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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

the five-year-old teacher

This is our Ella.

She likes to follow rules, put together unusual outfits, equally adores doting on and and screeching at her little sister. If allowed she still likes to swing in baby swings and lobbies hard to wear a pull-up like Maya. She tells me she loves me 10 times when I put her to bed at night, speaks often about how wonderful the world is, how beautiful our house is and how blessed we are by the people we know and love. She likes to roam the yard naked, she sings and talks to the vegetables in the garden to make them grow and builds fairy houses in the perennial garden. She is, relatively, an easy child who needs no more than a stern look and if she thinks she has disappointed you she dissolves in a pool of tears.

And sometimes, she makes me feel like plucking my hair out of my head one by one.

We spent a super fun weekend with our friends, full on play the entire time with beach trips, meals out, staying up late and all sorts of ruckus. And this is how the scene unfolded when she got out of the bathtub at the end of the second day: she complained that I had not heated her towel in the dryer (a treat we do in winter because our bathroom is chilly). I explained that we don't waste the electricity in the summer when can go to the beach and eat ice cream cones. "But we didn't even eat an ice cream cone!" she protested. Now, in fairness she might have been stating a fact - we had gone to the beach but we had not had an ice cream cone. That day. She had had one both of the previous days. I was speaking in general about summer- we use the dryer less if it is warm enough to go to the beach and eat ice cream. What followed was me walking away and telling her I couldn't talk to her right then because I was really angry and her freaking out that I walked away.

What's a mom to do?

Likely it was a misunderstanding, but it didn't stop my quick fuse from being ignited. I have tried really hard to go for the calm walk-away approach instead of the screaming my head off approach. It didn't matter- the tired tears came streaming down (the inevitable cost of such a fun weekend) and she began yelling at me. For what it's worth, I have made enormous progress because my anger was contained and not exploding out. I did not argue or raise my voice. But even still, she could sense my emotion boiling under my fake calm voice, felt me pull away,and responded to it just the same.

I don't think it is a mistake that being a parent is so hard. I think it is some sort of built-in system to help the human race evolve- whatever limitations , faults, issues you bring forward in your life are exactly the ones your kids are going to set off in you. It's like the idea that your parents can push your buttons so easily because they installed them. I would also wager the converse. Kids know exactly how to get their parents going. Kids push parents buttons (intentionally or not) and, if this process is embraced, it is the prime growth opportunity for the parents to become better people.
See I didn't have easiest childhood. Our girls, by contrast to me, have it all. They have the love, comfort, security, possibility, encouragement and fun that was absent in my early years. As a result one of my biggest buttons (the one that sits on my chest with a big red blinking sign that says "PUSH ME") is when I think our kids are being ungrateful. It sends me flying each and every time. The awareness of it has helped, but all that has really changed is that I do less damage when I get upset. I aim to eventually just use those moments as teaching opportunities- speak with a calm, loving voice about why it isn't nice to essentially complain about a missed ice-cream cone rather than say thank you for all that WAS done that day.

I am one of the most impatient people I know. I like to have a plan. I like to be punctual. I like order and for people to do what they say they will. I like things to be clean and organized. Sure I like adventure and spontaneity too but I like to know their coming (hmmmm....) so I can relax into it and enjoy it.

Kids blow all of this out of the water. It seems like everyday, I am stretched further and further out of my comfort zone. And, for as uncomfortable as this makes me, I truly revel in it. I can now breath and wait for my children to climb on the stacked mulch bags EVERY time we get in and out of the car, appreciate their need to have a sock-puppet performance 5 minutes before bed, slow down and snuggle even though I have 100 things to do in half an hour, make 50 sand towers just so Maya can knock down each one and allow Ella to wear 3-4 different outfits each day. I have learned to be in the moment, sit still, go without a plan. Not always, mind you, but sometimes.
Essentially, my kids have (sometimes gently, sometimes with great and sudden force) whittled away my edges. Like sea glass that goes from sharp and jagged to worn and smooth. This process is at times incredibly painful while at other moments I feel like I watch my flaws emerge from the dark into the light of day and dissolve in the sunlight. I am better for it. As much as some days I wonder how I ever got into this job, and feel it is way, WAY too big for me, I like the person I am better as a parent. I AM more patient. I AM more relaxed. I AM more evolved.
I heard Ella come down the stairs for the day a few mornings ago and I knelt down on the floor with my arms open to hug her when she came around the corner. When she did, I almost feel over. My heart jumped ship into my stomach and the force almost knocked out my balance. She was Almost too big to fit into my arms easily. Almost too big to pick up, to carry. She paused and gave me a smile and then launched herself into my arms.
There. She is big. She is going to school all day next year. She has become, truly, a little girl. And I am still her mom, worn smooth from the wear and tear, the tears and love, the struggle and the beauty, with extra lines on my face and an even bigger heart because I am her mom.

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