you're ok12:11 PM
For as long as I can remember I've had an insatiable appetite for learning. Once I learned how to read I devoured every sentence, paragraph and book I could get my hands on. Not long after that I began to craft my own "writings," filling up journals and stacks of papers with my scribbles. My parents even kept some of it and re-reading my "poetry" produced during my painful adolescent years is both curious and wildly embarrassing. What I loved so much about books and writing in general is the way it expanded my horizons, unchained me from my anxiety and filled me with further curiosity and an unquenchable thirst for adventure. And I'm happy to report that love affair has continued well into my adulthood.
I approached motherhood with the same zeal for knowledge as I would any new endeavor. I read all the books, articles and watched countless Youtube videos that I would immediately regret watching. There was this feeling that if I read enough, imbibed enough wisdom I could "ace" this, so to speak. And yet, as any parent knows, when this screaming pink creature landed in my arms she stubbornly refused to fit any mold. She didn't sleep the way the books said she would, she didn't nurse the way the books said she would, she didn't do much of anything the way the books said she would. And no amount of late nights spent on "mommy forums" seemed to be of much help. So instead I learned to rely on - my gut. Instinct. Whatever "felt right." I learned to listen more to my child than any "advice" that I was being given. I learned what our "dance" looked like - how she liked to be rocked, the exact temperature she preferred for her bottle, what setting of the sound machine would calm her and which lullaby would turn her frown upside down. My combined sixteen years of schooling where never as difficult as that first year and the years that followed.
And our firstborn continues to defy any mold or box that the world would like to see her fit into. And as her character comes into sharper focus we find more aspects of her personality that continue to mystify us, that no book seems to be able to "crack." So we listen more, we adapt and we learn from her. And we're learning that discipline, when it comes to a child with anxiety, is not as easy and clear cut as it may be with other children. Her soul is so fragile that at times I almost want to stop breathing lest I shatter that delicate layer. And I recognize this fragility because it's something I am all to familiar with. It's bewildering to look at this person that you brought into the world just four years ago and see their mind racing, their heart heavy and their soul lost; and to reach out desperately to help them and yet watch them drift farther away. I'm always reaching. It's something I needed more of growing up and something I am determined to always make available to her. I'll never stop trying to help. Some days magic happens and we connect, we make some sense of the muddle and the mess. Other days all I can do is give her my physical warmth and hope that that is enough. It's heartbreaking and utterly confusing.
But one thing I know in my gut is for us, right now, I am picking forgiveness, mercy and grace over correctness. For us I would rather have a happy albeit "poorly behaved" child than an exemplary one. Even at four and a half she is so hard on herself, she doesn't need me to beat her down more. So we allow the occasional tantrum over something stupid, we allow screaming and stomping of feet and we allow unruliness. Because I realized that for all of her smarts, self-control and adult-like behavior that we see 95% of the time she is still very much a child. And it's ok if it makes really, really angry that she can't have a toy today or ice cream or that Teddy's shovel is blue and hers is red. It's ok if she's frustrated because she can't watch more TV or because Daddy is going out of town. I don't need her to be perfect, I just need her to be happy.
I look at so many adults I know, myself included, and how broken and heavy our souls have become from the never-ending demands and expectations of perfection placed on us as children. How we stripped ourselves of our dreams, desires, wants and quirks to fit the masks that were lovingly carved out for us. I think upon all the "forms" we have inhabited since childhood, desperately trying to create one that was most pleasing, appealing and pleasant for the most number of people. We chisel ourselves year after year, until there remains just a tiny splinter of who we truly are, hidden somewhere deep within the cloaks, masks and hoods that we swath ourselves in. So much pain and confusion results from this process. Lately, I've found myself grieving the loss of that child that I once was. That little girl was so much more brave, unencumbered and free than the woman I see today. Now we pay therapists and swallow pills to unmask, unearth and uncover what we, ironically, worked so hard to conceal.
What if we don't do that to our own children? What if we teach them that who they ARE is wonderful? What if we teach them to cope instead of conceal? What if we teach them kindness not just towards others but themselves? What if we teach them to channel feelings instead of rejecting them entirely? What if we teach them that we are all ying and yang? That we have parts of us that are wonderful and others that are difficult and require management? It's ok... It's ok. Isn't it? I wish I grew up feeling like I was ok, like it would be ok. Because it is ok. It's messy, confusing and wild but it's really all ok.
*image - Stanley William Hayter