When the year started, Avery was, as us loud people brusquely diagnose, “shy.” She didn’t talk to her teacher for the first month of school. We weren’t sure if she would live silently forever, or if she would take root in her class.
It started gradually, a shoot peeking out of the ground. Each Monday, she informed us of the letter of the week. A few months in, we were excitedly told that she had been selected as “Line Leader”, a highly coveted position in the preschool class. By the end, we were counting fingers and sounding out words, talking about volcanos, and discussing composting. But it wasn’t the knowledge acquired that I was impressed by.
I watched as she blossomed. I watched as she started making eye contact when people talked to her, watched as she answered questions, talking in her “loud voice”. She developed quite a sense of humor, and along with it, the breathless kind of silent laugh that goes on for so long, you wonder if she’s getting enough oxygen as her face turns bright red. She aptly acquired the nickname, “Giggles”. She was comfortable in her skin, fully being who she was.
I watched as she interacted with other small humans kindly, thoughtfully.
And so, when it came time to watch Avery walk across the graduation stage, I felt, unexpectedly sentimental. I watched the same kid who didn’t talk to the teacher for the first month of school, shout-sing and dance in front of an auditorium jam-packed with people.
It was a new kind of feeling that I hadn’t experienced yet as a parent. And the feeling I got, from watching her be proud of herself; from watching her be so happy in being precisely who she is, being her total authentic self; I don’t know what that feeling is named. But it was a combination of joy and pride and beauty; it was the awe-inspiring and majestic feeling you get when you look at a mountain, or a waterfall, the feeling of being simultaneously captivated and devastated that you can’t stay in the moment forever. All of these feelings and emotions smooshed together in my chest and made me want to cry and laugh at the same time.
Also? It was heart-wrenching. Heart-wrenching in that I knew this moment wouldn’t last forever for her.
I so badly wished I could freeze time; solidify this moment. Her, in a tropical print shirt with a white skirt with fading gold Minnie Mouse heads peppered across, an outfit she happily chose that morning. She didn’t exactly fit in with her classmates in pleated dresses with matching bows, but gosh darn, she was glowing. Her, smiling over at me whenever she got the chance, occasionally waving with a gleeful grin. I wanted this part of parenthood to last forever. I wanted this relationship that she had with herself, the ability to be fully who she is, to last forever.
She’s too little to hear it; to understand it, but if I have one wish for her, it is that she somehow, in this society that is so critical of body image, where the soul-sucking act of fitting in is viewed as imperative for survival, remains true to her colors. Bold. Audacious. Able to recognize that these rules are something she can choose not to follow.
I am sad she’s graduating from preschool; moving on to the next phase of life. But overriding that sadness is a fear of what is to come. A fear of dipping my child into a world that is not always compatible with authenticity and joy. Fear of the hardships she will face. A fear that I have no idea if I will be able to raise her to be buoyant. It’s a part of parenthood that isn’t often discussed; it is deep, dark, and terrifying.
Sometimes we verge onto the edge of these discussions when we talk about how scared we are for our kids to have phones. Sure, security plays a role in our concerns. But more so? We know what phones have done to us. We know the magnifying impact that the ever-expanding world of media and technology can have on our adult brains. We know the ability they have to suck us in, to mindless scrolling and endless comparison against images that are not real, filtered lives that only show the best moments, or carefully curated moments.
Is it fair to submerge them in this world? Can someone please tell me how to raise a kid in a world that I have difficulty thriving in myself?
My fears layer atop each other. The line between fear for my kid and sadness about my own experience with the world is indistinguishable. They meld into one.
Is this a universal fear of parenthood? Did the cave people have an overwhelming fear that God forbid, their child was going to be an adult who used a fork? Would forks change society forever?
Maybe this fear is central to parenthood. Maybe, regardless of when you raise your child, you are fearful for the way the world will evolve by the time you die, by the time they have to take a stab at it themselves.
Will she be okay?
I don’t know. And that is the hardest, biggest, battle of parenthood. The anxiety, that hits the moment your child graces the world with their presence, that something awful will happen. The fear that we aren’t in control of the most important, precious, part of our life. That we can’t always protect. That bad things happen. That mistakes will be made and please God, let them be manageable ones.
When my Avery was first born, I viewed her as an extension of me. She had been literally, woven into my body. She was a part of me, and I, a part of her. When she learned to talk though, I faced the curious reality that she was an entirely separate domain from me. That she is her own little human, who has her own little opinions, and that, she holds these opinions fiercely.
And as annoying as it is when I tell her it’s time to brush her hair & she adamantly says, “No,” I hope with all my heart that she keeps this fierce part of her nature.
Because, as she will learn, if you don’t make choices for yourself, life will make them for you.
We are in the glorious and brief window of her, being completely happy with who she is.
It seems cruel, how quickly this period disappears. I desperately want to take her to an island where there is no TV, no social media, nothing. I want to cloak her, wrap her up, and keep her safe.
But I also know that she has to develop the skillset to thrive in this medium. It isn’t fair to lock her away from the reality which she inhabits. However, it is also my job to teach her to question this reality. To show her that the world isn’t everything it portrays itself to be.
That there is so much good. That it isn’t all dark, but also, that some of it is. That the world is full of beauty if you look in the right places. That human connection will be the key to survival; the key to thriving. That screens, while sometimes beneficial, are not the world.
And yes, I realize the irony that I’m looking into a screen as I type this, watching as letters combine to form the words and sentences that make up this essay that I hope one day she will read, and understand, and hopefully not be too embarrassed by her mom.
I watched in awe as she shimmied her hips, unabashedly, while the rest of her classmates followed the choreographed moves (which shimmied hips were not a part of). I was not in awe of the dance move- she got my dance skills. I was in awe of her willingness to take her own path, to veer off the train tracks, to be her one and only, beautiful, authentic, unique self.
And I hoped, one day, maybe, that I will be as brave as her.