My second-born child turns 14 today (August 31).
Watching Dani grow up has helped me (somewhat) understand my sister, more. I always resented her desire to do the opposite (usually) of anything I did in order to distinguish herself. But Dani is always looking for a way to do the same. Sarah and Dani are such different people, but both equally awesome in their unique ways. The last few years, an undercurrent in my thoughts is how easy it could be to overlook Dani. She’s the middle of three girls. She’s not my “middle” child, as Helen fits that description in a literal sense. But being in between Sarah (my natural leader, goal-setting, Type-A personality) and Helen (my anxiety-prone-but-much-better-than-she-used-to-be child) can be a tough order for a kid who really does like some attention.
Dani has always had a stronger attraction to “the arts” be it something like drawing, painting or writing or even performing arts like choir and the musical and playing an instrument (guitar). Due to that leaning, her activities revolve more around the academic school year and now that she’s in public school, transportation and parental commitment is lower than for things like volleyball or some other sport. With that, it is less likely to see Dani’s development in her gifts grow from day to day. I simply must wait for the next performance to witness it.
During the summer, Dani chose to chop off her hair and find her style. She did a fabulous job of picking a “look” that fit her face and her personality and was able to convey what she wanted to the woman who’s been cutting/styling her hair since 4th grade. Leading up to this transformation, I learned a lot about my second daughter.
I learned that Dani is fearless and independent. She is self-assured and confident. She seems to have grasped early on that it really is “none of her business what other people think of her” and so she doesn’t entertain that sort of worry like most girls her age. I learned that she has the most beautiful frame in her face for a short hairstyle and she doesn’t ascribe to the notion that femininity is tied to the length of her hair.
Watching Dani adjust to life in 8th grade has also taught me quite a bit about her. She DOES care about school and wants to be organized, though it’s a struggle. She has always wanted to please teachers and parents, but I see her staying on top of her work now to please herself. She sets some goals — and they are different from the types of goals Sarah sets — and she makes a plan. She LOVES her music and drama. She joined the After School Activity of Competitive Drama and learned that they would be “trying out” a Debate team this year and she is interested in that, too!
On a more personal level, Dani understands true friendship on a level most kids her age do not. I think of an example recently where Sarah discovered an event to which Dani was not invited and Sarah (Mama-Bear she is) thought it was “rude” (Sarah’s words) that she wasn’t. My first statement to Sarah was, “You know, Dani never thinks anything of that stuff until you say something.” (And I was right about that, again in this instance.) But I did discuss it with Dani and she said, “I’m okay with it. I mean, I like one-on-one outings with people better — I don’t have to share their attention, and I feel like it’s more enjoyable.” She didn’t feel left out (as Sarah did when these sorts of things happened at this age) and she didn’t feel hurt. She understood that she doesn’t get invited to everything and she chose to focus on the fact that she often has really fun outings with friends because she usually arranges small gatherings.
Helping to plan Sarah’s surprise party this summer also showed me something about Dani: She is not afraid to make her desires known. As we walked through Costco and various other places the afternoon of the party, getting things bought/paid for and organized, she said, “You know, Mom, I know it won’t be this year or anything…maybe not for a few years, but I would really enjoy a party like this for my birthday.” Not only did that tell me that she could appreciate what Sarah was about to experience, but she didn’t mind telling me what she wanted. So many women today STILL have trouble vocalizing their wants, needs, desires and beliefs and here is my now-14-year-old daughter unabashedly and unapologetically telling me something she would like her family to do for her “at some point.”
Lately, I have seen that Dani likes to hang with her brothers and likes to show affection for them by picking them up, baking for them, playing games with them. Like most new teens, for awhile there, she spent quite a bit of time in solitude, but I have really seen her making an effort the last 8 months or so with her siblings. She and Helen have a close relationship that I remember witnessing in my own two younger sisters growing up.
Through all of these ways I have watched Dani grow, it’s clear she is finding her place in the world and in our family. She is growing into a lovely young lady and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things she will do as she continues to mature.
So, Happy Birthday, Dani-squirrel! I know you will work to make your dreams come true and I look forward to seeing you shine.