I sat across from her as she ate. Her fingers were slippery and shimmering in the late afternoon sun. She was tearing chicken away from the bone before thrusting it into the tiny plastic carafe of yellow, oily concoction. “I could really eat anything dipped in this sauce,” she remarked while sucking the tips of her fingers one by one. We were discussing the possibility of her switching schools next year and leaving behind the nature based school we adore for a more traditional public school closer to home. “Let's make a list of pros and cons,” she suggested. I listened attentively.
She rambled through the positives. She would be closer to home, so less time spent in a car, we could come meet her for lunch, etc. Then she stopped chewing. “But I would have to leave all my friends.” Her shoulders dropped.
“One thing I never have to worry about with you, Lila….”
“I know. I make friends everywhere I go.”
She really does. On playgrounds she makes new “best friends” without even pausing to know their names. When she butts heads with her girlfriends, she quickly takes up with the boys opting to play football at recess that week. She adapts. She knows how to move on.
“You will have the father/daughter dance this year!”
“Yes! And it will be so much easier for you and dad.”
The sting of guilt. Was I choosing the easy way out? I have gone back and forth in my mind a million times. I had also made a list of pros and cons. We decided to be glad it happened rather than sad it had to end. She had three formative years of creative discovery, yoga, nature, pottery, chicken chores, Fairy Tale Balls, and so much more. Now, we would reintroduce our barefoot, free-spirited child to a structured educational setting. She is growing up. Her needs are changing. “I’ll be double digits this year,” she reminds me.
Still, I long to protect her space to be wild and free. Do what sets your soul on fire! A thousand inspirational memes flashed through my mind. Fight for her soul. Don’t let them break her spirit.
I pulled my mind back to the present. Her green eyes sparkled as windows to her wondrous soul. There in that moment she sat as a nine year old girl filled with wonder and dreams, completely absorbed in the bounty of my leftover lunch. But I saw so much more. Her messy bun and tie dyed shirt revealed the essence of something familiar - me.
I realized I am not just fighting for my daughter. I am fighting for myself.
Her identity, ever shifting, follows the currents of my own journey. She has embraced meditation and yoga to anchor her thoughts and emotions throughout the day. She uses writing to capture her moods and decipher her thoughts. She is an encourager speaking kindness to strangers. It is increasingly apparent that the footprints I leave in the sand of my life’s journey are encircled by countless tiny imprints. I sense her beside me
And I fight for us. In a culture where I frequently feel adrift in endless responsibilities and soul-draining minutia, I want to see her rise uninhibited to fulfill her heart’s desires. As I have carved out time in my late thirties to test new waters and pursue new interests, my true identity has surfaced and evolved based not on societal structures or norms, but by my own questioning, reasoning and exploration. At the tender age of nine, my daughter is so far ahead of the game. She is in tune with her voice. She is actively and continuously creating her sense of self.
I shudder to think of a system that would require or demand her to compromise her spirit or inner fire. Yet, I trust her. I trust myself. I hope we will carry our true selves with us no matter how our circumstances might change.
We will fight for each other.
All of this and more is what I saw in my daughter’s face that day as she devoured her after-school snack. I saw a young woman who would accompany me on hikes, practice yoga, dance at live concerts, savor delicious ethnic dishes, marvel at the beauty in the ordinary, and yes, sometimes compile lists of pros and cons.