Friday, November 14, 2014

bubble boots

Sometimes I feel as though heading into adolescence with our growing children is like heading off into a turbulent sea without a map.  There are fewer books devoted to parenting older children, and parents seem to talk about their parenting struggles less.  I hear friends start to reveal something, then stop themselves mid-thought, and I listen to them backtrack and brush the sand back over whatever it was they had almost uncovered.  

I wonder about this sometimes.  It is as though our focus on protecting our children seems to have moved from protecting them bodily to protecting their privacy and their internal life.  Though we used to discuss openly their potty training, their tantrums, and their fears of the unexpected, we no longer discuss their body functions, their emotionality, and their current fears. This feels right.  But it is interesting since all of these struggles are still going on, but now in more sophisticated and complicated ways. What discussion there is, both written, and between people, friends who use to sit on playground benches together, is guarded.  And respectful of the people our children are becoming.

I am now in that stage of parenting when the terrain has shifted, where I have entered a new place with different demands and goals, and I am not sure when this happened.  But I look around and know it is different here.  Within the world of their younger years we had the role of keeping them safe, protecting and spending time together, filtering out what felt as though it was intrusive to their very childhood, and relishing the moments we created together.  On this side of the imaginary border where we stand now, I'm helping them to move outward, preparing them for leaving, helping them to open themselves to the opportunities, different perspectives, and the wonders of the world.  Of course, no such line actually exists, it is all the same landscape, the same work actually.  But doing what is best for them now feels like it pulls against different parts of my heart now than it did years ago.  For me, that struggle feels sometimes like loss.  But I do think that, for them, it is just more of them doing that thing they do: growing.

It's funny to me that so much of what people write about during this age is about their enormous bodies.  One would think, from reading, that we have given birth to some kind of super race, our children eventually becoming 150% larger than us, and that perhaps, two or three generations from now, humans will have doubled in size, adults being eight to ten feet tall. Houses will need to be torn down to increase ceiling height.  Canoes will be repurposed into shoes, perhaps.

But there is something there, that makes us all speak about it, their growing bodies.  Maybe there is safety in talking about their feet, much as a quiet child finds safety in looking at people's feet in difficult social situations.  As our children spurt and plunge toward adulthood, and we begin to feel the need to protect the growth and thoughts and struggles that are going on internally, we focus on their extremities, perhaps.  My own children are poster children for this phenomenon, and their feet are becoming alarmingly big.  The phrase feet like flippers tumbles around my head daily.

And just how do we adorn these growing extremities?  And more importantly, how do we make sense of, celebrate, and protect the internal growth their physical growth belies?

I am confident that this nonsense is not the answer.

I am certain that messages about their "sass" in hot neon pink on their bottoms is not the message we want to be sending about our children as they walk about their life, on the brink of attracting the attention of others, less for their sweet chubby baby cheeks and more for, your know, their intelligent and creative minds.

But man, their feet.  I now have two of three children who wear shoe sizes bigger than my own.  Another physical representation of what growth means at this age is that just because one part of their body is growing does not mean their mind, their cognitive sophistication, or even their calves, are keeping up with it.

Really.  Some clothing designer needs to make a clothing line called big feet/scrawny legs. Or something a little more catchy.  Julia's feet are a half size bigger than mine now, but the proportions between foot length, foot to knee distance, and width of calf?  It's all off.  It's all in transition.  She's just flopping around in her appropriately lengthed -- but oddly tall and wide -- boots.

I spent more time than I should have trying to figure out this footwear conundrum recently.  I laughed at myself, knowing that this wasn't really about the boots.  Just like it was never about the stroller, or the perfect bag to carry the diapers, sippy cup, and phone in.  That I was working through this newest challenge for our same child, same mind, now in a new gangly size.

It is a tricky place, in this age of strangers trying to stamp their messages on our daughters behinds, or that when one enters adult shoe sizes one is immediately ready to start wearing go-go boots.  As Julia tried on boot after boot, we laughed at some, teetered in others, and rolled our eyes at more.  Julia put words to this struggle, better than I can.  Remember those purple boots I had in 2nd grade?  I want those.  They were perfect.  They were flat, with a rubber sole.  I could run in them and they felt like I was wearing sneakers.  And they fit right up against my leg.  So they didn't slow me down when I ran, or fall off when I was swinging.  I miss those boots.

I miss those perfect purple boots too.  And I miss that Julia as well, the Julia of second grade.  But I know, like all nostalgia, that what was perfect then would not be perfect now.  Parenting this age, clothing these beasts with minds more capable of all manner of comparisons and self awareness and connection, the purple boots would likely receive an eye roll now if seen on the clearance rack.

I have decided, in efforts to try to continue the discussion of adolescence, to make it feel as though it is a continuation of all that came before, that I will continue to show the goodness of where we are now.  That second grade Julia is now Julia, still wanting to run fast, be a part of a group and not get left behind.  The amazing awesome that spills out of their mouths when we least expect it.  The ways in which they continue to force us to grow ourselves as they burst and spill and extend themselves.  They are still those creatures we prepared for, worried over, and could not pull our eyes away from even when they were sleeping.  They are just larger, of body and mind.

That's why I am loving this series: this is adolescence.  It is parents.  Writing parents.  Speaking honestly and lovingly of their children, transitioning from balls of flesh to young adults.  It is gut wrenching, exciting, heart breaking, and good.  This age forces us to stretch ourselves in ways that are exactly the most difficult ways to stretch ourselves.  I am trying to remind myself that they are now, in fact, the best version of what we hoped for each of them as we stared at the chubby big eyed versions of them, sleeping in that crib now dismantled and in the attic.
In many ways, I feel like I might be stepping gingerly into the hardest part of parenting: the actively letting go, the small glimpses of independence and shows of faith that will soon lead to driver’s licenses and Saturday nights out and college applications and internships and summers abroad and goodbyes that aren’t temporary. It’s not easy to manage the care and keeping of little people; the physical and emotional components of parenting are overwhelming when our children are young. But as thrilling as it is – and it is thrilling – to see my child grow up, healthy and ready to take on the world, my heart is heavy with the knowledge that being a good parent to him now is increasingly harder stuff than diaper changes or first grade homework. Bubble wrapping him would be easier, but it would be wrong.
This is Twelve, by Allison Tater Slate  

Indeed, bubble wrapping would be wrong.  That's why I am looking for the perfect footwear, my eyes on their feet.  Averting my eyes from direct contact, speaking of the private from a protective distance, giving our children their weather appropriate galoshes to allow them to continue to get out in it and splash.  

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