She’s crying, and, as usual, I can’t understand the sad gibberish coming out of her mouth. She’s crumpling in front of me. I finally interpret what she is saying between her sobs.
“They ... don’t ... like me.”
I didn’t expect that sentence to catapult me back into my own three year-old body, my first feeling of rejection — the first time I felt confusingly small ... but it does because motherhood has made me absorbent.
Her petite, new pain, amplifies in me to make up for the 21 years of living it will take her to grow the same callouses that I wear. The ones I know will only build upon themselves as I get older and she gets older and life keeps passing between our fingertips. The empathy of motherhood is excruciating. I know this is only the beginning, only the surface of a continuous depth, and the weight of that knowledge almost brings me to my knees.
How do I tell her that it will never stop? That even after all this time and all of this growth and understanding, I still find myself being wounded by others’ words and opinions of me. But mostly by my own. It is a war I have not yet completely won.
There is so much pain ahead of her.
It feels like these black clouds came out of nowhere.
I feel the responsibility to prepare her for all of it, but I don’t know if I have enough time. I’ve already seen her as a newborn and a toddler for the last time. Without my consent, she is disappearing, running toward independence at full speed, and I don’t have a choice.
I don’t even notice how fast she is growing most days.
I need her to know that the full moon loves her, that people can be horrible, but that Jesus was hated too. I need her to know that you don’t have to wear makeup or heels if you don’t want to, and it’s okay to eat lunch alone, and the sting of the cold shoulder won’t always feel so bitter. I need her to know that she is supposed to be her own best friend. I need her to believe in herself.
But I can’t just hand over that understanding. I have to sit here and twiddle my thumbs and talk and talk and hope and pray some of it takes root inside of her. I have to allow her to learn for herself.
When she was born, it was like I was given an another lifetime to live — however, in this one, I have more wisdom, but almost no ability to apply it.
In tenth grade, I was afraid of my bare skin. I couldn’t look at the blemishes beneath my drugstore makeup and the awkward pubescent weight I carried in my middle without wincing. Having to put on a swimsuit in gym class or trying to run a mile and sweating my foundation off made me hate myself.
I’ll never forget the boy at the skatepark who made fun of the scratches I had dug into my own forearms with a dull box cutter. I thought he was my friend. The time was dark, and I internalized all of it. I became mean. I’d fight with my girlfriends, call them names, and shoot my insecurities like arrows back at those around me. I thought being mean would translate into being liked, and if I was liked, my life would be better.
I tried so hard, in all of the wrong ways, and, still none of them wanted me. Being mean didn’t make my life better, and it turns out being “liked” wouldn’t make it better, either.
I was doing really well in chemistry, at the time. My teacher, Mrs. P had a reputation for being strict and stubborn. She was bold and sarcastic, intimidating and intelligent, and I was afraid of her.
Day after day, I’d walk into her class feeling ugly and stupid, alone and unwanted. I felt annoyingly sorry for myself, but for the first time, someone saw past the hardness. She saw me.
She would look me in the eye and tell me I was smart. I believed her because she was the most honest person I had ever met. She didn’t play around. She made me believe in myself. She helped me look inward for the value I was seeking. She showed me you have to love yourself, even when others didn’t. And that above all else, kindness (real, sincere kindness which expects nothing in return) is always the answer.
The lessons she taught me brought a light into my life that was blinding.
She is practicing plies with her ballet teacher, and I see light swimming in her eyes. Then, she is belly laughing as she works on her weekly reading with a therapy dog and his owner. There is a literal glow around all three of them. Even when her fingers are struggling to write the letters with her pencil, her tutor’s persistent encouragement makes me realize there are glimmers of this light everywhere, if I just open my eyes.
I don’t think they understand how much it means to me to see them love my daughter.
Because of the dark shadows in my own experience, I was able to notice the light in Mrs. P, and I notice it now in the relationships my girl is building - inside circles of which I have no involvement in. They’re going to take care of her and she’s going to take care of herself, when I can’t do it.
So maybe this lifetime, her lifetime, isn’t about eliminating or shielding her from all of the pain with my wisdom, and maybe I don’t want to. Maybe if I do, she won’t be able to recognize radiance when it is blazing right in front of her. Because this lifetime is the one that I know kindness wins and goodness prevails and love makes up for all that I lack. Love makes everything right again - and it will, even if I am not there to witness it. There will be helpers and doers; people who believe in doing what is right, and mercy seeping into every crack of this broken earth because of it.
I will teach her to look inward for brightness first. And then I will beg her to chase it, and to grasp it, and to document it second.
It takes a while for me to cool the rage that is boiling through me, I want to go over there and give them a piece of my mind, to tell them they are little jerks, but instead something tells me to teach her what I learned in chemistry class ten years ago ...
“But do you like you?”
She takes a deep breath, swallows her sadness, and whispers,
And that word right there, those three tiny letters, are the warmth of the entire sun.
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