Saturday, August 20, 2011

The cost of growing (older) kids

The clerk told me the total and I flinched. Literally. We'd just finished gathering all the school supplies specified on the list for my oldest daughter, now in an upper grade of elementary. The expectations are much higher. And so is the cost.

It's also a lot harder. Her questions are more complex, and her moods more mercurial.

Once upon a time I could have gone to the store and bought the supplies for her. Now, however, she has a vested interest in this and all purchases, as well as many aspects of life…because in her mind, they all reflect on her. She sees herself in a new way. She's becoming self-conscious about the music she listens to, the clothes she wears, how she fixes her hair and accessorizes, the way she talks…everything.

When did all this happen and what do I do? I swear five minutes ago she was just starting to talk!

So, after shopping, I came to Facebook and stated that back to school shopping was a physical pain and added a few melodramatic OUCH comments. What I really wanted to say was, I just go a sock to the gut that my baby girl is growing up, and it is getting to be a higher cost, on all levels.

I got a lot of commiseration about the money aspect -- which added perspective -- but what I really wanted to say was less about the dollars and more about the sense. It's just more taxing the older kids get. That's a statement of fact, by the way. Not a complaint.

It just so happened that my friend Jenn commented on the same day that all these parenting magazines, website, blogs, etc. are so baby-centric. So focused on the tiny people. Once they enter pre-K, it's assumed we're well on our way or something because the supportive and instructive sites fade away. And yet, that's just we need it most. Truly.

If I ever thought the baby years were challenging, it's only because I hadn't yet hit the pre-teen years where you see this amazing journey ahead, with a couple of train wrecks that there is no avoiding (I suppose), and suddenly the stakes, you feel the stakes, and man, are they high. This is another person's life.

I was watching the Millionaire Matchmaker (yeah yeah judge not blah blah blah) and this guy thought it would be cool and unique to do a photo session with the girl on the first date. It was clearly a test, clearly a power play. Such an ass, I thought. You could tell the girl was uncomfortable with the date and idea, but feeling some form of compulsion, she went through and did it anyway. I didn't see her enjoying it at all. But I got the sense she felt as if she had to be game, had to go through with it, had to meet the test, had to play the game.

I flashbacked to college. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend and truly wanted some alone time. I needed to figure out a few things, and heal. But a good friend told me her boyfriend's fraternity brother had wanted to ask me out for a while. She and her boyfriend pressured me fiercely to "be nice" and "give the guy a chance" and on and on. I felt as if my friendship was at stake and so I buckled. I felt as if my self, my identity, was at stake, and so I went out with the guy, who cut up super nasty on me when I made it clear up front this was just a date, just one time. And then I lost the friend anyway. Much later, of course, I realized these weren't friends worth having. They didn't value me. But then again, I didn't value me enough either, to say no.

So while I reeled at the cost of growing up, financially, I started reeling about the cost of growing up, emotionally.

Buying pricey school supplies is the least of the expense I have as a parent.

"How do I raise girls who don't feel they have to subvert themselves and their reasonable boundaries to please someone else, at great personal cost," I asked my husband. That matchmaker is horrific -- telling girls to look some one way to attract a man, as if the most crucial thing is to be attracting men by being hot. But she's just one small voice in a loud chorus.

Folders are "girl" folders and "boy" folders, so are notebooks, some of which now offer stickers and markers so you can write I Luv U! messages on your binders. Those are aimed at girls, of course. Boys don't need to share their feelings.

No wonder there was this photographing ass and uncomfortable girl on this horrific date. It was inevitable that this scenario played out. No wonder there was this dedicated romantic guy and this reluctant girl on an awkward picnic date. It was inevitable this scenario played out. No wonder the reluctant girl lost friends over it; she was supposed to be flattered above all and set all aside to receive this boy's attentions.

In middle school, this girl carried spiral notebooks that her mother bought her for school. They were filled with lists of boy's names because she was supposed to have a boyfriend, and she tried so hard to find likely ones. Some she really, really liked, but they didn't like her back so she thought she had no value. One day, though, she finally built up some spine to decide she had value, in and of herself, period.

Just as composition and spiral notebooks are required, some life lessons are required too, to grow up and get the education you need.

I understand that.

But still, it breaks my mother's heart.

And on some level, I resist. I still want to raise girls who carry folders of whatever color and design they like best. Who have the power and authority to say, "real friends don't pressure friends into dates," and believe it. I want to raise girls who grow up carrying pink folders (which they prefer) and black belts.

I'll fork out the dollars to buy expensive school supplies, that's the easy, albeit it pocket-ly painful, part. If only all the good sense I need in the coming years was as easy to pull out of a wallet and hand over to a clerk to pay the bill.

I have to trust I have a card with enough balance on it in my wallet for that sense. I will trust it. I will also trust my loving friends, who go ahead of me and can advise.