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My oldest daughter is only eight, though she is convinced she’s at least thirteen. Tonight at church she asked a ten year old boy the following question: “Can I be your girlfriend?” Unfortunately for her, the young (10 year old) man replied: “No. I already have a girlfriend.” When Breathe first told me this, yes, I was struck by the sheer innocence of it all, and the total cuteness. Though I do wish she’d postpone chasing after the boys until she’s at least entered the double digit age level, part of me is grateful she obviously has absolutely no fear of them. I am happy to know she’s perfectly normal and healthy, not only physically but psychologically as well. Actually, what first entered my brain when she told me this story tonight was the following: “I’ve got a really brave kid.” The next thing that entered my brain was all the things I could learn from her.

Unless I am super duper comfortable, I play it safe and even when I –am– super duper comfortable, I only take calculated, educated and well-thought out risks. The possible reward must significantly outweigh the consequences. In other words, I have to have an extremely convincing, worthwhile reason to step outside my comfort level. Asking someone on a date is inconceivable in my world–though not, apparently, in my daughter’s. I will ride them if I’m with the right person, but I do not typically enjoy roller coasters unless they are in water (because I’m part fish so even if a water roller coaster falls apart, as long as I land in water, I could swim to safety: don’t deflate my illusion by pointing out I’d be strapped into a seat). If a person is being obnoxious or creepy, I don’t tell them so: instead, I just leave the area. If someone is blaring music I cannot stand at ear splitting levels that make my constant migraine explode into volcanic levels, I still don’t have the right to ask them to turn it down. Instead, I leave. I have never initiated a kiss that I can definitely claim, though I have asked for one a time or two. I’ve never come straight out and asked anyone to go anywhere with me; the most I can do is issue an invite, an opportunity. I preface every request with an apology for bothering them, for intruding. I’ve heard of girls asking guys to marry them but just the thought is enough to make me turn red and hide from embarrassment. In other words, making others aware of something I want is a humongous risk that, quite honestly, I’m not brave enough to make. When I was in the sixth grade, this very cute, blonde hair, blue eyed friend of mine named Aaron gave me a note that asked me to be his girlfriend. I wanted to say yes, because it was flattering, and I liked Aaron. But I told him I’d have to wait and give him an answer the next day because I had to ask my mom first. This is just the kind of person I am. Isn’t it?

Being able to ask someone you like out, or to be your significant other, hints at some level of basic confidence; at some level, you have to believe that you are that person’s equal. Otherwise, questions of self-worth eat away your ability to voice what you really want to say. I teach my girls that they are princesses. I teach them that they are worthy of whatever their hearts desire. I teach them that they are special and unique and beautiful. Every day, we stare into a mirror and voice out loud something we like about ourselves because I believe that confidence is an acquired trait, not an inherent one. My daughter has claimed enough of that confidence to ask a boy to be her boyfriend. When he said “No. I already have a girlfriend,” she laughed and said, “But there’s lots of boys.” Me? If I’d put myself out there enough to ask such a question and then I was told “no,” I would have been devastated. I would have cried, been I eight or thirty one. I would have personalized it, thought I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough. But Breathe simply shrugged it off, rolled her eyes and wondered what other boy she could ask instead. Breathe isn’t letting boys, or anyone for that matter, dictate what she thinks of herself. She also isn’t letting fear trap her, isn’t letting life walk right past her. No, she’s reaching for what she wants, believing both that she deserves it and that it’s possible to capture what she longs for. As her mother, my heart cringes in fear at the thought that she’s already interested in boys. But as a human being, and as a girl, I am proud of her for believing in herself enough to try.

“God doesn’t make mistakes.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve told my girls this. But is it true? I’ve treated myself like a mistake for thirty years. I believed that I was created to be a mother, and to shed light on the silent children. That sounded noble. That sounded worthy, and important. But if it was true, that would mean God created me to be violated, hurt and stripped of self-worth. If it were true, then my wants and needs don’t matter at all. That’s how I’ve treated myself for thirty-one years. I’ve denied myself food, I’ve attacked myself, I’ve relentlessly shoved down any wants or needs I had, convinced myself time and again that those desires were “irrelevant” or “silly.” But there is more to who I am than a traumatizing childhood or mountain-riddled adulthood. There’s this other Tiffini, a more confidant one, a stronger one, who lives deep within and shines through just a little bit every now and then. She makes it possible for me to write, possible for me to speak in front of crowds, possible for me to notice silent, “perfect” children and ask questions. She makes it possible for me to tell those I deeply care about what they mean to me, she makes sure I don’t leave a trail of regrets behind me. She lives in the shadows but, every once in awhile, she’ll throw up a sign, say, “Whoa, we need to do something, right now” loudly enough that I just do it. She’s the confidant version of myself, the woman who believes in herself enough to write, who believes that, despite a lifetime of hurdles, what she tells her girls is true: God does not make mistakes. She’s great at writing letters and fulfilling requests when prompted because she’s reaching too; searching for herself the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Life isn’t about winning or losing. Breathe lost the chance to have him as a boyfriend. But she gained something she doesn’t at all understand yet: she gained that much more strength, written a new chapter in her life. She’s really living. Like Breathe, she knows she might get hurt: there are rocks on the path and you can never guarantee another’s behaviors. Breathe had no idea what the boy might say. Her whole body was undoubtedly alert for all his possible answers. He said no. But she never stopped skipping along the road of Life, she instead remembered she knows a dozen other boys who could all say yes. She tried. And, because she tried, she won. I should pay attention to her, shouldn’t just pat her head and marvel at innocence–instead, I should take her lead and practice confidence, believing in myself enough to try, knowing I’ll be okay whatever the outcome, as long as I am brave, as long as I reach for the stars.

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