Adeline squats down and slaps her little hands on the wood floor. She shoots me a quick smile then does a little leapfrog jump. “Riddit! Riddit!” She shouts. It’s pretty much the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve never seen it before.
I taught her how to say ribbit – which she says as “riddit”. One of her favorite books is Small Small Pond, which has a frog on every page, so we flip through and say a lot of ribbits. But I’ve never shown her how to jump like a frog. She must have learned that from someone else. Probably at school.
It is both amazing and terrifying that she’s now learning things from someone other than her father and I.
Mostly, it’s amazing. She has entered the big, wide world of ideas. She will learn things that I never knew. She may have talents or abilities that I’ve never dreamed of. Her perceptions and understanding of the world and of reality will be shaped by a million factors and each new connection and idea will be a little miracle. When I watch her figure something out it’s beautiful.
Her teachers at school are fantastic: I know all three of them and I trust them. The other kids seem wonderful and, for now at least, school seems like a great environment for her. They teach her things that I would never think to teach her, like how to use a scissors (already?!) and the Mandarin word for apple. Her school friends, especially the older ones, teach her a lot too, like how to swing off the bridge on the playground and how to defend her right to use a given toy. It scared me the first time she swung off the bridge, but for the most part the things she’s learning now are positive.
But inevitably she will learn some negative things. When we visited her older cousin, she learned about temper tantrums and running away from mama. I watched her watching him and I saw her mimic his behavior when we got home. So what else will she mimic?
This is when learning from others becomes terrifying. As she gets older, the things she will have to mimic will become much more serious. She might learn that working hard isn’t cool but drugs are. She might learn to hate her body and herself, to idolize fairytales and photoshopped images. She might learn to be mean to other girls and to act stupid for boys. She might learn to eat crappy food and watch bad T.V.
And it’s not just these habits and ways of thinking that she might learn. In a more general way, she is entering a world so full of conflicting ideas that there’s no way I can explain them all. She’ll branch out on her own and sample these ideas and for seemingly incomprehensible reasons some of them will appeal to her more than others. She may come to believe things that her father and I find abhorrent. She will almost certainly disagree with us about some things, and maybe about many things.
I know that this is all healthy and necessary and a part of growing up. Still, I can’t help but look forward to it with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Every day she becomes more her own person and less the innocent and helpless being that I grew inside of me and then protected in all ways as an infant and small baby.
Growing up is a constant and steady process of separating from one’s parents. I’ve known this for a long time. I just didn’t expect to be reminded of it so forcefully by a simple game of leapfrog.