“Mommy, I have special news! I want to be a janitor and get a tattoo!” my 6-year-old gushes at me with excitement and conviction. With deadpan sarcasm I ask her if it needs to be in that particular order, and she collapses in tears, inconsolable. She accuses me of not taking her seriously. I roll my eyes, sigh, and think, “Really?”
Later that night it hits me: she’s right. I‘m not taking her seriously. She feels each emotion so thoroughly and passionately. Every. Single. Emotion. I struggle with that. I have a hard time raising her with her stubborn will that does not bend, unless of course, she decides to change her mind. She has very firm beliefs of how the world should be and not be, of what she likes and does not like, what she will tolerate and won’t stand for, and when things will occur in her world. Unfortunately for both of us, her preferences and timeline do not fit well with my calendar, my budget, my lifestyle, or my personality. But hey, I’m the boss, right? Has she NOT gotten that memo yet? I sent it to her 6 years ago.
Call me a slow learner, but I’m beginning to think maybe I’m the one who missed the memo. I say that I love my children unconditionally, as they are. She knows better. She can feel that I wish she was easier to manage, that I wish she was someone else. Someone who I can understand. Please know this: I love her with all my heart and would lay my life down for her. But my God, I do want her to be different.
I want her to stop making her life more difficult. I want her to be more flexible, more patient, more conscientious. Less opinionated, less selfish, less impulsive. Her life would be so much easier. Why, I wonder, oh why, does she have to make everything so much more complicated than it needs to be?
Why? Because when I look at her, I am staring in the mirror. I am a master at exhausting those who love me. I am a hazard to myself and others. I am very skilled at leaving a trail of carnage in my wake. I want to save her from the pains and hurts, bumps and bruises, of the life I stumbled through. I want to save her from being me.
I know I can’t. Intellectually I know I need to let her be herself, and she will learn her lessons in her own way, on her own terms, and she’ll be fine. After all, after spending my life fighting the world, being Don Quixote tilting every windmill, I’ve smoothed out my rough edges (most of them anyway, on most days) and become a respectable human being (admittedly, it depends on who you ask).
She’s teaching me to understand where I end and she begins. Viscerally, not just in my head. She is a patient teacher, giving me the same lesson over and over, day after day, until I get it. I am slowly understanding in my heart that my role is not to save her, but to kiss and hold her tightly when her heart breaks, and to have my eyes light up and share in her dreams, tattoos and all.