Dear Oldest Child,
I see you. I promise I do. Despite the busyness of life, and the siblings that have come along, and the fights that we’ve been having, I’m still watching you and loving you.
I remember the moment you were born, six years ago now, and I held your tiny, slippery, gooey, gorgeous six pound, nine-ounce self close to my warm skin so you could feel my heartbeat and the love that emanated from within me.
I didn’t care about the trauma we’d just been through. You were so alert and you stared up at me with your big, blue eyes and we instantly bonded. Oh, how we bonded. It was unmistakable that you were mine. You even looked exactly like me and I was in awe of how I could gaze down into such a fragile reflection of myself. You were a piece of me. You still are.
I loved taking you for walks around the neighborhood. You would sit upright in your rickety tan plastic stroller, clutching your crackers in your sticky little hand, observing the people and houses we passed. I would point out the pretty flowers and the squirrels dashing by as you listened and watched with rapt attention. You caught the eyes of strangers walking by and grinned a toothless grin at anyone and everyone you saw, just so they would smile back.
At the end of the walk your little body would relax into the cushion of the stroller, and your eyes would become so heavy that you’d be forced to close them. We would take blissful naps together – you and I – your tiny frame snuggled into my embrace as deeply as you could go.
Then our relationship began to shift. You didn’t want to be held and you’d push me off. You were so determined to get away and run and explore. You didn’t cry when I hesitantly dropped you off at daycare. You never shed any tears when I said goodbye in the church nursery. Instead, you ran straight for the toys calling your name and furiously protested when I came to pick you up. I was proud of your independence and your ability to be without me.
You started to get angry and defiant and stubborn. You were so stubborn. You didn’t want to follow the directions I gave you. You weren’t happy that you had to take a nap or, heaven forbid, a bath.
You screamed and screamed as loud and long as you could until I couldn’t take it anymore, and I was afraid one of the neighbors would call child services to report a child being tortured. I even did what the books recommended I do and gave you options, but you’d argue your way out of those.
I didn’t know what to do, but you knew exactly which buttons you could push that would cause me to have a reaction. We had so many battles where I lost and I was so mad, so angry, that this little person – you – had challenged my authority. I felt defeated, a failure of a mother.
How could someone so small hold so much power over me?
I don’t know what happened. I still love you with all of my heart, fierce within me, but we don’t have a strong connection anymore. I set up activities to do with you, and you push me away. You argue with me over how to do things, and you get angry and burst into hysterics while I helplessly look around at the best laid plans gone to disarray.
Just the other night when you were throwing clothing and bedding and destroying your room because you didn’t want to clean it, I was so disappointed in what you were doing. I didn’t know what to do or how to help you help yourself. Then you called me “nice” and told me I would fix it all for you because that’s what I do.
So help me, child, I do not want to be your fixer. I want to teach you how to do it yourself, but I just don’t know how.
I have never been an emotional person. Your dad can tell you that. Even during pregnancy when hormones are supposed to take over, I remained pretty steady. When you show big emotions and yell and scream and burst into dramatic tears or go run and hide in your room, I have no idea how to handle you. I don’t even know if you’re supposed to be handled.
I feel like I’m letting you down with my parenting. I have a pile of books on my nightstand that I pore over looking for answers. I am constantly re-diagnosing you with personality disorders and declaring you sensitive to certain foods. In reality, I think I’m making excuses for my inadequacies as a mother.
I want you to know that I love you. I love you so much it makes my heart hurt and my breath catch. I might not understand your language, and you might not understand mine, but I’m not giving up on you.
I’m not going to leave you to emotionally fend for yourself, though sometimes it seems easier to pretend like everything is fine. I don’t like that we continuously battle over and over. It’s exhausting, and unpredictable, and I hate it.
I want you to know that I’m praying for strength, praying for a way to connect with you, to be able to have that bond we once had. I want us to grow together and to learn each other’s languages so that we can understand each other again.
I want us to connect – as mother and daughter – sharing secrets and creating special memories. One day I hope we can look back on this time together and remember it as a time of growth, a difficult period, now long gone, that served to forge a stronger connection.
I hope you want this too.