Whenever anyone says her name wrong, she slowly turns around, puts her hands on her hips, and repeats her name, correctly, syllable by syllable. She will make eye contact and . . . wait.
My strong-willed daughter has corrected people since she was three, and I have admired her for at least that long. She came blasting into the world, and she’s been a force ever since. We named her after one of the strongest women in the Old Testament, and each day, she proves that choice correct.
I want to be just like my daughter when I grow up.
She is strong, and she is free in a way I don’t know that I’ve ever been. For many reasons, some quite intentional and some more a matter of circumstance, my daughter has a very different childhood than I did. Overall, her childhood is safer than mine was. My parents did their best, but just as they learned from their parents, I learned from mine, and, as I watch my daughter, I know I am doing at least some things right.
When my daughter loves, she loves with ferocity and abandon. She is not apologetic about her passion, and at her age, I was already cautious about sharing what I loved with others, for fear that someone would criticize it or treat it with cruelty. She feels confident in getting to love what she loves.
I worry about the time someone tries to chip away at her confidence, at her passion.
I know what that felt like, and, while I can’t prevent it entirely, I can keep building her confidence in my own way.
We went to see her favorite artist in concert. We bake together constantly. She picks out her own clothing, a mix of patterns and colors that always somehow works (probably because of the healthy dose of confidence that comes with every outfit). I honor and encourage her interests. We can check out every book about knitting, yoga, and baking from the library.
Then, when someone wrinkles their nose at her music taste or makes fun of her colorful outfit, she will have a bank of support and confidence within her to know that her tastes and her interests have value.
But that plan? That’s based on my worries, not hers.
This daughter of mine? She is glorious.
She dances with abandon. She runs across a beach, taking in the wind, the waves, and the sand all at once. I want to live with such freedom.
As she’s gotten older, and I can see clearly that this is her personality and not just the whimsy of childhood, I’ve made more of an intentional effort to be like her.
If I want to listen to an album (does anyone call them albums anymore?) and nothing else for weeks, I will. If I want to have a pajama day at home, I know my daughter will join me. When I want to pull out all of my watercolor supplies and just play with color, I do.
When I watch my daughter completely absorbed in painting a sunset, I step back and realize I’ve let the busyness of life get in the way of doing what I enjoy. When I watch her go to school with a giant bow in her hair, sparkly shoes on her feet, her smile beaming as she walks onto campus, I realize I’ve lost a bit of my own style to the fear of being judged.
At times, I worry I’m the one who’s going to dim her spark.
When I ask her to hurry or snap at her in irritation, I see how her body responds. She cringes. And I quickly rephrase and try to remember that all of this—the floating from room to room, the slow assembly of each day’s outfit—it’s who she is, whether right now or forever. And while I need to help her understand life skills like time management and respecting other people’s needs and boundaries, I also have to respect her as the incredible little person she is.
So, I’ll blast the music she loves and even sing along. I’ll read her chapter books featuring talking cat-unicorn hybrids. I’ll let her pick what cookies we’re going to bake.
I’ll cultivate a lifelong relationship with my daughter, just as my mom did with me. It’s worth every second I’m running late to work to see her (mostly) toothless smile.