Don’t let me (or anyone else) put out your fire

dancing-little-girlRecently, I’ve become worried about my oldest daughter. She’s always been my fighter. In fact, right after she was born, such a tiny baby after such a long and stressful birth, I started calling her my ‘scrappy girl.’ The title has always fit. She can sass me in two languages, fearlessly hangs off the bars so often that her gymnastics coach has dubbed her ‘fearless Luc,’ and is frequently covered in the bruises and scrapes that tell the world how brave and reckless she can be.

She’s always been…a lot. A lot of emotion. A lot of power in a very tiny package. We recently celebrated when she got to take the ‘underweight’ description off of her medical chart. She’s in the eighth percentile now, an accomplishment. I remember when she didn’t want to eat when she was just a wee thing. She’d throw the food back at us, use her arm to whip it off the table onto the floor, or fill her mouth but spit it all out the moment we turned away. She’s a clever one. When she didn’t want to sleep she would stand in her crib, fisting those little baby hands until she was white knuckled. She’d scream at the top of her lungs until she puked or, worse, she’d pull her own hair out in chunks. There were many, many nights in her first and second year of life that I had to cocoon her in my arms, tightly rocking her until she finally gave up and went to sleep…sometimes hours later. I’d look at my husband, bleary eyed, and ask over and over, “Is something wrong? Is she in pain? What else can I do for her?” But no, nothing was wrong. She’s a headstrong girl. That’s all. She’s scrappy.

She learned to talk before she could walk, and her first words besides mom and dad were, “I not,” and “don’t!” Example-

“Lou pick up that toy and put it in the bin, please.”

“I not!” and then…she wouldn’t. Just like she said.

Whew, those instances were tough. She was child of the iron will, miss if I don’t want to you can’t make me. We tried time outs. We tried a discipline bag; a setup where every time she was naughty we took one of her toys and put it in a plastic bag. She could only get things out of the bag when she earned it through her good behavior.

I’ll never forget the day I came home from work and her aunt told me, “I tried to take the Cinderella Barbie away from her. She handed me Rapunzel, too. She said I would need it.”

Let me make this clear, though. She is NOT a bad girl. She’s not even very mischievous. This kid loves with her whole heart. I can’t play pretend that I am am hurt or crying. It immediately sends her into hysterics. While I was pregnant with her little sister I puked in Lou’s hair, a sudden violent wave of morning sickness. Not my best moment. We were sitting on the floor, she was all cuddled up on me, and then suddenly…blech. Lou screamed, “Daddy! Daddy!” She went and got him from the other room. She wasn’t in the least bit concerned about herself. She just wanted to make sure he helped me. That’s the kind of thoughtful, amazing kid she is. She’s just fiery. Like Karen Salmansohn said, “It is essential you create a fiery will from within–harness that power of decisiveness– and choose to be your strongest self.” I never thought I’d worry about her inner fire.

But now, her last truly uncontrollable tantrum months and months behind us, I am afraid that we’ve somewhat doused that fire. I fear that I’ve taught her that good and well behaved are equivalent to meek and obedient. This is not something I agree with.

Case in point- I’ve had to talk to her multiple times about not letting other kids be mean to her. One little girl wouldn’t let her through a climbing tunnel at a children’s play area. She wouldn’t let her take her turn down the slide. Another little girl scratched Lou’s face, pushing her away from playground equipment. A little boy, years older than her, tried to insist that she let him push her on the swings. She did. I could see by the look in her eyes that she was uncomfortable, that she wanted to say no.

When I walked over and asked, “Do you want to be pushed on the swing?” she gave me the quietest of nos.

“Tell him no thank you, then. Tell him you want to swing on your own,” I instructed her, wanting her to take ownership of her feelings and her right to revoke consent. She said it in the smallest voice, a voice it was easy for him to ignore.

Oh goodness, this is not what I wanted.

Baby girl, keep your fire. Light it with purpose, with strength, with the power of your voice. There’s a huge difference between behaving when Mom asks you to and never asserting yourself. You are a tiny, beautiful, mighty thing. You can always ask why. You can always tell your peers, “No.” You have the right to your own decisions; even at three, even at thirteen, even at twenty one years old. I just need to figure out how to teach you this.

I told her after each of these events, all on separate days, “Lou, don’t let people be mean to you.”

She was confused. What should she do?

I tried my best, “You should always be nice, but when it’s your turn, take it. You get to go down the slide. You get to climb through the tunnels. No one can make you give that up.”

I don’t know if this was enough. I don’t even know if this was the right thing to do. But I do know that I want her to be her fiery, scrappy self. That’s who she is. That’s who she is supposed to be. Tonight, we may elect our first female POTUS. We live in a world that can or will be forced to embrace fiery, independent women. May she be one, please. May I learn how to nurture that spark inside her. I’m not sure right now I’m doing such a great job at it.

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