Sometimes, usually right in the middle of a snarky exchange between tweens, I launch into full-power fretting over said tweens’ futures. I fast forward ten years and put the same sassy tone of voice, the same biting words, into the mouth of a junior-year computer science major or a recent high school graduate. And I worry.
At the bottom of my piles of worries is this root question: How do I get these children to love? How can I influence them so that they conclude that love is important, that selflessness is important, that preferring the other is important—in its season, at the appropriate times. And if not that, how can I get them to see that eye-rolling is one of the. Most. Damaging. Things. They. Can. Do. To. Their. Relationships?
But why would they care about preserving said relationships? They don't have the long view yet. These children. One of them is walking around in a mini-adult body and I keep thinking she’s got mini-adult emotions and mini-adult maturity, but that’s not entirely fair.
I don’t recall my parents ever sitting me down to talk about “protecting my relationships” with my brothers when I was young—checking me on my tone of voice, my eye-rolling, my disrespect toward either of them. Did I not exhibit any? I doubt it. But, at 11, I was not thinking about Love. Not love-your-brother-as-yourself-love. And if my mother or father had sat me down to pour out their existential concerns for my eternal sibling relationships, I’m not sure what good it would have done. Might I have head-scratched, nodded, and moved on my merry, disrespectful way?
Oh, I would give a million dollars for hindsight right now.
Fast forward me ten years where, I imagine, I will hear myself say these words: They will grow out of this. Sassiness comes with the territory of tweendom. They will be friends. They will love. They will understand what you were talking about—ceaselessly—for years. They will practice love. Wear it on their faces, in the shiftings of their eyeballs and eyebrows and lips.
The other thing I might say in ten years is that I was raising powerful leaders when I wasn’t sure of it. There were reasons why their take-charge-ness, their control-my-own-destiny-and-don’t-let-anyone-stand-in-my-way-ness, their I’m-picking-my-clothes-and-I’m-only-two-years-old energy was a powerful swirling current when other friends’ daughters were happy to take cues and directions and pink hair bows and scamper to comply. And how ironic, I might say, that I got three little leaders as daughters when so much of my existence revolves around encouraging women to lead well, and learning to lead myself.
Back to the present: a few weeks ago, I offered to take Oldest to see Divergent on a Thursday night (a movie she’d been asking me to take her to). She sighed and said resignedly, “Oh, I don’t know. I was hoping we could take one of my friends.”
“I thought it could be nice mother-daughter time?” I offered weakly.
“Ugh, I hate that!” she ejaculated in the unself-conscious way of 11-year-olds. “That’s so boring--and you always want to read the Bible to me.”
Egaads. I am this mother, apparently. The mother who “always wants to read the Bible" out loud to my kids for fun, for “mother-daughter time.” She must have meant that I’m the mother who sometimes wants to read the Bible to them…right before I take them to see dystopian fantasies about teenagers revolting against the government and kissing in between action sequences?
I sighed from the kitchen table. “Wow, it’s a good thing I’m so self-confident and have such good self-esteem. If I was a little more insecure I might be feeling kind of hurt right now.”
She looked up from pulling dishes from the dishwasher, her pout turning to a smirk of appreciation for the irony. I got a nod of apology. This irony-loving girl knew just what I was saying-without-saying.
Some days it's these smirks that are my only promise of impending maturity, the impending miraculous.