Note: I’ve been struggling a lot with writing about my kids as they get older. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to post something similar to what I’ve written below only to cringe and delete the whole thing because…well, I don’t want …
Saoirse and her team finished up their novice basketball season this weekend. These girls exceeded all of our expectations (Saoirse: “I didn’t think we were going to win one game!” Her dad–her head coach–sheepishly agreed): they were undefeated this season save one loss, and I …
My biggest girl turned 10 this weekend.
Let me have a moment to let that sink in.
I could go on about how talented Saoirse is. The music. The writing. But you don’t want to hear it. And I can’t tell you about it without the seams of my skin bursting with all of sorts of brag-y pride.
I could tell you how strong she is, how much she’s grown, how steadily she’s become confident in her own body: the way she moves down a basketball court, how she runs across the school parking lot toward me at the end of the day. But you don’t care about that. You have your own kids and nieces and nephews to admire.
I could tell you how much she seems like me though she looks like her dad. How he saw her during class a couple of weeks ago–the children were doing a writing exercise–and was taken aback by how the class business swirled around her, but she kept her head down, did the work, didn’t get distracted by questions and chatter and conversation. It worries us that she might struggle more socially in school if she is like this–if she’s too by-the-rule to be cool–but how can any parent begrudge their child the ability to tune the rest out? Why would we want anything else for her? I’m proud and I worry and I’m so, so proud again.
I could describe how she overthinks, how she internalizes struggles and conflicts. How she keeps trying to make everything better, manage relationships, fix problems. I could tell you how she beats herself up when she makes a mistake, how she cries easily, how much she wants to be loved even though she has no clue how very much she already is.
You don’t want me to tell you all of that about my 10-year-old. Because: you have your own children and nieces and nephews. You have your own 10-year-olds to love. Saoirse is mine. She is ours. She was the pregnancy that beat the odds, the embryo who persisted despite the D&C her doctor wanted to schedule. She is the baby who has grown into the brunette sweetheart who thanks me for making dinner and coaches her sister in basketball and lets her brother sit beside her at her desk to draw. I see her and I look back on those early weeks and think, it was you. It was you who made me what I am. It was you who showed me the way.
She is 10.
She is so loved.
Saoirse and I were sitting on the couch together the other night, reading. Much to her little sister’s dismay, SK gets to stay up later than her younger siblings. Quinlan, in her imagination, thinks we spend this time gorging on cupcakes, or reenacting episodes of American Ninja Warrior, or laughing at some uproarious movie we’re all watching without her. Not so, though–the nights that Saoirse hangs out downstairs, this is what it is: sitting, reading, quietly talking.
(In her defense, Quinlan really wants to just do that, too. She saves the Ninja stuff for other times, like when she’s supposed to be sitting down with us to dinner.)
That evening, I was watching the fish wander around their aquarium in their spot across the room. Our smaller goldfish, R2 (or as I like to call her, Dumb) was quietly moving along, just happy to chase the bubbles around her tiny world. Finn, on the other hand (or as I prefer to call him, Dumber), was attacking the rocks that lay on the bottom of the tank, knocking them this way and that with a terrible goldfish-sized clatter in his desperate search for food–it’s a constant, feverish pursuit on his part that makes him seem so desperate and famished one would never guess he gets a healthy supply of food pellets dropped from tiny child fingers at the exact same time every two days.
I got Saoirse’s attention. “If you were a goldfish–” I nodded in the direction of the aquarium– “would you rather live in a tank like that one, which is safe and clean and lovely, but so small you never actually got to do anything?”
I saw Saoirse’s eyes follow
Dumb R2 and Dumber Finn as they swam around the neon-colored plastic plants in their home. She was thinking.
“Or,” I continued,”if you had to be a goldfish, would you rather be out in the open sea, which is totally a lot more dangerous, but where you could swim and explore and play and go wherever you wanted to go?”
Saoirse didn’t hesitate for a second. “That,” she said. My suburban, rule-following, Catholic-school-attending, sheltered–and smart–kid pointed at the fish tank.
“‘Cause I don’t want to get eaten.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about risk: the difference between brave and foolish, the play between fear and common sense. I always think of myself as someone who lives scared, but I’ve jumped without looking plenty of times, and it’s worked out: almost fifteen years of marriage now to a guy I fell in love with two weeks in. A really good stint as a teacher after I decided to become one during a single meeting with a program coordinator. A solitary plane ticket across the country without knowing what to expect turned out to be an adventure that prompted me to quit a stifling job. I’m better at making decisions at a moment’s notice and pivoting when I have to than I am drawing them out, weighing my options. In my life, I’ve found it best to jump over the fear then try to dance with it. Fear doesn’t have very good rhythm.
Saoirse eyed the fish in the tank warily, then went back to her book. I watched her for a moment before turning to my own. It’s funny how parenthood changes you: we work so hard to get to a place that’s staid and secure so that we can give our kids the freedom to jump, to grow. We think that by locking ourselves into place, we’ll somehow be able to encourage our children to swim out in the open water.
The open water is scary (to some. Quinlan would already be out there swimming with the sharks). Saoirse wants to be a dolphin trainer one day. When she says this she means she’ll work in an amusement park, or in an aquarium, where it’s safe and regulated and known. But I imagine her in a boat out on the ocean, learning as much as she is teaching. I want to see her traveling the world (and taking me with her, right? That’s okay?), jumping and pivoting with the best of them.
Saoirse turned the page of her book, engrossed in the story, and I knew she was hoping to get in one more page, maybe two, before I gently told her it was time to head to bed.
The evenings are often like this. We sit on our old couch, in our secure place in the suburbs.
I guess we’re giving her as good a place as any from which to jump.
So you know that little year of awesome I’m trying to chase down? This whole getting back to basics so I can be a better person/mom/citizen? Let me just give you a quick update, based on a conversation I overheard between Saoirse and Quinlan. The …