A Newer Soul Turns 9 Today

stella in winter
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Every year when Stella's birthday pops up, I flash back to the first time I saw her, after they cleaned her up and swaddled her in a blanket. They placed her in Brian's arms while the surgeons finished things up and I simply wasn't expecting her to be that beautiful. We'd always made jokes about newborns -- that they either looked like Winston Churchill or Genghis Khan -- but Stella was simply a beautiful baby. What I remember most about her was that she was alert, awake, and looking all over with this expression on her face that cried "WTF?!?!?! What's going on? Where am I? What am I supposed to be doing?" I knew then she was a fairly new soul, and its as though the cosmos had given her to us and said, "OK, here's the new kid. Show her around and teach her how this life thing is done."

At lot of times in parenting forums, you'll read people who insist that "they don't need you to be their friend, they need you to be their parent." I'm not so sure the two are mutually exclusive, and in fact, I think in that sentence the word "Friend" doesn't mean "truest, best friend." Because when I tell you that it's my goal to be Stella's best friend, I'm not talking about your typical friend that you go out for drinks with but you may not necessarily trust with your mint copy of Alex Chilton's "Like Flies on Sherbert."

I'm talking about the kind of friend that is sometimes hard to be. The kind of friend that will tell you when you don't look so good. As in, "Stella, you're not leaving this house looking like that. You march right back in and put on something that doesn't make you look like a streetwalker." The kind of friend that will tell you the hard truth: "There are a lot of stupid things you could and should blow off but homework is not one of them. If you blow off your homework you will do poorly in school and you will grow up to be a tool." The kind of friend who is the one who stages the intervention if you take something too far, or admits they're not the right friend to stop you from doing something stupid, and sets you up with the right person instead. When these parenting experts say, "Be their parent, not their friend," I think they're talking about the kind of friend who won't say anything if you're about to do something stupid, who won't tell your parents if you're hanging around with a lousy crowd. No, Stella's been entrusted to me and I've decided to be that kind of hard friend that sometimes pisses you off, but 30 years later you realize was the best friend you ever had and loved you better than anybody.

And even though that's hard, it pays off in the fun part of having this little girlfriend, to pass on your Barbie addiction to, to go shopping with, to remember how fun sparkly makeup is, to remember how fun simply running around in the woods is. I remember teaching her how to ride a bike and that moment when she actually got it, when she actually stayed level and motored the wheels with her legs -- it was like I could feel my own thighs providing the power for her as I jumped up and down, genuinely excited for her, yelling "You did it! You can ride a bike!" It was at that moment when I realized I couldn't be one of those distant parents, but was destined to be her best friend, whether she knew or admitted it or not. I'm genuinely happy for her when she succeeds, and I'm crying right along with her when she fails. (But being slightly more experienced at this "living life thing" I can at least help her learn from her failures.) Like a true best friend would, I'm most angry with her when she's doing things that aren't in her best interests in the long run, those things she just won't understand my anger and frustration about until she's 30, those things that turn me into the typical parent who spews out the cliches: "You're not going to understand until you're older, so just drop it" "Because this is my house and I said so and these are the rules" "You're going to have this pizza and you're going to like it and you're going to thank me profusely and that's how it's going to be."

But that's not what this birthday blog post is about. It's about how much I really, really love her, really unconditionally. She's smarter and more beautiful than I could ever have been, but I'm not jealous of her, I'm genuinely happy for her that she has these gifts, and that's a sentiment you can only expect from a true friend who loves you. Because there's other side of this being a best friend, the fun part: agreeing on what's lame and what isn't, getting excited about going to some concert or game together, riding bikes together, and just laughing together cuddled on the couch over those stupid "natural male enhancement" commercials that run on cable. "Mommy, what's 'natural male enhancement' all about?" she asks. "Nothing you want anything to do with. I mean, look at Smilin' Bob's wife. Is that somebody you want to be?" And then we explode into giggles over the absurdity of it all. I think that's my favorite thing about my relationship with her: how much we laugh together, how much -- even though we're seperated by some 38 years, some personality quirks, and some disagreements about what her best interest would be -- how much of this world we both find funny and absurd and worth a hug and a giggle together.

I know I'm not always going to come first in her life, and that doesn't matter. There's going to come a point when she'll prefer hanging out with her girlfriends than me, and there's things she'll tell them that she'll never tell me. I'm very comforted by the fact that at least for now, she's chosen good friends: this hit me at her birthday party the other day when I realized I like her friends, her head-on-straight, salt-of-the-earth girlfriends who giggle and yell (and sometime snipe) and gossip and help each other out. I hope I've set an example of what to expect from friendship, and I hope she becomes one of those friends that it's hard to be. Because I've been entrusted by the cosmos to show her how to be a girl-woman in this toughass world, and if there's one thing a girl needs to know more than anything else in this toughass world, its how to find and be a true friend.

Happy birthday Stella Boo Boos!


Cynthia said…
Happy Birthday to Stella. She is beautiful....I'm so glad you laugh together....
V'ron said…
Yes. It's the thing I remember most and treasure most about my relationship with my mom, for whom Stella is named.

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