I have a daughter who started exclusively dressing herself and picking out all her clothes at the store when she was two years old. She declared that when she grew up, she was going to be “fashion.” She has always been at the leading edge of chic trends in clothing, can date a film to its year of production based on the width of the main character’s pantlegs, and is a name-brand shopper. (She has a job. God knows I gave up on shopping for her clothes years ago. I’m typing this while wearing a ripped t-shirt and a six-year-old pair of jeans.)
Her sister couldn’t be more different in this regard. She shops for vintage clothing at local thrift stores. (Her sister thinks those places smell bad.) Daughter number two eschews the shopping mall for shopping online for circa-1984 blazers from random Lithuanian used clothing dealers. No lie. I can’t tell you how many items of clothing she has purchased from the former Eastern bloc.
If their style of clothing is different, so, too, are their personal preferences for décor, favorite school courses, and plans for how to tackle the world at large. But what’s more fascinating to me is not so much how the two of them differ from each other, but how they differ from me. I’m extroverted, and they’re introverted. They are both way better at math than I am, and neither of them has a firm enough grasp of adequate comma usage, despite my best efforts. Every time daughter one sends me a funny meme that I don’t really understand or daughter two gets excited about a sparkly rock she found on the side of the road, I wonder where these two creatures even came from.
It’s funny how this happens with mothers. I think there is a little part of our mind that is continually surprised that these creatures manufactured inside of us, who we nourish and raise for years, are not, in fact, us. They are not even extensions of ourselves. I think this is true for adoptive and biological moms. These children grow up in our household, eat our food, experience our environment, but somehow have the audacity to have their own minds, opinions, and set of behaviors. But this doesn’t bother me. In fact, I find it fascinating.
Parenting is a constant state of wonder: what will they do or say next? It’s like being in a live audience of The Truman Show. You get to see them learn, grow, adapt, and bloom. There’s never a dull moment.
Of course, you also have to see them struggle, fall, hurt, and fail. Parenting is a balancing act of keeping them safe and guiding them, while letting them make mistakes and work issues out for themselves. You have to decide whether you really are going to make them eat what you set in front of them or fix them something else to avoid the inevitable meltdown. Are you going to run their forgotten homework to their school for the second time in a week or let them get a failing grade? You try not to pull the roof handle off your car while they’re learning how to drive and try not to panic when you hear sirens down the road not long after they’ve driven away. You keep the lines of communication open so they’re comfortable texting you if they’re somewhere they’re not supposed to be, and things have gotten out of control. And most importantly, you talk with them, model behavior for them, and do your absolute best to show them that it’s okay to not be perfect, as long as they always strive to do their best, while also being kind, strong, good, and, perhaps most importantly, authentic. Because, in the end, they are not you. Above all, they must be true to themselves. In the words of the editor-in-chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour: “Create your own style . . . let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”
Rebecca Beittel is a mom. Wife. Reader. Writer. Barn Escaper. Progressive Thinker. Not a supporter of the patriarchy.