Such a pretty word. Evocative of growth and flowering, of beginnings and beauty.
When you stick the word “breast” in front of buds, it means the onset of puberty. Puberty is definitely not as pretty a word as buds.
Breast buds are the small lumps that form under one or both of your daughter’s nipples – usually around age nine or ten. Breast buds are a first, irrefutably visible sign that your little girl will someday become a woman. Well, maybe the second visible sign, the first being that you love her irrationally and she can manipulate you with frightening ease. But I digress.
Even before our daughter was born, killjoy parents would whine to us about all the different stages of child development. Shared experience is the root of many good things. It is also the root of bitching. From the moment Kathy’s pregnancy became obvious we were subjected to endless anecdotes from parents about how awful kids were – cry and poop infancy, tumultuous toddler, terrible twos, obstinate threes and fours – basically an ever-evolving, never-ending nightmare carnival of parental suffering, culminating in college expenses and your little bundle of joy complaining to a therapist about you every week and scheming to start fights during the holidays.
We made a conscious decision to regard that perspective on parenthood as a bunch of crap. Yes, each stage brings challenges. Becoming a person is a lot of work. But each stage also brings wonders as well. A host of firsts, from steps, to words, to experiences and ideas. And as a parent you get to experience all these firsts again with your own child. Magic. That’s how I’ve viewed it and, for the most part, how I’ve experienced parenthood so far.
But now there are breast buds.
Our daughter participated in a concert last week that included elementary and junior high students from throughout her school district. In the months leading up to the concert, there were half a dozen rehearsals which gave her a chance to meet some new kids. Kathy came home with our girl from one of these rehearsals telling me that she had made a friend. Turns out that the friend was a sixth grade boy with whom my fourth grade daughter had laughed and horseplayed during rehearsal breaks.
I said nothing, but I swear that Kathy could actually see my Cro-Magnon thought process: “Sixth grade boy. Breast buds. Danger. Grrrrrrr. Hurt boy. Kill boy.” Cro-Magnon-me didn’t like Mr. “each stage also brings wonders” me any more than he liked that sixth grade boy.
Frankly, it makes me wonder if puberty is contagious, since I am now becoming as anxious and irrational as I remember being in junior high.
I’m not sure. It’s a little early to be worried about the obvious – how to keep daughter from being pregnant when she is sixteen, dropping out of high school to raise triplets sired by some glandular pimple factory in a used trailer, pole dancing nights to keep her feral urchins in Pampers. We’re not there yet.
I think I’m dealing with the recognition that, along with all the physical changes obvious in puberty, there is another one that’s not so obvious. Her heart – her kind, trusting, generous, decent heart – will leave the safe confines of her rib cage. She will wear it like a big, red button on her chest right through her teen age years. This is the time in life when we experience our first, defining slights and rejections, failures and frustrations. The time in life when we are close enough to grown up to be exposed to the world a bit, but still too far from grown up to weather its disappointments. Adolescence and teen years will bring hurts too complex and overwhelming for Daddy to fix with a hug or some cookies and milk.
So my job is to support and guide while she tries to find that balance that we all must achieve and maintain as adults – to be receptive and open to the world even while it breaks your heart over and over again. To care and give, to think and feel, even while you learn to protect yourself. To solidify your character without hardening it too much.
The damn flowers again. To achieve their full measure of beauty they must open to the world. Open to the hunger and harm of others as well as to their own purpose and potential.
But for this precious now I will try to tell myself: “They’re just buds, Bud.”