Jenna, the three year old goblin in front of me, all fine blonde hair and big blue eyes, gazed up into my face, patiently waiting for a reaction.
"What did you say, honey?" I ask her.
"I wanna be a cheerleader!” she replies.
I stared down at the enthusiastic little girl, so like me in so many ways, and yet so incredibly different. We had been watching Boise State play football on TV, and her eyes sparkled at the prospect of being one of the people dancing around with pompoms. It was at that very moment that I knew I was utterly out of my element when it came to raising my daughter.
Girls terrify me, have always terrified me, will probably always terrify me. I've never been great at being one, and I've always felt like I was missing whatever part of me was supposed to exist to make me love dresses and makeup and shopping. My immediate internal response to this sweet little goblin’s request to cheer on sports teams from the sidelines instead of the stands was to be a horrible parent and tell her she was just confused. She didn't really want to cheerlead -- what she really wanted was to wrestle like Mommy did.
I suppressed that urge and said, "Fun," with as much false conviction as I could muster.
It wasn't that I had a problem with the concept of cheerleaders, per se. It was more that I couldn't relate to many of the cheerleaders I had known in my youth. I had this sudden panic that I would drift out of my daughter's life; that we would have nothing in common; that she would have no reason to talk to me; that she'd move out; that I'd never see her again. This thought process was irrational at best, but in that moment I realized that I'm the adult in this evolving relationship, and if I kept on that track, my daughter wouldn't be the problem; I would. Instead of fighting Jenna's love for things I didn't understand, I vowed to embrace them.
It was an important lesson to start learning. I say “start”, because it is something I’m still working on. There are days when I really don’t want to care that my daughter’s socks match her headband, but if she’s pointing it out, it’s important to her, and needs to be, at the very least, something I recognize. It’s an adjustment for me, thinking that clothes can be more than jeans, tank tops, and flannels. That nail polish comes in more colors than black. That dresses aren’t just for special occasions and funerals.
When we went school shopping this year, I was informed that second grade meant Jenna was ready to accessorize. She wanted scarves. She thought that would be a good look for fall. In previous years, buying new shoes for the year meant a new pair of tennis shoes, but that changes when you’re dressing in skinny jeans, leggings, and dresses. It turns out that you need more than one pair of shoes, which is a concept that I fervently do not understand. However, it would seem that wardrobes aren’t complete without flats and sandals to sit next to tennies in a closet. I’m learning a lot from her.
Jenna is a girl of many passions, which is one of the things we have in common. What we don’t have in common is that one of her passions is numbers. It’s not that I don’t love that she loves math, it’s just that math and I are at odds with one another. I had to work hard for all of my grades in that particular subject, and the further I got in my schooling, the more I realized that math was my scholastic nemesis.
When I was approximately eight weeks pregnant, I started buying my fetus books. I didn’t know if it was a girl or a boy, but I knew that it was going to love to read. Or else. By the time my very first goblin was born, she had a passable library; by the time she got out of kindergarten, she was reading a grade level above standard. This was great! I majored in English, and I clung to the fact that if Jenna and I couldn’t connect on any other level, we could at least connect with books. But by the end of first grade, Jenna’s favorite subject had shifted from reading to math.
This year, I’ve been working on encouraging her to pursue her love for solving equations and playing with numbers. I may not be great at math, but I do love puzzles, so I’ve been attempting to meet her in the middle: playing with logic. Honestly, in a lot of ways, this has been harder for me than caring about adorable outfits. I’ve been trying my darndest to not sully the good name of Arithmetic in her presence. I’ve been trying to stop saying it’s dumb, and bad, and the worst. Instead, I’ve been having Jenna teach me what she learns in school. I figure that if I can’t help Jenna with her math, then she can help me with mine. Maybe I’ll come out the other side with more knowledge and a wicked smart daughter with a doctorate in something numbers-related (I’m not even going to try and pretend I know what that would be) and friends who will explain to me what she is talking about at family dinners.
Ultimately, I have very few answers when it comes to parenting. All I know is that I want my goblins to connect with me on a level that is deeper than me being the one who keeps one of the roofs over their heads. I want them to know that I’m interested in them, even when I don’t understand them, and that I’m willing to take a part in their hobbies, even when they fall outside the realm of my interest or knowledge. I think if I can just keep working on that, it won’t matter if we have tons of things in common, or just a few, because we’ll understand each other on a deeper level, and they’ll know I will always make the effort when it comes to them.