The In-Between Years

The other day, I needed to return some books to the library, so I decided to swing past on my way to pick my husband up from work. Going this way requires us to drive through a not-so-great part of town- not the worst part, but definitely not the best part either. As we pulled into the library's drive-through drop-off, I happened to see a group of boys hanging out in front of the doors, and I just thought how great it was that they were hanging out at the library, rather than somewhere else.

Putting our books in the book drop took a good 5 minutes, because we always have lots of books. By the time I finished up and pulled out of the parking lot, the same group of boys was now standing on the other side and preparing to run back across the street right in front of traffic. A couple of them ran across in front of the car ahead of me, and as I drove by the ones remaining on the sidewalk, I happened to look over and see one of them, not more than 11 years old, smoking a cigarette. 

I imagine most people who know the area I am talking about wouldn't be surprised by this. But, it shocked me. And it made me sad. And that moment is burned in my brain and I keep thinking about it. Here's why:

My girl turns 10 today. In her own words, she will "never be single digits again." She has hit that in-between age, where she's not a teenager, but she's not a "little kid" anymore, either.  She still loves to play dress-up and "restaurant" and watch cartoons, but she's also starting to care about styling her hair and putting together outfits.

This girl is one of the kindest, most intelligent and loving children I've ever met. She is shy and quiet and often full of anxiety, but she thinks about others, and worries about being kind to them and praying for them. She loves to help people, she loves to read, she loves school, and God, and her mommy... most of all, I think, she loves her mommy. There are times when I look at her and think how grown up she is getting. She's amazingly intelligent and pretty intuitive, and often shows the greatest character. She thinks about things that a lot of other kids her age wouldn't.

And there are other times when I wonder whether I am protecting her too much, treating her too much like a little kid. I can't even tell you how many times I've thought, "Should she have outgrown that by now?" Am I letting her get away with whining too much? Am I failing to give her responsibilities? Am I shielding her too much from what the world is like and, as a consequence, failing to prepare her for life? 

I've been asking myself these questions a lot lately... As she gets closer to her teenage years, things are going to get harder: she will have physical and emotional changes, her relationships will get more complicated, she will have to be more and more responsible. I don't want her to be blindsided by those things; I want her to be ready and capable to handle them as they come at her, and know how to ask for help when she can't handle them on her own. 

But now, as I'm asking myself these things, and worrying about messing it all up, I keep coming back to that little boy, standing on the street, cigarette in hand, laughing as his friends ran out into traffic. It's heart breaking to know that that is normal for some kids her age. And I can't help but think that I'll take the innocence. She'll grow up way sooner than I'll be ready for, so, even though they can be hard and full of uncertainty, I'll hold onto these in-between years for as long as I can.