There are days when we all wake up and realize that something has changed with our children -- they look like they've grown a little bit taller overnight, their sneakers are suddenly too snug when they fit just fine yesterday, or their hair has seemingly gone from tame to unruly and in desperate need of a cut.
Sometimes, these changes are not quite as visible to us -- they come to us within the things our children say, a facial expression that shows you they understood something you've said that would have gone over their head yesterday, an opinion that has been expressed where the decision would usually have been left unchallenged.
These had both been happening to me with my daughter Parker in what feels like the past few weeks. It was time to get ready to go back to school -- that dreaded/eagerly anticipated time of year for parents. It meant shopping for the insanely, ridiculously, incredibly elaborate and specific list of school supplies at Target or Staples or whichever location you find you are least likely to find yourself getting into a fist fight with another mother desperate for the last 16-pack of Crayola crayons because under no circumstances will your child be allowed to enroll in school with two eight-pack boxes as an alternative.
My little tomboy and I went shopping for new clothes, too. She picked out Hello Kitty leggings with bows on the ankles, and frilly skirts, and shirts with sparkles on them and then I found myself checking my pulse to see if I was in danger of having a heart attack and the back of her head right at the base of her neck to see if the birthmark that she shared with me and my great-grandmother was there -- if she was really my daughter.
These may seem like typical choices for an almost-5-year-old girl, and they are. But not MY almost-5-year-old girl.
Parker is (was?) a tomboy through and through. Sure, she plays with her dolls almost every day, but she also insists that the entire family wear Jets green every Sunday during football season. She will announce in a no-nonsense matter-of-fact tone of voice to anyone that even attempts to recommend something even slightly feminine, that "I don't wear skirts or dresses or leggings or tights." She will turn up her nose at something she deems "too frilly" or "too girly" or "something that a boy wouldn't wear."
For a solid two-plus years she wanted to be a boy.
When she was 3 and a half and we asked her what she wanted for the holidays, her response was "a penis."
I asked her what her second choice was.
And now, there we were shopping for school clothes and she's throwing sparkly shoes and rhinestone-studded jeans into the cart. She's exclaiming "look how pretty this pocketbook is!" and admiring pink dresses decorated with cats wearing bows...
It was like I didn't even know her.
I'd been hoping that she would come around to wear more girls' clothes -- more than anything as a matter of function. Noskirtsordressesorleggingsortights doesn't leave many options available for a little girl as far as clothing shopping goes -- most of the pants that are long enough to fit her will be too big in the waist on her long, slim frame. It's nearly impossible to get her much more than the same style of yoga pant at Carter's in all five colors they offer and just do a lot of laundry.
But this isn't about laundry, or practicality at all -- it's about losing a part of who I always knew her to be, while watching another part of her grow and emerge all on its own. It's the first time I'm seeing her make a conscious change in herself -- I am watching her blossom -- and with that, need me a tiny bit less.
And that makes me proud.
And that frightens me to, because I'm not sure what to do with these new skirtsanddressesandleggingsandtights.
And maybe I don't know what to do with the little girl wearing them.
I'm watching her from the sidelines as she makes these decisions about her identity. And I know that this will change a million times throughout the course of her childhood and her life. Hell, I only figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was 35!
I'm watching my girl grow up and figure out what kind of person she's going to be. And I'll need to be malleable in the process -- letting her grow and evolve and branch out and test her boundaries and comfort level.
And I desperately hope that I can keep up, that I can roll with the changes as they come and not be too wistful for the last phase when she's already moved onto the next.
And I desperately hope that she will see me as supportive, and accepting, and encouraging whichever direction she decides she will go.
And I desperately hope that she is able to stay true to herself and decide who she will be based on what she wants for herself -- not what others want her to be, or want for her. I have struggled with that dichotomy myself and don't want to see my children suffer the same fate, or at-times crippling crisis of identity.
And I desperately hope that she feels that she's getting what she needs from me and what she wants from me as her mother.
And I will do my best to give that to her.
As long as it's not a penis.
This post originally appeared on Jamie's blog Our Stroke of Luck.