On Wednesday Amelia came home from school with an invitation to a birthday party. It was a fifth grade sleepover, and it was last minute because she was the "new girl" and the birthday girl finally convinced her mother to let her invite one more person. Amelia was very eager to go, so excited that someone had included her, that she had friends and a place to belong. I had very mixed feelings about it - what if the people are super trashy? What if the girl has a creepy older brother? What if there are guns/drugs/boa constrictors in the house? But I remember so clearly how it felt to be the one invited to a party, but whose parents wouldn't let her go. After enough times of that, I also remember how it felt to know that someone was having a party that I wasn't invited to. I remember how it was to be the girl with her nose in a book, "totally fine" to not have anyone looking for me to sit with them at lunch. I don't want my daughter to feel that, not if I can help it. When she has friendship troubles, which are inevitable, I can't come to school and show people how awesome she is, but I can make afterschool okay, like my mom did with me through tea-time and General Hospital. I can also make sure that she's always got Natalie and Avery to turn to. I can't slap the mean girl who makes the cruel comment about her hair or her clothes, but I can make sure that she's got a dance class to go to in a different town where she's successful and skilled, and has 9 friends who have no idea what her "school life" is like at any given time. She can just be...herself.
So, I talked the party over with Patrick, and we said yes. I called the mom, who told me that she's a teacher, too, which means that at the very least she's CORI checked and free of tuberculosis. I thought about how we have raised our child to be confident and resilient, to listen to her moral compass and her built-in sense of intuition to know when a situation is okay. There comes a time when you have to have faith in the person she is, as well as the job you've done as a parent, and wave goodbye through the car windows. I had lessons in that this summer, as you know. We decided to have faith in her, and in us, and let her go.
I had a long day at school yesterday, then rehearsal, which I left a bit early to go to the Loring Theater in Hingham to see Cairo Time. The movie was *eh* but the experience of being there, in an old-timey theater with a balcony and creaky stairs, in a place so familiar and integral to the my little life chronicles was a little hug around the neck. It was a great big deep breath. It was...insert another mixed metaphor for "comforting" here.
I came home last night to Amelia padding downstairs, red-eyed, asking if she could talk to me. I sat down on her bed with her, where she sobbingly confessed that she didn't want to sleep over. She just...didn't, and what should she do? It was one of those Mom-moments that I knew was going to matter later. I knew that what I said then, and how she came to experience herself in this moment was going to be remembered later. And it was one of those moments where I thought...huh. I actually know what to do with this. I totally got this one. I remember what Christianna said about Acceptable Levels of Truth, and how it could be applied to this situation.
I remember my dad saying to me, "I will always be your best excuse. If you don't want to do something, you can always say I won't let you." I remember appreciating that advice. (Unfortunately, he actually DIDN'T let me do most of the things I wanted to do, but that's a whole different story.) Anyway, I remember feeling comforted by that, and that's what I told her. "I will always do what I can to help you follow your truth. If you truly do not want to go to this party for whatever reason, I will help you not to go, while not having to be embarrassed in front of your new friends." While there's a part of me that doesn't want to advocate lying, there's a part of me that knows that when you're ten years old, and you have no freaking clue how to get along with brand new people, and you can't throw a baseball and your body is smelly and your hair drives you crazy and you still sleep with a stuffed animal, the least you can hope for is not to get teased for failing to attend a sleepover party. And while I know it won't last, right this minute, I can still fix it for her. For just this little while longer, I can get her out of a tricky situation.
"Sweetie, I will call the mom, and tell her that you are training for a big dance competition -which is true - and that you have a double class the next morning - which is true - and that I am worried about you not having enough sleep - which I am not, but which I can totally start to do, so then THAT will be true, too." She will go to the birthday party part, and sing happy birthday and bring a kick-ass present and do the craft and paint her nails and whatever else they do at 5th grade parties, and then, when the girls are getting into pajamas, I will go pick her up. She'll call me, and I will be at the door in five minutes. And when the party pictures get developed, Amelia will still be in them, and all that will be remembered by those girls months from now is that she was there, she was a part of it.
But hopefully, Amelia will remember that no matter what the situation, she will never have to be alone. If she speaks up, she can always find support from her parents and ideas on how to creatively solve a problem, no matter how tangly. And five years from now, when she's at a party where things are out of control, she'll remember she can call me and I will get there as fast as I can. And if someone is pressuring her to do something, and she's not sure how to get out of it, she can play the My Mother is Strict/Neurotic/Mean/Psychic/Very-Good-at-Spying Card to get her out safely, while still figuring out how to save face in the Piranha Pool of high school.
There's a line, I think, between maintaining your authentic self, and Adolescent Public School Survival. I didn't manage it too well myself, but in hindsight, I know what I could have, and should have done differently. If those spiral notebooks in the closet are good for anything, they're good for that. My daughters might not internalize those lessons, and they will come up against things I've never had to face, but at least I have something to go on.
I am so proud of her for wanting to go to that party. I am so proud of her for putting herself out there to make new friends, and for being willing to take such a risk as to go to a strange party with girls she doesn't really know very well. But I'm even more proud of her for speaking up about her fears of going, for knowing that she was beyond her already admirable extension of her comfort level to a place that felt wrong. And I'm proud of her for asking for help, and for trusting that Patrick and I would listen with kindness, and make it better.
I feel half the time like I'm wandering blind through this whole motherhood thing. But then there are moments when I know that at the very least, I'm doing the best I know how, taking advice from people I respect and trying to lead with love. I feel so lucky to have two such beautiful souls to mother, and that I won such an amazing man to be their dad.
And if it's selfish of me to be relieved that both of those little souls will be snug in their own beds tonight, under their covers, cozy with goodnight kisses and stuffed animals in their arms...well, I can live with that.