ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

My Daughter’s Arms are Muscled

on August 10, 2014

My daughter, A, is a competitive gymnast.

She’s many other things.  Like yesterday she went to play hockey.  She plays the flute.  She loves doing computer animation and is already daydreaming about going to Rhode Island School of Design.  She’s just going into seventh grade, so she has a little time for that.

Today we’re at the pool, and she has brought a bag for collecting bugs for her science class this fall.  I couldn’t quite throw the bag to her, so she had to get out to get it.  And when she grabbed the edge of the pool, I could see the muscles in her shoulders.  And her arms.  I’m used to seeing the muscles in her legs, but the upper body is new to me.  Her back ripples when she swings her arm.

She’s twelve now, heading for middle school.  Sometimes she’s nervous about things and she has to be hugged a lot.  She can be shy even with people she knows well.  We have to talk her into doing social things, but she has a great time when she goes.  In many ways she’s still a little girl.

There’s just something about her, the way she looks and the way she speaks and the things she does.  She’s becoming…I’m hesitant to say a woman.  It’s more like she’s becoming an older girl.  She likes going to dances with her girls; she went to the free concert in the park Friday and met up with some of her girlfriends.  And she’s still so open with me; she talks to me, she confides and tells me about her day at school or her troubles with friends.  I tell her I am always happy and willing to listen, and that it’s okay if things happen that she wants to keep private.  As long as her safety is not compromised.

She’s so different from the way I remember myself.  I was way more secretive, for one thing.  I would no more have talked to my mother about the mean girls in fifth grade than I would have talked to her about going to the moon.  Already I was thinking about writing, and I was writing short stories and reading and didn’t have anyone to talk to about that.  My mother would have been the absolute last choice.  I really didn’t like to be teased (and I still don’t), and the message I got was that I wasn’t good enough just the way I was.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t like to be teased; it mattered that the family wanted to tease me.

My generation of parents keeps hearing that we’re too indulgent with our kids.  We give them everything they want.  Our kids are too connected to technology, too disconnected from nature or society or whatever it is.  We don’t have any discipline.  For me it was never about indulgent; it was about not shoving them into a box they aren’t made to fit in.  I want them to behave because they know how to behave, not because they’re afraid of me.  If they didn’t get it under control we just left.  I try hard not to be an ego-driven parent.  I try to make decisions based on what’s best for them, not me.  I don’t need my kids to be anybody but themselves.

It’s not that I see myself in her; any parent knows that you see that every day.  It’s more that I can see something that feels new to me.  This girl isn’t going to have anything bad happen to her, and if it does, she’ll have a whole network of help.  This girl won’t subvert her own personality and her own needs so she can be with a man.  This girl stays focused on her own goals and her own dreams.

Okay, I know that her life isn’t going to be perfect.  I know that every generation thinks life is going to be different for its daughters, and I really do believe that change is the only constant. She won’t always make the best choices.  And she might even start pushing down her own personality for other people.

But look at her, swinging her arms.  She can do anything, for herself, not to please me or anyone else.  She’s not muscular because of what it looks like.  She’s muscular because of what she can do.  Her body can do a roundoff double back handspring.  Handstand pushups.  She can balance on a four inch balance beam and then she does a cartwheel.

She’s beautiful.


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