Sunday, April 1, 2012

Harbingers Part 1: Tomboy Dies A Little Inside

     When my daughter was in kindergarten her teacher asked me at parent/teacher conferences if M. had teenaged sisters. I was a little taken aback because on some level my daughter grew up with 100 teenaged sisters, since she was born and raised on an all-girls boarding school campus. Her kindergarten teacher was remarking about both her incredible level of maturity but also her volatility. I thought, uh-oh, I'm in for it.
     Mostly the thing that frightened me (but also intrigued me) about the little M. was her absolute lack of fear and her utter independence. She could climb to the top of a tree, and did every chance she got. There is a huge metal pole outside of where my office was. It is at least 20 ft. off the ground and she regularly would climb that pole. I never forbade it, because as I said, this total fearlessness really fascinated me. I was always such a cautious scaredy cat as a kid. So the only stipulation was that she could only climb that pole when I was in shouting distance so I could call 911. I know, bad mom, but I never did have to call 911-- and there were only two broken anythings in this crazy kid's upbringing. Once she broke her humerus while at my sister's house hanging on the rings on the swingset. Did I mention she was hanging upside down on them. She landed right on her arm. But then proceeded to heal in like two weeks. Swimming the whole time with a makeshift bikini sling.
     She flew trapeze every summer from the time she was 9. She climbed to the top of every tree worth climbing, and rang every bell on any rock climbing wall we could encounter.
     Yet this summer, when we went to trapeze again, all of a sudden she panicked when at the platform. "Mom, I'm scared" she called down. And it kind of freaked me out. I had never ever heard her utter those words before. She managed to do her splits and flips, but it wasn't the usual joyous day.
     I remember reading Pipher's Reviving Ophelia when I first came to the boarding school. My younger sister was 15 at the time and it was if the case studies of young interesting vibrant girls turned brooding dark mystery teens was chronicling her life. But it's the alteration of many a teen. Boys and girls-- that moment when you realize you are no longer a kid. It's terrifying. It's "stand on the platform ready to drop" terrifying. And the frightening part for parents, is we can't always be the safety net anymore.

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