I went out for coffee last night with two women who have daughters around Julia's age. As women always seem to do, we spoke primarily of our children, a topic which would seem like an area of common ground for us given our four year olds. But as the night went on, it became increasingly clear to me that our children's age and gender were about all that we had in common parenting-wise.
Their girls are Barbie girls, and their days are filled with make believe and fairies and princess fantasies. "We play make believe all day long," one mother shared. "I do everything for her in character, in whatever role she wants me to play that day." The other mother nodded her head in agreement. "I'm usually a princess," she replied, "which is great because I'm just as into the princess stuff as she is. I go online after she's gone to bed and hunt down new princess things to buy for her so that I can play with them, too."
I tried hard to remain an enthusiastic participant in the conversation, but my smile became increasingly less natural as the night went on. Truth be told, I was a little incredulous, both at the role that imaginary characters play in these kids' lives and the extents their mothers go to in order to reinforce those fantasies. I'm not opposed to a few minutes of role play and banter if it helps Julia to finish her dinner without complaint, but I'll be damned if I'm going to don fairy wings and sprinkle pixie dust on her all day long. And if I'm online after the kids are in bed, it's because I'm hunting down resources for mothers who think, not princess paraphernalia for children who don't. How boring
, I thought as they described their daughters' interests. I'm so grateful that I have a daughter who can think beyond pre-packaged and pink.
"Your girls would hate living in my house," I said lightly when they turned to me for affirmation. "Doesn't Julia do this stuff all day long, too?" one of them asked. "Not really," I replied. "She likes to play with her Pollies in her room sometimes and she plays dress up whenever she has a friend over, but she's not really all that into the whole Barbie, fairy, fantasy thing."
"So then what does she like?" the other asked, clearly a little confused. I paused. Julia's interests were obviously so much more interesting and worldly than their girls'. How not to sound like a braggart? "Well, she loves to read, of course," I replied carefully. "and to do mazes and word puzzles. She does a ton of art projects and plays a lot of board games, and builds castles and drives cars with her brother sometimes. She does a lot of pretend play, too, with her dollhouse and dolls, and this time of year we're outside a lot..." I suddenly realized that their smiles were fading as much as mine had a few moments before. Couldn't they see how much more fun I have with my kid? "She's just not really focused on one thing like princesses," I finished lamely. One of them patted my hand. "That's OK," she said soothingly.
That's OK? OK? It's more than OK! It's fabulous! My child has a huge range of interests and she gives each equal time. She and I connect over books and science experiments and games and projects that interest me as much as they interest her. I'm frankly not much in my element when we sit down together with her Polly Pockets, but I'm game to give that a whirl once in a while, too, since Julia doesn't overdo those kinds of requests. I've always felt incredibly grateful to have a kid who I could talk to on a mature level, one who in both interested and interesting. But last night, I realized that these Barbie and princess mommies were every bit as grateful that they don't have a kid like mine.
It was frankly a little shocking to realize that the things which appeal to me most about my child do not interest my friends the least and vice versa. But it kind of made a lot of things make sense. Every mother should take pride in her child, and it was clear from what we'd all just said (and not said) that we all do. Our girls are very different. And yet each of us is firmly convinced that we hit the jackpot with the child we got.
It's not in my nature to nurture a princess. It's not in my friends' natures to nurture an academic. Did nature or nurture make our girls who they are? Probably a little bit of both. But as important as both of these things are in shaping our daughters, I realized last night that nature and nurture probably hold an equal importance when it comes to shaping us as mothers. It's that same magic combination of the two -- a little bit of heredity here and a little bit of unconditional love there -- that makes us our children's biggest fans. And in the end, the fact that we love our kids just the way they are matters far more than how they got to be that way.