid thrown in her face because she wanted to go to school. You are not yet ready to know what some people do to each other, but I want you to be prepared. You will grow stronger every day, and the moment will come when you will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
I have nurtured your curiosity. When we found the spider under our orange tree with the red hourglass on her belly, we did not kill her. We watched, night after night, as she tended her web and waited patiently. We read books about her, and told jokes about how she ate her boyfriends for lunch. And when she finally caught a beetle, we watched her strike and wrap it tight with silk. You found that the things which scare most little girls have the most to teach us.
I let you learn hard lessons. You wanted to walk barefoot to the park through six inches of snow, so I tucked your boots in my backpack and said, “Let’s go.” When your stubborn feet had nearly turned to ice, we rubbed your toes until they were warm, and I pulled out your boots and socks and slipped them on. You discovered that winter footwear, however unstylish, is a good thing. You also learned that cold feet, however uncomfortable, will not kill you.
I taught you to respect nature, to hunt and to fish. Not for the sake of killing, but because the surest way to honor the living earth is to be part of it. You dug for worms and baited your own hooks, and most of the time we cooked what we caught. We raised chickens together and loved them, and ate the eggs they laid and offered thanks. You know and love the world that sustains us, and you understand that meat does not grow on grocery store shelves inside plastic wrapping.
I allowed you to test your limits. When we surfed together, you paddled towards the outside break, even as the big waves kept pushing you back. You fought, and failed, but not really. We rode in, side by side, determined to try and try again until we owned the sea. Some day we will catch that giant storm-driven wave and the crowd on the beach will rise to its feet and marvel at the little girl riding down the mountain of water.
I taught you these things, because one day I will let you go. You will walk down a long aisle to start another life and another family. You will be perfect and beautiful. But no one will mistake that beauty for fragility. You will fight for others, while seeking new wonders. You will run barefoot through snow, while exalting all of creation. You will live life to its fullest, testing your own limits while obliterating those set by others.
Until then, be proud of who you are. Never let anyone tell you what a woman can and cannot do. And should someone make fun of how little girls hit, offer to teach them. Smile politely, square your stance, and give fair warning. Then knock the effing wind out of them. Because that is how a girl should punch.