Yes, I know that literally the last post I wrote was for Silas’ birthday. There’s not really a ton of stuff going on here right now…
So, anyway, Petra turned 8 this week.
I asked her if she wanted to do anything special for her birthday (we’re doing a party for her in a week or so). She said, “I want to not do chores or school work and I want to stay in my room and do puzzles and listen to audiobooks and for nobody to talk to me.” Not only was that an easy request to grant, it also was 1000% on-brand for Petra.
I’m sort of continually surprised that she’s only 8. She’s very much as she always has been, only more so. She’s determined, focused, intense, analytical, indomitable. She can do anything, but not if anybody pressures her to.
Petra is still a honey badger. We have basically given up on any kind of discipline, because it simply doesn’t work. We have to trust that she’ll grow up to be a decent person because she’s kind to cats, and to her friends. Part of me wishes she cared just the tiniest bit what anyone else thinks, but I’ve seen so many of my own friends have to unlearn the toxic version of that, that I am also rather glad she has absolutely none of it.
She is completely impossible to discipline or guilt or shame or pressure. I get frustrated when people attempt these kinds of maneuvers on her, because they only make bad situations worse. If Petra says she doesn’t like something, the surest way to make her hate it extremely is to try to convince her. We’ve moved to a policy of not arguing with her; it doesn’t help. Instead, we lay down minimum requirements. She says she doesn’t like babies. That’s fine, nobody is going to make you like babies, we tell her. But you absolutely may not be rude to anyone, including babies. She’s firm about her boundaries, and I love that. But it means I have to constantly practice being equally firm about mine. I have very few concerns about her getting into bad situations when she’s older; nobody will ever pressure her into drugs or sex or crime. Of course, that means nobody will ever pressure her not to do those things either, at least not the slightest bit successfully. In the “Four Tendencies” framework, she’s solidly a Rebel (like her dad), and I’m grateful every day for Gretchen Rubin’s work. Her strategies for dealing with Rebels are: (1) Appeal to their sense of identity (“You can do sloppy writing on your thank you note, but I don’t think you want your aunt to think you write like a little kid. I’ve seen you have very grown-up handwriting when you decide to. But it’s up to you.”) and, (2) information-consequences-choice (“It is bed time. If you stay up too late, you are going to have a difficult time keeping up with your friends tomorrow. Do you want to go to bed now, or in fifteen minutes?”). Real big on choice around here. I have learned to be careful only to offer options that I’m going to be okay with.
This year, Petra hit some of those early-elementary school milestones. She learned to swim in Costa Rica, although, true to her slow-and-steady pattern of life, she’s probably going to take another year before she’s truly reliable in the water. At that point, though, she’ll be unsinkable. In the same way, she’s mostly learned to ride a bike, although we’re still working on getting started and on confidence. Again, I have every confidence that her lifelong pattern of incremental progress will serve her well.
She’s also able to read long novels and is immensely proud of her ability to do that. We’ve had to have some hard conversations about how sometimes, you have to put the book down and do your chores/schoolwork/scheduled playdate. She understands that I totally get it, though. I love that this is a thing we can connect on—because I do understand exactly that feeling, and used to get in trouble for doing things like cleaning the bathtub while reading, I think she feels less like I’m the enemy when I insist it’s time to set the book aside.
Her friends are all older than she is, and she holds her own with them. She has more friends than she used to; there are more people she would give that specific designation to. She’s always been slow to make friends, slow to warm up to people. But now with eight years all spent in the same community, she has relationships that are long-lasting enough to feel permanent. Nearly all her close friends are girls—Lillian, Elisabeth, Emmy, Kaia, Violet, Esther, Ruth.
Silas’ crew is an even mix of genders. I keep waiting for Petra to declare a boy to be a close friend, but she’s not remotely interested. None of her friends are traditionally girly. They all scorn dolls and fruffy dresses and, beyond the occasional nail polish, have zero interest in makeup. They all love to rough house, climb things, get extremely muddy. I don’t see much difference in the way the boys and girls in our circle play, but other than a very rare and begrudging acknowledgement of Arthur or Sam, she insists that she doesn’t have any boys as friends.
Petra loves to be outside and exploring. Forest School has taught her how to be outside in all kinds of weather, as well as a ton about plant identification, tracking animals, what to eat in the forest, and weather observation. She has a bag of tools, including a knife, a compass/binoculars/magnifying glass tool, walkie talkies, and notebooks that she takes out into the woods with her. She’s such an amazing observer.
Although she’d probably say that her favorite books are the Warriors series, the one that she sleeps with every night is How to Be a Wildflower, a book of botanical illustrations that I happened to pick up on a whim from Booksavers. In that spirit, I got her a set of Julia Rothmann’s Anatomy books, which are basically labeled drawings of plants and animals. She has already devoured them, and hung the prints that came with the set on her walls.
Petra loves to do crafts of all kinds. She enjoys kits—she’s already made 20 Fimo charms from the set I got her for her birthday—but she also likes to just mess around. One of her favorite birthday presents was the box of glow-in-the-dark paints I got her. I don’t know what she’ll do with them, but I’m sure it will be super fun. She’s at such a fun age, where we can just offer her ideas and she delves into them. She loves video games, and she’s great at them, maybe because she enjoys solving puzzles. She’s intrigued with codes and secrets. Her room is booby trapped with her own engineered inventions, although nobody ever tries to go in there without her permission. The secrecy is the point, more than any threat to it.
She still loves cats above all else. Hairy Pawter is now a big ten-pound tom, and Petra can barely lift him! But they still love to cuddle, and he’s good to all our foster kittens.
Silas is her best friend, even though she would deny it. When he sleeps late, she wanders around asking when he’s going to wake up. Her face is the first thing he sees most mornings. They tussle and argue, but they also love to create together. They have the same friends and many of the same hobbies. They share secret languages and stories. I’m so grateful that they’re able to spend most of their days together, even on days when they get on each other’s nerves. They’re both learning about respect and consent from each other, long before they need to practice it in more serious contexts. Petra can be mean to him sometimes, and he deliberately gets on her nerves, but I feel so lucky they get along so well, mostly.
So here’s to eight. Another year of growth, change, and adventure.