Yesterday, you curled on the couch and covered your head with pillows while the rest of us began school. I did not yell.
Yesterday, your ears turned deaf when I gently asked you to come to the table. Your weight shifted on the couch, your hands traced the edges of your Pillow Pet’s fur, but you were otherwise still and silent and resoundingly clear: I will not.
You will not allow yourself to be led, however kindly I ask, however gentle my tone or sweet the bribe. You are willful.
I say up, you glare and grumble down.
I say happy, you whine and whimper sad.
I say can you please, you stomp your feet and cry I can’t!
I say can everyone get along? You say, fight!
This, is our history.
It’s frustrating. Heartbreaking. Annoying. Challenging. Exhausting.
But, I need to be honest with you.
I was/am willful.
I was/am not always happy to be told what to do by someone with authority over me.
I was/am an under-my-breath mumbler when life has me annoyed.
I would/will fight with words, even when I know better.
I push you, drag you, insist better things from you, because, quite frankly, four out of five days in a week, I’m a mess and I don’t want the same for you.
I see you watching me put on make-up or trying on outfits and scrutinizing myself in the mirror. I see you watching me when I’m flustered and desperate to wrap up work on the computer and make lunch and get to the post office and grocery store and get to a sitter, or co-op, or to a client, when I’m just desperate to get this uncontrollable life under control.
I see you watching me, and honestly, I wince.
Don’t be like me.
You don’t need to wear make up to be beautiful.
You don’t need to bark at people to get their cooperation.
You don’t need to run around like a lunatic just to make ends meet, to make a dinner come together, to keep the laundry under control, to make a family work together.
But, really, Lila, who am I kidding?
This is life. Not just my life, or our life, but everyone’s life.
And I think I’ve been so foolish as to believe for a minute that, as your mother, I can do a darn thing to stop you from being a mess too.
Because, life is mess.
Life is emotional and difficult and some days it’s the best we can do to just not hurt.
I hope someday, you’ll have a baby girl of your own and you will understand just how amazing it is to hold your daughter in your arms, to look down at a whole new life – unmarked, unbattered, blameless and new.
And I hope someday in the years after that, you’ll come to this realization too: you are not there to keep her blameless, unmarked and unbattered and new.
You are there to be the light by her feet when the world is dark, the voice at the end of a tunnel calling her forward, the advice when asked, the hug after the storm, during the storm, before the storm, and really just because.
But you cannot give your seven year old the gift of your thirty-plus years of experience and maturity. You cannot expect her not understand the futility of envy, the complexity of attraction and beauty, the value of good friendships, the importance of honesty with herself and with others.
You can be the caution tape around emotional danger, but you cannot protect her indefinitely, and she will be bruised. She will do stupid things, emotionally damaging things. She will hurt herself and others. She will make mistakes and missteps. She isn’t just your daughter, she is herself.
You are not just my daughter – you are yourself.
I’m sorry, Sweetheart, but you’re going to be hurt, and inevitably, you’re going to hurt others.
You’re going to fall more times than you’d like, but hopefully you’ll know that you’re strong enough to pull yourself back up.
You’re going to fail, but hopefully you’ve watched me enough to know that failure is not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of – it’s human – and you can try again.
You’re going to be difficult and indecisive and hard to read, because you are guarded and protective of who you are inside – it’s just who you are, how you were made, daughter of mine. And, it’s good. You can’t let everyone, you have to be selective. You only have so much emotional energy to spend and your whole life to live.
You’re going to fight, but I hope you’ll learn better how to pick your battles and how to be gracious in defeat.
And, Lila, you need to give me a break now and then. Because some days, being your mother (being a mother at all) is exhausting. Some days, I just don’t have it in me to coax you from the couch just to come and be with us at the table.
Some days, I need a little more from you than you’re willing to give.
And I will try to understand that some days, you’re going to need more from me than I’m willing to give, too.