Past the diving for rings stage, the bikini-clad girls sat huddled in secretive laughing groups in corners of the pool. Anyone not in the group was clearly outside. My Bird was perfecting her underwater somersaults, alone, in a pool full of peers. Sometimes she swam up to the younger girls, grabbed their foot or scared them. But Bird’s younger sister made it clear she wanted her older sister to leave her and her teammates alone.
We were at a hotel for a soccer tournament. Both girls were playing in the tournament and both teams were staying at the hotel. Moms smiled and traded small talk while counting heads; dads raised their voices over each other and traded analysis of the soccer teams and then the college basketball teams. I sat quietly, shrinking. Large group interaction and small talk are not my fortes. And watching the girls on Bird’s soccer team ignore her, as they had been doing for months, felt like punches in the gut. I wanted to run away or maybe stand up and demand the girls include everyone though my girl showed no sign of caring about the alienation.
My instinct to protect my girl is powerful and strong and a completely shocking part of motherhood. Watching the social scene before me cemented the realization that in the next years I would and should no longer create a safe, comfortable world for her. Instead, I am to be the listener, the guider, the prayer warrior, and the spring board as she makes her way in a world that will hurt her, one way or another. And not stopping all the hurt, not interfering very often, that is my new job. When she was a babe, God said, “Care for her, protect her. “So I mentally wrapped her in my hand and let her peek through the holes of my fingers. But now, I must lower one finger at a time so she can see and experience more. If I keep her tightly enclosed in my figurative fist she will fall when it is time to fly. This is hard. And it hurts.
Those soccer girls, in a few days, maybe weeks, the dynamics will change. Someone else will fall out of the giggling corner and will approach my girl. Or some misunderstanding from months ago will be forgotten or cleared up. Or my girl will gain more courage and try again to interact and will be embraced. The chess pieces of the tween girl world will get rearranged over and over.
I didn’t run away that night though I wanted to. I watched, just to be sure, to be sure this was a drama of tween girls and cross-school dynamics and not a bully situation. I listened and observed and commanded my stomach to stop reacting until I could tell that this was not a toxic situation but merely the outcast experience of life that every girl experiences.
I suspect God intentionally hides how fully parenthood consumes us and changes us. All we see initially is a year of sleepless nights and irresistible toddler giggles. It all looks so doable. He doesn’t let us know how much watching our kids struggle will hurt us or how hard we will have to lean into Him for the wisdom we need. Because then we might not sign up so willingly. But then, the joys and love of motherhood would never be ours. I know of no parent who would give back the precious lives God has entrusted to their care.
Still, moms, can I hold your hand as our girls get older and the world collides with the sweetness of our little girls? As we pray our way through this crash, I am going to need your support. And the next time you watch your girl play alone in a pool full of kids, I promise to squeeze your hand to remind you, “God’s got this.”
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