Princess Commando is going to embarrass me in front of our neighbors. At ten years old, she is practiced at manipulating my emotions especially the unpalatable ones I do not want to entertain on the first sun soaked day of spring. I just want to get her to where she needs to be.
“But my throat hurts so bad,” she sobs on our porch in her soccer gear. Shoulders slump, a reluctant ponytail hovers over the back of her neck, tears lay white tracks on her cheeks.
I don’t doubt her. I can tell when she speaks there is dragon fire in her throat. But she has already missed so many practices and she is trying to earn a roster spot on the team. I am sympathetic to pain, but I know that this is more about fear of failure than it is about the discomfort of post nasal drip.
“Come on. Your father and sister are waiting in the car,” I put a tense arm around her, practically lifting her feet off the ground and forcing a smile as
neighborhood children scoot by.
“No, no, no,” she protests in moans which threaten to take a turn for the hysterical.
Her practice is 40 minutes away near Niagara Falls, NY. On the ride, I catch a glimpse of the girl in the rearview mirror-a scowl creasing her face into an ugly
etching. I know that when we arrive on campus, she won’t leave the car willingly. How far do we push? If we press harder could this be the time when it clicks-when she feels empowered to make a good choice? If I just work through this discomfort, I will feel so much stronger and relieved knowing I tried. As she curls up in the back seat, recoiling at the extension of her father's hand, we know we’ve reached the threshold of coercion. There is no sense in getting angry. She knows what's at stake if she misses practices. Maybe she's just not ready for this new level of competitive soccer.
Since she entered 5th grade in September, our relationship has been challenging. It’s not her fault. Middle school has a way of making tenuous the bond between parent and child. In this in-between time of giving up child’s play and longing still for the reassurances of childhood, there is so much
working against them. Personalities are changing, bodies are changing, standards and expectations are changing.
We try to reassure her that she will one day regard the afflictions of middle school with appreciation for having made her stronger, wiser. But, truly, middle school is less about a wealth of experiences and more about a series of multiple vexations that need to be endured (by both parent and child).
We’ve been through this before with the boys. We’ll hold our breath until it’s over.
We decide not to waste the trip and take a detour to Niagara Falls. We set our eyes on the patchwork of visitors pressed against the guardrails-the mist
lighting upon their faces like millions of cool, wet kisses. The hairs on my arms stand up at the sight of their collective expression of awe. There is a tingle in
the back of my knees as I watch The Mr. bring Violet to the edge of the American Falls. My maternal fear conjures a vision of my 3-year-old being swept away in the raging cataract.
Princess Commando wanders off, wisps of sunlit hair delicately dancing on her forehead. She pensively beholds the waterfall. A tour boat bobs like a child’s bath toy below.
She looks so vulnerable. She wraps her girl’s hands around the guardrail-as she also wraps her hands around so many changes, clinging to small reassurances. She does not trust herself to be strong. I feel that tingle behind my knees again. She has been swept away in the rapids of a growing year and that tenuous thread between us tugs abruptly.
In that moment, my love for her which has been tried and tested is like a Niagara flowing powerfully, freely. It rages and roars at the tribulations of growing up. It topples the tiny twigs of doubt and discontentment. As I fold her in my arms, she leans into me letting it flood her. There is time for her to become the river flowing freely. But for now she is the boat and I am still the tide delivering her safely back to the shore.