Today was an interesting one. Today, my daughter requested that we go look for a purple Sofia the First dress for her dress-up collection. I knew that I had gift cards I could spend so I said yes. This prompted several conversations and occurrences that proved to me that, yes, she is indeed growing and developing emotionally, even though I was beginning to doubt this idea.
The first conversation happened before we left the house:
B: Mommy, what are you doing here?
Me: I’m going to wash dishes. Then we can get ready and go find a purple l dress. But I have to finish my chores first, okay?
B: Okay. I be in in my bedroom. *runs off to play Super Why games on her Kindle*
That is Exhibit A. Exhibit B came about in the store. We found a lovely Sofia dress-up gown but, oh, there were shoes to go with it! My girl is a great lover of shoes, for those who don’t know, and so she insisted that she wanted both the dress and the shoes. I calmly explained to her that she had to pick one or the other because I did not have enough money on my gift card to buy both. This was, as you probably expected, heartbreaking for the little miss. She started to break down but then, just as suddenly, she said:
“I need to sit down.”
I told her that she could sit down right where she was and she took a seat on an open, low shelf. Then she started breathing deeply, in through her nose and out through her mouth. Then I realized what was happening. My three-year-old baby was calming herself down! She took at least four deep breaths, me breathing along with her for a few of them. Then, after a moment, we revisited the issue and she decided that she wanted the dress more than the shoes. She was still disappointed about the shoes, yes, but she made her choice. As we got to the checkout, she seemed to remember how upset she was about not getting the shoes. Again, she told me, “I need to sit down,” so I gave her permission to sit on another low shelf right near me and I waited until she was ready before we paid for the dress.
It happens when you aren’t looking, these moments of growth. These moments are proof that what you are doing is helping, is working, and does matter for the good for your little one(s). So, keep on doing what you are doing, mamas and dads. Keep teaching and counseling and modeling for your little ones. They are are learning, they are developing the good habits and strategies that you are endeavoring to teach them. It’s hard, I know. It’s frustrating and tiring and maddening. But it’s working. It is! It just sometimes happens when you aren’t looking.
Recently, my three-year-old daughter has discovered, purportedly, what it means to be scared at night, scared of the dark. We have also discovered monsters, particularly monsters under the bed. She’s always been a good sleeper since she aged out of infancy and the last few nights, she’s slept through (which has been a marvelous blessing to me after a rough weekend). However, there are some nights where we have to deal with the “I’m scared’s”.
The first night it was really an issue was when I heard her get out of bed and run into the living room, her heavy, honest footsteps thumping across the floor. Getting up and heading out into the darkness of the house, I found her curled up on the loveseat in the living room. When I asked her what was wrong, she replied, “I’m scared.” I assured her that there was nothing in her room to be scared of, bundled her up in her blanket, and took her back to her bed. We repeated this process twice. The final time, however, I–somewhere in my wearied, foggy brain–decided to try a different tactic. I pulled on my heavy, warm robe, trekked out into the living room, picked up a few spare pillows from the ottoman, and made us a little bed on the loveseat, snuggling up close to my little girl. Instead of bringing her up to my height, where I understood that there was nothing in the dark of her bedroom to be afraid of, I made a conscious choice to meet her at the bottom. Instead of insisting that she be brave, I told her, “I’m here. You’re safe. Cuddle close.” And we did. We cuddled there on the couch. It took her a little while to get comfortable but, eventually, her breathing evened out and she was asleep again. Swaddling her in her blanket, I carried her back to bed, tucked her in, and then made my way back to my own neglected bed for the remaining few hours before daybreak.
I met the next day tired but having learned an important lesson afresh. We talk about meeting people where they are, wherever that may be. We can then help each other grow from where we are to where we will be, even if we might be a little further along the path or a big higher up the mountain than they are. We need to meet them where they are. We remind ourselves that God meets us where we are, accepts us as we are, but loves us enough that He will continue to help us grow and mature and refine. I had to (and still have to, up to last night even) meet my little girl where she is and be with her there in that space, at that height, even if it’s at the bottom of the mountain. Because that is the only way I can help her climb. Not pull her up. Help her climb. Help her learn where to put her hands, where to find her footholds, and how to put herself up throughout life. But, first, I have to meet her where she is.
One afternoon, as my daughter nested on her bedroom floor with her stuffies and her tablet, I laid myself down next to her and requested, “Can I lie down next to you?”
I must have sounded like the most pathetic creature to ever live and, truthfully, I felt it to be so. I felt weary-worn in body and soul and literally pathetic in every synonymous sense of the word. There are days when mothering is unspeakably tough, and this week has been a collection those days. From temper tantrums to busy days (which my girl dearly didn’t want to participate in) to ballet class and early morning stomach bugs, this has been quite a week. I’m tired, worn, and, honestly, wilting a bit. I have rarely felt less equal to the task of raising my daughter than I have this week. My eyes are weak from lack of sleep and too many tears. The things that give me joy (reading, writing, working out, etc.) I have often been too tired to fully enjoy, but I am still doing my best to keep up with them because they are my soul food.
This weekend is Valentine’s Day. I’m not looking for flowers or chocolate or a fancy dinner out. All I want is some time with my husband and some time to myself to center down and ground myself before the week starts all over again.
The past month and a half has been full of words, songs, laughs, screams, changes, and growth. Elizabeth has developed by leaps and bounds, her words coalescing into sentences, babbles into song lyrics. She loves to learn and play and show off what she has learned. She memorizes songs and her favorite cartoons, acts out her favorite scenes and made-up scenarios, plays enthusiastically and reports everything on the world around her, just in awe and utterly delighted with the world she is discovering. Her big thing this season has been discovering that season change. Fall is often the most obvious and blazingly glorious of seasonal changes and with it has brought exclamations and examinations and just sheer squealing delight as God has repainted the canvas of Elizabeth’s world before her very eyes. And she changes right along with it.
A few Sundays ago, during her grandmother’s visit, she gave us all a delightful surprise. As people gathered in for morning worship service, milling and visiting together, Elizabeth made her way up onto the platform, found the cordless microphone on the side of the pulpit, and picked it up. She then treated everyone gathered in for service so far to an impromptu performance of her favorite song: “Jesus Loves Me”. When she picked up the mic, I had started towards her to help her put it down. But she started singing — our family song, one that is always requested and sung together at bedtime every night, just as it was in my childhood — and I froze. I just stood there and let my child, my girl of barely three, minister to those gathered in the meeting house. And she did. She did minister to them. No prompting from me or Ben, no guidance, no cajoling even, really. Just some encouragement from those listening. I just stood there, holding her blankies and Lambie (her dearest friends) and watched God speak through my toddler.
She sang through the song twice and then, in true Elizabeth fashion, bowed and said, “Thank you! Thank you!” My dear little ham.
I’m tearing up as I write this two weeks later. I had intended to write it sooner, don’t know why I didn’t. But here I am writing it now. And it’s hitting me like a hammer. No offense to my wonderful husband, who happens to be the pastor, but our daughter probably spoke the most poignant words in that entire service in her little toddler voice. In the Quaker church, we believe that each and every person has the capacity to minister, has a personal ministry even. My daughter was a minister that day with the most important of messages on her little tongue.
She reminded us all, no matter our age, that we are loved. Even when others reject us, even when life is hard, when days are grey and cold, and our road bleak with despair creeping up on its edges. Or even when we are just having a difficult day or being difficult ourselves. We are loved by God. Completely and utterly and eternally. You. Me. All of us. We are loved.
Thank you, Elizabeth. Can’t wait to hear more.
Cross-posted on my writing blog http://awriterbecoming.com.
For our wedding anniversary this year, the only gift I requested from my husband was as set of coloring books and crayons of my own, separate from those that belong to my toddler daughter. What? I like coloring. Of course, he came through with coloring books of Disney Princesses and My Little Pony (yay!), but I beefed up my coloring book collection the other day with some of the new wildly-popular coloring books for adults. The one I worked on last night for my winding-down time was one of floral mosaics. I wanted something simple so I chose a picture of daisies and settled in quite happily with a colored pencil in one hand and an apple in the other. Even as I finished the stems and started working on the flowers’ yellow hearts, I felt this sudden urge to leap up from my chair at the kitchen table and run into the living room crying, “Mom! Mom! Look, look!”
That hit me hard. Even at thirty-two, I still long for my mother to see me and find beauty in me and what I do. I was over the moon when she commented that I had indeed lost a few inches. All those months of work and she noticed! When she compliments my mothering, I am chuffed for days. My mother is my hero and I want her to be proud of her girl. (I’ve definitely noticed that I’ve been singing Aladdin’s “Proud of Your Boy” more often lately.)
Then I realized that is all Elizabeth wants from me, too: to be seen, to be enjoyed, for me to be proud of my girl. Her new trick is to come up to you with something behind her back.
“Please (close) eyes,” she asks.
You cover your eyes.
“1-2-3. Eeprise (surprise)!” And she shows you what is behind her back.
Your role is to be elated, tell her it’s wonderful, and give her a hug.
I have lost count of just how many times we have done this over the past few days. Last night, though, I was very tired and refused to participate a few times (or at best was rather lackluster about it). My mom played along enthusiastically every single time. I am sorry that I didn’t. Elizabeth wants, needs, me to joy in her and in all she is learning to do. I want her to know that I do joy in her and I am proud of her.
One of her favorite movies is “Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch”. At the end of the film, the whole ohana is dancing Lilo’s hula together and she and Stitch hug each other. Then Nani comes over and tells Lilo, “Mom would be so proud of you.” At that point in the film, Elizabeth always runs to me for the hug and I amend the line and tell her, “I am so proud of you.” And I am. I will always be. When she is thirty-two, I want her to want to run to me, show me what she has accomplished or created, and know without a doubt that I will be elated for and with her.
“Mom, Mom! Look!”
“That is wonderful, my love! I am so proud of you!”
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to teach my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter an important lesson. Today, her Stuffy broke. For those of you not in the know, Stuffy is a blue dragon stuffed animal from the Disney Junior show “Doc McStuffins”. He is known for being a “big, brave dragon”. My daughter has little plastic figurines of six of the main characters of the television show and, today, her figurine of Stuffy broke. He lost a wing. Now, I had attempted to fix Stuffy’s wing earlier in the day but my fix-it job didn’t take and the injured wing was now nowhere to be found. Elizabeth was absolutely distraught upon the discovery during an afternoon walk; she burst into tears and sobbed the entire way home. When we arrived back at our house, she refused to allow me to comfort her so, instead, what I did was take all of the figurines out of her little dolly stroller and set them up on the floor. Stuffy was in the middle with his friends all surrounding him. Then I said this to Elizabeth:
“Stuffy’s wing is broken, and I know that you are upset. But Stuffy is still a good toy. He is still lots of fun. He is still a big, brave dragon. He can still ROAR! And, most of all, his friends still love him. Stuffy is still Stuffy, even though his wing is broken. He is still a pretty great toy.”
I know that she is two and a half and that what I said has not sunk in all the way, but I tried to make my point by having all the toys close in around Stuffy and give him “cuddles”. Elizabeth seemed to calm and to be paying attention so I repeated:
“His friends still love him and he is still Stuffy, no matter what he looks like.”
Our outward appearance is not an indication of our inward hearts or the strength of our spirits, nor does it indicate a rating on our humanity. That is a lesson I want my daughter to learn that will be deep and abiding throughout her life. No matter the color of our skin, our abilities or disabilities, or our bodies or conditions, we are all still human beings. We are still pretty great; it doesn’t make us any less.
Just like Stuffy is still a good toy even with a broken wing, we can still be good (even great) people with all the differences and eccentricities inherent with being human. Yeah, still good (great, even).