I'm pretty sure I hadn't even wiped the sonogram goop off my belly before I rushed out to my favorite children's boutiques to pick out fancy dresses, hot pink baby booties and a tin-full of barrettes for my unborn first child, who'd just revealed herself as a girl. I mean, I'd plotted a lifetime for this: I was going to have babies and those babies would be girls and those girls would sit quietly while I weaved their hair into fantastic monuments to the cornrow and curly afro gods, and then, with nary a hair out of place, they'd happily climb into their adorable skirts and matching jackets and patent leather mary janes and skip to school, where they'd be the envy of grade schoolers everywhere.

Yeah right.

These days, my 10-year-old doesn't care about dresses and shiny shoes she's all about the funky, bedazzled hoodies, comfortable jeans and ankle boots. And though she was raised on a steady diet of R&B legends, she really likes to shake it to the not-so-classic stylings of the latest pop music stars on the radio. Her favorite childhood cartoon characters are getting kicked to the curb for teen goofballs and razor-tongued tweens. Oh, and the twists she's been wearing in her hair since she was three? The ones I said were the centerpiece of her signature style? Yeah, let's just say she's over them.

My Mari's got her own ideas about how she wants to dress, and what she wants to listen to and watch, and how she looks a phenomenon that's kinda taken me aback. I mean, I'm just getting used to the idea of my daughter being willing and able to fend for herself in some small measure, and even that took me by surprise in the beginning; I babied her for a long time, simply because I didn't really know just how much her independence was growing until I'd literally stumble on it like, oh, wait, you can cut your own meat? And get your homework done without me standing over you? And dial your papa's phone number by heart?

Still, it's one thing to embrace her independence another thing entirely to loosen the grip and let my baby find her way toward her own self-expression. Of course, I still parent her if a skirt is too short or a show or song is inappropriate or a celebrity she likes does something dumb, she knows I'm not co-signing the style, culture or behavior. But as she grows, so does her taste, and I acknowledge she has the right to like what she likes (within reason) and that those likes may not necessarily jive with mine.

Now, emotionally, allowing this feels like she's taken one of my lungs. She's learning to live. I can barely breathe.

But the thing that gets me through is knowing that my husband and I have done our best to steer our daughter down the right path our family path. We constantly remind her that the world is bigger than a TV show or a bedazzled shirt or a hairstyle or even our little corner of Georgia. We've enrolled her in art classes, so she can learn about the great artists of our time the Picassos and the Beardens. We let her take Mandarin lessons, because we want her to learn the beauty of a language and a culture with which we have little contact. We let her eat foods like sushi and curry goat and Ghanaian peanut soup to not only stretch her palate but to help our Mari identify on the most basic, human level with people from other cultures.

And we talk to her constantly talk to her.

About the things that matter to us.

Like working hard. And being humble. Appreciating people for their brains, not just their beauty. The importance of honesty. And staying true to what you love and appreciate, no matter what others have to say about it.

These are the things that stretch far beyond what's the latest hot sneaker or popular TV show or song to bounce to.

These are things I think matter to my Mari, too no matter how many bedazzled shirts she has stashed in her closet.

For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing moments, check out www.DontFrettheSweat.com

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  1. Chocolate Covered Daydreams

    You've done very well in raising Mari. You said so much in how you both parent her. You are allowing her to grow and make good choices. You are giving her a chance to learn the beauty of other cultures. You have taught her to love herself first. You are wonderful parents and are raising beautiful daughters.

  2. I have a 12 year old and so, so feel you! I saw your line on Twitter that said "My baby is growing up and it feels like shes taken one of my lungs. Shes learning to live. I can barely breathe." and it almost made me cry. It so captures how I feel these days. Trying to navigate giving her space and mothering her into maturity. *heavy sigh* and then there's the boys…anyway, I digress.

    Thanks for this!

  3. I love this post! My mom was the same way. She let me be ME. Even when I ditched the dresses she brought and started wearing my brother's clothes. I'm sure she was on her knees thanking the Lord once I grew out of that phase.

  4. Oh, how I love this post!
    My daughter Aasia turns 11 years old on March 20th, and I must say, the results of her amnio on Dec. 24th, 1998 was the best news I had all that year.

    She was 7 weeks premature at birth as her due date was May 2nd, however, I have to say, she is fearless, fun, loving , sweet , spectacular and because of her , I am a better Mom everyday.

  5. Denene, this made my stomach flip and warmed my heart. I remember doing that story on you and Nick at the bookstore on South Orange Avenue (can't remember its name) Mari was a little girl — maybe 2 or 3? But she had the cutest little coils in her hair. Time flies and your post embodied the brilliance of Mari's journey! I'm proud of you, my fellow mom!

  6. Yeah sometimes you have to let the kids find themselves and hope that the path you steered them to helps them make sound decisions. Seems like yours is. Hey who doesn't like a funky bedazzled hoody?


  7. Welcome to my world lady. My home is filled with a teen, a tween and a 10yo boy who doesn't need condoms LOL. It's something new everyday. I love to see my girls express themselves with a little bit of my guidance.

  8. March 1 I gave birth to our second child, a girl-child and our last child. I truly appreciate the insight you've given. I'm already feeling overwhelmed with her holding up her head and cooing back at me. I can't imagine what it will be like in 10 years when she really exerts her independence. Thanks for the peek into my future 🙂

  9. Haha..back reading your great writing – My sister and I were just having a similar conversation about my niece Somari – I sent her this link so that she can read another mother's perspective on her "disappearing" little girl. Thank you!

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