Friday, March 21, 2008

Our Aries Daughter

Our daughter Elizabeth is bosom friends with a young lady named Margaret and a young lady named Lindsay. Elizabeth is an Aries who has Virgo predominantly in her chart. Margaret is also an Aries, although her energy is very different from our daughter’s. Lindsay is a fiery Leo spirit whose photographic memory is always on the job and whose needs, wants and desires often collide with her 10 year old intellect. On the surface, Margaret, or Margie, seems a quiet and shy child. When you get to know her, she’s a lot like Elizabeth (or Liz, as her friends call her) … silly, funny, out-going, opinionated, unflinchingly polite in other’s homes, but prone to sudden outbursts of drama in her own. They’re all smart, sensitive kids who navigate a prickly pre-teen school environment every day, one full of peer pressure, while maintaining their own identities. They juggle heavy academic workloads, in addition to family life and whatever extracurricular activities their parents have them wrapped up in. For Margaret it’s music lessons, and for Lindsay it’s sports.

Why our children need any extracurricular activities is beyond me. Truth be told they would much rather be talking on the phone and/or playing on the internet. They’re on the phone every chance they can get, up to and including moments before lights go out for the night. They frequent Neopets and Club Penguin on line, whenever they can squeeze it in, and enjoy virtual play dates with one another and other kids from around the globe. They also keep a watchful eye open for inappropriate questions, behavior and activities and report them promptly when they occur. I find it strange that the web connected world has become much smaller even for our children, but I find it sad that watching for predators while they play is an engrained part of what they do. Our daughter assumes it as part of the responsibility of using an open chat.

We eliminated after school activities for Elizabeth because school work and visits to see her great-grandmother keep her busy enough. There isn’t enough time to get all those activities and homework in before the evening runs short, robbing Elizabeth of sleep. If she doesn’t get ten hours of sleep a night, our beautiful little daughter becomes a grumpy pre-teen beastie.

Goofy Hats

Juggling two best friends is an on-going process for Elizabeth. It’s like tending a garden, I think. Both Margaret and Lindsay consider our daughter their best friend, and so Elizabeth has become adept at acknowledging them both as important, even though she relates to each of them differently. Every once in a while, however, there is a disturbance in the force. When this occurs, it is frequently Lindsay who finds herself on the short end of the stick. She is a very emotional little girl, but isn’t always articulate about what is going on, which the other two consider a breach of friendship etiquette. Liz and Margie talk about everything, while Lindsay is less talk and more action. She is also more of a social butterfly, so rather than stick religiously with the other two, ensconced securely in a zipped up friendship cocoon, Lindsay prefers to hang out with the guys now and again.

When rifts occur, it is a cause of great drama. Liz and Margie get on the phone together to conspire. Outraged opinions and escalated scenarios are shared again and again. The tiniest of problems quickly morph into a gynormous lapse of personal character. Then, more often than not, Liz and Margie try to confront Lindsay with her unforgivable breach of friendship etiquette at school. Or, Liz and Margie get on the phone together, conference call style, to confront Lindsay. Lindsay goes to great lengths to argue the point, of course, which does little validate Elizabeth’s point of view.

My daughter and her bosom friend, Margaret, exhibit steriotyped Aries style, I think. Identify. Analyze. Homogenize. Conspire. Confront. And then, lock and load, baby … annihilate!

This is the way it went until most recently Lindsay’s mother intercepted such a phone call and made it known that it isn’t cool for Liz and Margie to gang up on her daughter, who was very upset behind the scenes.

And rightfully so.

After all, we all process conflict differently.

As Elizabeth goes through these issues with her friends, she often comes to us for talks … it’s what I would refer to as coaching in the workplace, but what is in truth a call for absolute and complete emotional availability on my part for our Aries daughter who, with great intensity, seeks clarity and understanding in all things. She demands complete emotional engagement, and calls me out emphatically when I drift. In our talks, Leslie and I encourage her to see the world through the eyes of others. This can be a challenge for any self-possessed Aries child, who, at an early age and in all sincerity, has already figured out the world’s greatest mysteries. If Lindsay didn’t feel like talking or was moody, maybe she had a bad evening at home, or maybe she didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe her mood had absolutely nothing to do with Liz and Margie. We’ve also encouraged Elizabeth to communicate effectively with words, instead of jumping to conclusions or blowing things out of proportion. “Be the master of your domain,” we tell her. A person can have the best intentions in the world, but if they are unable to communicate effectively, those intentions can be for nothing. She also enjoys roll playing when relationships get particularly prickly, and likes to go through dialogue again and again until she has a situation straight in her head. She experiences conflict, and we talk. Elizabeth listens and learns, and then applies what she’s learned in her friendships. Our support is an incredibly important part of her life experience.

I watch Elizabeth go through these ups and downs with her friends, and it brings me back to my own childhood with shocking clarity. The thematic similarities are personally astounding. I was the spirited and self-absorbed Leo, and I have a preponderance of Virgo in my chart like my daughter does. My dearest friends, the ones I needed the most, were Aries people. They weren’t close to one another, but each of them had their own version of friendship etiquette that I was often oblivious to and got in trouble for disregarding many times. I wasn’t aware of the need to balance my relationships when I was a teenager, and rather, had more distracting issues on my plate and no support from my parents. None of us did, really, which is the significant difference between then and what my daughter experiences now. My desperately needed friends and I contended daily with parents who were negligent, ignorant, mean, and/or abusive when we should have been able to take for granted their support, love, understanding, and guidance. We were shooting from the hip, and in our confusion, many times ended up shooting one another. Hell, I didn’t learn any of this stuff until I was in my thirties, and even then I wasn’t very good at it. Old habits die hard.

Ironically, the Leo/Aries theme that began in my childhood and remains an echo in my adult life, manifests in my daughter’s relationships right now.

Silly Girls

This week, Elizabeth had Lindsay over for a play date. They spent a glorious afternoon romping through the house, playing with their Littlest Pet Shop guys (there is a whole new line of really cute ones), eating the homemade chocolate chip cookies Leslie made for them, and talking about Elizabeth’s birthday which is coming up. We have big plans for a trip to the flagship “Build-A-Bear Workshop” store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Leslie and Elizabeth dropped Lindsay off, and she left a bag of her things behind in the van. I went through that bag and found two of Elizabeth’s Nintendo DS video game cartridges and a tin of truffles, neither of which Elizabeth gave her.

Uh oh.

Talk about your breach of friendship etiquette.

Assuming Lindsay took her things; Elizabeth immediately jumped to conclusions and spent the next two hours fuming. Her eyes were hurt, her mouth was scrunched up tight, and she made incredulous miff and sniff sounds repeatedly. How could Lindsay do that to her? Why did such a wonderful play date have to end that way? Worse, what will this horrible breach of friendship etiquette do to Elizabeth’s birthday plans?

We got home, and Leslie and I headed toward a paint project in the basement. We asked Elizabeth to join us, but she was preoccupied. Our 10 year disappeared into the study and into deep thought.

An hour later the issue was resolved.

Rather than get on the phone with Margie to conspire, Elizabeth thought about the problem, and then called Lindsay directly. In a non-confrontational manner, she mentioned she found two video games in Lindsay’s bag. Lindsay, completely innocent, thought they must have fallen out when they were playing and put Elizabeth’s game bag in there.

Of course.

Then, Elizabeth brought up the truffles.

“Why did you take that tin, Lindsay?” she asked calmly, “I said you couldn’t have
it. I collect them.”
“But, I wanted it,” Lindsay squeaked in a tiny, captured voice that revealed so much about her child-like heart.

“You know, Lindsay, stealing isn’t what friends to do one another,” said my daughter, the self-possessed Aries and self-appointed Teacher of Friends.

For a moment there was silence.

And then …

“I know,” Lindsay said in an even smaller voice, “I’m sorry.”

Completely satisfied with Lindsay’s apology, Elizabeth gave the issue no further thought. The birthday trip to New York City is perfectly intact, and Elizabeth is going to Lindsay’s house tomorrow afternoon for another play date.

I am in awe. Elizabeth handled a conflict with one of her best friends with complete confidence and calmness. When I have to deal with an issue like this with someone from the past, I frequently run smack headlong into a wall of my own emotional anguish. It chokes me, and robs me of my objectivity. I have to work very hard to push beyond it.

“Elizabeth,” I asked, “how do you know Lindsay is telling the truth?”

She looks at me like I’ve suffered an Alzheimer’s moment, which, by the way she sees plenty of at her great-grandmother’s rest home.

“I know when Lindsay is lying, Nana,” she says with obvious inflection, “she was telling the truth.”

Our Aries daughter trusts her instincts.

How lucky this child is to have the unconditional love and support of her parents.

And how lucky are we to have a well adjusted, self-possessed Aries child to show us how it's done.

Three Girls

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