Last week, Greta and I went for a bike ride around the block after dinner. She wanted some ‘mommy-daughter time,’ she said. She hasn’t ridden her bike all summer long, opting instead for her Razor scooter, which she zooms and triple-Salchows around the driveway on like Dorothy Hamill.
So she was struggling a bit on her little lavender and lime-green bike.
The seat was too low, I realized halfway through the ride. Her knees were up around the handlebars and her long legs couldn’t extend when she pedaled. Beneath her helmet, her little face was scrooched up with concentration. Her training wheels were a constant grinding, clanking sound on the sidewalk — a loud reminder that she is only 5 and a preschooler only a few months ago.
Then we passed two neighbor girls in their driveway, 7 or 8 years old and dressed alike in jeans, motorcycle boots and biker jackets. They told us they were playing ‘biker girls.’ Greta wordlessly pedaled by, her back stick-straight and prim, pushing the front of her dress down demurely.
Halfway around the loop, we passed another group of slightly older girls on the street, no shoes or parents in sight. They were laughing and picking each other up and running from house to house.
Greta’s face, normally so full of joy and light, was dark with consternation.
I don’t feel good, she said.
Does your tummy hurt?
No, she said quietly.
Do your feelings hurt?
Yes, she said.
Then: I am the littlest person on the world!!! Everyone is bigger than me!
NOTE: She doesn’t mean this literally. She is actually taller than many 7-year-olds.
Is it because we passed those older girls? Very perceptive mom!
Yes, she said.
When I see my beautiful, talented daughter doubting herself in any way, it breaks my heart. And it reminds me of my own experiences in school: trying to fit in but ‘dare to be different’ like the poster on my bedroom wall said; trying not to care about a party I didn’t get invited to; wanting the $60 Guess? jeans and Reeboks and Swatch watches that the popular girls had.
My firstborn baby daughter starts kindergarten this week. She is an October baby. If she had been born 3 weeks earlier, she’d quite possibly be starting first grade. And already, she feels inferior to ‘the older girls.’
That’s maybe why I’ve gone slightly overboard on the back to school shopping. I want her to feel confident and happy and carefree when she gets on the school bus this Thursday — the way I know she’ll feel when her training wheels eventually come off.
Greta recently gravitated to Justice, a retail explosion of hot pink plaid, leopard, gem stones and silver studs. Very Helen Hunt in the 1985 movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun. It’s a nightmare for moms. If I were 14, I’d want to work there.
But in we went, and she was happy. The sizes start at 6 but everything is so tight, I’m buying her 7s and even 8s. The store is always running a huge 40% off sale, so that makes everything pretty cheap. Later, we hit the GAP and Von Maur.
Check back on Thursday to see how the first day of kindergarten went!