Last week, I was a chaperone at the UW Engineering Expo with a bunch of kids, including my eldest girl. It was bedlam and pandemonium, but she really liked looking at the exhibits, and I really wanted to go. As we all got on the buses to trek over to the engineering campus, I ended up sitting near her teacher who told me that all kids in her grade in the school district were going. So she might end up seeing some friends from her old school. When Rowan found out about that she was excited about possibly seeing some of her old friends, including her old crush.
As it happened, we didn’t bump into her old friends, but we did meet Boy #1, from her old school. She got nervous and didn’t know what to say. She kept going back to try to talk to him, getting flustered, and leaving. Good thing he was completely oblivious. He was hanging out with his guy friends and didn’t pay much attention. She told me privately that she had always liked him, but that she also liked Boy #2 from her new school and was nervous about bumping into him too. Later on, we did come across Boy #2, who left his friends to specifically come up and say hi to her.
When we got home, she wanted to know my opinion about her chances with either of them. I told her that Boy #1 seemed like he barely remembered who she was, didn’t make much effort to speak to her, and stayed with his friends. He didn’t seem interested But Boy #2 saw her before she saw him, and specifically came up just to say hi, alone. He did seem interested. But of course, who really knows?
I let it drop and we didn’t talk about it until a few days later. I was putting the girls to bed. After I turned off the lights, I laid by her for awhile and we talked in the dark. There’s something about lying parallel in the dim light, not looking at each other directly, that leads itself to dropped boundaries and naked thoughts. She asked me again about the two boys and if I thought they liked her. How can you tell? I told her the truth–there’s no foolproof way to tell. The only way to *know* is to put your cards down first and ask.
“But how do I do that?” she asked.
I said, “Just say, ‘Hey, I like you. Do you like me too? Do you want to hang out sometime?’ That’s all it takes.”
“But what if he doesn’t like me?” she said.
“Then you know for sure, and you can move on.”
“But what if I get really embarrassed and start to cry and I’m outside and everyone can see?”
“Well,” I said, “That would suck and it would be embarrassing. But it’s one period in a day and it will pass. You would get over it and you would be okay.”
She just looked at me, skeptically.
“You don’t have to *do* anything. If you don’t want to tell him you like him, you don’t have to. Things can remain the way they are.”
“But I like him! I want to know.”
“Then, you’re probably going to have to take the risk. What’s the worst that could happen? If he likes you back, great! If he doesn’t, you’ll be sad but you will get over it. But I will tell you this–lessons like this, on courage, come back. This situation will occur again in middle school, and show up in high school, and show up again in college. You don’t have to deal with it now–but eventually, someday, you will have to deal with it.”
And then I told her the story of The Red Lion. It’s an old book from my childhood that I have, great Persian art. It’s about a Prince whose father dies, but to ascend to the tjhrone he must pass the test of fighting the Red Lion. The Prince is too scared and runs away, but wherever he goes, there is always a different lion challenge waiting for him. He realizes that until he goes home to his kingdom to fight his own lion, he will never be free. He returns and faces the Red Lion in front of all of his family, friends, and subjects–only to find that the lion is tame. Only fear makes it savage. The moral of the story is, “Never run away from your lion.”
So you can imagine how proud I was that the very next day I got home and she was there, all excited.
“Mom! I told him! Well, I didn’t tell him, because I was too nervous, but I wrote him a note, and–HE LIKES ME TOO!”
So, so proud! We hugged and danced around a little. This is the part of parenting that I like.
It’s not that I’m the smartest or the wisest, but if I can circumvent the learning process, if she can learn from my mistakes, and the mistakes of others that have lived before her, that’s wonderful. Because it took me a long time to work on being brave and courageous. I’m still learning.
How many battles do humans fight over and over again in different generations? How many wars are still fought, physical, spiritual, group, and individual? You can relearn the same mistakes from the past–often it sticks more if you do–but for every challenge that is overcome, there is a new future to be written. If we got over ourselves, got over being worried about being rejected, worried about baring our souls and our naked vulnerability, knowing that no matter how cruel people were, we could handle it–how much more could we accomplish? This is what I want the next generation to face.
We think we know how to live a life. Get good grades, go to college, marry and have kids–it a script for the American dream. The real dream isn’t about being a certain way, having certain things. The human race has accomplished many things, solved problems that now seem easy, and we arrive into an uncertain future. We leveled up.
So the boss battles are that much harder, and require a different approach. I don’t want my daughter to fight the same kind of battles that I did. I don’t mind that the challenges will be unknown–that is the nature of the game. Part of the risk is not knowing what you’re stepping into.
But I look at my life–my middle class, comfortable life–and I feel blessed. This existence of mine, in this location and in this timestream, is a gift. It is the manifestation of the dreams of people who came before me. It is a life partly of my own making and partly the making of my ancestors who dared to dream this dream. I want Rowan and her classmates and the next generations to skip the old tests of courage and go into new ones. That’s how you open new worlds, and start to manifest new dreams.