It was Field Day. I lived for Field Day when I was young. Being outside, the competition, the sweat, the sun—all of these things were like rainbow sprinkles on top of a tall ice cream cone. But to her, Field Day was a sea of new faces, hot sticky air, loud noises, and a game she didn’t know how to play. It was her first time with the new homeschool group we had joined, and at four, she was one of the youngest participants. I should have let her watch. I wanted her to have fun, though, so I pushed her.
We lined up for the corn husk relay, and I held her hand as we waited for the corn to make its way to us. One by one her teammates ran the corn 50 yards down the field, circled the cone, and sprinted back to everyone cheering and calling out their name.
“You can do this!” I said. “I know you’ll love it!”
“I want to, but I’m scared! I don’t know how!” she cried.
I volunteered to do it with her, to run her leg of the race holding her hand. I gave her one last pep-talk as the runner made his way back to us. He couldn’t have been older than five, and his short little legs were fast.
“Remember, run to the cone and back … here it is! Grab the corn!”
Corn in one hand and my hand in the other, she ran with a smile on her face. She’s doing it. I knew she would love it. At the cone I dropped her hand and said, “Now you do it! You’re so fast! Go! Go!” Her smile vanished and tears began to pour. I was several strides ahead of her; she had stopped as soon as I let go. She wasn’t ready.
What will people think? I’m “that mom,” the one who makes their kid fulfill their own childhood dreams. I grabbed her hand and half-dragged her to the team so she could hand off the corn. I scooped her up and walked to the sideline.
“I’m so sorry I let go. You did such a great job, I didn’t think you needed me,” I said.
“I didn’t want to do it alone,” she sobbed.
“I’m so sorry. You are so brave.”
She’s my mini-me. Firstborn, independent, social, and fiery. Not much knocks her down. One of my mom’s favorite stories to tell is of me, at age three, declaring myself smarter than she was. My daughter has threatened to outdo me at the same age, only solidifying her status as mine.
She doesn’t take no for an answer. Instead, she asks questions and offers alternatives like a trial lawyer who has never been bested. Her confidence blows me away.
She asks me challenging questions like “what makes someone an adult,” “what does adopted mean,” and “does it hurt to die.” I used to plague my teachers and professors with similar interrogations. She laughs uncontrollably like me and loves to pull pranks. She shares her heart with strangers like I share the contents of my car with the homeless.
The other day I mistakenly told her that a toy was her brother’s.
“No, Mommy. His is in the car,” she said.
I stood my ground thinking it was a case of not wanting to share. She insisted. A battle of wills ensued and I won, but only because I’m the mom. She knew she was right. And she was. Later that day I found the other toy in the car and knew what I had to do.
“Sweetie, I’m sorry. I thought that was his toy, but here it is. It was in the car all along.”
She studied my face with her eyes, wondering if this was a game. Then, she flashed a little grin before assuming a grave countenance.
“Say you were wrong and I was right,” she said.
“You were right,” I nodded, wanting to end this exchange as quickly as possible. I feared my position as Mother and authority might be at risk.
“No, say you were wrong.” She held my gaze.
“I was wrong.”
She paused, almost as if to let the truth sink in. “It’s okay, Mommy. You’ll do better next time,” she said.
I see it. I see me.
When I was little I had white-blonde hair that wouldn’t hold a curl no matter how much hairspray I caked on. All I wanted was dark, curly hair. That’s what I thought was beautiful.
When I was 27, I held my daughter for the first time. She arrived just over three weeks early and opened her eyes within minutes of being placed in my arms. Moments later, she smiled at me. I know people say that’s not possible, and maybe it’s not, but after giving birth, impossible things seem plausible. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and she looked like me.
Sometime after having her and then her brother, my hair changed. Curls appeared and the blonde faded into a darker, dirtier version of itself. I hardly recognize myself; at times, looking at her feels more like looking at me than looking in the mirror does.
My daughter has a sticker book of ballerinas and her favorite thing to do as she dresses them up and adorns them with jewels is to pick her favorite.
“Mommy, which one do you like best?” she asks.
“I like this one,” I say and point to the one that looks most like her. “Isn’t she pretty?”
“Yes, but, this one is more beautiful.” She points to the dancer with dark skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. It’s also the one wearing pink, her favorite color, but my heart wonders if she will share the same insecurities I did. I wonder if she will grow up longing for dark, curly locks to replace her shiny, straight hair. I want to squelch seeds of doubt that she’s beautiful and perfect, just how God made her.
I watch her fawn over the brown-eyed girl like a new mother. I love that her picture of beauty encompasses more than mirror-images—more than herself. I study myself and my new reality and wonder which girl I would pick—the one with the straight blonde hair or the one with dark curls? I had looked for her on that page; maybe she had looked for me.
We were driving across town over lunch the other day, and I was trying my best not to lose my temper with my children. Who knew eating could be such a battle? After what felt like the fifteenth time asking them to take a bite, I gave up, turned the music louder, and drove in silence. She broke it, like she often does.
“Mommy?” she hesitated.
“Yes sweetie?” I said.
“Guess who finished their lunch?”
“I don’t know. Who?” I sighed. I wasn’t ready to go back and forth again about a cheeseburger.
“This girl back here who’s super brave and super strong and super fast. Do you know who that is?” She was beaming.
I couldn’t help but smile. Her eyes sparkled bright blue behind a swoop of straight, blonde hair, neither of which had made it into her description of herself.
I see me, but I see her too.
Guest post written by Sarah Elizabeth Finch. Sarah Elizabeth is a wife, mama to three lively children, a writer, and type-B to the core. She is passionate about mamas fulfilling their calling in the chaos of life, and loves to cook and dance her way through hers. She writes about marriage, motherhood, community, and following Jesus at www.sarahelizabethfinch.com and on Instagram.
Sarah Elizabeth is part our Exhale community and this essay is a product of our Storytelling Workshop. For more information, visit www.exhalecreativity.com.