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Letters to my Daughter: The Wall

Oh My Dear Bean,

You wrote on the wall last night – the recently and beautifully repainted wall. A series of windows in shades of green and yellow crayon running in a line beneath the windowsill.

While I was in the other room, explaining the difference between truth and lies and disciplining Asher after a two hour battle in which there was screaming until his face turned purple, peeing of pants, a cold shower, more screaming, and the eventual throwing away of his Scooby Doo Mystery Match game (which if he had only picked up the game pieces to begin with, all of the following drama could have been avoided) – you were quietly channeling your inner Picasso on the walls that your uncle so lovingly painted for you, just two months ago.

And as much as I want to know what you were thinking – what could have possibly spurred your five and a half year old body into thinking this was in any way a good idea – instead, I want to tell you what I was thinking (beyond what I said, which I believe was something to the effect of: “REALLY, Lila? WHY would you do that? The walls are not for writing. You ruined your beautifully painted bedroom! Here’s a sponge, you clean that mess up, scrub hard.”)

And there is the kernel of why I want to tell you what I was thinking. No sooner did the words “you ruined” come out of my mouth, that I wanted to suck them back in. I wanted that sponge I gave you to scrub them from the space between us. You did not ruin anything. You are not a ruiner or a bad child and there is nothing tangible in my life that I would put ahead of you – not even nicely painted walls.

As I returned to my bedroom to continue the process of dressing your three year old brother and see where he was emotionally after the long hard afternoon we had – what I thought to myself wasn’t Why did Lila make that bad choice, but rather: Why did I make that bad choice?

You are five and a half and want my attention.

I am thirty two and know the power of words on a child’s heart. I know, because I remember being told I had ruined things. It’s a harsh word, one that could stay with you, haunt you, make you believe things about yourself that simply aren’t true. It’s a word that that neither you or I deserve.

I was speaking as an exhausted mom, fighting a cold and cough and a three year old who is firmly asserting himself AS a three year old (least favorite age – ever. One day, you’ll see.) I was speaking as a human who makes mistakes and sometimes forgets herself, that words cannot be easily sucked back up into the atmosphere or erased.

This morning you are fine, happily eating cereal and bananas and giggling with Asher. You were fine five minutes after I handed you that sponge. You scrubbed the walls, the doors, the posts of your bed, everything you could find to “give a good clean” you scrubbed. Because you are good. You are sweet and helpful and kind. You just made a bad choice – or perhaps even a conscious one, a calculated risk to get my attention.

And so all this is to say, I hear you, I see you and I love you.

And someday I hope you have the joy, frustration, exhaustion, exhilaration and confusion of raising such a brilliant little girl yourself.

Because then we can really talk.


  1. la contessa

    So beautiful, Mella….oh my heart. Funny — the word “ruin” is a trigger for me too! You’re such a conscious and loving mama. Your little brood is blessed to have you. xo

  2. Love this. My daughter is almost six and is constantly fighting for her place among her spirited two-year-old brother. So I know just what you are going through. I do wish we could go back in time and take things back. Good thing children are resilient. But don’t beat yourself up about it.

    You are not just a good mommy, you are an excellent one.

    • Thank goodness for resiliency! I know that I turned out just fine and my parents and I are close now, even though we had rough patches.

      I’m hopeful that my children will be able to say the same when they’re my age. In the meantime, I’m fine with eating some humble pie now and then, giving them the opportunity to practice forgiveness toward me.

      (And hopefully, the more practice I have at this whole parenting thing, the better I’ll get at holding that tongue of mine.)

      • Funny story – a while back I was drinking wine from a plastic cup (what? why?) and my daughter asked what it was. I suppose I felt guilty somehow that I was drinking on a weeknight or something because I just muttered that it was grape juice. “Well is it grape juice or is it wine?” she pressed. Then, I totally lied and said it was just juice, and that she was to eat her spinach, and to not ask so many questions. That night I busted in while her father was reading her stories to apologize. I told her I lied, and that it was wine, and that I was so sorry. She just shrugged and won’t ever remember that conversation, but I will.

        And dangit — just today I told my son to “never, never hit” when he tried to swing at me in a wild slapping fashion and then I bopped him lightly on the behind when he wouldn’t sit at the table at dinner. What a horrible double standard!

        Maybe when our children are about 20 we’ll finally get it.

  3. Oh yes…. oh yes… oh yes…
    You hit the nail on the head. These kids ARE good. They are not ruining things…. but man it feels like it sometimes. And again, I remember hearing the same words from my parents, and how much it hurt. And now I know why mom had to go be by herself for a while after she flew off the handle… and we’ve talked about it. It’s hard to write a comment when I’m crying 🙂 xoxo

    • My mother tells me of how when I was about four she all out lost it and yelled at me to go ahead and find another home if I was so miserable (or something to that effect.)

      And somehow, I don’t remember this exchange at all and we turned out just fine.

      It’s amazing how having children brings us closer to and more like our parents, in good ways (and, in instances like this, bad.) I just remember always wanting an apology as a child, after a parent flew off the handle. Nothing huge – just a word or two to let me know that though I had messed up, they did too.

      I’m trying to be conscious of that with my children. More than apologizing though, I find myself telling them, “I’m still a work in progress too.”

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