What a whirlwind year this has been! This seems to be the theme for every year, isn’t it? I think it’s likely because with Lily being my oldest child, she continues to be the child whose growth and experiences keep pushing us deeper and deeper into parenthood. We’re now taking off our water wings and leaving the shallows. Each year brings us new challenges and situations we never anticipated– I mean, how can you really?–and also brings us beautiful realizations and observations about our firstborn.
One such observation is that she is starting to really stand out on her own as her own autonomous person. Just the other day it hit me that I was verbally sparring with her, an almost-eight-year-old. Wait, what? When did our conversations go from her asking me to watch her be a jaguar to her joking with me as though she was Josh? It was a very surreal moment when I realized that this is it. We’ve crossed over a threshold in our relationship with her, and there’s no going back. She’s a very vocal, self-assured person with thoughts and opinions all to her own, and she can very effectively and comically express them. Not that she hasn’t always been overwhelmingly demanding and opinionated. It’s just now there’s a certain level of maturity and realism that wasn’t there before. And it’s both strange and wonderful at the same time to have actual intellectual conversations with one’s child. It’s less me the teacher and her the student and more us in both roles. It’s marvelous.
I’m immeasurably grateful for her maturity because she’s had to learn some pretty hard lessons this year that would have been exceedingly difficult to navigate if it wasn’t for her strong moral compass and ability to admit wrong-doing as gracefully as she did. We had some eye-opening experiences with lying and stealing, and though I will not go into the details in this reflection, as this is a celebratory piece, I will say that these experiences were painful for all of us, but ultimately opened the road for more honest dialogue that we hadn’t necessarily had before. I think it was an early test of any difficult situation we might encounter together as parents and child. And I’m proud to say that though she was very hurt by our reactions to these situations, she took these lessons to heart and used them to be a better person. I believe she respects us so much as parents that she was deeply affected by our disappointment in her actions. And we made it very clear to her that we were judging her actions, not her character, and that her actions didn’t reflect who we know she is inside. I think it was this especially that she took to heart. She has gone out of her way since then to prove to us that she’s trustworthy and honest.
This wasn’t the only mature situation she had to deal with and move through this year. She has also had to deal with my depression. It’s obviously no secret at this point that I have been diagnosed with depression and have suffered from it for some time now. But prior to a few months ago, I thought I was hiding it well. I was wrong. Lily knew. I think she’s always known. And she finally addressed it with me. True to her nurturing, loving self, instead of saying that it had become a problem for her, she said she wished she could help me. She felt powerless to control how I felt and acted. She went out of her way to try to make me happy, and felt horrible when she did something that set me off into a rage. And when I was diagnosed, I was very honest with her about what depression is and how it has affected me and us. And even though she has had to endure a me that was very often unpleasant, she simply expressed her happiness in my getting better. That’s all. She just wants me to be happy. She’s just beyond words.
Something else that struck me as particularly difficult this year was Lily’s frustration with her math assignments. And I felt immediately guilty when this came up. It’s no secret that I don’t care much for math. It is not something that I’ve ever felt truly confident with, and I’m no stranger to vocalizing this. I’m afraid that my openness about hating all things math rubbed off on her, especially in the face of Common Core bullshit math work. Anyone who has paid any attention to education these days knows that the Common Core movement has changed education in many unfortunate ways. One of these ways is changing completely the math work that is deemed age-appropriate and the methods for solving these problems. It has left children frustrated with the difficulty level, the parents frustrated for not knowing these very specific methods that were required instead of basic arithmetic that we learned, and the kids even more frustrated when they couldn’t get help from their parents. Lily, at many points, would put her head down, growl in frustration, and say, “I’m just not good at math!” Ouch. What have I done? I know what a lifetime of feeling inadequate can do, and I was not about to let that happen to her. I have since made it a point to praise her whenever she completes an assignment, even if it’s an assignment she needed to correct many errors on. We’ve also talked about how much she loves science, and how science and math are best friends. And because she wants so badly to work with animals some day, she’s been making it a point to keep trying, no matter how much she wants to give up because once she gets a goal in her mind, she doesn’t let anything get in her way (Like teaching herself to swim!! And working toward finessing her biking skills). Will it always be easy? Hell no. Will she likely cry and get upset over not getting something perfect the first time? Oh yes. You can give perfectionists coping strategies, but you’ll never change who they inherently are. Lucky for her she has a fellow perfectionist as a parent, and I will do all I can to make sure this trait never gets in her way for long.
Another point of contention between my darling daughter and me is her obsession over comics. I think comics and graphic novels are fantastic and valuable. I think visual literacy is a vital skill for this generation to develop. But I also find great value in reading written text only. I find it important to puzzle out difficult ideas and situations and visualize events in the story without any visual cues. Ultimately, I find great value in both text types, and have been trying to push her to see the same. Right now she has been reading 90% graphic comics (mostly Calvin and Hobbs), and 10% chapter books. I push and push and push, and of course, as you can imagine, it has been having the opposite outcome than what I hoped for. So I’ve had to take a step back, and figure out how to build a bridge to her. I have to appreciate the fact that she’s reading at all. I have to appreciate the fact that she adores art. And I have to find ways to combine her love of art and comics with her need to always practice and strengthen her reading. Because if I push too hard, I know what will happen. She’ll stop reading completely. And worse, I might cause her to feel shame in her interests. So I’ve sought out literary yet age-appropriate graphic novels, and more traditional novels that integrate illustration (such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid). And I just have to hope that our family’s practice of reading every day will continue to inspire her to do the same. And I need to accept that she is not me. Which is the hardest pill to swallow. She is not me, and her interests are going to be different. I will guide her, I will always guide her, and hope she always chooses what’s ultimately right for her.
And so, here I am in the 8th year of being the mom to the most awesome, inspiring, intriguing, beautifully complicated, nerdy, hilarious, and talented little girl ever to grace this planet. I am so proud of her and awed by her. I may not squeeze her to death with hugs and kisses every day, but my love for her is so great that I don’t think my heart would pump without her. She is the greatest thing ever to happen to me, because of me, and sometimes in spite of me. Seeing her grow, develop adorable, strong girl friendships, talk about boys she likes (yes, already…), rise to every challenge presented to her, and still maintain her goofy nerdtastic self is something that brightens my day and that I wouldn’t trade for anything, even life itself. Her grunty laugh and goofy braces smile never fails to make me smile and laugh myself. Because through all these ups and downs, she is always my baby. My love. My reason for living.
My little Pookie girl, who is not so little anymore, but already up to my clavicle, I wish you nothing but endless bowls of ice cream, good snorty laughs at Calvin’s antics, and never-ending sunny summer days in the pool. You deserve the world and more, and I couldn’t be prouder or feel more lucky to be your mom, the most magical job in the universe. Happy 8th birthday, Sassafrass! I love you.