Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.

-Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

Childhood is difficult. (And I'm not referring to my childhood, which I hope is the exception and not the rule, but judging from comments left on this post, I'm afraid the exception/rule line is beleaguered and blurred.)

When you are a child, it seems that very few rights are afforded to the small statured. Disproportionately few rights, if you happen to live in The House of Raindrops, evidentally.

There is a story about a Black Forest in Germany and it's care taker. He tends the trees planted by his grandfather and great grandfather. He was born into a forest he did not seed.

I think that's a good description of childhood...born into a world they did not choose, taking in as much as they can, each day in order to grow and gain as much ground on the world, today so that they can stretch their arms that much closer to the sky, tomorrow.

It must be a frustrating point of view for my eleven year old daughter. While I think that I am sheltering her from the onslaught of the cruel world, allowing her time to set her roots in the fertile forest floor and unfurl in the dappled sunlight of whimsy and childhood beneath my time-worn, weather-beaten boughs; she feels restricted, shaded from the heat and true shine of life, surrounded by all the nobby knees, ensnared and kept from rising above the canopy.

So, despite my good intentions and my best ecclesiastical admonitions, she is growing up.

She walked the hallowed halls of the mall, the other day, (Decked Out), with other eleven year olds, desperate to distance themselves from their decrepit and irrelevant parents, while I drove away from said mall, leaving her there to make her own choices about time management and budgets and talking to strangers and eating food off of the floor and whether or not to spit on someone...I may have had some minor heart palpatations in the car, but they were quickly defused with a glass of wine once I got home, and I am proud to say that I only checked the clock 8 times in the 2 hours she was there.

She returned to me whole...which is sometimes the most we can hope for as parents...and bearing gifts. She had bought a small, leather bound compact that made her think of me while she was out, and she bought some chocolates for her boyfriend for Valentine's Day (! What?! I am trying to be cool about this.)

She was demure and ladylike, in a giggly-highly-over-perfumed-preteen-sort-of-way. I was proud of her and proud of me. We had made it through this right of passage largely unscathed.

We were sliding into the teenage years smoothely, seamlessly. The horizon was a rosy, golden hue. Whew, I said and wiped my brow. That was easy. Those countless child psychiatrists who have written tomes about The Coming of Age of the Female Psyche are full of crap.

The Very Next Day, we sat next to one another on the couch, critiquing tone deaf Idol hopefuls without a prayer. She had finished her homework and read The Diary of Anne Frank for an hour. She was the portrait of responsibility with all the right shades and light of innocence.

Her cell phone rang.

She answered and then, strangely, handed it to me.

It was the mother of one of her "friends." (I think the term in poorly written chic-lit is "frenemy".) Apparently, my daughter and her daughter were having a spat over the aforementioned boyfriend. And, apparently, my very sweet, responsible little girl spewed a string of venemous slander on her daughter's voice mail, recording it for posterity's sake (?).

After denying the voice from the message is hers and claiming that someone with access to a voice modifier and a sailor's vocabulary must have stolen her cell phone and left the abusive scorn for her friend's mother to find, and after losing all priviledges and anything resembling her former life, (including her cell phone, hangout time with friends, more than 5 changes of underwear, and anything with the word "comfort" in the title,) she admitted to me yesterday that the only reason she used those words is because of what the other girl says to her "all the time!"

To which, I of course replied, "Well, that's stupid." And we discussed the importance of self control and making choices for her rather than in response to what someone else says or does.

We also discussed Making Mistakes. Being wrong sucks! (I personally hate being wrong. Luckily for me, I am rarely wrong, as my brother, sister and husband can atest. HA!) But admitting it and learning from it and moving forward are all important things we can gleen from our mistakes.

Here's my concern:

I have not given her enough opportunity to serve others, to see beyond her own grasp. My second thought, after first removing all civil liberties from her, was that she needs to volunteer for a soup kitchen or The Boulder County Safe House or maybe picking up trash on the side of the highway in an orange vest.

Volunteering, serving others, nurtures a soft, fleshly part of the soul that tends to atrophe with inattention. Perhaps in indulging her every whim I have neglected that fundamental piece of her humanity that requires the nutrients of service to survive and thrive and love her neighbors.

So, what opportunities do children her age have to volunteer? Any ideas? I wish there was a function on the google home page: volunteer opportunities for angsty preteen females, searching for their place in the world. But there is not. Suggestions greatly appreciated.


Bon said...

love the wry honesty in this post...the pride of the parent, pleased with the fine, decent human being emerging from her child, and then the abject despair of the fall from grace.

and poor kid, i remember a very similar situation at that age. i think it is a part of learning how to negotiate conflict and hurt...and sometimes going overboard on the other side.

i do think the volunteering idea is wonderful...not because she sounds overindulged, exactly, but because broader experience is always good. i think what you choose depends on where you live...where i am, i don't know if there's much beyond the soup kitchen/food bank option you mentioned. some hospitals that have neonatal units will ask for people to come in and do skin on skin time with little babies who need it...maybe something that would bring out her tender side, if the hospital would approve her?

great post...wish i had better ideas for you.

flutter said...

if there is a children's hospital near you, they are always looking for volunteers to help staff the playroom

Anonymous said...

She could volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, playing with the young children while the mothers are in group therapy time.

Hannah said...

Oh Emily, this is why I'm afraid to have girls. :)

Nursing homes are always looking for people to come in and read to the residents, or play cards with them. And they will be careful to make sure that she doesn't get into situations she can't handle (patients with severe dementia, for example).

Animal shelters can always use help cleaning cages, walking dogs, brushing cats.

Big Brothers / Big Sisters will sometimes have special events and they can always use an extra pair of hands.

Good luck. I'm afraid you're in for some rough years but if you can instill empathy and values now, I promise it will tell in the end... no matter how many bumps there are in the road.

painted maypole said...

there is a website that will help you find a place for her to volunteer:

Julie Pippert said...


That's my mind freaking out reading this.

That's me also relating, from the six year old level.

Oy if you could have heard my lecture this a.m. on the way to school!

Such a well-written post. Sigh.

Idea for volunteering: our local charity shop gets tons of donations. They ALWAYS need people to help sort the items.

I am SURE that is a job an 11 year old could manage.

It's usually community retirees there when I go.

And there have plenty of times been children. I once had a 10 year old at my sorting table.

You could be there, too, if you want, but have her put on a different team. Don't be her mom there.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Have her help her siblings: help her little sister with homework, help her littler sister with bathtime or storytime. I think responsibility starts at home (though I'm sure you already have all those bases covered).

I think a little volunteering will go a long way. If she hates it, it won't do any good at all. Part of a kid's self-defence mechanism is seeing only their side of things. Like my pediatrician said to me once: "What do you want? He's only nine."

But, the best thing that could have happened did--she got busted, big-time.

Sorry I missed ya this weekend!!

Mary G said...

When I was eleven I did a similar sort of stupid move. My father had a 'talk' with me. I ended up minding the babies' room at Sunday School. I have grown up to be a Good Citizen.
All of which says 'I think you have a great kid there and you are raising her well'.

Christine said...

this was great, but scary post! my girl is only 6 and i dread the pre teen and teen years.

and i was "forced" to work at a soup kitchen as a teenager by my catholic school.

the best thing that dumb school ever did for me.

good luck--and remember: you're doingt he right thing by her.

Anonymous said...

Wow. 11. At the mall. With boyfriends. And cellphones. I. Am. NOT. Ready. Did you read Oh, The Joys post last week? It haunts me even now.

I think it's great that you are looking this straight in the eye.

There's maybe a need for dog walkers at the SPCA.

Lori said...

Oh good heavens! You know I can relate to so much of this- just the 13 year old boy version. It's scary to get a glimpse into our children's "other lives." We've had those glimpses and it knocked the wind out of me!

I think it is always appropriate to attempt to broaden our children's worldview- but I would caution that the word is "attempt". Personally, I think those highly altruistic kids you see on Oprah are an extreme rarity along the lines of child prodigies and kids who take out the trash with a smile.

You could let her look through the World Vision catalogue that offers all kinds of specific donations (ie. donate a chicken, soccer balls, a goat etc...) and then help her find ways to earn the money to make the donation of her choice. Just an idea?

Melissa said...

Volunteering opportunities do not abound here for the short set, which is really unfortunate. One thing I have done in the past is when we are doing toy cleanout, we donate them to a hospital of shelter. That seems to help a little.