Are there ever times when you hear your child calling you, and it takes awhile to respond? Not because you’re ignoring him/her, not because a baby is screaming in your ear, and not because you’re so tired that you’ve accidentally dozed off on the floor while playing blocks. But because you still can’t quite believe you’re a parent. “You talking to me kid?” That some great power above bestowed on you this much responsibility, this much authority. And unless your child came by way of adoption, you probably didn’t have to pass any kind of test.
It happens to me quite often. Moments that I not only shake my head and wonder why I of all people was trusted with these little creatures, but wonder how on earth I can manage to not totally screw them up. Yes, there are books and blogs and support groups and oodles of information out there, but there’s just so much to be learned through the school of hard knocks that I really fear for my children, especially the oldest. I call her our test child. Poor dear.
Today was one of those days that made an imprint on my memory. Many days don’t, all blended together in loads of laundry, client projects, sticky kitchen counters and endless demands for “more milk! more snacks! more everything!” Today I learned some hard lessons as a parent. I realized that I’ve been imagining my eldest daughter’s childhood to be…mine. Sounds crazy, right? But she’s SO much like me. Except she’s not me. And instead of taking the path many parents seek in shielding their children from adversity, I’ve been letting her ride the bike of life over some rocky terrain, and I just assume she’ll come out on the other side of any crash not unscathed, but better for it. But will she? Should I let her experience life this way? My instinct says I should, but it’s not going to be easy.
We live in a very small town, and while I love my community and want to be here until I’m senile, it can be hard on one’s self development. Social clicks are already forming, family alliances bear heavy weight and reputations are already being formed, even at the tender age of four. I can remember being my daughter’s age, at the same daycare facility she attends now, and experiencing some of these things for myself. I vividly remember meeting some of my classmates for the first time, girls I later went on to graduate with, who are now fellow mothers I see at drop-off and pick-up.
Strong friendships can be forged in these scenarios, but also strong negative associations. Like my daughter’s use of a sippy cup. Yes, she’s too old, I know. But she prefers to drink from them, and it makes less mess for me to clean up. Yes, I know I shouldn’t have allowed her to take one into daycare today, but I was nauseated and tired and just trying to get them in the door as quickly as possible because we were already late. It didn’t even register as a major mess-up until I was preparing dinner tonight, chopping at the ground beef in the skillet, when my daughter confided in me, “My friends laughed at me today because I use a sippy cup. It really hurt my feelings.”
I rested the spatula on the stove top and turned around. “I am so sorry sweetie. They really shouldn’t have done that. Did you tell them your feelings were hurt?” She hung her head. “No, I was too shy to say anything.” I think she meant she was too embarrassed. I was, too. What was I thinking? She’s four years old. She’ll be in kindergarten next year. Of course she can’t take a sippy cup into a room with her peers, who’ve probably long given it up at their parent’s request. I tried to choose my next words carefully. “Sweetie, they shouldn’t have laughed at you, that’s not nice. But we really do need to think about giving up the sippy cup. At the very least, we can’t take it to daycare anymore. Ok?”
While my heart broke that she was made fun of, I had to admit a valuable lesson was learned. The hurt was soon forgotten though, as she screamed with delight when daddy walked through the door. She knew what he had, her brand new shin guards (and a new pair of shorts). We signed her up for soccer (a week late, I missed the memo) and tonight was the first practice. We talked with her well in advance about going with her coach, having fun and trying hard. She was SO excited. And despite my doubt, she did awesome. She fell right in line with her team, and even though she picked a few dandelions and spaced off quite a bit, she hung in there. My big girl. And again, as I watched the other children interact, I realized my daughter is a little different. A bit of a free spirit, just like her momma. It makes me equal parts proud and scared when I think of the path that lies ahead for her.
She will be made fun of. She will. She’s just not going to be mainstream. And I’m okay with that. But is she? Is this really her path or am I giving her too much free reign? Should I attempt to help her fit in, and let her veer off only if she chooses? Am I forcing her to swim upstream, or just allowing her? I don’t want her to be the most popular girl in school. I just want her to be kind to others and be wildly successful in anything she chooses. But do I not want that for her because I didn’t have it? Am I afraid of what she’ll become if she does? Will we grow apart because I just can’t relate? So many questions unanswered. So much self doubt and second guessing. No wonder I hesitate when I hear the title “Mom.”