My Shakespeare nerds all know how this quote ends: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” We put it on onesies for little girl babies, we tattoo it on our arms, we hope it’s true.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Petra lately. She’s solidly herself and she shrinks for nobody. It means she’s not always as polite as a parent might wish, but it also means that she is utterly impervious to peer pressure. She knows who she is and she stands firm in it, expecting the world to flow around her.
It makes her challenging to parent; she’s still a little honey badger. There is no threat or bribe that can sway her from her course. No “natural consequence” is consequential enough to modify her behavior. It may look like we’ve given up on any and all discipline for her, but truly, it’s a wise person who knows when they are playing an unwinnable game.
Sometimes I chuckle, thinking about how Laura always said that baby Petra would be an easier child than her Arthur. “She’s just so sweet, I can’t imagine her ever fighting with anybody.” Six years on, Arthur is the one I’d more easily describe as sweet-natured. Petra is scrappy and then some.
As challenging as she can be, I admire her for being like this. I’m a little jealous, honestly. I can’t imagine being so unconcerned with whether people are judging me or whether someone is upset with me. Petra is utterly unphased by those kinds of thoughts at all. Once, I told her I was concerned that my words had hurt someone’s feelings. “What if he’s really mad at me?” I said.
“Mama, what if he isn’t?” she replied.
I want Petra to learn compassion and to see other people’s point of view, but not at the expense of this incredible confidence. Petra truly believes that the reason there are so many unanswered questions in paleontology is that she isn’t running her own lab just yet. She has no doubt that her stories are interesting to everyone she meets. She wouldn’t ever do something just to make somebody else like her. I wouldn’t trade all of that for anything.
“Though she be but little, she is fierce” applies to Petra more than to anybody I’ve ever known. Except maybe one person. My parents tell me all the time that Petra is my little clone. They insist that there was a time when I was this confident, when I moved through the world with this little regard for eyes on me. I was also more or less impossible to parent in any traditional sense. “You got the child you deserve,” they tell me, rolling their eyes. If I was ever like that, I don’t remember at all–but it’s one of the very few things they agree on, so I suppose it’s true.
I want to know when I stopped being such a force of nature. I don’t remember ever feeling that way in the world, but my memories of being Petra’s age are sparse. I know that by the time I was 8 or so, all of that was gone. If I could retrace my steps, figure out why I walked off of that powerful path, could I help Petra avoid that mistake? By late elementary school, I remember thinking a lot about what my teachers and the other kids in my class thought of me, and spending time and effort trying to make them like me–a fool’s errand, but one I spent decades on. It’s only in the past five years or so that I have worked in the other direction, trying to find my way back to being solid in who I am in the world, unswayed by the imagined opinions of those around me. To be fierce, despite my small space.
Petra is my mentor and guide in this journey, and it’s a journey I would spare her. I wonder if all girls are doomed to lose this sense of themselves, over time, and only have the space to demand it back when they are well into adulthood. I wonder if she’ll skip it all together, if she’s that strong.
She will always be little; she takes after my mother’s family. May she always be fierce.