My baby isn’t a baby anymore. Well, not technically. We just celebrated Lila’s 9th birthday, and this morning, when I took a good, hard look at her, she didn’t look like my wee bit—my little one. When I pulled her onto my lap, those legs, stretched long and lean, dangled practically as long as mine; when I leaned in for a kiss, her face, long and angular, seemed as big as my own. The things that made her a baby—beyond her age—seem to have melted away. Now, finally, she is a tween shimmying her way to teenhood.
And, quite frankly, I’m feeling some kind of ways about this. Because my Lila? Well, she’s the special one. Let me explain.
With only nine years under her belt, my Lila is quite the rabble rouser. Seriously, she’s a goofy goober who keeps the Chiles family home jumping—with lots of practical jokes, shrill singing, Michael Jackson-worthy dancing, and enough little sister antics to keep her big sister and brother on the run. The girl can even conjure up crocodile tears faster than Angela Bassett on the set of What’s Love Got To Do With It, and then, with sal water streaming down her cheeks, give a maniacal giggle to show you she’s not really crying.
Nick and I regularly wake up with night sweats just envisioning the kind of teenager Lila might be—the one making it hot for anyone and everyone involved. Phone attached to the ear at all times, shooing away little boys, orchestrating a gaggle of girlie hangeres-on, brilliant but too fabulous for school work or anything that requires more thought beyond which skirt, lip gloss, and phone number she should use next. “I don’t know why that boy is outside in the car crying, mommy,” I hear her teenage voice whisper to me. “I told him it wasn’t going to work and he should get the hell on, but he claims he’s too distraught to drive. Loser. Anyway, I’m going to the movies with Bobby, k bubkins?”
Heaven help us.
Of course, all of my friends tell me to stop throwing the kid under the bus—she’s brilliant (she’s in the gifted program at her school and regularly slays the standardized tests school systems hold so dear), funny (she keeps us all in stitches, a trait that could come in handy when she’s working a room), friendly (she hasn’t met a kid she’s not breathlessly BFFs with), and while mischievous, she’s still a good kid when it counts, they insist. I an co-sign all of this. But she also could be a mere knock knock joke away from transforming from the smart girl in the class to the popular one—less interested in books, consumed by the spotlight.
But spotlight is okay, I guess, huh? I mean, it’s worked for Chris Rock and Beyonce and Halle Berry—Michelle Obama, Condoleeza Rice and Tina Fey. Each of them, I suppose, had to at some point color outside the lines, something I wholeheartedly embraced when the world seemed poised to point fingers at and judge actress/singer Willow Smith, daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, for being a bit precocious—for coloring outside the lines. I’m working overtime to embrace this little girl—to love my Lila for being exactly who she is—no holds barred. Beause at the end of the day, in a society where too many girls are too often timid and intimidated and afraid to be who they are and shine, my baby’s personality is just another sign of her fearlessness. And for girls in this day and age, fearless shouldn’t be considered a bad thing.
No, here, fearless is impressive—an honorable thing. Something her mother, at age 42, is still working on.
Yeah, my Lila is fearless. And this week, she turned nine. And though she may not be a baby anymore, she’ll always be my baby—the special one. The one who is just fine exactly the way she is.
Happy Birthday, superstar. I’ll love you until dolphins fly and parrots swim the sea—always.