Friday, May 3, 2013

love like a niagara

Princess Commando is going to embarrass me in front of our neighbors. At ten years old, she is practiced at manipulating my emotions especially the unpalatable ones I do not want to entertain on the first sun soaked, supplely bloomed day of spring. I am not going let her bring me to the brink of losing my cool. I just want to get her to where she needs to be.

“But my throat hurts so bad,” she sobs bolted to the railing on our porch in her soccer gear. Shoulders slump, a reluctant ponytail hovers over the back of her neck, salty streams lay white tracks on her cheeks.

I don’t doubt her. I can tell when she speaks there is dragon fire in her throat. But she has already missed so many practices and she is trying to earn a roster spot on the team she has been training with for the last 6 months. I am sympathetic to pain, but I know that this is not just about discomfort. It is about fear of failure- the anxiety of not being able to perform optimally when she is under the league's scrutiny.

“Come on. Your dad and sister are waiting in the car.” I put a tense arm around her, practically lifting her feet off the ground and forcing a smile as  neighborhood children scoot by.

“No, no, no,” she protests in moans which threaten to take a turn for the hysterical.

I nudge her into the backseat. Her pout is punctuated by a brusque stomp of a foot on the floor.

Her practice is 40 minutes away near Niagara FallsNY. I catch a glimpse of my sullen girl in the rear view mirror. Forehead pressed against the window, a scowl creasing her face into an ugly etching. I know that when we arrive at the campus, she is not going to leave the car willingly. We are once again in a position of questioning how far to push. If we press harder could this be the time when it clicks-when she feels empowered to make a good choice? If I just work through this discomfort, I will feel so much stronger and relieved knowing I tried. As she curls up in the back seat, recoiling at the extension of her father's hand offering to help her out of the car, we know we’ve reached the threshold of coercion. There is no sense in getting angry. Princess Commando  knows what's at stake if she misses practices.  Maybe she's just not ready for this high level of competitive soccer.

Since she entered 5th grade in September, our relationship with her has been challenging. It’s not her fault, really. It’s middle school. Middle school has a way of making tenuous the bond between parent and child. In this in- between time of giving up child’s play and longing still for the reassurances of childhood, there is so much working against them. Personalities are changing, bodies are changing,  standards and expectations are changing.

We try to reassure her that she will one day regard the afflictions of middle school with appreciation for having made her stronger, wiser and, hopefully, more compassionate. But, truly, middle school is less about a wealth of experiences and more about a series of multiple vexations that need to be endured (by both parent and child).

We’ll hold our breath- until it’s over. We’ve been through this before with the boys. It is my only consolation- knowing that there is an expiration date. 

On the way home, we decide to take a detour to Niagara Falls. The air is warm and tender, stirring our souls to stretch. We park in the shade, offering to let Princess Commando stay in the car with the windows rolled down, but she trails us on the path to the American Falls. Violet has never been there. I anticipate the sparkle in her eyes when she notices the wide veil of mist rising off the water.I have been there so many times but it never loses its wonder. 

I set my eyes on the patchwork of visitors pressed against the guardrails-the colors and textures of their skin, their clothing, the mist lighting upon their faces like millions of cool, wet kisses. The hairs on my arms stand up at the sight of their collective expression of awe. There is a tingle in the back of my knees, like being too high on a ladder, as I watch The Mr. bring Violet to guardrail at the edge of the Falls. One cannot deny the supreme power of the cataract raging before us. My maternal fear conjures a vision of my baby being swept away.

Princess Commando walks off in her soccer gear, wisps of sunlit hair- delicate dancing strands of silk- on her forehead. She looks pale and pensive as she beholds the raging water. A tour boat bobs like a child’s bath toy below the Falls.

She looks so vulnerable. She wraps her girl’s hands around the guardrail- as she also wraps her hands around so many changes, clinging to small reassurances. She does not trust herself to be strong. I feel that tingle behind my knees again. She has been swept away in the rapids of a growing year and that tenuous thread between us tugs abruptly.

In that moment, my love for her which has been tried and tested is like a Niagara flowing powerfully, freely. It rages and roars at the tribulations of growing up.  It topples the tiny twigs of doubt, discontent, and disappointment. As I wrap my arms around her, she leans into me letting it flood her. There is time for her to become the river flowing freely. But for now she is the boat and I am still the tide delivering her safely back to the shore.

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