We celebrated my daughter Isla's 8th birthday at the end of October. This seems preposterous. She was a baby just yesterday, I'm sure of it. But alas, it is true. My 57-pound bundle of joy barely fits on my lap these days, and more and more I can see the young woman she is becoming behind those beautiful eyes that still light up at the thought of the tooth fairy visiting. We talk about how she saw Santa downtown last month, "the real Santa, Mum," and then we discuss profit margins and marketing strategies for the bakery she wants to own some day. It's beautiful, baring witness to this time in her life, this in-between. I want to hold fast to my baby and keep her little just awhile longer, but I also can't wait to meet this young woman and see her take on this life.
I started to draft a post about the 8 most important lessons I want to teach her as she grows up, but as I began to brainstorm my list, I realized that she came into this world with an awe-inspiring wisdom and spirit all her own, and she has already learned so much in her 8 years here. And all this while, it turns out, she has been the one teaching me. These are just 8 of the most important lessons I have learned from her, so far:
1) Monkey Bars or Bust
This past summer, my daughter's one goal was to master the monkey bars. When she started out, she could barely reach them. Every ounce of her little body strained for her fingertips to grip the paint-flaked metal. Every bit of her strength rallied to pull those little toes off the ground. She'd take one swing, grasping for the next rung, and fall. She'd get back up. She'd try again. When her palms got sweaty and slippery, she would dust them with the wood shavings underneath the playground, like a rock climber chalking her hands. She'd get frustrated, and I'd ask her now and then if she wanted to take a break, go down the slide, play tag. "No," she'd say defiantly. It was monkey bars or bust, and by the end of the summer, she could make it across and back, go backwards, skip rungs. Let me tell you: that first time she made it across, the joy on her face...that's what we live for as parents and that's what we should live for as people lucky enough to have a chance on this planet. And so she has taught me to persevere: to get back up, dust my hands, and try and try again until I've made it across.
2) One Box of Smarties = Six Months of Delight
My step-dad, Frank, came into our lives at the same time that Isla did; in fact, I first met him in the hospital waiting room, my daughter in my arms. It took awhile for us to all get to know each other, but in time he became not only a father figure to me, but a grandfather to my children. And like any grandfather, he liked to spoil his grandkids. Nearly every time he came to visit, he would arrive with a box of Smarties tucked in his shirt pocket. This gift of his was so reliable that Isla called them "Frank treats" and she looooved her Frank treats. She would carefully choose just the right one, hold it in her tiny fingers, and lick it, enjoying it little by little, making it last (literally) hours. She continues to do this with any treat or luxury: she thoroughly enjoys it, lives in the moment, and makes it last.
We lost Frank two years ago but every time I see a box of "Frank treats" I think of him and the love and little candy-coated hours of happiness he shared with the girls.
3) Hearts are Made for Loving
Isla is the most loving, compassionate person I've ever met. She walks into every situation, every relationship, with the question: What can I do to make their day a little brighter? I've come to realize that this website would be entirely unnecessary if I just turned the spotlight on her. She can show us how to find joy. It's simple: you find joy for yourself by giving it to others. I wake up to her beaming smile, so excited to lead me to the breakfast she made especially for me ("No peeking, Mum!"). She tells me that there's a new kid in her class, who she introduced herself to at recess and invited to play. It is difficult to leave our house without some sort of card or drawing or craft in your pocket, or a loving hug wrapped around your waist. She gives with her whole heart, without expecting anything in return.
4) Fun is Fun!
Isla is also the silliest person I've ever met. And like any properly silly person, she is a natural connoisseur of the ridiculous. Like her mother, Isla has never met a pun she didn't like, and jokes of any kind (but particularly of the knock-knock variety) are hilarious and to be encouraged with booming belly laughs. I have learned that when I want to make her day a little brighter, I need only walk into the room with something on my head or crawling on all fours like a bear. I once found a lone sock on the floor and picked it up and pretended it was my baby, rocking it in my arms and trying to soothe its sock-baby cries. Isla lit up and ran over with the other sock to match. "Twins!" I shouted with glee, and that kid absolutely squealed with delight, more than I think I have ever experienced in my life. She reminds me all the time that fun is meant to be fun, that this life is here to be lived and enjoyed, and that swimsuits double as perfectly suitable pyjamas.
5) Go with your Gut
My daughter's best friend's grandmother (stay with me here) lives three doors down, which means that her best friend is around a lot and there is often a gaggle of giggly girls running back and forth between our two houses. One afternoon a few months ago, Isla came in to let me know that her friend wanted them to go play in a neighbour's front yard, the yard of the man who lives next door to her friend's grandmother. The friend and her family know him very well but my girls and I do not. Before I could say anything, though, Isla told me that she was not comfortable playing there. The yard is visible from my window and so I would have been okay with them playing there (they cross over his lawn all the time) but I told her that she was right to listen to her instincts, and that she didn't, and doesn't ever, have to go anywhere that she is not comfortable going. I was amazed by her, and continue to be amazed and grateful that she will listen to her gut and speak up. I hope it continues. And I hope I can do a little better at it myself.
6) Hair Shmair
About a year or so ago, Isla decided, seemingly on a whim, that she wanted to cut off all of her hair. I was taking her for what I thought would be just a trim, just an inch or two off the bottom of her past-the-shoulders hair. But no, she informed me that she wanted it short. Like short short. Like pixie short. I asked her if she was sure. She said she was. I asked her again, about twelve more times. She was really, really sure. And in the end, despite my misgivings, I understood that it was her hair and therefore it was her choice. So the hair came off. And damned if it didn't look incredible, and she absolutely adored it. For awhile, anyway. It wasn't long before she wanted to grow it back out. But she didn't regret her decision. Hair grows back. She taught me that it's okay to take a leap and try something new. And that sometimes, it's best not to listen to your mother.
7) Who Needs Tiffany's When You Have Michael's?
How can this kid get more fabulous? Well, she also happens to be incredibly creative and resourceful. When she turned 7, I told Isla that she could get her ears pierced if she wished, but she has decided that for the time being, the pain is not worth the gain. Does that stop her from accessorizing? No way. One day I looked over and she had gemstones on her ears, or at least it appeared that way. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that they were faux rhinestone stickers that she had found in the craft supplies. Brilliant. You can have what you want; sometimes, you just have to use your imagination to find another way.
8) Be the Change
As you might expect, my daughter is a very well-liked kid who gets along with most everyone. There have, however, already been times in her short 8 years here that she has been treated unfairly and left out of the group. Last year, a group of girls who had been her very closest friends suddenly turned on her, and wouldn't let her be a part of their recess Fairy Club. The problem, as I understood it, was that Isla didn't believe in fairies, and they wouldn't let her play unless she said she did.
Despite the fact that she dearly wanted to play with her friends, LOVED to play fairies and make up stories and scenarios, she stood her ground: she wouldn't say something she didn't believe. And so, they continued to leave her out.
She cried, and I did my best to explain something that is pretty inexplicable. She cried some more. And then she got angry. And then she got calm. And then one day she come home and told me that she had started her own club, a Nature Club, and she had already recruited a few kids to join her. I think my jaw may have actually dropped. Together, we researched games and activities for her club, and she came up with a list of rules. She told me, though, that one of the rules was unwritten: everyone was allowed to join.
Nature Club caught on for a few weeks, but then her friends missed her and invited her back to play. She was pleased as punch, but since then she has insisted that they always include anyone else who wishes to join them.
I feel immensely proud of this young woman every day, and when I feel like I don't know where I'm going, I look to her. It's a funny thing, this parenthood. Here I thought I was supposed to be a role model for her, and it's the other way around.
I expect that she has more to teach me. You can bet that I have my notepad ready.