There, I said it. It occurred to me yesterday that this is what that feeling is, but it took a while to say it. I tried to couch it in different terms like "intimidated" or "nervous," but it turns out I'm afraid of her.
She isn't violent or mean, physically abusive or bullying in any way. And even if she were, she's petite, so I could totally take her.
She is ... well, certain.
This child taught herself to walk. Bit by bit, methodically and with a decided refusal of assistance from any other human being, she pulled herself to standing, shimmied along the couch on her own, practiced standing in the middle of the room to catch her balance. For days she seemed on the verge of walking, but made certain she could do it without incident by standing and clapping one day, standing and waving her arms another. It is the same when I'm in a yoga class working on eagle pose, starting with the arms and then lifting one leg to wrap around the other. Once I've got that steady, I center myself and lift my gaze molecule by molecule to ensure I won't fall. Eve did that with walking. Two weeks after she had begun standing and perfecting her balance, she took a few steps. She practiced sitting down slowly so she wouldn't topple over. She never fell. She was not one of those toddlers you see with bruises on her face and arms because she was overconfident. She didn't have that drunken gait most eighteen-month-olds do. She took it slowly, step by step on her own and worked it out.
She also potty-trained herself and refused all offers of help. When she was learning to read, she was adamant about not letting me look at the book with her. We had to sit cross-legged on the floor, facing each other so that I could only see the cover of the book and she read out loud to me if I was lucky.
The day she noticed that the neighbor kids all rode their bikes without training wheels, she banished me to the house after asking me to remove hers. She put her helmet on, pushed her bike out to the cul-de-sac, and fought that thing for 30 minutes. I know because I was hiding under the living room window stealing glances every once in a while. She fell, got up and tried again. I knew enough to not go outside and offer assistance. Even then I was afraid. Not that she would get hurt, but that she would be angry with me. From the day she was born, Eve has known somewhere deep in her soul that asking for help means she can't do something herself. That she isn't capable. God I hope I didn't somehow instill that in to her DNA. That's what I was taught by my parents. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
She did it. And the entire neighborhood heard about it when she began whooping with joy as she rode that tiny bicycle back and forth like it was Seabiscuit in the Kentucky Derby. The smile on her face was absolutely the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Pure pride. Joy of accomplishment. Triumph.
And so we come to middle school. Where she struggles to convince Bubba and me that she is an adult. She can handle it. She understands more sophisticated inside jokes now and reads more adult books and is certain she knows how to deal with anything that comes her way. But she isn't. She's twelve. And offering to help her with anything is throwing down the gauntlet. It infuriates her despite the fact that I spend hours crafting my speeches to her in order to not make her feel 'stupid' or 'juvenile.' Trying to tell her that I am here to support her in any way she deems fit, not show her how superior my intellect or experience is. It doesn't matter. She's not buying it.
I have set up a cozy place in the kitchen for her to do homework while I cook dinner. Bought scented candles to light while she does it. Offered to put on any music she likes and ban Lola and her boundless energy from the room so we can have a peaceful place to work together. None of it works. She prefers to head straight up to her room and blast Taylor Swift and reappear fifteen minutes later to announce, "I'm done. Can I play on the computer now?" Occasionally, she will admit she is struggling with a particular assignment and, in the same breath, say that she'll save it and ask the teacher the following day at lunch. Rather than have me sit with her for five minutes to figure it out.
And therein lies the rub. I want her to feel successful. I want her to know that there are many people in her life that she can reach out to. But I want one of them to be me. And it isn't. And that hurts. And I wish I could say that this is a tween-girl phase, but it isn't. Eve has always been fiercely independent and stubbornly refused my assistance. I have been rebuffed so many times I am afraid to offer, but I know that this isn't about me and my feelings. There are times when I am the only person available to her and she is only twelve. We have to find a way to work together without anger or resentment, but I'll be darned if I know how to do that.
I suppose if I'm being 'enlightened' about all of this, the first step is admitting that I'm afraid of her. Okay, did that. Now what?