A Whole Fucking Decade

My baby is ten.

Let me repeat that. My baby, my first-born, my little chubby-cheeked, sassy-pants little girl is TEN.

Fucking double digits. Ten. A decade.

No longer very chubby-cheeked. More beautiful and grown up than I could imagine. Definitely still sassy, but also moving into puberty-fueled moodiness with spontaneous ups and downs.

I have been a parent for an entire decade. Which, I realize to all of the parents out there who have been-there-doing-that for much longer than I have probably scoff and think to themselves that ten ain’t nothing. But for me, it’s definitely a big deal. As so many people my age are just having babies now or have toddlers, having a child tiptoeing the precipice to teenage-hood is remarkable, and marvelous, and fucking terrifying, and rewarding. It seems like this past year, more than any other, she has morphed into someone so like us and so apart from us. And I realize I likely say this every year, so please allow me this redundancy. Because I got to see her each day before my eyes, all day, growing, changing, learning. I got to see her unraveling this puzzle that is her place in life. It has been nothing short of spectacular, and I’m so thankful to be there with her so closely to guide her and just be there for her when her emotions were just too much for her. I hadn’t gotten such a front row seat since she was a baby.

And honestly, that time is so far gone now that I only really have bits and pieces of those memories still in an easily accessible place in my brain.

Time is so damn cruel, how it takes what it wants and leaves whatever it pleases. Like, even ten years later, I can still remember feeling anticipation of her being born. I used to sit in her room, rock in the rocking chair we’d bought, rub my belly, tight and smooth from stretching, and just look at her baby clothes and diapers so neatly folded and stacked. And I would just think about holding her. How it would be to finally have her out of me and in the world. I swear, I can feel her rolling around in me even now. I can close my eyes, and I can be back there. So acutely, so otherworldly. But I can’t remember all of the little things she’d say funny as she was learning to speak. And I can’t remember what her favorite dinner was when she was 5. And I can’t remember what made her scared or automatically giggle when she was 3. I can’t remember it all.

I can remember what her face looked like when she slept. She looks exactly the same even now. The way she stretches and pouts out her lips and squinches her eyes shut. It’s uncanny how she looks like she’s 1 again.

I can remember what she smelled like when I rocked her to sleep when she was 3, having to guess what animal she was every night before she’d let me put her in her bed. I don’t know if there’s something scientific behind it, but I think every person has a distinctive scent because her head still smells the same.

I can remember how her whole self loved me more than anything. How she would sweet talk her way into making me stay in her room with her while she fell asleep. Or how she would convince me to let her out of bed to have a snack and a snuggle just because she wanted to be near me.

And I’m thankful that I can remember those things because there have been many moments in the last year when I swore my daughter couldn’t stand to be near me. When she’d get so mad at me that she couldn’t even look at me. When it would break my heart to send her to her room or take away privileges. And she would look at me with such contempt. And I had to tap into those memories until she would calm down, and then snuggle up to me like nothing had ever happened.

Yes, I know there’s so much more of this (and worse) to come. Please, spare this mom that reminder. I’m already struggling enough to get through this acceptance of her no longer being a little kid. My eyes are spilling over with tears enough while writing this.

But don’t you write these every year? Yes.

And don’t you cry every year? Yes.

I cry because I’m naturally very sentimental and sensitive. But this year I’m crying because I realize just how important these reflections have become to me. I started out writing them for my kids. So that when they’re adults, they can see snapshots of who they were as kids, and how much they were adored. But now I realize that they’re becoming time capsules for me. Because I can’t always hold on to every little memory on my own. My brain has no choice but to file some things in the back where they’re not easy to get to. But when I read these reflections, it’s almost like I can go back in time and be there at any of their ages.

And now that Lily is 10, and spending less time snuggling up to me and more time doing her own thing, I really need these reminders that underneath it all, she’s still my little girl.

And don’t get me wrong, I love how she’s growing up and don’t want to stifle her. I love how she’s taken her illustrations from the paper to art apps on the IPad all on her own. She draws and writes her own comic books. She is clever and witty, and can hold her own when coming up with puns and jokes. She’s become much more aware of her self-image, loving accessories and playing with makeup and trying to look like a little lady. All awhile still loving to be goofy, using Snapchat to make her face into a bee or using the IPad to make her face distorted with the fish eye lens.

She’s still such a kid. She still plays with her Beanie Boos, sometimes recording them and splicing the videos together, adding sound effects and transitions. She plays in our giant sandbox, creating prisons and adventures for Ollie’s G.I. Joes. She snuggles her stuffed animals at night; needs to sniff her pink blanket sometimes; doesn’t want to do chores; hates taking a shower and needs to be reminded to wear deodorant or comb her hair (other kids do need those reminders too, right?). She’s obsessed with Pokemon, Star Wars, and Pusheen cats. She’ll yell at her brother and tell him to leave her alone one minute, and then be on the couch snuggled up with him watching Netflix the next. You know, average kid stuff.

Which I think balances out all of the times when she has conversations with me about topics that should be beyond her age, like politics or human rights. Or when she so astutely observes adults being hypocrites. Or when she calls me or Josh out on something, effectively putting us in our places. Because while she may only be ten, she’s already ten. She’s silly, and talkative, while still being mature and pensive. And that girl reads like nobody’s business. So when she asks to read our National Geographic magazines and then wants to talk about gender roles or female genital mutilation, and she does so in such a respectful, wise-beyond-her-years ways, I sit in awe of her. Because my daughter, who has been on this earth just a fraction of the time as some, can see without any doubt or hesitation, things that others still fight against or refuse to acknowledge. And that makes me so fucking proud to be her “mom-mom”.

So, ultimately, I guess we’re really a part of two worlds with her now. One in which she still comes to my room to get me if she has a bad dream (or if she’s sleepwalking and wants to tell me something weird while still unconscious), and the other in which she chooses her own clothes and is only 4 inches shorter than me. And though she’s almost as tall as me, that crazy girl still tries to get me to pick her up and hold her at least once a day. I told you, she’s silly. 🙂

So, Lily-Boo, a very happy and momentous double-digit birthday to you. I am so proud of who you’ve become, and honestly look forward to each coming day straddling these two worlds with you, even the bad ones when you can’t stand to be in the same room as me. Because even when you’re mad, your pouty face reminds me of your toddler years when I thought those fights were bad. And no matter how mad we may get at each other, there is love there that nothing can break. You’re who made me a mother and who continues to challenge me into being a better mother, and I’m eternally grateful for you in my life. Because without you, I wouldn’t be constantly striving to be a better, more patient, and considerate human. You mean so much more to me than you can possibly realize.

Happy birthday, Pookie. I hope it’s everything you’ve been counting down on your calendar for and more. You’re an amazing, unique, beautiful soul, and you deserve the world. I love you.

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You do you, my boy

Looking back at my birthday reflection from last year, my words now feel so ironic. I remarked on how Ollie was an ever-steady personality, that change hadn’t come much over the last year. And now I think about his year 5-6 and see how it was THE year of change for him. Beautiful, hard, deeply important change. He had some major battles, and his success was hard-fought and deservedly won, and I couldn’t be prouder of him for who he has become.

As was evident in his last birthday essay, Ollie struggled a bit with leaving me at school for some of the year while in Pre-K. He worried I wouldn’t come back or that he would be left alone forever. By early spring, I thought that issue had nipped itself in the bud; but, almost right after his 5th birthday, his anxiety came rushing back unexpectedly and with a fierce vengeance.

It seemed so startling at first because it was almost like over night he went from being reluctantly happy to see me go, to him being completely distraught all over again. Everyone in his life wracked their brains trying to figure out what was eating at him, but no one could pinpoint one single thing. Was it the first death in our family that made him ask me what would happen if I died? Was it his body finally realizing it couldn’t keep up with the pace of school and causing him to become overly sensitive? Was it something he’d seen on tv, something someone said, something we couldn’t imagine? Was it none of the above?

It was emotionally exhausting trying to figure out why he was suddenly clinging to me and sobbing when I tried to go anywhere without him, whether it be to school or just to the grocery store while he stayed home with grandma. It was so unlike him and it worried me to no end.

Finally, I took him to the doctor who suggested he see a psychologist. And after waiting almost a month to get him in, that he did. We spent our summer seeing his psychologist about once every 10 days. And eventually it began to make a difference. He started becoming less and less fearful, better and better with leaving me. And as tiresome as it was to maintain unflinching patience with him when I just needed to go to the store for 30 minutes, I think it ultimately helped a bit.

Until it didn’t anymore.

Until one day out of the blue he began again to act as though I would leave him forever. With no provocation, other than our push for him to be more independent. We saw he could and so we encouraged him to continue to do so. But he pushed back. And I feared he’d never get better.

Until he did.

And not because he saw the psychologist more often or because we tried more therapies. Because in truth, I was so tired of going to the psychologist about once every week just to see him show the same behaviors day in and day out that I finally made the decision to stop taking him. And maybe it’s not the type of thing that’s recommended because we didn’t phase him out, we just stopped. But it’s what we ultimately decided to do.

But you know what, after we just stopped, and told him we stopped because we saw he had gotten so much better and thought he didn’t need to go anymore, he really did get even better. It was almost as if he needed to believe that he had it in him to do whatever he needed to do. That it wasn’t that someone had to be there telling him how to manage himself, he could do it all on his own.

And I really think this was a turning point for him. This  was back in September, almost halfway through his year 5, and only a few weeks into our new homeschooling lifestyle that this happened. But after that point, instead of him assuming he needed to be taught everything or shown  or assisted in doing everything, he suddenly began believing he could do anything. And he began creating his own learning experiences and his own projects. And it felt, to me at least, that he was suddenly on his way. Just like it seemed that overnight he curled into himself and began feeling afraid and insecure, overnight he sprang from that mindset and went back to being his true self again.

And because I overthink everything, I’ve been trying to figure out what it was exactly that allowed this to happen. And the more I think and the more I read and the more I embrace this new way of living we’ve chosen, the more I realize that what it was that changed him was simply time. Time to simply grow up.

Now what I’m about to say may not be an opinion that sits well with everyone. And I mean this in no way to be judgmental. But it’s something I’ve come to believe very deeply over the last year since I began researching homeschooling. And now that I’ve seen my own children benefit from this way of life, I absolutely believe it to be truth. At the very least, our truth.

Kids are little for such a precious short time. And we in America seem to value achievement and competition so much that we impose these things on our youngest people and in a way that can , and often does, create irrevocable harm to them. We push them into schools, for many of them, not long after they’ve become potty-trained. We’ve traded daycare for preschool. School. For babies. We take away their time to play, experiment, discover, be free and push them to “learn”, to read, to write, to achieve more and more, outdo their peers. We take away nap time and story time and time to be messy and fall and hurt themselves for the “safety” of a room with tiny chairs and tables that they’re asked to spend most of their day at, sitting, doing as their told. And then we wonder why children act out or “fall behind” or any of the myriad other complaints we have about our children in schools these days. We impose unnatural circumstances and behaviors on our children and then fail to see why they don’t thrive.

And trust me, I’m no better than anyone else who has put their child into schools. I too pushed for them to read better and more when I saw they naturally could sooner than most. I felt pride when their teachers told me they were well-behaved or had good grades. Because that is what I was conditioned to believe.

But now, getting off my soapbox. I can see so damn clearly now that what Ollie needed more than anything else this past year was just time to mature. Time to be 5, to be barely more than a baby. Time to grow at his pace and at his comfort level. Time for him to take his own risks when he chose. To learn more about himself and his world when he was ready. When HE was ready.

And now he is ready. Now he’s back to being his silly, joyful, curious little self. It was heartbreaking seeing my usually happy, confident little boy reduced to fear, sadness, uncertainty, and involuntary tics, and thinking there was nothing we could do. And it feels so amazing now to know that the only thing he really needed was nothing. Nothing but us to be there, to love him, to believe in him, and to let him do what he needed to do when he needed to do it.

And now he’s ever the more not my baby boy. He’s grown so tall, and seemingly over night grown into a little man’s body with no more chubs hanging around his tummy or thighs. He’s strong, and sharp, and beautiful. He’s still got his smile that warms your soul, and a penetrating, knowing look, like his father, that bores into your core.

And he still has a sense of adventure, and to be honest, recklessness. He can’t quite decide if he wants to drive submarines when he grows up, or be an astronaut. He wants to build rockets, and discover new species of fish deep in the ocean. Of course, he might also like to be a veterinarian or a locksmith like his dad. And he wants to have kids someday but only if he doesn’t have to get married. And he still doesn’t care if Barbies are “for girls” or not. He loves Linda, his Barbie, and he’ll be damned if you try to make him feel otherwise.

And I’ll be damned if anyone, including myself, ever tries to make him feel, or act, or do anything he doesn’t feel ready for ever again. He trusts me with every ounce of his being to be the person who knows him the best and has nothing but his best interest at heart. And I will never let him down again.

And so, my Bubba-Boy, my heart, my love., a very happy 6th birthday to you. Even though I can’t quite wrap my head around you being 6 already, I will not wallow in sadness over 6 years gone because I know you have so many more to go. And I plan on seeing you though all of them as your biggest fan and greatest support. You continue to build your towers and then crash them down. You peg off your Beanie Boos with your nerf guns and then dress Linda up in her finest. You continue to feel the pride you deserve in reading aloud to us those silly adventures of Elephant and Piggie. You continue to run amok with your friends (real, honest to goodness friends), and challenge yourself to be your most authentic you. You are a beautiful force to be reckoned with, with a spirit and soul to rival no other.

Get your fill of Cheez-its and whatever other junk food your heart desires today because it’s your day. I love you, little buddy. Here’s to another year of you.