My daughter came running into the room, her hands waving wildly in the air and a grin across her face a mile wide. She reached down and pulled out her soccer ball, then threw it to me. “Mama!” she exclaimed, “I’m so good at soccer. I should be on a team!” Let’s stop right here and acknowledge that my precious sunbeam is only three and three-quarters. She thinks that playing soccer means throwing a ball into the air volleyball-style and the only thing she knows about the sport is that sometimes the players wear their hair in braids and that’s really neat because she wears her hair in braids to school sometimes.
Her innocence and excitement were enough to convince me that maybe signing her up for the spring season wouldn’t be such a bad idea, even though I swore up and down that I wouldn’t put my kids in organized sports until at least elementary school. So I hopped online, filled out the forms, paid the dues, and she’s set to start in March.
I’m excited for her, though I fully expect it to be a semi-crazed form of organized chaos. Another emotion I can’t help but feel, however? A little hint of apprehension.
Here begins her slow, solo journey away from her old mama. Here is where she starts to develop her own interests and explore her own curiosities. I never wanted a thing to do with soccer, as I was too interested in cheering and gymnastics. I wanted to ride horses and do backbends and explore the creek behind our house when I was her age. She’d rather look at her books all day or ride her tricycle around the driveway. We’re different, she and I, and that truth will only become more evident the older we both become.
Sure, we have the same mousy brown hair and the exact same laugh. We both think papa is hilarious and we talk quickly and with our hands in much the same manner. She and her brother are the other parts of my heart, and I’m beyond blessed to share so many similarities with the both of them. Yet, even though they’re still young, I’m already starting to see their own individual quirks come out of the woodworks, revealing to me that I didn’t create miniature versions of myself, but rather full, whole persons with minds, creativities, and passions that are singular from mine.
In many ways, I’m thankful for that division. I’m grateful that there are cycles that don’t have to carry over from generation to generation without any sort of chasm. For instance, I’ve seen my own father break free from patterns of addiction and depression that shaped his ancestors and gripped their families for decades. It would have been easy to keep up the trend, and in fact science says it’s not improbable to do so. Yet, he decided to forge his own path and become the kind of dad that cries at high school cheerleading competitions and travels across the country to watch his kid compete in a band championship. He’s good and honest and clean and intentional about the time he spends with each of us, though he could have easily fallen prey to that familiar loop.
While that example is a little heavy, it proves to me that we’re all capable of making our separate ways and that perhaps being a parent means embracing that freedom in ourselves while simultaneously cultivating it in our own children. I’m not my parents, and my children aren’t me and forcing them into a predefined mold will only seek to undermine and weaken our relationship.
As a parenting population, we naturally want better for our children than we had for ourselves. We want them to reach higher, love deeper, and live more sweetly than we could ever imagine. I think that’s what being a mother or father is, at the very core. Yet, that doesn’t mean that we want them to fulfill some sort of personal dream of ours that never came to fruition. Sure, I would have loved to have become a famous country music singer, but I can’t carry a tune in a bucket and Nashville never came calling. That doesn’t mean I’ll push my daughter in that direction to give it another go. Instead, I’ll let her find her own dreams and cut her own way through this messy and beautiful life to find what brings her deep joy.
Maybe it’s soccer. Maybe it’s painting, or drawing, or making school lunches at midnight while the rest of her family sleeps. Maybe she’ll be a mama of her own one day, or a veterinarian. Maybe she’ll visit all the places I never did, or maybe (fingers crossed) she’ll settle down in the pasture beside our homeplace.
The thing is, I don’t know. I don’t know what she’ll be really great at, or what she’ll fail at. I don’t know what interests she’ll unearth by accident or what great hobbies she’ll tend to throughout her life. I do know, however, that they don’t have to be related to mine. They can be special and they can be hers. And as her biggest fan, I’ll be there for it all. For now, that means chilly hands wrapped around a warm coffee mug on a soggy soccer field in the middle of March. One day, it might mean wrinkled hands cupping hers in a hospital delivery room, then swinging my grandbabies high. Chase after that which makes you feel alive, sweet girl, and I’ll make sure you’ve got plenty of wind in your sails to get there.