Most parents have heard the saying, “Bigger kids, bigger problems.” at some point. But while I’m not denying its truth, I feel like maybe it should be rephrased to be, “Bigger kids, bigger issues.” Yes, while the complications of having older children may manifest into bigger problems, I’ve found it’s really more along the lines of not harder or scarier problems, but having to face realities of life more.
This has been the last year of Lily’s life. Her toeing the lie between realizing she’s still a child, but also wanting to be a part of the adult world. And not because she wants to wear makeup or have a boyfriend, but because she’s finding adults fascinating, honest, and more interesting most times than her peers. Perhaps it’s just her personality. Perhaps it’s how we’ve raised her without much of a filter. Whatever the catalyst, Lily is becoming less and less cute and silly and cuddly, and more observant and discerning and socially conscious.
There have been plenty of times when I got annoyed with her nosiness and eavesdropping on adult conversations; but, really, her listening in and caring about what we talk about has only strengthened her understanding of the world and her ability to look at social issues critically and form strong opinions on contemporary issues. I don’t remember being 11 and caring about the things she does. I don’t remember wanting to be around adults in the way she does. Maybe it was my public schooling versus her homeschooling that’s the difference. Maybe it is my openness versus my parents more closed conversations. Either way, she is a very different person than I was at her age, and it makes me so happy.
My parents grew up in a generation and within families that you didn’t talk about certain things at all, let alone with children. So growing up, I had very little idea what was happening to my body and want to anticipate both physically and emotionally. I learned by my friends telling me what they knew or thought, which wasn’t always correct. I developed my sense of self and body image through television, magazines, what other girls looked like and valued. I wondered if I was the only weirdo who was experiencing certain things–and truthfully thought some of these things into my 20s. So much confusion, trial and error, and insecurity surrounded my growth from childhood into adolescence and adulthood.
And I see how more self-assured Lily is in her development. That she knows that growing breasts and body hair is perfectly normal and not weird or gross. She felt comfortable enough with me and her body to come to me when she had a concern with why something was happening, and what to do about it (I’ll save the details for her privacy). She knows why women menstruate, and what to expect when it happens. She knows it’s not something that’s gross or embarrassing or something that needs to be hidden. Both kids know when I have mine because I say so. And even Ollie knows about it enough for his age.
One of the things I’m most impressed with about her is her love for her body. She doesn’t look into the mirror and wonder why she can’t be a different height or weight or hair color or different breast size or different anything other than what she is and has. She looks at women in advertisements or on tv and questions why they all look the same. She gets upset with me and corrects me if I say anything negative about myself. She reminds me that I’m perfect the way I am. Just a reminder here that yes, she’s only 11.
Over the last year, she’s also been immersing herself in more diverse media. When we saw Black Panther, I asked her what her favorite part of the movie was, and she said it was the king’s bodyguards because they were all women. And not only were they all women, they were strong and fierce and beautiful. When I asked her what she thought about the movie having a pretty much all black cast, she said she was surprised because you never get to see that many black actors and it was awesome that the whole movie was that way. And that then led into a conversation about why that is, completely initiated by her, not me. Proud mama moment there.
In addition to this movie, she’s also been reading more books (thanks to the increase in diverse children’s literature) about characters that are not cisgender, straight, able-bodied, and white. She’s read books with lesbian main characters. With characters that have physical and mental/emotional disabilities. With characters who are black and muslim and multiracial. And of course I’ve given her plenty of books about radical women, women who were trailblazers, women who have made differences in the world. Because I need her to know that she can be one of those women too. That she can live any life she wants. That she can pursue her art and not focus her future on finding a job just to make money. That she CAN do whatever makes her happy.
And one of the things that makes her most happy is being generous. She may not have a ton of friends, but those she does have, she loves fiercely and always wants to do something nice for them. She draws them pictures or buys them little gifts with her own money. She keeps in touch with friends via email and skype and remembers their birthdays. She’s even made a new friend who lives in FL (the daughter of a friend of mine), and emails her daily. For someone who is introverted and a bit socially awkward, it’s really sweet to see how much she cares about spending time–either online or in person–with those she holds dear.
And those she holds dear extends to her family as well. She adores spending time chatting about or searching for Pokemon with her Buffalo uncles. She loves facetiming with her uncle in CA and can’t wait to hang out with him again in person. She still loves spending time with her grandparents and is happy to give hugs and kisses. She’s helpful in playing with and taking care of both of her cousins, playing the older cousin role so very well. And though she and her brother antagonize each other and fight daily, they also adore each other and are each other’s favorite playmates. And yes, she still plays with her toys. One of the things I love most about homeschooling is her being able to age according to her choices and not being made to feel like a baby because she still plays with toys. She can love her Nintendo 2DS and Beanie Boos equally. She can spend time looking at crafting things on Pinterest and also playing house with her calico critters or num-noms. She can be who she is without any worry about others’ opinions.
And best of all, not only is she just nice to have around and hold actual conversations with, she’s still a lovable girl with me and Josh. She gives us hugs and kisses every day, and tells us she loves us all the time. She’s both fun to hang out with (and I can see us being great friends in adulthood), but she’s also still my girl who needs me and seeks my attention. She may get angry with me, but she never lets that stick around long. She has enough understanding about parenting that she knows I make the decisions I do because I’m thinking of her best interests, even if she doesn’t like them.
So, without further adieu or rambling, my dear Pookie Girl, I wish you nothing but the most amazing 11th birthday. I can’t wrap my head around how it’s been 11 years already, but I’m so eternally grateful for every single day I’ve been your mom-mom. I love you more than any words I can can conjure will ever be able to express. You’re an incredible human, and I’m so proud of your growth and so thankful for you in our lives to teach us, inspire us and bring greater meaning to our days. I love you to pieces and hope your day is full of endless ice cream, sunshine, Pokemon, Star Wars, and Pusheen–all your favorites, still. Happy birthday, Lily-Boo, enjoy your special day.