Driving Miss Leah

This past weekend, my daughter, Leah and her friend, Emily, travelled with me to The University of Guelph campus for our third annual trek to participate in The Science Behind the Magic of Harry Potter Festival. This festival is put on by the university’s Science department and is a wonderful way to introduce scientific concepts like Biology, Chemistry, Botany, Geology, Astronomy, Physics and much more, to eager young minds, all the while presenting it under the guise of the world of Harry Potter. There are costumes galore, as well as, games, food and contests…..all taken directly from J.K. Rowling’s books.

When Leah and Emily went for the first time two years ago, they were ten and nine years old, respectively. Life was still pretty simple for them. Neither had their own phone. No one they knew was “dating”. Neither had gone to an unsupervised party where there would be boys and girls together.  They were still very much children. Looking back, I realize I should have enjoyed their giddy silliness more during our two and a half hour long drive there and back. Those were innocent times. But, times change.

This weekend, I drove two pre-teens there and back. Those giddy children have evolved into quieter, more introspective young women. Since both knew what to expect when we arrived in Guelph, there was no nervous excitement filling the car on the way down. Emily sketched in a notebook and worked on an original story she was creating. Leah read for awhile and then listened to music on her phone. Neither wore a Harry Potter-inspired costume this time (Leah did wear a Hermione Granger t-shirt but, it stayed hidden under her hoodie).

Both girls enjoyed all of the activities that they participated in, as they have the past two years as well. But, there was one difference this year and it was this:  because I am the only adult accompanying the girls, I have always felt a sense of obligation to my wife, to Emily’s parents, to Leah’s Grandparents and so on, to document all of the super exciting, creative and informative activities the girls are involved in. So, I have always taken lots of photos to share with everyone later, when we are back home. This year, as I was taking photos, the following happened:  during one of the activities, Leah rolled her eyes, looked to the Heavens and said, with a tone of exasperation, “Dad! Will…you…please …stop!”

No one in the room seemed to notice, including Emily, who was busy completing her activity. But, I noticed. And, I stopped taking her picture.  Dad was embarrassing daughter, simply by quietly being Dad. This isn’t the first time this has happened lately. For example, Leah began attending middle school this year. This school has ten times the enrolment of her old school. I offered to go with her on the first day to make sure she got where she was supposed to be going. She refused and said I could go to the crosswalk with her but no further. Being retired, I have time to volunteer to go on class trips with my girls for the first time ever. Leah said, “OMG, Dad!  I’d die if you came on a trip!”  Leah is changing. She will be an official teenager in April.

Like all parents come to realize, there is a time when our children begin to carve out their own identity and create a life that is truly their own. Leah has just left the starting blocks on this journey. It is tough watching her go.

But, as tough as it is for me to observe it all, it must be far tougher to be a young girl growing up in today’s society. Both Emily and Leah are finding their lives changing in real time. On the drive back home, they sat in the back seat and started talking to each other about it. I was wise enough to keep my mouth closed and just drive the car.  We passed a mall on the way out of Guelph. This started a conversation about book stores (which both girls adore) and then, back-to-school shopping trips. This transformed into a talk by Leah to Emily about being at the newer, bigger school (Emily will go there next year) and then, on to the topic of shopping for clothes.

Both girls lamented the lack of clothing options they felt were available to them. Both complained about the pressure they felt to wear clothes that were too tight and body hugging, too short and revealing or else, too full of holes (such as in ripped jeans). Both girls lamented the seeming inability to find clothes that were soft, roomy and comfortable. Without saying it, Leah and Emily are beginning to realize the trap that society has prepared for young girls and that is the trap of sexualizing their bodies. Leah and Emily are bright, intelligent, caring and creative young women. They have much to offer our world. They are definitely more than the sum of their body parts. But, as we drove through the rush hour traffic at the top of Toronto, they both talked about how much they dislike the way fashion choices seem to force them into a role that they don’t want to accept; especially, in the eyes of boys that they labelled, without hesitation, as being very immature and annoying. It was quite a conversation.

There is power in the ability to make your own decisions. Right now, Leah is beginning to  experience what it is to make her own choices; the first major life choice being, pulling away from her parents. Whether it be spending countless hours in her room with the door closed and headphones on or else, finding it excruciatingly embarrassing to be seen in public with her Mom or Dad, Leah is coming to realize that the trail she must blaze is one that must be done on her own. It won’t be a pain-free process but through it all, I will be there for her if she needs me. But, for now, I will step back as she steps away and through it all, I have to trust and hope that she will grow and become the person she is meant to be and be happy and proud of who that person turns out to be.

In the meantime, I will shut my mouth and keep driving the car.

6 thoughts on “Driving Miss Leah

  1. Oh Tom, the embarrassing parent part never goes away I’m excited to say. But oh dear my pen pal is growing up and might think our notes have done their time… Hmm? Enjoy these challenging times as you will miss them all too soon! You have raised a lovely and inquisitive young mind that is destined to explore but I’m sure knows her happy place to fall will always be home. Be brave dad:)

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    1. I think your letters may be more important than ever, actually. As someone she trusts and someone who certainly has a daughter whose is judged by her looks far more often than not, I think you may be exactly the type of person a teenage girl may wish to lean on for advice. Keep in touch with her, please. You are someone she looks up to, for sure.

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  2. Insightful regarding Leah’s journey and your own. Wonderfully written as always, Tom. Life flies by so quickly, it can be easy to miss such moments; I’m glad you didn’t miss these.

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