A long time ago I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t write anything that would make Daughter feel embarrassed were she to read it later in life. I am not going to break that promise, though I might get close. For my sanity, this needs to be written. It is shocking to me to have discovered that Daughter, at the ripe old age of almost 9 years, has started puberty. I am not a person who doesn’t know a lot about this subject, let me tell you. Teaching fourth and fifth grades for as many years as I did, I have watched kids start changing, had multiple discussions with parents, and taught about the subject many times. I always sort of looked forward to this change in Daughter as I knew I would be able to be a resource, a guide for her on this path. Boy was I wrong.
What I did not realize as a teacher is that there is so much that happens for these kids that we do not see in school. Most kids remain relatively even keel emotionally at school. Daughter tends to let her emotions come through even away from home, but I know that she has not been displaying the same defiance or extreme and fast mood swings there that she has in our house. At school we handle the issue of helping kids understand they need to wear deodorant and shower more, but there is so much more involved in that at home, and my heavens, the smell; it permeates the laundry, the bedroom, the place where shoes are kept… it’s everywhere. The thing is, the part that is the most difficult is one I didn’t even realize existed.
I’ve been watching very carefully, and what I see as the most troubling for Daughter is that she is in this odd in-between stage. She doesn’t know what to do with herself so much of the time because she knows she’s still a little girl, but she’s changing into something else. The thing is, she isn’t really positive what that next step is, and she’s also acutely aware that she isn’t yet whatever it is. She’s stuck in this neither land of being and it feels funky and she doesn’t know what to do. (Idea of the words “Neither Land” apparently stolen by my subconscious from Lev Grossman’s Magicians book series.) Being that annoying type of person who cannot just watch as things like this go on, I decided to say something. I know that I couldn’t just come right out and say it, though, so I waited. It had to be when Daughter was feeling particularly punky and I was hoping it would be in the car. We have great talks in the car and it is, I think, because we do not need to make eye contact.
My moment finally arrived and I began very simply.
“You know my red shoes?” I asked. “The ones that I like to wear in the warm times. Do you know why I wear them so much?” My red shoes are not particularly pretty. They’re my favorite shoes, though, and they are made by a company that I adore. They fit my boxy momma feet, protect my toes, have excellent support, and got by as dressy enough where I used to live. “I mean, they don’t really go with anything. They’re red, and I don’t really ever wear red. But I still wear those shoes all the time. Guess why.”
“Ugh. Mom, I don’t know. Gosh.”
“When I was a little kid I loved ‘The Wizard of Oz’ movie. I recorded it off the TV once and I watched it until the video wore out. I knew (and still remember) every word spoken by every character in the whole movie. When I was playing pretend, I was being Dorothy. Every wind was a twister and every mean old lady could become a witch. Man, did I adore that movie. Even though I grew up, I still wanted to be able to have the feeling of being Dorothy sometimes, so when I found these red shoes I had to buy them. They came in black and green and even my favorite color of blue, but I got the red so I could have my own ruby slippers. They even got completely worn out and I had to scour the Internet to find another pair because they don’t make them anymore. Still, I wear them all the time so I can be a kid on the inside even when I’m all grown on the outside.”
“Yup. That’s it. I just wanted you to know why I’ve got my red shoes on.”
I left it there, and I hope she figures it out. I hope that Daughter learns that she can be whatever she wants. She can be little and old and something in between all at once, and it will be OK. For now, every morning when I put on my red shoes, I will click my heels together in real life instead of just in my head, and I’ll wink at Daughter. Some day, she’ll know why.