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Posts Tagged ‘mother daughter relationships’

I was standing at the sink, washing the last of the dinner dishes when I heard her at the top of the stairs.

It was a hiccup and then a sob, and then another one.

“What’s wrong?” I called out.

No answer.

I put down the dishcloth and headed up the stairs.

She was standing inside her bedroom door.  The room was dark but I could see her, head bent, tears running down her cheeks.

“Sweetie, what’s wrong?”

She was fine 15 minutes ago.  She was sitting downstairs watching a movie.  Watching a great movie actually – watching my all-time favourite movie for the first time.

Anne of Green Gables.

“He died Mommy.” She said, her voice breaking as she reached out to hug me tightly.

Oh.

Now I understand.

“Matthew?” I asked.

“Yes Mommy, he died!”

There are times when I often wonder if my daughter and I are even remotely, even distantly, related, so different are we in appearance and almost all other things.

But there, standing in her room as she cried for the first time at a scene in a movie – my movie – that made her cry the exact same way I did, and have each and every time I’ve seen the movie since, I saw myself in her, and vice versa.

In that moment I realized maybe her and I are kindred spirits after all.

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‎I woke you up by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in your ear. I could tell you weren’t all that impressed but a tiny bit of you, just enough of you, still thought it was amusing and let me continue through to the end.

Eleven.

Every year when you become another, even bigger number, I’m somehow surprised, like I didn’t see it coming. I don’t know why but every year it happens and every year I’m surprised.

This year I can’t seem to tie my thoughts into a neat bow. For some reason this year I’m not looking back at what has come before but am instead squinting my eyes tightly hoping for just a glimpse of what is coming in the road ahead, just a glimpse so I can prepare myself.

To be completely honest, I’m a little fearful of what is to come. Not because I think you are going to change into someone I can’t recognize, but rather because I don’t trust myself to be the person you need me to be while you figure out all the things you have to figure out.

Not unlike when you were born, I have a gnawing feeling in the back of my brain that I am sorely prepared for what is coming; a feeling that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and that ultimately it will be you who ends up paying the price.

But I try. I try to temper all of that with my ‎ongoing attempt to live without expectations. When the thoughts come to me, as I lay my head down at night or come awake in the morning, I try to wipe them like chalk words on a blackboard. I don’t know what is to come, there is no way to know what is coming, and I will deal with it, you and I will deal with it, just as we have done for the past eleven years.

You and I.

Together.

Happy birthday Sweets.

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‎You and I, we seem to be in an almost constant cycle of renegotiation.

I tell myself that we’re just figuring things out, that as you grow and want more independence it’s only natural that I’m going to struggle to know how much to let go and how much to hold on. ‎ We’re just working out the new rules and responsibilities within our relationship.

It sounds much better than the reality which is that we can’t seem to see eye to eye on anything these days.

If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job at this. I’m trying to do the best I can but I’ve never been a mother to a ten year old before and if there’s a manual out there, I can’t seem to find it. I fear you are paying the price for my inexperience. While I realize that your brother is a whole different species (pretty much) I feel like at least he will benefit from me having been through it once before it’s his turn. You would probably point this out as yet another example of the unfairness of your world as the older child.

When I was your age (cue eye rolling now), I kept a journal. I thought it was a very grown up thing to do and that was pretty much my goal for everything, to be a grown up. One of the other reasons for my journal-keeping was that I promised myself I would always remember what it was like to be a kid so that when I (finally) became an adult I would be understanding to what kids go through.

It was a nice idea.

Of course the concept that I couldn’t really grasp at the time was being a mother. If I’m being honest I can barely grasp the concept right now. Sure I can remember that when I was 10 I wanted independence and for my parents to trust me and to stop bothering me to do this and that and the other thing. But now I’m on the other side of the fence and I know why parents say no and not yet and because and because I said so. I remember what it was like to be you, but I haven’t yet figured out how to be me, mothering you.

In reality, you and I have been in negotiations since shortly after you were born. First it was figuring out the eating thing and then the sleeping thing and then the not jumping down the stairs and the graspingof the concept of no and on and on it went. Our relationship seems to be a series of very short term contracts in which as soon as we finally figure out the terms and learn to live by them, we end up back at the bargaining table.

Your brother is very different in that respect. ‎Whereas you and I are a work-in-progress, he seems to have arrived with a long-term contract already in place. There is very little discussion of terms or roles or clauses. I’m sure the time will come but for now I’m glad I can focus my energy on you and I.

I feel the pressure to get this right; the fear of not screwing this up hangs over my head and keeps me up at night. I fear that one wrong word, one wrong look, and you will turn away and not turn back. And yet, in the heat of the moment, all I can seem to say are the wrong things. It’s only after that I find the words that would have been so much better.

I only hope you know how much I’m trying. I hope you can ‎see how much I want to give you what you need while still keeping what I can’t give up. I can’t let go, I don’t think I will ever be able to, but I will try to loosen, to lessen, to listen.

This mother-daughter thing is tricky. If I take a minute to look at it from a different perspective I’m probably still renegotiating my relationship with my own mother, and her with her mother, and on and on we go.
And maybe it’s because it matters so much, and we so much want it to be perfect, that we end up tweaking and twisting and bumping up against each other so much.

But I can’t promise that it will ever be perfect, all I can promise is that day after day I will get up and meet you at the table, ready to take on whatever is coming next because the stakes are so high and there’s no giving in, no giving up.

You’re just too important.

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Waking up when I wanted to, not when the alarm clock told me it was time.

A good morning hug and the sound of an egg cooking in the pan.

A trip to the grocery store with a hot cup of tea and a list; no rush, no panic, just a relaxing spin up and down the aisles.

All of my chores done by 2:00 and a day sunny and warm enough to finally head outside.

A walk around the block with my daughter, just far enough ahead of me on her scooter to pretend she’s on her own, but still stopping every now and then to turn around and make sure I was there.

scooter

A day warm enough to take a deep breath and fill my lungs with fresh air.

A sky blue enough to look up and appreciate what is yet to come.  The trees are still bare but they hold in them the hope of more warm days to come.  After so much cold and grey and dark, spring may finally be here.

blue sky and tree

Home for a cup of tea in a fancy cup and saucer, with nothing more to celebrate than making it through another week, and learning to appreciate a good day, however and whenever it comes.

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I shot a glance at the rear view mirror and caught a glimpse of her in the back seat, sitting quietly, staring out the window. I knew something was wrong but she wouldn’t say what it was. I had questioned her a few times throughout the morning with no progress. I decided I needed a captive audience.

So we left a few minutes earlier for her hockey practice than we needed to ‎and I stopped at the drive through to grab a tea. Then we pulled into a parking spot at the arena and I asked her to come sit up in the front with me.

Apparently all she needed was a change in scenery because no sooner did she sit down in the passenger seat than the flood gates opened. She was feeling down, one of those days we all have when we think we’re not good at anything, a never will be. A day when everything seems hard and sad. A day when nothing is wrong but everything is wrong.

When I looked at her face, eyes down-turned and wet with tears I was struck suddenly by the familiarity of it ‎but in a way I couldn’t quite place. And then it hit me where I’d seen that look before. I’d seen it in the mirror.

I’ve felt the very same way, more times than I can even count. Feeling like you’re good at nothing, worthy of nothing, proud of nothing. All too often I try and give advice; try to find solutions to the problems and put band-aids on the cuts and watch from a distance as they heal, even with myself. But this time I tried to turn all of that off and just say what I thought she needed to hear; to say what I wanted to hear when I was feeling down on myself and stuck. ‎And when I thought about what I most wanted to hear at those times, I opened my mouth and said, “I will always be a fan of you.”

She looked at me with questions in her eyes so I asked her if she knew what that meant. She shook her head ‘no.’

I told her I would always be the number one cheerleader of her life. I would always keep track of all of the amazing things she did and does and will do and when she can’t remember them, I will remind her. I will always scream the loudest and yell the longest and embarass her with how much I love her. When she forgets how special she is, I will tell her, over and over and over again. When she fails or comes in last or falls on her face I will help her up and remind her how amazing the effort was and help her try again. ‎I will be the voice in her head that tells her she can when everything else is telling her she can’t. And I will tell her she can so loudly and so insistently that she won’t be able to hear anything else. I will be a fan of her.

And when she looked at me this time I could tell that she understood, and that the words I said were the ones she needed to hear. Sometimes her and I are not on the same page, or even in the same book for that matter, but this time we got it right.

We hugged and talked a little more and then headed inside. I smiled to see her step seemed a little lighter, her eyes a little brighter, her face more open than it had been before. It’s a wonderful feeling to find out you don’t have to carry the weight of the world all by yourself.

She scored a goal at her game that day, her first real goal of the season and I screamed so loud you could hear me through the entire arena. And oh the smile on her face, ‎I could see it from a mile away, even hidden behind the bars of her mask.

There is a time and place for teaching, for hard truths and stark realities. She will learn to lose and fail and be chosen last. The world will teach her all of those things better than I ever could and maybe I’ll stop trying to compete. Maybe, instead, I’ll just stand and cheer.

The world is a critic; maybe I’ll just be a fan.

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troop-beverly-hills-web
Troop Beverly Hills was one of my favourite movies when I was my daughter’s age (or perhaps a little bit older). Shelley Long plays Phyllis Neffler, a spoiled, rich Beverly Hills mom who decides to become the leader for her daughter’s Wilderness Girls troop. It’s comedic genius.
Anyway, last year it occurred to me that my daughter would probably enjoy it (and, therefore, I would get to watch it with her and wow her with my ability to recite entire passages verbatim). ‎So I tracked down a DVD copy and it’s become a regular addition to movie night at our house. ‎ And it’s nice to see that real classics can pass the test of time and really, it’s not that old.
Tonight my daughter has a friend ‎over for a sleep over and I asked if they wanted to watch it.
“Yes, yes, can we?” my daughter said, turning to her friend.
“It’s such a great movie. It’s from the 1980s but it’s still really good. And don’t worry, even though it’s old it’s not in black and white or anything.”
Ouch.

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‎”Please,” she said, over and over and over again. “Please can I go, please, please, please, please?”

I saw the pleading in her eyes, like she’d never wanted anything as much as she wanted this and, in that moment, I believed that she probably never had.

A year ago she was crying herself to sleep almost every night because she didn’t want to go to a new school. Didn’t want to leave her friends, didn’t want to start fresh, didn’t want anything to do with the plans we had made. We tried to convince her otherwise, tried to explain how much better it would be, tried to help her see the bigger pic‎ture. Of course it was impossible. Of course a nine year old can’t see the big picture. Of course she just wants friends and most of all, the holy grail of friends, the best friend.

“I promise I’ll be careful, Mom. I promise.”

I hated that she could see the fear in my eyes so clearly. That she could already see, even at her age, that it is the fear, my fear, that stands in her way. I smoothed down her hair and answered that I know she would be and that I would let her know later that day what had been decided.

‎They came to the door last Friday evening and once the girls were upstairs he said he wanted to talk to me about something. My mind raced through all the possibilities of what it could be and I hate to say it but all of them were negative. Did the girls get in a fight? Did something happen? Was something said that shouldn’t have been said? I’m always so bad at dealing with these situations, what if I don’t know how to react?

But it wasn’t bad at all, it was good. They were going away for a couple of days, doing something really fun, and they wanted her to go with them. She had been picked. Their daughter could bring only one friend and my daughter had been chosen.

My heart warmed for her; that she would be able to experience, if even only for a brief time, being the chosen one. She was now what she wanted to be so badly all those teary nights before. She was the best friend.

Some people seem to come into the world with a place already waiting for them, a spot in the sun where things just seem easier and smoother and softer. My son is one of those people. He draws attention and bats his eye lashes and has people of all ages commenting that he’s adorable. He makes friends effortlessly because he genuinely doesn’t care if you like him or not, so convincingly that you can’t help but try and make him like you in return. He has his own struggles but even they have an effortless quality to them. It’s not a matter if “if” but “when.” You get the impression that he sees the world as being full of possibilities and his greatest challenge is deciding what to try next.

My daughter, on the other hand, will seemingly always have to work to find her place. ‎She has a hundred amazing talents but is satisfied with none of them; constantly trying to prove herself to some silent critic. She cares if you like her, she cares more than she wants to admit. She wants you to like her but works incredibly hard to look like she doesn’t. She seems to see the world as being full of obstacles, coming at her one after the other after the other.

And now she had almost made her way over a big hurdle , if I could only get out of her way. I wanted to, I really did, but at the edges of my happiness for her, I felt the fear creeping in. How could I let her go? How could I pack her bag and send her off with these people I know only in passing? How could I wave goodbye to her and send her off without me?

But how could I not let her go? How could I say no when she had been picked, been chosen, and when I know she would have such a wonderful time? How could I say no to the chance for her to make such amazing memories?

“Please Mom, please! Have you decided yet? Please?”

If I said no, if I didn’t let her go because of my fear, of my desire to keep her safe in the only way I know how – by keeping her right beside me – then what have I taught her? I have taught her not to be careful, but to be fearful. I’ve taught her not to trust her instincts, but to mistrust everything around her. I’ve taught her that while someone else may have picked her, I don’t believe in her enough to let her be chosen.

And so I finally said “yes.”

I hugged her close so she wouldn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes.

“You can go.”

She yelled with joy and ran to start packing her bag although she wouldn’t leave for four more days. It’s all she talked about and she hardly slept from the excitement. And when she left it was my turn to say please.

Please be careful. Please don’t do anything you know you shouldn’t. Please stay safe.

Please take care of my little girl. Please don’t think I’m crazy for all of my worrying. Please treat her like I would. Please bring her back safe to me.

That was two days ago and now she’s back. She’s sitting here beside me on the couch, home safe and sound with lots of stories of all the fun she had. I smile and sit back to listen to her, the words spilling out of her, tumbling one on top of the other in a hurry to be told.

I just sit and listen. I won’t tell her that I didn’t sleep while she was gone. I won’t tell her that I thought about her every hour and that I was sitting on the stairs just inside the front door waiting for her to get back. I won’t tell her that when I saw the car pull into the driveway I went and stood in the kitchen so it didn’t seem like I was hovering, even though that’s exactly what I was doing.

I know this is just the beginning. I know there will be many more times spent sitting inside the front ‎door, looking at the clock and waiting. I know there will be more questions and pleases and trips and answers I don’t want to give. More waiting for her to come home safe from wherever she was. Hundreds and thousands of silent prayers sent out into the universe to watch over her when I can’t.

Always bring her home to me.

Always keep her safe.

Please.

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