Am I raising her? Or is she raising me?

Mary Ann is not like most ten year olds. Sure, in some ways she’s similar. She loves to shop at Justice, stay up late, eat pizza and play Roblox. She watches Netflix and chats on FaceTime with her girlfriends and Uncle Jesse and Joey and anyone else who will listen, and she fights with her brother a lot. In other ways though, she was born an old soul, destined to forever be a middle-aged spirit in an adolescent body. 

Before we got packed for the beach, for instance, she started a list on a piece of notebook paper of all the things we needed to buy at Target so “you don’t forget the sunscreen like you did last time.” She tells me when my music is too depressing for my mood, when I’m spending too much time on my phone, when she feels like I’m spending too much money, and when she thinks Other Half and I are getting close to an argument. And she is FOREVER telling Other Half he “needs to calm down.” 

Maybe it’s because she and Benjamin Button were born 18 months apart, almost to the day and she doesn’t remember life as an only child, but she’s always been a little mama. She looks out for her brother—makes sure he has friends and snacks and no one is messing with him. Sometimes she tries to do the same thing for Renesmee and Mason Ramsey. 

After Mom died, one day she found me upstairs in my room crying in an armchair, listening to music on my phone, and she covered me up with a blanket and turned my music off. “Let’s get rid of this, I think it’s making things worse,” she said as she hit pause and moved my phone out of reach. She rubbed my back until she was satisfied that I was OK, and then left me to myself. 

She’s pretty insightful, generally speaking her mind without reservation and giving advice to people much older than herself as if she has many decades of life experience rather than just the one. So I guess I shouldn’t have been all that surprised by what she said this morning, but I was still impressed. 

When we come down to the beach, she always gets me up while the guys sleep in, and we go on early morning walks before making a coffee run. In true motherly fashion, she had set an alarm for 8 AM, stuffed some sunglasses, a beach towel, and 2 drinks into her beach bag, and gotten herself dressed. She came to wake me up, and off we went. 

We usually go down to where the water meets the sand so our feet can get wet, leaving our flip-flops at the beach access stairs. I guess while we were walking we drifted up a little farther away from the water because we found ourself walking through small tide pools interspersed with different textures of sand. There was the smooth, packed, brown-sugar stuff closer to the water, and the white powdered sugar stuff that was completely soft and dry, not too hot yet since it was only in the 70s this morning. But in between, there was this lumpy firm sand almost the texture of cobble stones. We were barefoot, and as we walked she said, “Why don’t we always walk on this sand? It’s more fun that the flat stuff. I hope we stay on the bumpy path forever.” I thought, “You said a mouthful there sister,” because for most of the last 10 years I’ve felt like I was on the bumpy path. I didn’t have her attitude about it. I saw the lumps and bumps as obstacles to be resentfully overcome, but she appreciated the textures and differences. 

As we walked on “the bumpy path” we talked about a recent situation she experienced with a friend. She says to me, “There are two things you can do when you fall down. You can get back up or you can pull someone down with you. She’s the kind of person who pulls someone down. Misery loves company.” I have to say I was floored by the wisdom she spouted off without a second thought. My entire adult life I have wondered about the concept of resilience, what makes some of us bitter and some of us better, and here she summed up her thoughts at ten years old in just a couple of sentences. 

I know that at least by societal expectations, I am the mom and she is the child. But I’m coming to realize that part of the fun of being a young mom is growing up together with my children. Mary Ann made me a mom, as much of a newborn to the role as she was to being physically newborn.

I wrote down her words so I wouldn’t forget, something I’m trying to get better about as life keeps teaching me how important our memories can be. I took a screenshot and texted the words to my dad, Helen Keller, and Christina Yang. The caption I sent my dad was “How am I supposed to raise this kid?” To which he responded, “with plenty of prayer and fasting!” 

Helen Keller thought it was good advice and wanted to know who Mary Ann was talking about, then said she loved it even more when I told her who it was. 

Christina Yang’s response might have been my favorite: “Wow. Who was she referring to? Oh no, I hope it’s not me.” Me too sister, me too. When I thought about what she said, I wondered how many times I’ve pulled myself up vs. how many times I’ve pulled someone else down. Am I raising her? Or is she raising me? I think it might be a little bit of both. 

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