Monday, August 19, 2013

Into the middle of things

My oldest daughter might be having the summer of her life. I’m insanely jealous.

Earning money babysitting.  Immersion soccer camp. A week at the lake, inviting friends one at a time. Learning to water ski. Several weeks at home doing nothing, calling no one, redecorating her room, and reading books, sketching, climbing trees, hiking with me, taking pictures, playing with her little sister. Plenty of family gatherings with cousins, and a two-day stint working as a 'stable girl' for one of my older sisters at a horse festival in town.

As I write this, she's on a beach, or swimming in the Atlantic, or scaling a bluff, or flinging across the marina in a child-manned dingy boat, or fishing in the deep sea, or checking out the seals, on an island off Massachusetts with her friend who happens to be the daughter of my friend.

She's been waiting  all summer for this particular trip. 

Watching her lately, I’m convinced that eleven just might be the best age there is. She's teetering ecstatically on the precipice of young womanhood with no reason to fear the fall.

She's all confidence, hope, ideas, curiosity, positive optimism. None of that pure zest is getting bogged down by a fear of being disliked, of being fat, of being ugly, of being stupid, of being unlovable, of being inferior, of being anything less or more than she is.

She is content, a human being, being and feeling fabulous about what life has to offer and how comfortably she seems to fit into it.

Being out of school is a bonus. Being away from the confines of schedule, forced learning, and forced social interaction, being able to pick and choose who she spends her time with, aside from me, is liberating for her.

When I saw her working at the horse show, she was running to fetch a girth back at the barns. She was so assured. So pleased with herself. I chased her playfully to where she had left her bike, as she rode off through the sea of makeshift stables, I shouted, “you are so lucky, you are the luckiest girl in the world, I want to be you.”

But the thing is, I don't want to be her. I don't need to be her. I already have been her. And that's what makes it so alluring. The remembering after all this time. The awakening. The tasting of the past. The almost feeling what it felt like, but not quite, to be 11. As with all endangered stages of growth and states of mind, it doesn't last.

Which is why I've been obsessed lately with trying to capture the unique space in time Esther is occupying in words, before it morphs into something else entirely. Something more complicated, self aware and brooding.

I came upon a description from Annie Dillard in her memoir An American Childhood. If you haven't read this, you should.

I absolutely love this description of children recognizing they're no longer children, not yet adults, and that there's no stopping the trajectory.

 Annie Dillard  An American Childhood:
“Children ten years old wake up and find themselves here, discover themselves to have been here all along; is this sad? They wake like sleepwalkers in full stride; they wake like people brought back from cardiac arrest or from drowning in media res, surrounded by familiar people and objects, equipped with a hundred skills.

They know the neighborhood, they can read and write English, they are old hands at the commonplace mysteries, and yet they feel themselves to have just stepped off the boat, just converged with their bodies, just flown down from a trance, to lodge in an eerily familiar life already well underway.

I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again. I woke at intervals until, by that September when Father went down the river, the intervals of waking tipped the scales, and I was more often awake than not. I noticed this process of waking, and predicted with terrifying logic that one of these years not far away I would be awake continuously and never slip back, and never be free of myself again.
Consciousness converges with the child as a landing tern touches the outspread feet of its shadow on the sand; precisely, toe hits toe. The tern folds its wings to sit, its shadow dips and spreads over the sand to meet and cup its breast. Like any child, I slid into myself perfectly fitted, as a diver meets her reflection in  a pool. Her fingertips enter the fingertips on the water, her wrists slide up her arms. The diver wraps herself in her reflection wholly, sealing it at the toes, and wears it as she climbs rising from the pool, and ever after. "

See what I mean?

Do you remember this? 


Karen said...

Absolutely beautiful photos and even more gorgeous description of your daughter--who she is and who she is about to become. I have an 11yo daughter too, but she is not filled with confidence, hope, positive optimism like yours. She is "afraid of being disliked, of being fat, of being ugly, of being stupid" and yet she is a beautiful thin redhead that everybody loves being around. I'm not sure if these insecurities come from within or if they've somehow leached from me to her. She's not like this all the time, thank God, but enough to make her mother wince and worry. I'm so glad Esther is having the summer of her life.

Ceciel said...

A beautiful text, briming with love.
I have an 11 year old son, who is almost the opposite of what you describe. Finding little interest in what surrounds him, easily upset and often defiant. I try very hard to help him (maybe too hard) and so wish he could take a taste to life. Just like Karen, I think my own insecurities probably weighed on him...
Esther is lucky, and you are too in a way...

Betsy said...

Karen: I'm curious about when these insecurities manifested themselves in your daughter. I am basically waiting for them to invade Esther's peace of mind any day now, as they did for me around 12 or 13.

Betsy said...

Ceciel: I know I am lucky. But I'm always aware that luck can change, which is why I am so aware of this easy breezy stage she's going through. I just read somewhere that puberty is the enemy of self esteem. Is this what is happening to your son or has this always been his personality?

Was Living Down Under said...

A beautiful piece again Betsy. I love the metaphors she uses to describe the journey between childhood and adulthood - the slow awakening and awareness. My mum studied child psychology as part of her degree and she said that you'll find 12 year olds often become quiet. Some children are born more confident and self-assured than others. I see it in my own children. My oldest has a need to please. My middle child won't do anything she doesn't want to and if she sees she has no choice she'll somehow make it her own idea. I think the activities you describe Esther involved in, her art and her sports, help build her confidence and keep her grounded in it. I think you and Ian probably have a lot to do with it too. So glad she's having the summer of her life. And so happy that you can watch it (as we do).

Your posts - they hardly seem real to me. The pictures and the words. They're so beautiful and they transport me. Thank you!

Karen said...

Betsy: She's always been a shy child, though as I said never lacks for friends. I would say that she became less confident, more negative, etc last summer when she was 10, just about to turn 11. She'll be 12 in 2 weeks and she's definitely in the midst of puberty (my kids hit it early, just like I did. Lucky us.) I think another factor might be that mine is a middle child, not the oldest like Esther. While my daughter is no slouch in school, she has an older brother who is a math/science whiz and a younger sister who aces everything at school too. Though we only ask her to do the best she can, I know she feels pressured by the two of them.

Anonymous said...



mooserbeans said...

Betsy, this is the most amazing stage. It is like watching a butterfly spread it's wings. Awesome post! Right now, you are helping to lay the groundwork for the confidence that she'll need to tap into in her teens. Things might not always be so amazing and magical. If/when that happens, she will be able to tap into this. Esther's journey reminds me in so many ways of my oldest daughter's. BTW, if when she is 14, she rips into you and you wonder what happened to your girl, go back and read this. Trust me:)

Emma said...

Yes, I remember that feeling. Where time just stretched into infinity and things were still simple. I hope my children can experience that too, but, like some of the other ladies here, I'm not sure... for Simon, who has just turned 13 I think that time is now for him, with the realisation that the world can be an exciting, fulfilling place and that he can be part of it. But he's also a born worrier, so that can be frustrating. For the other 2, well I'll have to wait and see. Maybe we need to move to somewhere idyllic, like where you live! Environment plays such a part in it I think.

Angela said...

I remember! It was like that for me, too, until the summer I was 13, when puberty robbed the simplicity (sigh). I had something that I took for granted at the time, but am now very thankful for: freedom. My parents could and did let me roam, they just stayed where I could find them. I wasn't neglected, but blissfully free. I don't know if I will be able to offer my kids the same, where and how we live now. But I am glad in my soul to hear that Esther can have such summers too, and wish you much pleasure watching!

Diane said...

Love this! Brought me to tears. I have an 11 year old girl was well and I can see her slowly moving toward adulthood but still being a child. It brings back many memories as well of my own childhood. So glad Esther is having such a wonderful summer!

karen M said...

yes I remember, but mroeso, I remember my youngest daughter zoe at 11- what a wonderful wonderful time- so into horses and discoveries- this was beautifully written betsy and reminded me so of Zoe- what a lucky girl your daughter is , what a wonderful summer- I just can't believe she is 11 already, where did the time go ???????

Anna said...

really nice piece. Think you are right about age 11, though from reading some of the comments maybe it will now be 9?? I have no interest in returning to adolescence or even young childhood. But if we could time travel for a few weeks back to age 11 - wow. it would be fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Betsy, I read your other blog. I want to thank you that Im not alone. And I want to share my story with you but I don't want to have it viewed publicly. Because, people judge easily and can throw dirt that may hurt my feelings. I know, even my husband, my parents and everyone close to me know I'm a good mom. Now, I live with fear by people judging and calling cops on me when I do not know it may harm my child until I know what may happen to him. I love love love my son so much