When I woke Mina this morning, she was wearing an old wrap-around dress of mine from my more corporate dress days, a contribution to her dress-up box. Mina was completely naked underneath the ill-tied dress. She likes to be free, she says. The best part is that wasn't what she was wearing when I tucked her in last night.
Y'know, parenting is a trip. There's no such thing as auto pilot or having it down or I got this completely. I mean, I'm working with complex human beings, as complex as me. How they process and handle things can be a world apart from how I do or the other child; or maybe exactly the same and it could be something I need to iron out myself. Sometimes it all feels natural; zone-like. Other times, I'm improvising like a motherfucker. Like when I realized that Maya has been shrinking a bit in the face of her biggest challenges. It has been a subtle shrink, barely detectable. Her personality is so upbeat and her social life is so on point right now it took me a minute with close examination to realize her shit hasn't been as together as would seem. Believe me, it ain't a major slide or anywhere near drastic -- I mean, she's juggling a lot right now -- but maybe it could have been a tipping point, or a crossroads of a possible, total Fuck Off. I don’t want to wait to find out. There's been a tiny slip in her grades; she's been blowing off difficult reading for honors English; she's been shirking her solo basketball skills practice. Her phone/text game is tight though! And her friends worship her. Boys flock and flounder around for her attention. She treats the boys perfectly; as her goofy, beautiful self, as a homie; "No, I don't want to date you. Let's stay friends!" But in the shadow of her social stardom, a tiny storm cloud looms. And I was all sitting back, admiring her sense of responsibility and the ease with which she handles everything when I happened to notice the lining of the storm, hidden, and I was like, Oh shit, that's my cue, right? I gotta get back in the game, full-press. She broke down a bit when I confronted her. First, she did a nice little teen push back by getting defensive about her chores, another thing she’s slightly blowing off. She told me I was overreacting about not being able to get to them all at the exact time I wanted them done and damnit, she was right. I told her so. I told her I was sorry for overreacting. But the meat of the whole problem -- the slipping and the shirking -- has been fear. A sort of freezing up when things get harder than she thought they'd be. Her English class for example. This teacher is no joke. He's challenging them at a near college level, I think, and she's freezing up more and more because of it. She's locked up, feeling unable to do good enough work or give any worthwhile analyses for this guy. I think she's doing well, but she's feeling the pressure instead of enjoying the challenge. More subtly, she has not been working on the more challenging skills in basketball -- improving her dribble left and right, shooting rhythmically and repetitively -- for fear of not making JV any way. There are only four spots for JV next year and she wants it so badly that she has sort of iced herself mentally. And on top of it all, she's pushing back on chores because, well who wants to do chores? So, man, I could only reinforce that facing all these challenges is the only way not to feel squashed by them. Fuck it; bring it on Charles Dickens and double-team defense. If you can't fully understand the language of Charles Dickens, then understand some of it and do the best you can, right? If you don't make JV, fuck it, at least leave your heart on the court trying. There is absolutely no relief in hoping it all goes away. I know she wants to impress her teacher and I know she so badly wants a spot on JV, but really giving it her complete all for herself is what matters to me. I know she will not be able to top that personal sense of triumph no matter the outcome. I hope she believes me until then. I told her I wish I had given her the genes that made us prodigy-naturals at things, but I don't have that. I only know about working hard. A lot of times, hard work makes me really good at things, and sometimes it makes me just ok. It's her lot too. I think it's a curse to expect to do well at everything you walk into. She has a little bit of that. She doesn’t understand why everything, at any level, isn’t at least kind of easy. The discomfort of realizing that this just isn’t the case is confusing to her. The thick wall of a really tough challenge holds her back. Very gently I asked her, "When was the last time you gave a 110% at something?" She was crying and said, "Tae Kwon Do." I said, "That was so hard, wasn't it? The tests, the tournaments? And you thought you wouldn't get through them, secretly, right? It seemed too much. And when you did, when you did well even, how did you feel?" And she cried and cried.
Y'know, facing it and giving 110% never gets easier, does it? I mean, sometimes it down right sucks ass -- it's so hard! -- but the best thing about being older is knowing what it means to one's sense of self, to defining who we are as a person. I love it/I hate it/Mainly, I love myself for it. Man, I hope it clicks and holds with her. She's so far from mediocre. I mainly wanted to let her know that. Extraordinary is heavy sometimes especially when you have to work at it. It takes a lot of courage.
I had a very similar talk with Mina the week before.
I often think about the speeches I give the girls. Like when I thought I was going to throw up on the spin bike this morning. Or when work seems too much sometimes, or when the (extra)chores get on my nerves, or when my writing waits patiently, again. Just the mustering of energy to be brave can feel too much. I started a new story. The novel became so demanding, and I was making myself feel badly about it until I just faced up and started a story, started to just write. No need to squash all the love out of something just because it's a challenge. My point is, I can't give such heartfelt speeches if it means nothing to me too. It means a lot. I know how important this kind of stuff is.
Speaking of extraordinary, our girls varsity basketball team is playing in the regional CIF final playoff game tonight! If we win, we go on to play for state. State! This is the farthest our girls team has gone in our history. We're all getting on the party bus to travel to Orange County to watch & cheer. Then, I'll give the president of the booster club the $650 you guys helped me raise for the program. Thank you so much. I'm so proud to be able to give that to him today. I run the 10K on Sunday. It's supposed to rain this weekend so that will be fun, on the muddy trail. Can't wait to tell you about that. Or about our win tonight.
Face the Wall or Bust, y’all.