She’s about to turn 9, my daughter. Juliet is the second born of my four children, and my only girl.
I call her my sweet angel girl, my ally in a house full of boys. I love the age she is now—at 9, she is fearless and full of the confidence that comes with childhood, unmarred by the expectations our culture has of women and girls. There’s a sort of freedom from gender at her age—neither girl nor boy, just kid. She flies down the street on her brother’s scooter, pigtails flying—she sometimes lets me put pigtails in her hair still—feet callused by the concrete and her refusal to wear shoes outdoors. She climbs trees, organizes kickball games with neighborhood boys, and loves throwing the ball with her dad in the backyard. She sometimes spends hours playing with her stuffed animals and crafting intricate plots for them. When it comes to being a child, she is all in.
But I know change is coming. Things are shifting just a little, and I sometimes catch a glimpse of the young lady inside my daughter, waiting to emerge. Time is running out on her little girlhood, I can sense it. I catch her in my makeup drawer, dabbling in lip glosses and admiring the effect in the mirror. She slides my bracelets on her arm and asks to borrow one of my handbags, carefully tucking a lip balm and spare change inside. It’s still dress-up at this point, like the princess costumes and fairy wings she used to love wearing. But she’s not pretending to be a fairy anymore, and I know it won’t be long (a few years go by in a blink!) before it’s not dress-up anymore.
Just the other day—“Mom!” her voice called to me from across the house. “Mom, where’s Dad?”
Her words were deliberate and a little stiff as she swapped her usual “Mama” and “Daddy” for the more grown-up “Mom” and “Dad.”
“Mom?” I asked. “Who’s Mom?”
She ignored my question and has been making an effort to call me “Mom” ever since. I can recall doing the same as a kid, making the conscious decision to trade in “Mommy” for “Mom.” So I get it, she’s getting older, and maybe “Mama” feels babyish to her. (She’s obviously unaware JR Ewing never stopped calling his mother “Mama.”) But I don’t like it. I especially don’t like it when my 6-year-old follows suit. I want so much to correct them—“My name is MAMA, ok?—but it’s just putting off the inevitable. She’s getting older whether I like it or not, whether I’m “Mama” or “Mom.” A few weeks shy of her ninth birthday, she’s still a little girl, but she’s halfway to 18! Boggles the mind. Right now she still thinks I’m cool, but I’m predicting my coolness quotient will plummet with her over the next few years. Until then, I need to take advantage of the present, when she’s still my little girl, and I her Mama. I only have so much time left to brainwash her with my opinions! And it won’t be long before she no longer allows me to fix her hair into pigtails.
My grandmother says “childhood lasts as long as it should.” But as I watch my daughter’s childhood fly by, it feels entirely too short.
(Betsy Swenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)