I'm learning what life is like, living with an older child.  My Anabel is very nearly 14.  I learn as I make my way through parenting a teenager that they sometimes take it upon themselves to take and then put pictures like this of you up on social networking sites:
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She doesn't mind that you're eating.  She thinks it's hilarious, for all that.

You don't want to make a stink about it though, for at all cost, you know you must model wholeness to her.  You mustn't come across as *insecure* of all things.  In fact, you think it's fantastic that she's chosen this picture to show her 230 friends on Facebook.  Look how whole you are, posting it here on your own blog!  That's how little you mind these things.  Now where is that picture she snapped of her Daddy peeing which she took using the dually helpful reflections of two separate mirrors?  Her thoughts on that?  He's the one who left the door open.  It's not *my* fault!
 
 
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Somehow or other, JoyBoy and I have managed to pool our genes and come up with someone magical.  Her name is Anabel and if you've read this blog for any time at all, you've met her before.  She's always been highly intelligent and unusually kind, but in the last year, another amazing quality in her young life has come to light, dazzling in its eccentric, unexpected brightness.  In the very midst of  14-year-old peers, clad head to toe in clothes trumpeting name brands out to all of Middle School Land, walks Anabel.  She's wearing an apron.  She's not in Home Economics or headed for some messy Science lab.  She flaunts its yellow ginghamyness for the sheer, unconventional joy of it.  Other days, she wears her beloved Daddy's cast off XL teeshirts, which say bold things like Field AgentJohn Deere across their fronts.  Only for the Anabel version, she makes them strapless, pushing her narrow little ribcage through the Daddy-sized neck holes.  She pushes the man-sized sleeves inside themselves, serving as pseudo-pockets.  All of this she wears over tights and a teeshirt of her own size.  The flourish (as though it were needed) is a thick black satin ribbon encircling her ribcage, tied in a confident and oversized bow.  Ah.  My Girl.  I look forward to seeing her enter the kitchen each morning for breakfast.  I know there is a surprise in wait for my viewing pleasure.  Colors - flamboyant brazen colors - are her dear friends.  She prides herself on the exploration of absolute virgin territory in the realm of clothes and fashion.  On Superhero Day at school, her eye-makeup was completely different from one eye to the other.  She looked fantastic.  I think I've mentioned the tunic adorned in masses of pinkly enthusiastic pigs.  Her favorite place to shop is Value Village because that's where you can find the most extraordinary things.  I can assure you that there are not masses of like-minded 14-year-olds flocking to the same ensembles - the gigantic multicolored ponchos, the  faux fur time-worn old coats - rushing to see who can get to them first.  She is a fashion law unto herself.

I love to goad her into wearing styles I love, but am not prepared to don for myself at this age.  Frankly, there is very little goading involved and the deliciousness of the prospect of a brand-new outfit rockets straight to her head, rendering her nearly exhilarated.

A lovely, gentle-souled teacher put her arm around Anabel's waist at school one day and said, Now tell me all about your outfit today, Anabel.  Anabel proceeded to do so with great enthusiasm and then laughed as she told the story to us at home later on.  She's so whole.

I think that some of the seeds of this new passion of hers have sprouted because of the years of uniform dressing that have been her lot up until this year.  She hated the sameness that she and her peers had no voice in establishing.  Though rebellious isn't a word that leaps to mind as I think of her, she would try to sneak a colorful tank top under her uniform top back in the monotonous day, just for that heady flash of color.  Her fingernails were almost always glitzily decorated.  She did what she could to get by and not feel squashed. Individualism means a great deal to my first-born girl.

Anabel marches to the beat of her own drummer, and fortunately for us as parents - for she would be a formidable force to contend with otherwise - we really like the beat we hear resonating through her young life.  It's so distinctive and so very, very Anabel.
 
 
I looked at her enthralled profile, hardly recognizing her.  She was emerging from her chrysalis, right before my fascinated, devastated, admiring eyes.  We were at her first rock concert together and I keep telling myself I'm lucky because she's still happy to be in places like this with me.  The music is so loud, I can feel it pound through my body almost as much as I can hear it through my old-school - even flourescent orange  - ear plugs.

I suspect that this gauntlet is all the more difficult to cross because she's my precious first-born.  I feel so conflicted inside, wanting to stifle the all-too-fast beginnings of this burgeoning new person and at the same time admiring and respecting her so much.  She is everything I hoped she would be and then more.  I didn't know that thirteen-year olds could be so confident and insightful.  I didn't know that they could show glimmers of being so much more than their parents.  And yet, I feel only a tremendous gratefulness that she is mine, even if only for this very short time.

The music is just what she loves and her appreciation is tangible, though not in quite the same way as the three shrieking, shimmying, terribly off-key  adolescent girls directly behind us.  There has always been a dignity about my Anabel.  She's not flamboyant and she isn't all that drawn to physical touch.  Even as a infant, not yet even able to control her own neck muscles, she'd arch her little back away from our snuggles, trying to procure for herself some much valued personal space.  I'm reminded of that little newborn tonight as I watch her.  Her eyes are bright and if you look closely, you can see the joy lining her face, but she's still and quiet.  Though I don't much like the music (I've become that old woman, much to my secret mirth!), my own feet are proving to be far more active than my girls'.  She is careful to avoid touching the person next to her, for that would equal social unpleasantness to her.   I know that she'd undoubtedly be a great deal noisier and overtly 'teenager-ish' if she were here with a pack of girlfriends, but in the meantime, I just try to record all the little observations I make tonight so that I can remember her, here, right now, forever.  She represents eternity in no small way and I'm so happy to be along for the ride.
 
 
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Anabel's very talented friend just took this photo of my girl.  Isn't it gorgeous?
 
 
Look what Anabel went ahead and did to herself!
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She's the last one of our brood one would expect to dislocate an elbow, and yet sure enough, that's precisely what happened.  You sort of think you're home-free when they become teenagers and still haven't broken anything, and yet one quick peek at this ghastly monstrosity of an elbow is enough to indicate how other-than-home-free we actually are.   

She was home alone, babysitting her youngest brother when it all shook down.  In one of my more shaming moments as a parent, I chatted away obliviously with neighborhood parents as I picked up Jude and Lucy from their respective playdates.  And here's the shame part:  I'd left my cellphone at home, thinking I'd only be 15 minutes or so.  And I took my sweet time, let me tell you.  I didn't drive, I walked.  And slowly.  Meandering my way through the novel Springtime heat with my Ipod lulling me into a sun and acoustic music mixed stupor.  I relished the alone-ness and I stopped to breathe the lilac infused air around me more than once.  When I think of it, I feel a renewed anger at myself.  While I tracked the progress of butterflies,  Anabel was calling around frantically, trying to locate either one of  her absentee parents, all the time trying to keep her yelps to a minimum as her little brother watched with fear in his big brown eyes.  I'm sure as he looked at  her arm that looked a backwards picture of what it was supposed to be, elbow bump now on the inside of her forearm, he felt some trepidation.

She finally got her Dad's receptionist (his own cell phone had been turned off), who proceeded to interrupt him from the meeting he was in.  He was home in relatively short order and got her quickly to the ER.  It's all good.   The doctor there (with the aid of two male nurses) wrenched her elbow back where it belonged after having knocked her out with the same drugs that Michael Jackson was so infamously addicted to.  The only glitch is that she tried to bite one of them, which made me feel sort of proud.  My girl.  Unconscious and biting at the burly men she perceived were hurting her.  I love that kid and her elbow to bits.
 
 
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Pen and Ink drawing from nanlawson.etsy.com
Anabel is not long for the world of Pre-Teen.  I find that I can hardly believe it, cliche or not.  She'll be 13 in April and because she's our first-born, when I stop to really dwell on it, I can work myself into a quite a tizzy. 

She's our 'practice' kid.  She's the one who we think we have to be perfectly consistent with.  We're scared we might ruin her otherwise.  We are least lenient with her, though she's without question the most responsible.   We have the highest of high standards for her.  And she consistently lives up to them and in fact, raises the bar time and time again.  But every now and then, the first-born in me revolts just a little over all this.  Of course, the way we parent her creates a prototypical firstborn and she wouldn't be Anabel without it all, but sometimes I wish the world could be a little less exacting for her sake.   Sometimes I wish she would come home with a B+, or even a B.  I think it would be healthy for her to see that life doesn't hinge on one's sustained perfection.   I think that for her to make a colossal Blunder (capital B) might not be the worst thing in the world for her, so long as it doesn't involve me housing and parenting a newborn belonging to her and some Idiot Boy, around whom I'll grit my teeth  and try never to refer to as such (o I pray this theoretical boy stays far, far away from me and mine).  Maybe Anabel would see then that her worth doesn't depend on her performance.

So clearly though, she wouldn't be Anabel without the precise environment she's been raised in.  And she's so perfectly, greenly herself.  She's awash in a world of calm competence, almost as though she's underwater in a perfect, green world where serenity surrounds and permeates everything.    Her fair skin - in sharp contrast to the brown, brown skins of her siblings - looks like its origins are translucently submarine.  She glides through life, making everything look effortless and even elegant.  Sometimes  though, she limits herself in the things she'll try, as she likes to know beforehand that she'll be gracefully perfect.    I like to lend her my clothes and jewelry as they look so beautiful on her; feasting my eyes on my own clothes folding around my daughter's perfect little (but not so little anymore) body brings me far more joy than owning these items for my own sake. 

I always wondered how it would feel as an aging mother, to watch as one's daughter grew to be more beautiful and better in ways the World values than oneself.  The One ebbs while the Other flows.  I used to wonder if felt like a stabbing pain or more like a dull, under-the-skin ache that doesn't subside.  The growing obsoleteness of the woman seemed pitiful to me before I became her.  And now that life unfurls to find me here, this very woman, I'm reminded of Jesus' words  in John 3:30.  They say, "He must become greater; I must become less," and I'm surprised by the joy they bring in their wake.  To see the world receive my Little Love so beautifully, so enthusiastically even, makes me feel a deep happiness.  I see so clearly now that it's not either/or.  It's both and all and everything all at once.