A foreign and familiar terrain

Grace had two friends over after school today. They were rowdy, and I may have possibly raised my voice just a wee bit. They were just being excitable seven year olds. But our house is small and they were rambunctious and I was annoyed. Anyway, I let Grace have it. She knew I was not pleased with her behavior.

We then went to school for the end-of-year picnic dinner. Just as the pizza arrived a massive thunder and lightning storm began. It was absolutely pouring. Grace found a different friend and they ran around in the rain. When her friend slipped and skinned her knee badly, Grace came streaking through the rain to find her friend’s mother and me. When the three of them – Grace, her friend, and my friend (the friend’s mother) reappeared in the school building, Grace had a plan. She took her friend’s mother to find a bandaid (which she knew the location of), leaving her friend with me. Later, my friend told me – in front of Grace – how well she felt Grace had handled the situation and I could see my daughter swell up with pride.

As I was tucking Grace in tonight, she was uncharacteristically quiet. “What’s up, Gracie?” I asked her as I rubbed her back. She looked at me, fixing me with her gaze. “Well, Mummy, you know I’m always trying to be good, right?” I looked back at her, feeling vertigo as I stared into her eyes, my own eyes (one of the very few physical characteristics, along with her cleft chin, that she inherited from me). I had a flashing moment of intense identification, that experience where my own child self and my daughter simultaneously collapse into one and burst into a million kaleidoscopic fragments.

My heart broke a little. I leaned down and kissed her forehead, stroking her hair back as I did so. “You don’t always have to be good, Gracie. I love you no matter what.” I whispered that I was incredibly proud of how she had handled the situation with her friend, that she was a good friend, and that that mattered most of all. And then I said again, helplessly repeating myself, “I love you no matter what. You are good just by being you.” How to do this right? How to make her know that she doesn’t have to please me – and everybody else around her – to be loved and worthy?

Oh I am heavy tonight, thinking about this terrain, so familiar to me and yet so foreign at the same time. How different the perspective is when I’m watching someone else embark on it, rather than doing so myself. I want so desperately to walk these hills with her in a way that helps her know how deeply loved she is, and how fundamentally valuable, worthy, and love-able she is, just by being herself. I’m afraid I’m already doing it wrong. The sky has cleared tonight but there’s thunder and lightning in my heart. How do I help someone who is so much like me grow into herself without falling into all of the same painful ruts?

11 thoughts on “A foreign and familiar terrain”

  1. I think the key is keeping dialog open. Just the fact that she can answer honestly when you ask her what’s going on, that’s huge! If you can keep that openness, that honesty between you, that will help so much.
    The rest? I have no idea how to do it either. Unfortunately/fortunately we’re all learning as we go.

  2. Today is my daughter’s seventeenth birthday. If I have learned anything over the past 17 years with her, it is that I can’t fix it for her, I can’t try hard enough or talk enough or cry enough to give her all the good that I hope for her.

    All I can do is be that good, walk that path, trust myself so that she will, one day, be able to recall what good looks like.

    What would the world be like if we all let the good in ourselves be seen, no holds barred?

    Thank you, Lindsey, for all the words and reminders to all of us.

  3. seems like you’re doing a fine job of it, lindsey…and you know, us kids…we need those painful ruts, so when we get through them we know we can. you are a beautiful model for your children, because you SHOW (and tell) them that it’s okay to be who they are, even if it’s not “good” all the time.

    beautiful post.

  4. I agree with Corinne, keep the lines of communication open. Let her know that you never judge what she has to say or even what she does. But be honest, because even though she’s always trying to be good, she still needs to learn boundaries and what’s appropriate in any given situation. Boundaries are healthy, appropriate and will ultimately fuel her confidence, rather than hinder it. They don’t make them less who they are or less loved in any way, even if, on occasion they dampen what would seem as spirit. You cannot possibly do it wrong, because you care too much. By virtue of that you are automatically doing it right. My parents NEVER talked to me about anything. I mean that. And oh how I long to have had that in my youth. So do that with her, and it will make all the difference. XO

  5. As a dyed-in-the-wool people pleaser, this piece stopped me short. I saw my child self in sweet Grace and I saw my mother self in sweet you.

    I have to hope that in thinking about doing right by our kids and in trying to do right by them, we get things right more often than we get things wrong. I hope.

  6. Lindsey my friend, your children are the lucky ones — for they are the beneficiaries of your spiritual journey. Growing in compassion for yourself, you grown in compassion for everyone else as well. And don’t think for a moment that somewhere, deep down, Grace and Whit don’t know that. What a comfort, to know that your mom can be trusted so, trusted to love you for who you are, no matter what you do. You are showing, by your own daring and profoundly authentic example, that they don’t have to BECOME perfect; they already ARE perfect, struggles and mis-steps and all. Just like you. A beautiful post, as always. Katrina

  7. “…feeling vertigo as I looked into her eyes…”

    That line, oh that line. Powerful. The beginning of something even MORE powerful.

    The easiest answer to your question? You don’t. You can’t. The painful parts help us grow stronger. Make us who we are, of course. But you know this. And I know this. And we still want to protect them from the hurts we know too well.

    To love. That’s my only answer then. And what you said to her in bed? Keep saying it. BE REPETITIVE, time and time again. She’ll get it. She’ll understand. You are her mummy.

  8. I understand this post on a cellular level. When I caught on that maybe I was being conditional, I made sure I kept telling them: I love you no matter what. You are perfect, just the way you are. You will make mistakes, but you are not a mistake.

    I’d like to think it’s helped them, just a bit.

  9. Wow, Lindsey—what trenchant and poetic honesty, you hit the universal with this post through your evocation of the personal.

    I felt moved by your post and, as I read, wanting to tell you that being perfect is not possible, but that it really is perfect and so are we, as Katrina so eloquently and lovingly says. I just wanted to send the sort of love that would make a difference.

    But then I read the comments and am moved in another way, seeing that we can all relate, but that the exact sort of love and affirmation that you bestow upon Grace then rises up to reflect you—and the perfect truth of our collective love and widening identity.

    I have found that parenting is not about knowing what to do, it’s about somehow managing to do what we intend, to be our best Selves. Falling short, being human, owning it, staying ever-true to the message that we love no matter what the tone of our voice or our fluxing mood states and only connecting… that seems to be the ticket to all sorts of the things we really want.

    Oh, and happy birthday to Chista’s daughter’s birthday.

  10. Thanks for this. Once again, you’ve nailed it. We spend so much time on the life lessons and not enough on the life right in front of our eyes. As my son gets older, I find he’s more and more receptive to stories that begin, “When I was your age I did the same thing…I felt the same way…I went through the same experience…” We’re all in this together, after all. I love when the roles change and we learn something from them.

Comments are closed.