I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even wiped the sonogram goop off my belly before I rushed out to my favorite children’s boutiques to pick out fancy dresses, hot pink baby booties and a tin-full of barrettes for my unborn first child, who’d just revealed herself as a girl. I mean, I’d plotted a lifetime for this: I was going to have babies and those babies would be girls and those girls would sit quietly while I weaved their hair into fantastic monuments to the cornrow and curly afro gods, and then, with nary a hair out of place, they’d happily climb into their adorable skirts and matching jackets and patent leather mary janes and skip to school, where they’d be the envy of grade schoolers everywhere.
These days, my 10-year-old doesn’t care about dresses and shiny shoes—she’s all about the funky, bedazzled hoodies, comfortable jeans and ankle boots. And though she was raised on a steady diet of R&B legends, she really likes to shake it to the not-so-classic stylings of the latest pop music stars on the radio. Her favorite childhood cartoon characters are getting kicked to the curb for teen goofballs and razor-tongued tweens. Oh, and the twists she’s been wearing in her hair since she was three? The ones I said were the centerpiece of her signature style? Yeah, let’s just say she’s over them.
My Mari’s got her own ideas about how she wants to dress, and what she wants to listen to and watch, and how she looks—a phenomenon that’s kinda taken me aback. I mean, I’m just getting used to the idea of my daughter being willing—and able—to fend for herself in some small measure, and even that took me by surprise in the beginning; I babied her for a long time, simply because I didn’t really know just how much her independence was growing until I’d literally stumble on it—like, oh, wait, you can cut your own meat? And get your homework done without me standing over you? And dial your papa’s phone number by heart?
Still, it’s one thing to embrace her independence—another thing entirely to loosen the grip and let my baby find her way toward her own self-expression. Of course, I still parent her—if a skirt is too short or a show or song is inappropriate or a celebrity she likes does something dumb, she knows I’m not co-signing the style, culture or behavior. But as she grows, so does her taste, and I acknowledge she has the right to like what she likes (within reason) and that those likes may not necessarily jive with mine.
Now, emotionally, allowing this feels like she’s taken one of my lungs. She’s learning to live. I can barely breathe.
But the thing that gets me through is knowing that my husband and I have done our best to steer our daughter down the right path—our family path. We constantly remind her that the world is bigger than a TV show or a bedazzled shirt or a hairstyle or even our little corner of Georgia. We’ve enrolled her in art classes, so she can learn about the great artists of our time—the Picassos and the Beardens. We let her take Mandarin lessons, because we want her to learn the beauty of a language and a culture with which we have little contact. We let her eat foods like sushi and curry goat and Ghanaian peanut soup to not only stretch her palate but to help our Mari identify on the most basic, human level with people from other cultures.
And we talk to her—constantly talk to her.
About the things that matter to us.
Like working hard. And being humble. Appreciating people for their brains, not just their beauty. The importance of honesty. And staying true to what you love and appreciate, no matter what others have to say about it.
These are the things that stretch far beyond what’s the latest hot sneaker or popular TV show or song to bounce to.
These are things I think matter to my Mari, too—no matter how many bedazzled shirts she has stashed in her closet.
For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing “moments,” check out www.DontFrettheSweat.com