Posts Tagged ‘birthday’

Eleven

Eleven years ago.

Eleven years of days, hours, minutes; some blinking fast like a firefly I can’t catch, some crawling with a glacier’s pace. Eleven years ago, I was given a gift, the greatest, hardest gift. Eleven years now of guidance, growing, learning, changing, crying, praising, heartbreak and happiness. Eleven years ago, a piece of my heart was taken from within me, and placed in the outside world.

I named her Sophie. And though she had that piece of me within her, she became herself, an individual who is independent and fierce. And though she has always been exactly who she is (to me), as she approaches eleven, she struggles to find her place in this big, amazing world. And, as part of my heart, it is my job to help her navigate that path, although I fail regularly and spectacularly. Some days I barely make it to the end, wondering how anyone ever saw fit to place me in charge of another human being. But we’ve made it this far, these eleven years, all the while learning about life, love, heartbreak, and happiness together.

Have you ever laid in the dark of night with your child curled into the crook of your arm? You’re wide awake with a racing mind as she twitches and settles, falling asleep in the safest place she can imagine. Soon, over her even breathing, you are left to watch the terrifying thoughts of night race by, wondering how you will ever be able to lead your tiny human safely from childhood to adulthood, protecting her from the harms of this world, teaching her right from wrong, helping her navigate learning, and friends, and technology, and kindness and decency, and individuality, when you are unsure in any given moment whether you yourself fully understand those things.

Eleven years now, I have thought, and searched for answers, and prayed and cried, and laughed, and felt my heart expand in ways I never could have imagined. It seems impossible that much time has passed since the day I first held my daughter, feeling terrified and elated, refusing to put her in the bassinet and instead letting her fall asleep on my chest, until finally the nurse gently convinced me to let her take Sophie for a few hours so I could sleep.

Sophie's Birth Day

Year One took us from the uncertainty of how to care for a newborn without breaking her, hurting her, or coddling her, through Sophie standing on her own, on her first birthday, ready to step away already and do things her own way.

Eleven years is a gift many don’t get.

I often tell Sophie, in the moments when we are alone, just her and I, don’t forget someday when a memory pops up of us seeing a hawk standing on the ground; or us screaming, upside down, on the biggest, fastest roller coaster we could find; or seeing a rainbow that ends right above our house, that we are the only two people alive that share this memory. It’s an amazing and terrifying thought.

Year Three, and Sophie seems to remember many things, yet I don’t even know how she could. She remembers begging her Daddy not to leave, crying, and feeling like it must be her fault because he left anyway. She remembers watching Hachi with me on the couch, and how we had to pause the movie for ten minutes because we were crying so hard we couldn’t watch it. Crying for the dog who mourned his master, and crying for us because our lives had so drastically changed. She remembers the Orange Juice Incident, as she calls it, which was just Sophie throwing a huge tantrum at bedtime, and me doing the best I could to deal with it.

Sophie With Apple

Eleven years and I have laid awake more nights than I can count, racked with worry and tears, wondering, Am I doing this right? Am I making the right decisions? Will she be okay?

Year Seven, and everything changes again. I meet someone new, someone who has the potential to be that male influence she so desperately seeks out, because despite my efforts, I can never be both Mom and Dad to her no matter how hard I tried. But with new comes change, and this year revealed more to me about how broken we both had been. For much of this year things felt bleak and hopeless, that I had failed and I was submerged, barely above water, dealing with as much change for myself as she was with new routines, personalities, new family members, and opportunities.

Eleven years is a long time to figure things out, but that is a fallacy because you can’t figure it all out when things keep changing. You just hang on and hope for the best and keep getting up every day to face it all again. Some days I am so proud I can’t even speak it. Other days I am so disappointed and crushed I wonder if I will be able to carry on. This child, my child, has been given to me for these eleven years, but she is not mine. She is herself and I have to let her fail even when it slowly kills me inside. I have to stand behind her with my arms outstretched when the very people she trusted and depended on let her fall.

Sophie & Me

I will catch my Sophie, even when I won’t buy her excuses. I will back her, even if her words cut into me. I will defend her when nobody else will, and I will stand up in the ways I feel are right, even when nobody else agrees with me. I will love her unconditionally when she trips, when she hurts, when she’s lost, and when she’s angry.

I was told, recently, by a person who used to matter greatly to me, that I will never be the parent this person was. It was meant to be an insult, but I took it as a compliment. I will never be the kind of person who abandons my child, disappoints her, changes on her, or leaves her to cry herself to sleep at night wondering why she’s not good enough for me. I will never insult her, put her down, make her feel less than. I will expect her to act right, show respect, take responsibility for her words and actions. I will refuse to put up with any bullshit from her, and will teach her to not take any bullshit from the people around her, even the ones who are supposed to care. I will never make her feel like she has to change herself for me to accept her.

Year eleven, and I tell her, my baby, my big girl, “Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you have to hide who you are.” So many times, she’s been asked to act a certain way, be a certain way, say this, don’t say this. Now my job, once again, is shifting so I can help her navigate this rocky path, as I have learned the hard lessons hard way and am better equipped to help her.

“What if I don’t know how to be who I am, Mom?” she asks. “If I make this choice, or that choice, the choices that make me different, will it change how you see me?”

Sophie B&W

Never.

When you were two, when you’re eleven, when you’re twenty, never, Sophie, will you change in my eyes. Because to me, you’ll always and forever be my perfectly imperfect child, the piece of my heart that is fiercer than me, more independent than me, smart, beautiful, talented, funny, frustrating, walking around in this world, blazing the path I was too afraid to blaze. No matter what age, what birthday, I will be able to look at your face and see the brilliant individual person you are and the tiny fierce baby you were and know that they are the very same person, and I will love your faults, and your fears, and your accomplishments and your failures equally.

For eleven years, my heart has had a body and a name, and it’s taken form in the world and I’ve been allowed to watch, and to teach, and to love this piece of my heart named Sophie, and even though it’s supposed to be her birthday, it’s the best gift I’ve ever been given.

 

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Today, Sophie turns 9.

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Suddenly, my daughter is a completely independent human being with her own thoughts, likes, experiences and moods. Why is this important? When I think back on the past 9 years that I’ve been her mom, I realize that for a lot of her life, I saw Sophie as an extension of myself, and she didn’t really seem to mind.

Lately, though, it’s becoming all too real. My little baby, my madhouse toddler, my sweet and sour sidekick is no longer mine.

She is hers, and hers alone. In the past few years, I have had more of an education of how to raise a person, and not just mother a child, and let me tell you, it’s not easy!

There’s so many people who can tell you to let your child fail in order to help her learn from her mistakes. Have you ever stood by and watched while your child fails? It’s excruciating and took every ounce of willpower I had to let her stick it out and not try to swoop in and fix things for her.

Do you know how to get a child to tell you the truth? You have to let her tell you the truth, and hear it, without letting it upset you. Because a lot of time, the truth is hard to hear. When your child tells you the truth, she is telling you she’s done something wrong, or that she has an opinion that you don’t agree with. And if you really want her to be able to say the truth and speak her mind, I’ve learned the hard way –you have to let her, and not punish her for it, and pretend you’re bulletproof. Even when you’re most definitely not, and let those truthful words eat you up when you’re lying in bed, or staring out the window, or crying quietly in moments of desperation when you’re sure you’ve done everything wrong.

In her 9 years so far my daughter has also learned how to count on people. And that sometimes, you can’t, no matter how hard you want to. In learning how important it is to tell the truth, she has seen that many other people, even adults, don’t tell the truth or just say what they think she wants to hear. The disappointment of learning that people are human is very real, but also very necessary. Because it helps her to know that she has to accept people exactly as they are, and not try to pretend they are something they’re not.

Now that she’s 9, my Sophie has also learned that actions have consequences, and that every choice she makes is hers. This is not easy to help a child understand, since it takes a parent actually following through on those consequences to help her see that this parent means what she says, and that doing wrong results in life not being fun. Never was this truer when, in desperation, I told her about a year ago that she was grounded for a week for a particularly creative session of back talking, and in an even more awesome display of parental ignorance, I dared her to keep going and earn another week of grounding.

Which she of course did.

Those were the longest two weeks we have both experienced, and I was as much punished by that decision as she was. By the end of those two weeks, we were both exhausted and swore that would never happen again. It’s become a joke of sorts, “Remember when you grounded me for two weeks and actually stuck to it?” Yes, yes I do. And guess what, so do you, so it must have worked on some level. At least we both learned that I mean what I say.

It’s all these hard moments in parenting when we start to realize that the little kids who relied on us for everything, and those not-yet-formed people who were happy to go along with what we said and we only had to endure the tantrum here or the weepy tears there, are no longer here.

Instead we are now helping raise kids that are inching closer every day to being grown-ups, and the time that we had to teach, inspire, help and care for them is growing shorter. At 9, she’s going to be further along and more knowledgeable than I was as a teenager, and who’s to say what she’ll know at ten, twelve, or fifteen?

Our journey together has changed, it’s not just me and Sophie against the world. There’s more people in our lives, our family has grown and changed and she has more people to teach her, to help her, to frustrate and annoy her. And at 9, as I’m sure it was at 8, she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that her Mama loves her more than ever for her sweet words, her stormy tears, her grouchy moods, her shining achievements, and her amazing talents.

In short I love her just as I did that first day when I wouldn’t let that tiny infant sleep in any bassinet, even though it was right beside my bed. No, I wanted her right there on me, close to my heart. And even though her travels today take her further away from me as she lives in this world as an independent busy child, in my eyes she’ll always be right where she belongs, close to my heart.

A heart shaped leaf my daughter gave me. My hand on the left, hers on the right...

A heart shaped leaf my daughter gave me. My hand on the left, hers on the right…

On this, her 9th birthday, and all the birthdays to come, that will never change.

Dear Sophie,

It is the night before your birthday, and all I can think is Wow! Five years? The days were long, but the years were short, as they say. It feels like the length of a sigh, or the beat of a heart instead of five years since the day I met you.

 My first glimpse of Sophie Arwen
I never expected to know what you would be like before I had you, I could only wonder and worry. But I can truly say, upon looking back, that you have been Sophie since the day you arrived. A hundred times, you have done or said something and the only response to it is “That’s Sophie!” I have watched as you went from a curious and demanding baby to an even more curious and even more demanding toddler. You were never content to let the world exist alongside you. Instead, you made yourself known to whoever you met, people and animals, family and strangers, and said “Look at me! I am Sophie, and I won’t be ignored!”
You could not possibly be more different from your Mama.
We are two peas in a pod, you and I. Except I am a regular small green pea, and you are pink polka dotted pea with flashing lights and screaming whistles. Sometimes I just stand back and wonder what in the world I am supposed to do with you. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. But together, we have had so many great adventures packed into five years. We have visited zoos, camped all over three states (Maine, Arkansas and Oklahoma). We have piled rocks and learned to swim and watched the fireflies come out at night. We have asked and answered a million questions, with a million more sure to come. I can only hope the next five years are the same. We have weathered so many storms already, and I only hope I can give you what you need to weather many more. 
This past year has not been one I ever hope to repeat, and I am terribly sorry that you had to witness and endure the most painful and heartbreaking situation I could imagine a four year old going through, except for death. There are some things I can’t explain to you, baby girl, and some things even I don’t understand. I thought I knew what life was about, and I thought I knew the people in it, but I didn’t and I don’t. I can hold your hand, and I can cry with you, and I have. But I can’t fix it, and it kills me. If you had asked me five years ago if I ever saw this coming, I would have thought you were crazy. I tried my best, but in the end it wasn’t enough, and at this point I don’t know if I’ll ever understand why your Daddy left. He has his view and I have mine, and they just don’t match. I would have gone to the ends of the Earth and back to make things right, but in the end, sometimes you just have to let it go. 
The one thing I can truly tell you is this: you have more love than than you could ever possibly know and then some. Every day, always, I hope you know that you are loved no matter what goes on, or how the day goes or who is here and who is not. The only reason I have been able to make it through any of this, every day, through the worst of it is because I knew I had one precious little girl who depended on me to be her Mama. 
You made me be strong when I didn’t think I could. You made me put aside myself and my hurt to look at you and help you through. I held you when you cried and tried to make you laugh and then just cried with you, too. Now that it’s just the two of us, I try so hard to wake up every day and say “Today I will do better.” Not just for you, but for me, too. So you will see that we can make it through together and we will be just fine. We will laugh, and we will play, and we will travel and see life and have more adventures, both out in the world and here at home. 
You have been on this planet for five years, and you have made more friends, learned more new things, laughed, cried, talked and pouted more than I ever imagined you could. You have have made your way thought those five years as only Sophie could. I am so proud to be your Mama and I want you to know that although your birthday is a special day, every day you are here is special to me.
Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!
Love,
Mama