“They’re so pretty,” she sighed, stroking the grey faux fur. Then I see the tension gather around her eyes. “But . . . I can’t keep them.”

She’s 9 years old. This level of negative self-talk, so early in life, crumbles my Mama-heart. Gentleness is required, and making her wrong will only shut her down.

I shove the shopping bag aside on the kitchen counter and sit down on the bar stool next to her.  “Why can’t you keep them, sweetheart?”

“Because the girls at school have boots just like this. And they have a club. And you can’t wear boots like this unless you’re in their club.”

“And you’re not in their club.” It’s not a question.

“No.” The tension around her eyes turns into welling-up, but not yet into tears.

“Are these the Mean Girls?”

“No. These are my friends. Or the people I thought were my friends.”

My third-grader is still holding it together. Now I’m probably going to cry first.

“So,” she concludes with a shuddering sigh, “I can’t have them.” And she begins to angle the lid back onto the shoebox.

Every fiber in me wants to scream about wrongness, and say a lot of words about stupidity and unfairness and Lord of the Flies, but with this child, that is not the right approach.

“Honey, of course I will respect your feelings. It’s no big deal to return them . . .

” . . . but let me tell you something first.”

She pauses for a moment. Without looking at me, she creeps a finger under the shoebox lid to stroke the fur again.

“Honey, I can tell you where those boots came from.”

Soft and low from the direction of the shoebox, “What do you mean?”

“I mean just that. I can tell you exactly where those boots came from. Those fancy-schmancy boots that the other girls are using to keep you out of their club?  I can tell you that those boots came from Marshalls. They came from Marshall’s, on clearance, for $12.99. All those girls’ parents probably bought them in exactly the same place. Because it really is a heck of a sale.”

“Really?”

“Really truly.”

A short silence rests between us. Then I see her grow a couple inches right in front of me. She wraps both hands firmly around the shoebox and meets my eyes with a look older than ages and surprisingly solid.

“Okay.” A deep breath. “Okay, I’m going to keep them. Thank you, Mom!”

Then she is 9 years old again, bouncing up the stairs with a shoebox under her arm.

She may not remember this as a turning point. Or she might. Certainly I remember the day when I refused to let the school bullies make me pull the fire alarm.  My mother will tell you about the day she walked home with gravel under her skin after a fall from her bike.

We all have turning points. Seeing one happen right in front of you is a great privilege of parenthood.

Tonight I’m telling you that no rule denies you a turning point, just become you’ve become an adult. Sure, the ship is bigger now. There is a greater weight of commitment, history, complication, pain.  But in our hearts we are still the little girls who want the boots. We need to find the strength to accept them, when they are offered.