Sugar and Spice Aren’t the Only Things that Girls are Made Of
When my daughter was thirteen years old, she asked for a leather jacket for Christmas, and my then-boyfriend said “Uh-oh. She’s a little Mandy. You’re in trouble.”
Over the years, many people have remarked that my daughter looks like me; as she grows, this becomes increasingly true. I call her mini-me. But it’s not just her appearance that mimics mine. I overhear her talking to her brother – “You shouldn’t drink that, it has too much sugar” – and I hear myself. I see her at football games, standing with the other cheerleaders, never entirely at ease – and I see myself. I see her vanity littered with beauty products, and I watch her scrutinize her face in the mirror wishing she didn’t have freckles. I’ve been covering up those same freckles with makeup since I was her age.
I’ve passed a lot of things on to my daughter, but the one that concerns me is that stubborn, rebellious streak. That I know it’s wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway and I don’t care if you like it. That I’m going to climb out the window instead of using the door and I’m not afraid of you. Oh, baby girl. How do I tell her that there are some people that she should be afraid of? That she will ignore red flags to her peril? That the window is the gateway to the back seat? That giving away a part of herself to someone who does not deserve it means she’ll have less of herself left for someone who does?
I am a woman of many contradictions. Strong but fragile; shy but sassy. I desperately want the fairy tale that I don’t believe exists. I’m fiercely independent, but I love to be held. I’m a workaholic but cooking for my family is my favorite way to spend a Saturday.
Like me, my daughter is complex. She has a sweet disposition, but if you cross her, she’s got a glare that will bore a hole through your midsection and pin you to the wall behind you. She’s blond, and she’s adorable but don’t be fooled by that pretty little face; she is shrewd and not to be underestimated. I had a boyfriend once who was problematic. It took me six months to figure that out, but she instantly disliked him; he was the only person that I’ve ever seen her be rude to, and no amount of flattery or gifts could endear him to her. She is half the size of her classmates, but she is the strongest woman I know; two years ago, she underwent a four-hour long abdominal surgery, spent a week in the hospital and six more at home recovering, then danced in her spring ballet recital like she owned the stage. She is easygoing and mellow until she disagrees with you and then it’s like running full speed into a brick wall; she does not change her mind. She does not give her heart away easily, but when she does, it’s her whole heart.
She reminds me so much of myself it’s like I can see her future, and it’s terrifying. She sings like her mama, passionately and constantly. She loves like her mama, rarely but with reckless abandon. She’s a calculated risk taker. Her adventure-loving nature always overcomes her initial hesitation because she wants to experience everything and everywhere, and once she decides to take the plunge, she’s all in. I’m afraid that like me, she will learn the hard way. She will love too much, too soon, or too indiscriminately. She will try, but fail, to protect herself. She will get knocked down every time she gets on her feet, but she’ll keep pulling herself up anyway. She will work so hard to make everyone else happy that she will forget that she deserves happiness, too.
I look at her, and I think don’t. Don’t fall in love with that boy. Don’t associate with that girl. Don’t go to that party, or wear that dress, or pick up that cigarette. Don’t trust him, don’t try that, don’t go down that road.
I want to keep her here, snuggling next to me on the couch in her pajamas while we watch the Food Network. She’s my sous-chef, my backup singer, my traveling companion, my fashion consultant, and my world. But I look at her and I know she’s on her way out the door and there is nothing that I can do to stop her.
She’s going to experiment, she’s going to make choices, and some lucky boy is going to steal her heart. I pray that she makes better choices than I did and that men will be kinder to her than they’ve been to me. I pray that if she makes the wrong choices God will save her from herself like He saved me, and I pray that He will save us both because I can’t watch her relive my life; I barely survived it the first time.
Mini-me is growing up, and I’m so proud of her. She’s brave, talented, funny and smart. Smart enough, I hope, to see how I’ve suffered for my mistakes, and to want a better life for herself. Letting go is the hardest part of parenting; I have to let her make her own choices even though I know that some of those choices will be mistakes. But this isn’t about me; I must prioritize her need to become self-sufficient over my desire to keep her close. As much as I wanted her, she was never really mine – God gifted me with the opportunity to be her guardian, but she won’t need a guardian for much longer. It’s been my privilege to live with her and watch her grow and learn and light up my world with her smile, but soon I must watch her leave and trust that she will come back someday, not as she was before, but as her own person, and hopefully as my friend.
Mini-me is on her way out into the world; I hope the world will know how lucky it is to have her.