Out with the summer, in with the fall, on with serious work of gearing up for another year of school with the kids. I’ve always loved this season: the feeling of starting fresh, the colorful glory of turning leaves. It’s really the only time of the year when I can bear the warmth of the sun and embrace the influx of vitamin D without falling victim to an embarrassing puddle of sweat.
My daughter is on the senior cheer team even though she’s just a sophomore, which gives me good reason to continue being outdoors each Saturday well into October. Weekly football games at various fields with her amongst the flock of long-locked lookalikes—their full-on ’50s-style uniforms in the colors of the school (white and maroon), bright white sneakers, hair pulled back into a high ponytail adorned with an oversized bow, pom-poms in their hands—as they cheer from the sidelines. My husband and I are nestled in the bleachers, though I’m not sure she notices us, and if she does, she avoids any deliberate eye contact.
But I don’t take it personally. I learned a long time ago that it’s not about me; she just functions better without distractions of knowing who is where. Even from the time when she was 3 (she started performing early), before we would arrive at the venue of a dance recital she would ask us to please not let her know where we were seated. And that was, and is, fine. My joy derives from just being within 50 yards of her with nary a text message to interrupt for a full two hours or more.
I revel as I watch her embrace her independence, laughing and bonding with her peers. Her smile radiates more than any ray of fall sunshine ever could as she constantly draws people toward her. I’ve watched her evolve from a spirited little girl into a confident young woman who’s completely at ease in her own skin, able to laugh at herself when she realizes she’s made a gaffe. She’s got the potential to be whatever she wants to be and is not afraid to speak her peace, as recently evidenced by her new bright idea.
We were calmly discussing what we considered an appropriate punishment for her sassiness aimed at her father as he rightfully disciplined her for reneging on her established household responsibilities. My knee-jerk reaction to snot-nose responses tends to go right into shut-her-down, ground-her-for-the-rest-of-her-life mode. (That would be the frustration speaking.) Usually, that would get the intended rise out of her and land squarely on the head of what matters most to a 15-year-old girl: being with her friends.
“I know how much you like to take things away from me,” she began with a half-smile, “but that only makes me madder, and I’ll probably just do whatever it is you’re grounding me for again anyway. Since I’m older,” and here she paused for effect as I sneaked a glance at my grinning husband, “I think what will work better is if we have a grown-up conversation to talk about what I did wrong, and why I shouldn’t do it again so I can understand better.” Clearly, she’s thinking about being a lawyer.
I try to keep in mind that it’s a double-edged sword having highly intelligent, self-assured children. They fully understand the value of reason and embrace any opportunity that arises to say the things we expect to hear in a tone that promotes reason. “I know what I did was wrong, Mom. I was tired and grouchy and know I can’t get away with that behavior…I will try not to talk back again.” She continued from there and pretty much reiterated all the things I had said to her the night before when I thought her eyes were glazing over and she wasn’t listening. Apparently, she was. And since she was, her suggestion to discuss things calmly made all the more sense, and I told her so.
I’m proud that she’s utilizing her summary skills. I’m overjoyed that what I say to her does matter and does, indeed, resonate. She’s a wonderful girl and I count my lucky stars that she’s maturing in the way she is, hiccups and all. But don’t get me wrong. She’s totally not off the hook. She still has a week of additional responsibilities at home, with the added caveat that the first sign of reverting back to sass ends with a lifelong sentence of her never leaving the house again.