"Change is Natures Delight"
Choosing joy in the pain of our children's many phases
You can’t stop the change, anymore than you can stop the sun from setting - Shmi Skywalker, Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
This is a weird story. Somehow, playing a violent video game ended with me being trapped in a glass box of parental emotion.
Last night I was enjoying some me-time in the living room, playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands. It’s a hot mess of a game. Basically just Grand Theft Auto but you’re playing as a Special Forces operative fighting drug cartels in Bolivia. You can steal cars, leap from helicopters (stolen ones) or just race dirt bikes (also stolen) around the mountains. Then my now 12 year-old daughter came downstairs.
She doesn’t much care for video games, and this one isn’t quite appropriate given all the violence and petty theft. There’s also loads of bad language blurted out by your character every time you crash a car or interact with the environment. Normally I just turn it off. But in this moment I could tell my child wanted to sit with me and just do something together. So I decided to share what I was doing.
I started by going to Settings and changing the game’s language from English to Spanish, that way neither one of us would even understand the crude expletives being emitted by the game. Then I looked at her and just asked, “You wanna dive out of a helicopter?”
“YESSSS!” She answered immediately. The game was on.
After I hooked her up with a peacefully commandeered helicopter to fly around the badlands of Bolivia, I couldn’t help but notice how different my little girl is from even just one year ago.
As she’s flying the helicopter around and exploring the vast world, delighting in spending some time with me, I started paying attention to her mannerisms and vocabulary.
She was using expressions I’d heard but never heard her use before. A few weird slang terms I’m unfamiliar with and a newfound dark sense of humor. “I’m just vibing” she says while parachuting into a mountain range. I couldn’t help but laugh. Where did she pick up this expression? Wasn’t us.
Looking at her next to me, she’s wearing jeans, a baggy t-shirt and jacket. For three long years my daughter has been wearing exclusively khaki clothes, in honor of her hero, Steven Irwin. We’ve called her “The Khaki Kid” because she’d literally only sport a Dickies khaki button down, tan t-shirt and pants. Three years is a long time to have a singular fashion choice.
Sadly, it suddenly ended around Thanksgiving 2022. Not sure when, why or how it happened exactly. It just…did. She started adding in camouflage pants to her usual rotation, slowly at first…and then all the time. No more khaki shorts. It wasn’t until after Christmas that I noticed it was camo everything. Camo pants. Tops. Headbands.
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The Khaki Kid might be gone. A parent notices this, and quietly mourns.
Looking at the kid next to me goofing off with Ghost Recon (a young girl with more defined features, a full set of teeth and a few skin blemishes) I had this moment of clarity about the inevitability of change.
For nearly a year I have felt myself fretting about my daughter coming of age and beginning her teen years. She’s a bit of a Daddy’s Girl, and I don’t want to lose her. God, it hurts. My fears about the moral bankruptcy of our culture, the stability of the world and my distrust of public institutions to teach truth have manifested themselves at times in bursts of anger.
Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering — Yoda, Star Wars: Episode I
My fear has led to moments of anger, I know it. Fear of loss. Fear of change. Fear of my daughter changing and the feeling that change can only be bad. We protected the innocence and wonder of The Khaki Kid, we did our job in that period of her life.
Losing that particular version of her will always evoke sadness. My own mother says that when she dreams of her three children, we appear in her dreams still in the age 5-10 range. We’re all in our 30’s today. But this is the way of life, and if you dwell only on the pain of one chapter ending, you will miss the chapter you’re currently in.
Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Sitting next to this girl who dresses slightly differently and talks differently than my girl of one year ago, I first felt sad. Then something weird happened. I actually just chose to smile, and I chose joy.
This is my girl, and I’m her Dad. But even that is something we symbolically allow to change when girls marry, and their father walks them down the aisle to “give them away.” Far from being some dated symbol of patriarchy, it is one of the most pure rituals we have for confronting the inevitability of change in our relationship to our kids. They’ll always be “yours” but you still have to “give them up” to their passion, their dreams, their true love. To do anything else would be to covet and cling jealously. It’s over attachment.
Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is - Yoda, Star Wars: Episode III
I love my daughter and will do so in all her phases, operating systems and versions. Like Anakin Skywalker, I don’t want things to change. But they will. And I will not be remembered for fighting a setting sun. I want to be remembered for smiling throughout. Welcome, The Camo Kid.
This is the way.