“Mommy, that looks like fun! What is it called, and can I do it?” Ruby asked me the other day when she saw a commercial that showed someone sky-diving.
I repeated what is fast becoming my mantra: “I can’t stop you once you turn 18.”
Not yet 5, Ruby has a wild streak that is completely foreign to me. I was – and still am – shy, risk-averse, a compulsive rule-follower. When the teacher left the room, I was the one appointed to stand at the front of the room and write the names of misbehavers on the chalkboard – and I did so with great relish, even putting check marks beside the names of repeat offenders, just as the teacher did. “Rules are rules,” I thought piously to myself. In high school, thank God, I mellowed somewhat and even got a detention or two myself for dress code violations or being tardy to homeroom, but I was still the kid who stayed late after school to clean up after the senior prank rather than one of the masterminds behind it. In college, I was the designated driver on the night of my 21st birthday, the one who made sure my drunk girlfriends got safely home, the one who never hesitated to call the cops if I sensed a party was getting out of hand. I have never gotten a speeding ticket in my life, and I cannot even fathom jumping out of a plane, no matter what safety precautions were in place. I do have a tattoo, but it’s of a semicolon, which I tend to think offsets any kind of “rebel” status it might have otherwise given me.
Ruby, though? Sometimes I worry that the near-constant state of panic in which I spent my entire pregnancy with Ruby bathed her in too much adrenaline in utero and left her craving it when she was out in the real world. Almost from the word go, Ruby was a thrill-seeker. She crawled early. She walked early. She climbed early. She learned to unlock doors and undo childproof caps way too early. Other babies sat placidly in strollers; Ruby would scream like she was on fire if I tried to restrict her movement like that. Now in school, Ruby is well-behaved and lovable, but still her teachers shake their heads at her spunk and spirit and energy.
She is a leader; I was a follower. She is a risk-taker; I was a rule-follower. She is a doer; I was a reader. She is sassy and outspoken; I was exceedingly polite and quiet. We both are plagued by busy minds that keep us from sleeping, but I lay awake as a kid and neurotically contemplated various worst-case scenarios; Ruby lies awake and, she tells me, thinks about dinosaurs and constellations and the origins of human life.
I am delighted at this little person I have brought into the world, but she is a complete mystery to me.
My mom, though, says the same about me. My mom was a huge tomboy and sports fan, and she was convinced her whole pregnancy that I was a boy. When I came out decidedly a girl, she decided I could still be athletic, but those dreams were soon dashed when I showed no interest in sports and even less aptitude. I made straight A’s in everything but PE. During recess, I would plead with my teachers to give me extra work so I didn’t have to go outside and risk being forced into the indignity of a tetherball game or, God forbid, four-square. Over the past three decades, my mother has made her peace with who I am, but I think she is as mystified by me as I am by Ruby.
Just last Sunday, my mom and I went to the Saints game, the first professional sporting event we’ve ever attended together and probably our first time watching football together in any capacity since she tried (with moderate success) to explain the game to me during the Saints’ 1990 playoffs run. We had a great time, but I do think she was chagrined that I directed almost all of my vitriol not at the Saints' defense but at a grammatically incorrect ad in the Superdome.
“My God,” I yelled, oblivious to the tension on the field during a time out. “There are only five words in the whole ad and still they couldn’t get them all right?!”
My mom just looked at me, the same look I gave Ruby when she said she wanted to go sky-diving. The look that says, “I love you with every cell in my body, but I have no idea how you came from me.”
Ultimately, I know my mom loves me as I am, and I love Ruby as she is, and I fully believe that loving our kids on their own terms, for their own strengths, is the most important gift we can give them.
I am still not looking forward to Ruby’s teenage years, though.
What about you? Do you see yourself in your kids, or are they completely different than you?