With the exception of sparklers, I’ve never let Elle within twenty feet of fireworks. (Go ahead. Roll your eyes. I’m that mom.)
So imagine my blood pressure spike when a New Year’s Eve cul-de-sac party featured fireworks at center court while kids aged 6 to 17 were shooting hoops and riding bikes right through the launchpad. Parents chatted as missile after missile went off just feet from their children. A bottle rocket tipped, shooting sparks and causing a bush to billow smoke and a neighbor to almost lose a window. The fireworks were beautiful, but while everyone seemed so chill, I was silently panic attacking. (Was I overreacting?)
Then I caught sight of my darling daughter holding a firework right along with her friends in the middle of this suburban warzone. She knows how I feel about fireworks. She knows that had she asked, I would have said no. So I told her in no uncertain terms to put the firework down. Then she pouted for the rest of the night. Yay, 2017.
The next day I sat with her to discuss why I felt so strongly about fireworks. I was prepared with statistics and YouTube PSAs and pictures of an NFL player with a disfigured hand. But I wasn’t prepared for what she was about to say.
“Elle, you know how I feel about fireworks. What were you thinking?”
Without hesitation she replied, “everyone else was doing it and it looked like fun.”
My heart sank. I felt sick. A high school teacher, I recalled every story of every kid I had ever known or heard of being killed because of drunk driving or an overdose or something they did because everyone else was doing it and it looked like fun. I wanted to cry. This was no longer about fireworks.
This was about engaging in dangerous behavior because of peer pressure and feeling left out and not wanting to be embarrassed because all the other kids are doing it. I can’t count how many times I told her the very words she had just spoken were the worst possible reason to ever do anything. Ever. (Am I overreacting?)
She must have read my face or actually heard the thud of my heart sink into my stomach because she immediately added, “and it looked safe, mom. It really looked safe.”
I didn’t yell. I appreciate her candor with me and don’t want to lose it. But I couldn’t hide my disappointment and sense of what I can only describe as fear. (Am I overreacting?)
I hung my head and thought for a moment and softly said what I had said so many times before. “Elle, that is the worst possible reason you could ever possibly give for doing anything. Ever.”
She acknowledged this and apologized and we continued the conversation with zero eye rolling. She understood my perspective. And I do understand hers. I was eleven once and I hope to never lose sight of who I was at eleven, or twelve, or whatever age she is. So while I was disappointed and did reprimand her, I didn’t fail to see that she very quickly recalled what I’ve been trying to teach her all these years. That though she acted impulsively, the understanding is there. It hasn’t yet cemented, and may remain a bit pliable for years to come. But the seeds have definitely been planted and they are trying to take root. Piaget, anyone?
Frederick Douglass once wrote, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” We have but a few years in this construction phase of our children’s lives and I intend to overreact right through it. Because when you let things go and you overreact too late, well, it’s too late. So I will continue to be that mom and pour my heart into building a graceful girl, no matter how much eye rolling, pouting, foot stomping, or door slamming I get from her – or from the world around me.