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Wide Awake: Growing Girls
Watching my daughters create their own lives

My daughters were born close together, so at one time, I had three kids under age 5.

In those early years, I happily spent a lot of time shopping for pastel girly things: matching dresses, fancy bows and patent-leather shoes with little buckles. I would dress this little trio, and we’d go wherever I wanted to take them. It was like having three cute and cuddly dolls. Only they were real.

When the girls entered grade school, I was very focused on raising strong, independent girls. The first time someone gave my oldest daughter a Barbie doll I was incensed. I actually threw it to the top of our hall closet so she would never see it. I didn’t want my daughter influenced by this small-waisted blonde who always wore lipstick. We put the girls on sports teams and bought them toy cars (which they passed by to get to the dolls, which eventually were named Barbie). We created a home where girls could do anything and everything they wanted. And when they decided what they wanted to do, they understood they should do it well.

Now my daughters are teens. One is in college. One is figuring out which colleges to apply to, and the youngest is maneuvering high school. I can’t choose their clothes anymore. In fact, we have occasional arguments about what I think is acceptable for a young girl to wear. And I can’t just pile them in the car without a mention of our destination. My role has changed significantly. I now advise and guide, and sometimes hold my breath and hope for the best.

I laugh when I think back to my oldest daughter’s sleeping issues when she was an infant. Both Joe and I were sleep deprived because this baby stayed awake all night and slept all day. We took turns spending many late-night hours trying to get her back to sleep. We added HBO to our cable package, because it was the only channel with decent programming at 3 am. We were obsessed with getting this child to sleep through the night. It was all we thought and worried about.

My sister, who had three pre-teen boys at the time, told me, “It isn’t a big deal. You’ll have much bigger problems to worry about when she’s older.” I didn’t understand then, but she was right.

Problems today seem so much larger than in the past. And now my role is smaller. Sometimes I have to stand back, watch a painful event unfold, and wait for a young girl to turn to me and ask a question. The worst part of that is sometimes I don’t have a good answer. I don’t know what’s best for her – only she does. That was a humbling realization for me.

I see them growing into young women, and I wonder what their lives will bring. I realize the dreams I once had for their futures have changed. I now hope that everything Joe and I have taught and shown them helps create a life that is exactly the way they want it to be. While it took me a long time to realize this, I understand that I don’t know what that is. I can’t, because it’s not my life.

My days of playing with my three incredible dolls have passed. I can admire them, love them and remember how awesome it was when we did have those times together. But they get to be real people now. These young women get to move along whatever path they choose. Joe and I can step onto the path, but we don’t get to change its course. My fingers are crossed that we’ve taught them well – and they were listening when it mattered.

I am slowly getting comfortable with my new place, which is not in the middle of all the action but more on the sidelines. That’s where the cheerleaders are, and I can do that job. In fact, when it comes to these dolls, you won’t find a bigger fan.

May 2013
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