There is no grit like the grit of a pre-teen girl. It is a combination of testing her own power and mute ignorance, of not knowing what she is or is not capable of. When I look at my daughter, who turned ten this past week, I see the way she constantly flings herself at life, how she can be so serious and responsible one moment and so goofy and intemperate the next.
Already her downy skin contains a crone. Sometimes she is very patient and wise. Life has already taught her how to choke back fear and grief in case she upsets adults. There are times when things family members have done that will make her cry in bed at night, and she won’t say anything for fear of offending.
I’ve tried hard not to hide the good and bad things about adult life from her. I try to stay one step ahead of that agile brain. It’s hard to judge when you’re doing a good job, but every once in a while Kate will do something that will tell me I’ve not done badly.
When her brother was home sick and I had to work, she kept him hydrated and gave him a wet washcloth and made sure he got some sleep. She’s amazingly sweet to her frail great grandmothers, and when Grandma Hinde forgets who she is, she’ll say things like, I’m one of your descendants, and Grandma Hinde will ruefully laugh and then keep guessing who she is.
She has the strong stomach of a healer and the keen eye of a naturalist, always looking for something special and interesting on our walks, a Western garter snake or a purple mushroom. She’s very observant. When it suits her.
And when she decides she wants something or is going to do something, she’s able to show an unearthly tenacity. She has four different volunteer jobs at school. She monitors the kindergarten class during brief teacher absences, she is a library monitor, she’s a crossing guard and two weeks out of four she helps with the lunch program. The first time she described what it’s like on soup day she had my husband and me in hysterics, but she was as serious as anybody gets, talking about work.
She didn’t do her math homework, which is not a hanging offence in these parts, and Mr. Tanner, her teacher, suspended her from serving on the lunch program. From her reaction, you would think WWIII had been declared. It was her intention to march into school the next day and tell him to jam it in his ass. Paul and I whipped around, and she smirked delicately at our expressions. “I won’t say it like that, I’ll ask him to reconsider.” And he did and she was reinstated the next day.
I think of the other times she’s shown grit, when she at the age of eight watched her beloved cat be anaesthetized to have her teeth cleaned and two teeth extracted. It was too bad the vet nearly said no. I told him this was not an ordinary 8-year-old, and if she posed the slightest problem, I’d whip her out of the O.R. and take her home. She ended up helping the technician.
She shows her grit all kinds of ways, the way she defends her friends and her own rights, sometimes yelling and sometimes very quietly when I am overstepping my authority. I hate it, but it’s part of my own growth, letting go in the right places and times. I do sometimes want to be a domestic tyrant, and right now I am the stand in, along with her dad, for every authority figure who will ever try to injure her for her own good, or dominate her for the sake of being able to. If she cannot defend and articulate her rights to me, how limited she’ll be when the big moments come.
They say in teen development in girls, the grit dies out in the face of feminizing social pressure around 12/13. I want Kate to have grit forever, even if I have to be ground up a bit myself in the process.
I wrote this at the Artist’s Way course I took from a friend of Ellie’s named June.