Jo is rapidly approaching her tenth birthday. I'd like to believe that this isn't perfectly evident to everyone. I'd like to think that she is growing up in a vacuum where the numbers go up but the way things are remains the same. Most of all, I'd like to think that my beautiful little girl is not going to writhe through those awful emotional growing pains that I remember so clearly.
Of course, none of this is possible.
Jo is growing up. Granted, she is growing into a gentle, thoughtful, kind, responsible, honest young lady. All of these are very good things--the fruits of many, many character training session as well as a fairly willing-to-please personality and a whole lot of grace. I look at all the things she is becoming and I am awed. She is so much more on the cusp of age ten than I was on the cusp of twenty. Good things can be done through this child.
But this doesn't mean that the transition is going easily in her. No, she is still struggling to reconcile within herself the little girl she has been for the past decade with the young woman she will find herself being on the other side of all of this. At times, she surrenders altogether in one direction or the other: pulling off her shoes and digging knee-deep in the muck with a gaggle of little boys, or graciously sacrificing her own plan to serve in a Sunday School class of younger children for the morning. This is the line I see my little girl walking. Am I grown up yet? Oh, tell me I'm still little enough!
Saturday afternoon the whole family made a pit stop at the grocery store to take advantage of a 50¢ per loaf sale on bread. It was a relatively warm day, and we'd been at the soccer field for the better part of the morning. As we stepped on to the curb and started toward the doors, I instinctively reached for the nearest little person hand. It was Jo's. What happened next was so fast that really, I could have misinterpreted it had I not opened my mouth a second later; Jo, seeing me reaching for her hand, folded her arms across her chest and scurried past me to the front of our little pack.
This is where "cool mom" shrugs and says, "Whatever. She's too big to hold my hand in public."
Unfortunately, I am not "cool mom."
"Heeeeey!" I heard myself saying before I even realized it. "I can't hold you hand any more?"
The look Jo shot me was one of clear horror, and I knew the second I saw her face that I had stepped over that carefully drawn line. Yes, I will be your little girl when I am feeling like a little girl. But when I am not, please give me my space.
My husband stepped in to the rescue, making a big show out of how he was quite happy that I now had a free hand, and thanking Jo profusely for allowing him the honor of escorting me through the store. We all laughed and giggled and the moment blew past. Jo even consented to walk alongside me in the store, and I was careful not to tread on her delicate sense of individualism.
But here's the second half of the story:
As we were in the produce section grabbing bananas, I announced that I was going to the restroom. Dh had taken the boys already, so I gave the shout out and then turned to go. Suddenly, Jo let out a howl.
"Mommy, wait for me, please?!" The girl ran up behind me in the fiercest bear hug I've been given in months (and this says a lot, because Logan can really dish 'em). Turns out the idea of me going all the way to the bathroom without her was just too much to bear. She held my hand all the way to the restroom, then played footsie with me under the stalls.
"You're not feeling like you hurt my feelings earlier, are you? Because it's not as if there's anything you need to make up to me here," I reminded her as we walked back to the produce section.
"Nah," she told me, "I can't explain it. But sometimes I just want to be close to you. And sometimes I just want ... I don't know."
I'd do it for her if I could. God, in His wisdom, made that impossible. Each and every little girl has to work out the kinks on her own. She has to feel both gawky and beautiful, both unloved and smothered, both naked and overprotected, both surrounded and alone. If I could, I'd sit down and plot her a course. I'd highlight the smoothest path and lead her there, taking care to avoid the places where it hurts the most. But I can't.
Instead, I have to settle for keeping my Mom-radar carefully attuned to whatever signals she's sending out. I have to draw my own boundaries as she stakes out hers. And together, we'll walk through this mess. And we'll come out on the other side. And chances are good, we'll hold hands as we walk out.