Sunday, October 31, 2010

Closing our ears to parenting failures

"Did I show you the video?" my husband asks over breakfast the day after The Party.

Video? I stared at him. "Of her dancing," he answered the question my expression asked before my mouth even opened.

He clicks on his phone and holds it out for me to see. The music's volume strains the tiny speakers as the wispy figure of our daughter twirls and gyrates between splashes of strobe lights. She's not afraid to be the only person dancing.

"That's pretty loud," I say sucking my teeth. I should have remembered to bring earplugs.

I smile as I watch the tiny dancer strut her stuff on the dance floor. When I was her age I'd have been standing behind my mother's legs hoping no one would notice me. I never would have braved an empty dance floor.

None of this is new for us, though.

Since she started walking, Ittybit's been making her way to the front of the audience so she can dance with the band. And not just kids' performers, either. The bands she's seen live are accustomed to performing for adult-only crowds.

I hesitated to say this in the context of parenting since the often lamented observation that our children are losing their childhood in some ill-considered rush to attain maturity often pits parents against each other. The last thing I want to do is open a dialog about the rights and wrongs of popular culture or the parenting shortfalls that are pushing civilization toward the brink of extinction.

But it's on my mind and it just slips out.

"Do you think she's dancing inappropriately?"

He is quiet, having thought the same thing and dismissed it. "She's just having fun," he says reassuringly.

She is just doing what she's always done at parties we attend as a family. She loves the music. She loves to dance. The only difference is that she's growing up: She's attending school, choosing clothes that match and asking me to check for smudges on her face before we leave the house. She's just a little girl who knows, by heart, the lyrics of songs I've never heard before.

She's growing up. That's what's makes the off-hand remark "You're going to have to lock her up when she's a teenager" send a slight chill down my spine. I've seen the future. And it's frightening.

Usually I just shrug my shoulders an soldier on. I'm not a mom who covers my kids' eyes even when I probably should. I just don't usually notice age inappropriateness unless the little miss points it out with her own keen powers of observation.

I've become accustomed to trying to explain these awkward moments using terms I think she can understand. And then rephrasing several times until she either gets the gist or gives up in frustration.

"It's the conversation that matters, not the answers," I tell myself. I want to believe that the questions are the solution, not the problem. I tend to think that our answers have a tendency to changing with perspective and experience, each of which takes time.

Time seems to have a way of changing everything without really changing much at all.

For several decades at least, little girls shaking their hips to suggestive music wasn't something folks have had to look too hard to find: Madonna was the mother of all Britneys and Hannah Montanas.

I don't really think scantily-clad celebrities foretell the end of society, yet I can't be entirely sure.

I project my teenage self onto Ittybit's future teenager: "Go Listen to Lawrence Welk ... or what-ever-it-is-you-old-folks-listen-to ... and leave me alone with my Lady Gaga already. Sheesh."

We're not having that exact disagreement yet -- we may not be anywhere near there for all I know — but its time is coming.

My girl is growing up and she won't be mine forever.

That she will choose paths I wouldn't recommend is a certainty. Just as I did. Just as her father did. There will be mistakes and recriminations and justifications for all of us. Hopefully, there will be growth and revelations, too.

Maybe, instead of locking her up, we'll be able to let her go and she'll have the confidence to dance her way back.

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