You turned 9 just the other day, and I have to admit that the baffling confluence of conflicting energies that comprise your essence sometimes leaves me wanting to hide in the linen closet with a bottle of vodka.
But I don’t have a walk-in linen closet.
Some days, you are a a wisp of a pre-teen, thinking of boys, worrying about your interaction with peers. Other days, you are a tomboy, in your ripped jeans and soccer shirts, your hair untameable, your smile hiding behind a stoic facade of stubbornness. You are a ray of sunshine some days, when all the pieces of your life fall into place as they should. And on those other days, when the homework is unrelenting, the household responsibilities too heavy to bear, the clouds hide most of your brilliance.
In a word, you are inconsistent. Even your teachers agree that they never know which Kelsey will be attending school. The exuberant helpful Kelsey who does her work and is eager to help, or the cloudy grumpy Kelsey, the one who loses her class work and tries to hide during class participation.
I think that you’re taking the time to figure things out. Third grade seems a little cruel, somehow. It’s the first time I’ve noticed that your peers are segregating themselves by gender. I’ve watched the playground dynamic, and I know how you yearn to jump into that game of tag with the boys. Or be asked to play soccer. But there you are, on the swing, a solitary long-legged pensive thing, your hair flying, your shoelaces always untied. You aren’t a solitary soul. I know this. And I also know that you are still adjusting to the new school. The other kids don’t get you yet. They don’t understand the prize hiding under your shy smile. They can’t feel the warmth of your beautiful soul yet. But you’re also not allowing them to.
If I could give you one thing, it would be the wisdom to know that you won’t always fit in, and that it’s OK. That you and your peers and friends are like fantastic clocks. Your pendulum is swinging in a different rhythm as many of them. Sometimes, you will find yourself swinging in synch with one or two others, and you will feel it in your heart. A rightness. But every one of you is changing and moving at different paces. And when those rhythms are off, you will feel that discord. But it is so fleeting. I advised you bring a book to school, for those times when you are feeling like no one wants to play with you. You always have the imaginative worlds of books to wander, the halls of Hogwarts, the fecund forests of Narnia, the dragon’s lair–universes so colorful and wondrous that you won’t feel so alone. I found this a comfort when I was the new girl, when I left the Coffin Elementary School in Marblehead, Massachusetts for the humid, strange playgrounds of Warrington Elementary School in Pensacola, Florida when I was 10. I always had books, even when I had no friends.
I know you are struggling to figure out who you are. You are pushing boundaries. You are pushing me away. You are seeing how much you can get away with. I am an impatient person, and I will try harder to give you space. It’s hard, though. I want to smooth your crazy hair, infuse you with positive energy to take away all that’s troubling you.
Today, you were the delay fish. You know. One of those fish that causes delays. Five minutes before you’re supposed to be at school, you are shirtless and shoeless, listening to music on your mp3 player in your bed. Your hair isn’t brushed. Your backpack is unpacked. You can’t find THE shirt that defines you this day. You are like this sometimes at age 9. Not quite put together. Not invested. You still got to school, and there were smiles for me when you got out of school. When you saw me, and you made a bee-line to me. And you hugged me. If you knew how delighted I was that you still hug me, still want to be affectionate with me, you would probably hug me less often! Because you seem to like being contrary girl lately. So I’ll keep hiding my delight. But I’m secretly melting.
Because no matter how hard it is to get you to eat anything that is not made of cheese or yogurt or Cliff Bars. No matter how much attitude you give me, I still adore every fiber of your being. You like to say that you have a dark soul, and it’s a running joke that I say “No you don’t. You are fluffy bunnies.” And then you smirk and give me the evil eye. But you really do have a soul that smells like spring flowers. You are fluffy bunnies and unicorns, and sunny days with birds chirping.
I know we have a lot of years ahead of us where we’re going to have trouble getting along. I’m not looking forward to those years, but I know they’re coming, and that there will inevitably be some disconnect in our relationship. Every day is a gradual pulling away, every hour a small step toward being your own person. You are 9, going on 13. I hope you will slow down and enjoy the flowers with me for just a little longer.