Early in May, Wyokiddo and I spent a morning exploring a nearby children’s village and garden. It’s a wonderful space, designed for all sorts of hands-on exploration and play. The morning was blue-bird beautiful and perfect for an end-of-spring outing. I guess we weren’t the only ones who had the same idea. There were several schools and even a Girl Scout Troop there.
Wyokiddo loved taking her shoes off and splashing in the water with the older girls. I was staying out of the way, giving all the kids some space to just be kids. Suddenly, the morning was filled with terrified shrieking, splashing and a dozen panicked 9-year old girls scrambling to get out of the wading area. They were literally climbing over the top of one another to get out of the water. I grabbed Wyokiddo before she got knocked over in the fray, and tried to figure out what was going on.
“Oh. My. God. It’s a Monster!” one girl cried, pointed to the water, and the others set off shrieking again.
I scoured the water for the beast of the deep. The way these girls were wailing and screaming and carrying on, I expected to see a great white shark or Nessie herself rise from the depths.
It was a crawdad.
Crawdad, or crayfish for the non-Wyoming hillbillys, are a small, freshwater crustacean that resembles a lobster. Some are kept as pets. Others are used as bait in fishing. I’ve even participated in a crayfish boil and ate the delicious little buggers. But this one wouldn’t have even made a good appetizer. He was about an inch and a half long, and contentedly climbing over the rocks looking for food.
“It’s just a crawdad. It won’t hurt you unless it feels threatened. Just give him some space to eat his breakfast,” I told the girls. When I knelt down to take a closer look, I set off another round of screams and flailing.
“I am not getting near the water with that thing in it,” one Girl Scout told me adamantly. The others nodded and stepped back further from the water.
The 9-year old tomboy in me desperately wanted to grab the thing and chase the sissy la-la girls around with it. But that is probably frowned upon these days, especially when you are 38. Instead, I called Wyokiddo to my side and pointed the crawdad out to her.
“See, it’s a crawdad. We catch them fishing sometimes,” I told her. “He came in with the water, and he likes living here because it’s safe and he can find bugs and plants to eat. If he lived in the big lake over there, he could get eaten by a fish or a bird.”
“Can he snap me?” my daughter asked, pointing to his small claws.
I told her yes, they could pinch, and it can hurt. I explained that crawdads don’t go around pinching just for fun. They do it for survival, like when they are scared by bigger animals or people try to pick them up.
We crouched by the ponds and watched the critter dig in the rocks for a few minutes. Soon, she was bored with the monster and decided to get back in the water and wade around. She had the ponds all to herself.
I spent a lot of time thinking about that day. The girls’ reactions really bothered me. It wasn’t the fear of the unknown that grated on me. I understand fear. It was the screaming and flailing and just the drama of it all. I think only two of the girls actually saw the crawdad, the rest were just joining in the drama for the sake of it. I spent much of my teenage years mired in drama (some of it self-created, admittedly.) It took up a lot of my time and emotional energy and made high school so much harder than it ever needed to be. So now I have very little patience for drama of any kind.
I thought about what kind of young woman I wanted Wyokiddo to grow up to be. Not the activities I want her to participate in or the skills I want her to have, but what sort of character I wish for her. And along with grace, kindness and integrity, I realized I want her to have a little bit of moxie, a little bit of grit. I want her to see the crawdad as something cool to learn about, not something to fear. I want her to follow her own instincts, not the crowd. I want her to be the kind of girl who can love pink and wear dresses and play in the dirt. I want her to assess a situation then confidently say “I’ve got this.”
But how do you raise those kind of girls? I wish I had all the answers. But Outdoor Guy and I are doing our part by fostering Wyokiddo’s curiosity. We let Wyokiddo explore outside and have new experiences. We visit zoos and museums. We encourage her to talk to adults and ask them questions. I try to take her questions seriously and provide serious answers. I try not to shy away from tough questions about death or disease, instead providing an honest answer in a way I hope a 3 year old can understand. It’s no small task, because I think she asks approximately 2,224 questions each and every day. If I don’t know the answer, we ask someone that would know, or we look it up online together. When she’s older, I’ll let her research answers on her own and report back to me.
We are also working to teach her resiliency. I try to give her the freedom to mess up. I let her spill milk so she can learn to clean it up. I try to give her the freedom to get hurt, (in small ways, of course, we’re not talking about letting her play with a machete or anything.) Outdoor Guy will let her fall so that she can learn that she can get back up and go on. It’s probably one of the hardest things I do as a mother, because my natural instinct is to control everything. As she grows, I’m going to do my best to give her the opportunity to sort out her problems on her own before I swoop in and try to fix things my way. But I know that giving her the opportunity to do things for herself will build Wyokiddo’s confidence, and teach her that she can overcome setbacks or small hurts.
God has blessed us with a smart, capable, beautiful little girl who abounds in confidence and curiosity. May he bless her with parents who don’t mess that up. And may we all have a little luck as we try to raise girls with grit.