I want to be your little girl

Saturday morning dawned clear and cold.  I took Grace and Whit out to breakfast at our favorite diner while Matt slept in.  Later, we went to meet some friends to walk around the reservoir in our town.  Our friends have a five year old son and an 18 month old daughter.  Slowly, we circled the reservoir.  The big kids on bikes and so were our friends, with their toddler in a bike seat.  Matt and I walked.  The children biked out ahead of us, that raveling red string unfurling towards the horizon, stretching, as it does, but never breaking.  It was windy and we all walked hunched over, hands jammed into pockets.  I looked up, almost desperately, at the branches against the crystal clear sky, looking for buds.

Eventually my friend’s daughter, C, got cold in the bike seat so we took her out to walk.  As she wandered along the path, crouching to investigate every small dried leaf or blade of new grass, we joked about how toddlers are the ultimate in people who Stop and Smell the Flowers.  Everybody else got cold, waiting for C to amble along, so I picked her up, surprised by how light she was in my arms, and held her against my hip as I walked, talking to my friend, who walked her bike beside me.

Suddenly I noticed Grace biking urgently back towards me, and when she got close I saw that her cheeks were wet with tears.  “What, Gracie?” I asked, wondering if she’d fallen.  She was crying so hard it was hard for her to get the words out, and she gestured me over so we could speak privately.  I leaned down so that I could hear her, my forehead clunking into the chilly plastic of her helmet.

“Mummy,” she wiped ineffectually at her tears with her mitten, “I want to be your little girl.”

“Oh, Grace!” Instinctively I knelt, still cradling C against my side, and wrapped my other arm around Grace.  I hugged her and then pulled back, looking right into her eyes.  “Grace.  You will always be my little girl.”

“But I’m not as little as she is,” Grace nodded towards C, who was watching all of this with interest.

“I know, Grace.  But it doesn’t matter how big you get.  You will always be my little girl.  You will always be my first baby.”

Appeased, she biked away, and I stood up and resumed walking, but now it was my cheeks that were wet.

Where does this come from?  Whit, too, has broken down, sharing through sobs how own sadness at time’s passage.  Do they pick this up from my talking about it?  The thing is, I don’t actually do that in front of them.  More likely, I suspect, sensitivity about time throbs in their bloodstreams as surely as it does in mine.  I feel so ambivalent about this; what a weight they carry, and it’s all because of me.  I don’t think very much about whether I’d rather be wired differently, because I know I can’t change my leaning toward melancholy or my skinlessness, can’t escape my sometimes-exquisitely painful awareness of life’s beauty and loss.  But I don’t like reminders like this one from Grace, of the high costs of having a mother who is more shadow than sun, whose gaze is often through tears, who loves and hurts in equal, fierce measure.

Oh, I worry about them.  I want what all parents want, in unison, and with the force of a tide: I want them to be happy.  I want joy and ease and as much wonder as they can bear.  And then maybe more.  I hope the sheer basic fact of my being their mother has not precluded this already for them.

14 thoughts on “I want to be your little girl”

  1. In giving Grace the saftey to tell you those strong feelings, you have given her happiness. I promise… Another beautiful post…

  2. Oh my,this is lovely. They will most definitely be your little ones no matter how big they get – you know you can trust me on that!

  3. I remember my then-little girl saying the same thing when I held a friend’s new baby. So sweet, so natural, she loves you so.

    Another sweet memory–I always call her sweetie pie–when she was three, one day she said to me: “Today, I’ll be the mommy and you’ll be the sweetie pie.”

    Such natural sweetness, beauty, and love, in all that they are, even as they grow and want to be apart from us and yet still be a part of us.

  4. I forever want someone to take care of me. Don’t we all? It’s natural that, when we see our nurturer caring for someone else that we feel threatened. But there is abundance. Love is plentiful. She has felt safe with you. That’s where it began.

  5. Apples and trees, my friend – but don’t for a second ever think that passing on your sensitivity to Grace and Whit is anything but wonderful, natural and meant to be.

  6. I think we all feel time differently. My daughter is forever lamenting that she has to grow up. My son can’t wait to be bigger. I suspect you are supporting and nurturing their vision of the world and their selves. I suspect your love and presence and openness to their points of view is more important than anything.

  7. I don’t know where it comes from, but I remember similar feelings as a child. I remember taking comfort when my mother assured me that I was the one who was her baby first, and I was the one who made her a mommy. Perhaps not all children are as articulate in their expressions of it as yours (likely!), but I think the feeling is pretty universal.

  8. This is a beautiful post. Your line in the last paragraph — ‘I want them to be happy’ — really struck me. For what its worth, until recently, I always thought that happiness and sadness were on opposing ends of the same spectrum, and that my desire to achieve greater happiness would come along with less sadness (or vice versa). Then I started graduate school in social psychology, where I learned that research shows the tendency to experience positive moods and the tendency to experience negative moods are actually orthogonal — they are different dimensions, and you can be high on both. Learning that was like a lightbulb for me — I do feel lots of highs, and I do feel lots of lows, and those aren’t antithetical to each other, but instead in many ways they are complementary parts of who I am. So this is just to say that Grace’s and Whit’s tears (not to mention yours) don’t have to be preclusions to their happiness…

  9. You can be partly cloudy true to form and fear not—this, in my book, was a spot-on parenting moment precisely because you accurately understood, and accepted, and responded compassionately to what Grace was feeling. This builds our confidence, our security and our capacity for play and exploration… to get back toward child mind and noticing dried bits of leaf. (think how one could say, “You’re a big girl now” or “Don’t be a crybaby; this disconnect builds a false self, cueing us not to have and allow and pay loving attention to our feelings). I like the way you roll, Lindsey. It’s up to us to all attune to each other so that we too can heal and grow, benefiting from being understood even more than comforted in our own tears.

  10. Beautiful, Lindsey, thank you. Really gorgeous.

    But here’s my two cents on the shadow you seem to be sure you have cast on their lives. Unbidden, so feel free to disregard.

    There is shadow and light in all of us. They came here to be who they are, and you are their tour guide and cheerleader but you cannot change who they will become, fundamentally.

    Perhaps they are thin-skinned, like you. How lucky then, for them, to be born to a mother who can show them how to manage in this world without losing who they are.

    And how lucky we are to witness your days.

  11. I often read, but rarely comment. After reading this I felt compelled to tell you how hauntingly beautiful this post, but especially these words are…”the high costs of having a mother who is more shadow than sun, whose gaze is often through tears, who loves and hurts in equal, fierce measure.” Your young children are obviously wise old souls.

Comments are closed.