“Did you see what your daughter is wearing?” he asked me as I snuck into the back of her Sunday school classroom with a tardy Starbucks. Taking a sip, I nodded, unsure of what my daughter actually had on that morning. That may sound surprising, especially for church, but as parents we decided long ago to allow our children to express who they are in ways that may make others shake their heads. Glancing up, I found my eldest in the front row, singing her heart out to ‘Father Abraham,’ wearing one of her most recent faves: a silk red blouse, gold and red ankle length velour skirt, a hot pink sock, a white polka dot anklet sock, and white strapped heels. “She reminds me of Punky Brewster,” I told the elder, who had no recollection of the 80s series I grew up with. I had always admired Punky’s pigtails, neon non-matching outfits, mismatched legwarmers, and spunk. My eldest, who is 7 going on 17, doesn’t necessarily enjoy the pigtails or anything else I try to create with her hair, but encompasses the unique sense of self that Punky promoted, but also one that I never exuded as a child and still struggle with today.
This conversation didn’t startle me, as often our children act as entertainment for a much older church congregation, but it did follow me into the service that Sunday morning. Our pastor’s message was ‘Holding Fast to God’s Promises.’ I didn’t make an initial connection, but soon, God would connect the dots for me. As our pastor spoke, she said, “Our anxiety stems from the things we cannot control. Even the fear of an ordinary day can arm us.” I realized then how my daughter was teaching me about my own control issues. Looking back, we’ve had early morning doozies about what was appropriate or not to wear to school, alongside with what clothing felt good. She cannot stand anything tight or any material that is not soft. Jeans are a no-go. When we first decided we would allow our children to be free to choose clothing and toys and other things some kids are not allowed to decide, we never expected to see a red-haired monster emerge from her bedroom kicking and screaming in the same skinny jeans her friends were wearing with boots and baggy cardigan sweaters. It really put our choice into perspective.
What my daughter doesn’t comprehend is the fear I have that someday, someone will steal her brevity, confidence, and creative self-expression.
My pastor continued on with, “In fear we treat others as obstacles and fail to see others as support.” The light bulb finally came on as I sat there contemplating. Claire is my support. Claire is my teacher. Perhaps even a spiritual guide as a yogi once told me after meditating at a retreat years ago. I have been failing to see this all along. She has been teaching me to not allow fear to continue controlling my decisions in life that ultimately speak to the decisions I end up making for my own children. She has been trying to teach me to not be afraid of failure, or mistakes, as I have lived for so long dodging and darting. I am blessed and proud to say that this lesson, albeit a mysterious one, is one that I must grasp now before I continue living in a way that my children observe as controlled by fear. I never want them to think it is ok to let fear take over since “mommy does.” I never want them to dart a new experience because they are afraid of just showing up unprepared or as a novice. I never want them to dodge a phone call because they are nervous about who it is and what news they have to share. I want them to embrace their fears, and as cliche as it is, destroy them.
And someday, an older gentleman, or perhaps a pre-teen Queen B will comment on my daughter’s choice in clothing, but I assuredly believe she will hold fast to God’s promise of love conquering the fear of what others think about her in today’s society and kindly quip back about fashion or trends or comfort. If she trembles, and even stumbles, I will be there to remind her of how brave she is and how one day, long ago, she taught me that fear and anxiety are obstacles we can overcome together with God’s love. Until then I will keep working on my own fears and allowing the love of my beautiful, courageous, “I’m-not-a-match-girl-momma!” child to continue guiding me and helping me learn life’s lessons about letting go and growing up.