She turned 9 a few weeks ago when I wasn't looking. I can't believe I have been her mama for more than 9 years now! Amazing!
Emily is a wonderful person. A delight. Smart as a whip. A natural beauty. And stubborn as the day is long.
Tonight I realized this incredible girl just might be more stubborn than her mama. If you know me personally, you know that's saying something!
Tonight Emily and I had the first of what I know will be dozens, if not more, of battles of our wills. O.k. maybe it's not the first. In a way, the first one was when she was not even three. But something was different about tonight. It wasn't Mama and Kid the whole time. There were moments when it was two women.
This was a significant battle. It was over her bed sheets. Now, bed sheets are something I feel pretty strongly about, don't get me wrong, but this wasn't REALLY about the bed sheets, if you know what I mean. Impeccable bed-making skills is something that I take pride in and hope to pass down (my grandfathers on both sides were in the service and brought home their taste for "army corners"...the sort of bed that is made so tightly you could drop a coin on it and it would bounce and is just heaven to climb into). But tonight wasn't about a perfectionist mama wanting to pass the torch.
Tonight was about being a woman. I know that sounds dramatic. But let me explain.
There was calm explanations, advice, a helping hand, but let's just say our Miss Em did NOT want to learn to make her bed. Granted, it's a top bunk and I KNOW from personal experience that's hard. Even painful. The wood slats, etc. I don't care for it myself. But regardless, there was some....how shall we say...
That's what this was all about. It started with whining, escalated to hysteria, sobs, digging in of heels and finally, getting it. But not wanting to acknowledge that she got it. Yup. You know what I mean. It's THAT combination most of us women are quite familiar with:
Loss of Control of Emotions
This was an important discussion. This was an opportunity to begin learning a lesson I will see that she learns. Even if she doesn't like it. Even if she comes along, kicking and screaming. Even if she never acknowledges she learns it. As long as I know she learned it, I will be satisfied. I don't mean that she will learn to do this perfectly. In fact I know she won't. But I want to know that she knows when she chooses helplessness over capability that that IS the choice she is making.
So here's what I said:
"Emily, this isn't really about learning to make your bed, sweetie. This is about being a woman. It's important that you learn this: We are women. We are strong. We are smart. We can do whatever we want to do. That doesn't mean we don't need help. It doesn't mean we don't ask for help. It doesn't mean we know everything and we don't need to learn things. No! It means that we accept help and when we "get it," we acknowledge we get it. When we can do it, we say, 'Thank you for your help. I can do it myself now.'
"Emily, do I let Daddy take care of me? Do things for me?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"You're right," I said. "I want to let Daddy help him and he wants to let me help him. But do I NEED Daddy to do things because I'm not strong or smart enough? Could I live on my own? Could I take care of myself? Would I die without him?"
She shook her head. "No."
"That's right," I said. I can and do and will keep asking for and letting Daddy help me. I will help him. But I KNOW inside that I am strong enough and smart enough to take care of myself and THAT is what I want you to learn."
"Emily, there are women who don't know they are strong enough to take care of things. They don't know they are smart enough or wise enough. They don't know because they've never tried. And many of those women were once little girls who cried when they didn't understand something right away, or whined that they couldn't do something because it was too hard, too new, too uncomfortable. And someone said, 'Oh, honey, don't worry about it. I'll do that for you.' They knew inside, just like you do, that they could do it. But the older they got, the more they began to believe their own words. 'I can't do it,' they told people, acting more helpless than they were, until one day, after years of this, they really began to BELIEVE they can't. You are not going to be like that, Emily."
You see now why this was such a watershed conversation. Also why this is the first of a conversation we'll have many times. Why?
Emily is stubborn. When she knows what she wants or doesn't want, everyone knows it and getting her to back down, change her mind to suit someone else or (heaven forbid) admit she is wrong is...almost impossible.
And that stubbornness is wonderful. I love it. I am so glad she is that stubborn.
A lot of Christian parenting books I've read urge me to "break" her. She should should bend before her parents out of respect. But here's the deal. I don't want to bend her. And I certainly don't want to break her. I want her to be respectful of authority. I want her to know when to shut her mouth. I want her to learn to apologize when she needs to. But I want her to keep that stubborn spirit. That knowing that guides her now and will continue to, I hope.
I want Emily to learn to humble herself when she realizes she is wrong. But when she is right, I want that little woman to fight til the death.
She learned how to make the bed. She didn't want to admit it. She didn't want to admit that she had not tried her hardest or that she acted helpless beyond the point when she understood what to do. That's o.k. I told her I might have done the same under the circumstances...she is my daughter, after all! But I admitted that I had gotten too angry, too upset. I apologized. And she apologized, without prompting, for "whining." That was more than good enough for me.
Tonight was important.
Tonight was painful.
Tonight was loud and emotional.
Tonight Emily learned something.
Tonight Emily learned she can be strong...that her own strength is something she has my permission to claim.
Tonight a mama reinforced what she already knew about herself.
Tonight a mama and her daughter connected in a real way.
Tonight was messy. But beautiful. The best kind.