Right now, my daughter is sleeping. Her blond hair is tousled from erratic tossing and turning, and she’s probably still clinging to her chosen cuddle object of the moment—a wiffle ball bat. Her Little Mermaid jammies are too snug, but she insists on wearing them, for fear that they’ll be handed down to her baby sister once she’s officially outgrown them. Right now, she is blissfully unfettered. Her imagination runs wild, never having been tamed by the four walls of education, until today.
In a few hours, my daughter will enter “the system.” Two years of preschool will be followed by twelve years of “big kid” school (as she calls it), and then….who knows? She’ll be out in the world. Will she attend traditional college? Will she go on to get her Master’s? Her PhD? Or will she immediately start a family, or travel the world, or even join the military? (I think she’d rather like being a drill instructor.)
Will she go on to accomplish great things? Or will she live out a happy, but nondescript life? Will she run for office someday? Will she run for president?
These are the questions running through my head this morning. While I know I’m racing far ahead of the day at hand, I can’t help myself. My little baby is maturing at the speed of light, and being in school is only cranking the wheel faster. I know one thing’s for sure. She’s SO excited about preschool. She has been practicing wearing her backpack around, and when she saw the sentimental look on my face, she assured me, “Don’t cry mom. I’m just going to put books of learning in here.”
Books of learning. And art projects. And notes from your teacher. And someday (hopefully years from now), notes from a boy. There I go again, taking it too far. Just like last night, when I was tucking her into bed. I scooped her up in a bear hug, repeatedly kissed her sweet head, and told her, “I just can’t believe you’re starting preschool. You’re all grown up!”
She pushed me aside (who wants hugs from mom?), looked me in the eyes, and said, “MOM! I’m just a little kid.” Yes, honey. You’re just a little kid. And this is just preschool. And I’m still freaking out a little.
For every stay-at-home-mom who’s complaining on her blog about her lack of appreciation (ahem, like me), there’s another mom sitting in a cubicle, dreaming of spending time with her little ones. She glances over at their faces in the 5×7 frame, and counts the hours and minutes until she can ooze into her front door after a long day of work to a chorus of “Mommy! Mommy! We’re so glad you’re home!” She would give anything to be in my shoes, but she can’t. She’s the sole bread winner, or the insurance carrier, or the single parent.
For every hair I pull out of my head while my children are driving me crazy, there’s another mom thousands of miles away, with sand in her hair and her combat boots. It will be months, not hours or minutes, until she holds her child again. She would give anything to be in my shoes, but she can’t. Her tour isn’t over until February, and she’s making the most of mommy time she can through Skype calls and frequent Facebook posts.
And for every time minute of solitude I long for (just an empty house and a bathroom I can use alone for pete’s sake), there’s another woman out there who longs for a full house, for a full womb. Her arms are empty. She would give anything to be in my shoes, but she can’t. Her dreams of bringing a child into this world will never come true. Empty. Alone. These are things that she dreads, not that she embraces.
So in honor of my sisters out there, I’m carpeing the heck out of this diem. I’m picnicking on the front porch, picking wildflowers, giving wagon rides, spoiling with kisses, making each hug last a little longer. I not only smelled the roses, I cut them and put them in a vase. I not embraced that life is sometimes like a bowl of cherries, I cut them up and put them in muffins. The cleaning will wait. The stressing can wait. I will enjoy my children. I will caress their faces. I will dance in these shoes, for all those who can’t.
I often hear people say they just “make” their kids do things. This perplexes me. I mean, it’s fairly easy with my fifteen month old, but nearly impossible with my three year old. She’s strong when she’s mad. I mean, super strong. And besides, physically forcing my child to do something against their will is a bit traumatic (unless it’s taking necessary medicine, then I just sit on her). Oh yeah, I also threw out my lower back, and hubby was gone, so physical force really wasn’t an option.
So, when my eldest daughter refused to take a bath, I was beyond frustrated. Bath refusal is something new. Here’s how our little exchange went:
Honey, it’s bath time. Please get in with your sister.
No, I don’t need a bath.
Yes, you do honey. You didn’t take one yesterday, so you really need one today.
But, I don’t want to take a bath.
I know, honey, it’s not always fun to do things we don’t want to. But you’ll feel better once you do.
Yes! You’re getting in this bath now. You need a bath.
But why? (Why? Why? Why? Why?!)
Because you’re sweaty, and you have lollipop in your hair, and you have old bandages dangling from your skinned up knees, you peed yourself outside, and your feet are muddy.
But we can just wipe me down with a washcloth.
No, you need to sit in the bath. I’m going to count to three…
But wash me in the sink. You can even wash my hair in the sink.
(Parents, if you don’t have a plan for “after 3,” don’t start counting. I had no plan, and she knew it.)
Anna, you are really stinky. Do you want to be stinky?
Yes, I like being stinky. Stinky is nice.
(Oh Lord. I was going to have to pull out the big guns.)
You know, Santa is watching you right now. And he wants you to take a bath.
But why? (Why? Why? Why? Why?!)
Because he only brings toys to little girls who listen to their mommy.
I’m listening. I just don’t want to take a bath.
You HAVE to take a BATH!!!!
But why? (Why? Why? Why? Why?!)
Because Santa doesn’t like STINKY people!!!
Wow. I still can’t believe I said that. I immediately apologized. “Mommy shouldn’t have said that. Santa likes all people. Even stinky ones.” We compromised on her standing in the bath while I rinsed her down. This will go down in my parenting hall of shame. It can only go up from here.
She didn’t know all of the words. She couldn’t keep up with all of the choreography. Her sundress was stained down the front, and none of the other kids were wearing cowboy boots. But my daughter shined. In my eyes, there was nobody else on stage. It was her first time performing for a public audience, and I was mesmerized.
Afraid she would run to me if I caught her eye, I tried to hide in the large auditorium. But seeing her eyes frantically dart around the room for me, I stood up and waved. She beamed. Above the din of the crowd and kids, I heard her yell, “My mommy! My mommy came!” As much as I try to avoid cliches, I can’t this time. My heart swelled with pride. Filled my chest cavity and made tears well up in my eyes. Happy, joyful, proud tears. That’s my girl on stage. My girl. She was happy, confident and carefree. In her tiny little world, everything was ok. She was with friends, and singing about God. I want her to stay this way forever.
(She’s the third from the left in the back row, with the blonde pig tails. :-)