Just As Is.

Today, I received that call that I have honestly dreaded as the mommy of a three-year-old new to daycare.

“We’d like to try putting her on a behavior chart…”

My strong-willed little warrior-princess has been giving her teachers a bit of difficulty with her particular brand of personal strength. I am a teacher myself so I know that particular struggle and therefore absolutely gave my go-ahead for the behavior chart/incentive. I will admit, though, that my heart sank as I hung up the call, I lost my appetite for the quick after-work bite I had been having, and shed more than a few tears.

My husband was quick to reassure me that I hadn’t done anything wrong or failed in any way. I didn’t say anything in reply. The honest reason for that was because I was not in an emotional space to agree or admit he was right, even if I believed it (which I was trying desperately to) and that he was so (which he was). After all, I was her primary caretaker/educator/etc. for the first three-and-a-half years of her life. What if I had done something wrong? What if I had not taught her proper respect or kindness? What if I had indeed messed up somewhere with our girl? The rest of the trip from the corporation where we teach to the church where our girl attends preschool and daycare was spent in serious contemplation of just how I was going to approach this, approach my daughter. And I decided (and was later solidified and reassured in my decision by this post from Hands Free Mama Rachel Macy Stafford; thank you so much!).

As is. I wanted to take Elizabeth as is.

I would not scowl or shame her before her little friends and her teacher. I would not make her recoil or wilt because of the sternness in my voice or my expression. I would greet her with a smile and a wave and as big a hug as I could muster. Surely she had already been talked to by her teachers so I would not heap any more on her little three-year-old soul that day. Instead, I would heap grace on her head and give that which I so badly need myself day in and day out. I would hug her, tell her I missed her, and hold her hand as I walked her out of school. Together, we would drive home as a family and then I would tumble myself and her out of our house and into the backyard or the city park just beyond our property. I would run and play with my girl and tell her how much I love her laugh. I would color and draw with her, help her with her “homework” (practicing her letters, numbers, shapes, and colors), and watch her splash and “swim” in the tub at bath time.

I would and will celebrate my girl as she is, encourage her to have courage and be kind. I would leave today behind, inhabit the moments this evening, and let tomorrow wait on itself and all that it will bring. I would take my daughter, my little love, my warrior-princess, and celebrate her as she is. I want her to be (and to help her to be) good, kind, helpful, loving–all of this, yes, but I do not want to stomp her spirit out of her. Her sense of justice, her opinions, her thoughts, her imagination, her hopes, or her dreams, and I must trust her teachers to have the wisdom and the care to not do so either.

I love you, my daughter.

I love your laugh. I love how you love to make friends. I love your imagination. I love listening to you sing. I love listening to you play with your toys and make up stories while you color (just like I did). I love your creativity. I love your fire. I love how you clutch my arm to hold me close to you while you fall asleep.

I love you, my girl. Always and forever. Above all things I want you to be kind, encouraging, helpful, and good. But nothing, nothing can or will ever diminish the love I have for you. Just as you are. Just as is.

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Running On Ahead

Today was the day. That day. That first day. Today was my girl’s first day at daycare. And tomorrow will her first day of preschool. Her first day(s) in the care of someone not a parent or grandparent.

Only a week and a half ago, I accepted a very last-minute position and, in a positive gale of13872934_10153805997603133_477313044703904389_n change, have returned to teaching this year. This was not what I had planned for, not what I had settled on, and so it has been quite a tumultuous time. One of the most difficult parts for me, however, has been the realization and reality that I would not be able to be there for her first day of school. I will not be there to hold her little hand and walk her to her class. I will not be there to see her face light up with excitement or grow sober with apprehension. I will not be there to hug her close, stroke my finger down her pert little nose, tell her I love her, and remind her to have courage and be kind.

And that hurt. It hurt a lot. For an entire week, I cried every time I thought about it, every time someone mentioned it. I still get a little burn in my chest where my heart aches at the missing. I have always been with her; these are the first “firsts” that I will miss. It’s too soon. It’s happening too fast. I know that she’s excited, that she loved her first day at daycare, and had a great one according to her teachers, and that makes me happy for my girl. But, at the same time, it’s like she’s slipping away through my fingers. She’s pulling away and running ahead and I am so far from ready.

I miss our routine. I miss mornings with her cuddled in my arms in the big bed when it’s rainy and dark and we are both still sleepy. I miss walking in the sunshine with her or helping my fearless, spiky girl place her feet properly as she climbs up the playground ladders. I miss watching her jog through the mall, waving at strangers with a smile and a “Hi!” I miss our quiet times at home, her with her Kindle and me with my book or my writing.

13876688_10153805997673133_8663280121382326193_nIt’s all happening so fast. Too fast. I knew that this was coming. Eventually. But I hadn’t looked for it to be now, to be immediate. I had thought I’d be there to  help her transition to part-time preschool. Instead, I tiptoe from the house before she’s awake and won’t see her now until I pick her up at the end of the day. I can only hope and pray to be greeted by a big smile and lovingly enthusiastic “Mommy!” every evening. That’s why I am doing this. For her. For our family. Not for me. For them.

Tonight, as she splashed and played in her bath, all my heart could do was cry out, “Slow down!” And the song below came to mind, as tears likewise sprang to my eyes and trickled down my cheeks.

I want you to grow, my love. I do. Just…don’t do it too terribly quickly. Please? Don’t pull away just yet. Could you slow down, just a bit?

Meeting at the Bottom

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.

 

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Property of Jennifer Harnett-Henderson — Ode to a Sketchbook – Excerpts

 

 

 

The First Dream Step

Today I did something rather monumental. I signed Elizabeth up for her first ballet class. It’s at the community arts center and only a half hour a week but I can feel the enormity of this in my heart and soul because this is the first step to a dream.

Elizabeth LOVES to dance! She especially loves ballet. She loves to watch the episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood where Daniel dances in The Nutcracker. She idolizes June from Little Einsteins and learned to curtsy from her. She begs for me to put her in her fairy dress, tucks her hands up behind her head and tiptoes around the room. Her pirouettes and spins are already pretty good. She loves to dance. And this will be her first dance class.

I do not know what to expect. I do not know what her teacher will expect. The class is for students aged 1-3 so I thought it appropriate for my girl who has just turned three and has never been in a class or the like before. So I’m a bit nervous, a bit excited, but above all I am expectant.

This is my little girl’s dream: to dance. Yes, she’s only three but dancing means the world to her. If to continue with this as she gets older is her dream, then I will do all I can to accommodate it and help her achieve it.

 

 

Up on her tippy toes

 

She loves to spin/pirouette.

 

Thank you! Thank you!

 

 

Out of the Mouths of Babes, So It Goes

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.

Dear Teacher: Let My Child Fail.

I was nodding the whole way through this as a mom. As a teacher, I am not sure how such an app would work but I adopted a wonderful phrase from my mother-in-law (who was also a teacher) when I started teaching full time:

“I respect your right to fail.”

Kids will not succeed or be great at everything in life; they will fail. I will not always swoop in and save Elizabeth from failure. I rather refuse to, honestly. I want help her to learn from her failures, as well as her successes.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Two nights ago my 7 year old was begging me  to check her backpack for a super important piece of paper.

The paper was detailed instructions on how to sign up for an app, including a code to add my specific child once I did.

I am all about apps. I am all about technology in general. Anything to make things faster, easier, with less paper waste and clip art- I am all in.

But this specific app struck me as strange.

“You can see how I’m doing all throughout the day mommy!” the 7 year old squealed. And sure enough, I could.

I could see how many times she spoke Spanish during the day, how often she completed her work on time, and even how many times she got off task during any given day. (She is my child so there were definitely some bright red “off task” indicators…

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When You Go Toe to Toe

OK, so Mommy pride moment.

I just had an epic clash of wills with Elizabeth over something simple that I asked her to do (put a package of Christmas hooks that she took out back in the drawer where she found them), and I am proud to say that I stood fast and endured the storm patiently and without emotional explosion (I left that to her). I repeated the request several times, informing her that she needed to do as Mommy asked and that she wasn’t allowed to leave her room until she did. She cried and kicked and threw herself on the floor, rendered herself a screaming, snotty mess. The blatant screaming in my face DID garner her bottom a quick swat, though; that consequence is nothing new to us. I repeated the request until she finally, FINALLY (though begrudgingly) picked up the package, put it back in the drawer, and closed the drawer (though I suspect it was me stating the fact that she was going to miss ALL of her cartoons while this went on that finally tipped the scale with her). Thus released from her room, she ran out into the living room in a huff, without even Lambie. So I took her Lambie, her blankie, and a paci, wiped her snotty nose and hands, gave her a kiss, told her I love her, and then left her to collect her composure, as she usually wants you to do.

I went back into her room to work on the church’s blog for today and, a few minutes later, she came in with all her comforting accoutrement and tried to climb into my lap. I set my laptop aside and picked her up for cuddles. I told her that I love her, I am not angry with her, but that she needs to be a helper and do as Mommy asks her to do. Throwing a fit and screaming and being unkind is going to have consequences. But, regardless, I am not angry at her and me asking her to do things will not hurt her. We had a bit of snuggle time in the rocking chair, and then she went back out into the living room to watch “Dot” (Doc McStuffins).

Discipline will take time, it will interrupt what I am trying to do, but it is necessary if I wish to accomplish that all-important goal: raising my daughter well.

Wednesday Whine – Such a Day

Today was a tough day. Elizabeth began the day cranky, and I began it tired so it was a perfect storm  for a rough day. I tried to give her the attention she wanted while still retaining my sanity, but it was hard.

Firstly, her diaper leaked and wet the couch as we read her ABC book (I hadn’t changed her out of her overnight diaper yet). Cleanup on aisle 1! Then, potty training was exhausting as it seemed that she wanted the potty or had her diaper off every five minutes. She tore through the living room like her beloved Stitch himself. Everything had to be out. After the third time in a row of me cleaning up her unused tea set and her following immediately after me to throw it to the floor again, my already-raw nerves snapped and I burst into tears. I just sat on the couch and sobbed, which Bizzy thought would be made better by bouncing up and down and then climbing on top of me.

All day, it was one thing or another. When I finally decided to seize time enough to myself to read one (1!) chapter of a book, suddenly Elizabeth runs in from the living room in all her diaperless glory. I followed her into the living room to find a discarded diaper, a wet puddle on the carpet, and little poo pellets scattered around the diaper. It was hard, really, really hard, not to scream and cry and scold, but I chose not to as best I could. I admit that I shooed her away rather sharply when she tried to tromp through the wet spot I was cleaning. But, I decided to look at it as her learning to identify when she is wet or dirty and needs clean underwear/diaper. That’s progress, right?

I did, eventually, manage to finish chapter 1 of The Fringe Hours, thankfully. It was good and a book that I hope will be of help to me. So, yes, it was a tough, nerve-wracking day all the way up to bedtime. But tomorrow is a new day, yes? A new day and a new chance to make good with the life I’ve been given and the one whose charge I have been blessed with.

Fascinating Facets

Cross-posted from my Mom, Writer, Geek, Superwoman blog:

I sit with my daughter in my lap as she indulges in some Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. As she sits quietly (a rare occurrence in and of itself), I take advantage of the opportunity to wrap her lovely pigtail curl around my finger and find myself once again mesmerized as I twirl it again and again and again.

Her hair is soft and glossy and smooth, as soothing as silk as I coil it around my finger. As I do and the curl tightens, I find myself marveling at it. It almost looks like an ombre candy cane, composed of shades of brown sugar and sable, though it is also shot through with bright copper and even honeyed blonde in some spots.

Her hair is smooth like her father’s but also curly like mine naturally is. She gets the shades of brown with red highlights from us both, but the shot of blonde is wholly her father’s, as are her long eyelashes. We deal with the snaggles and tangles and she hates every minute of me combing them out of her hair. When her hair is loose, it is curly and fun and wild; when it is combed into pigtails or a ponytail, it is cute and coquettish. Either way and both, she is brilliantly lovely and I am constantly fascinated by the work of art that is my daughter’s hair. It is beautiful and unique and perfectly suited to her sunshiney, smiling face.

I dream of what that hair will be like someday, falling over Elizabeth’s shoulders in abundant, glossy curls that bounce, the most superlative physical complement to my girl’s own buoyant spirit.

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