4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I spent the morning at my daughter’s school celebrating her seventh birthday. We had planned for me to make crafts with her class, a collaged ocean seascape and some hot glue gun creatures out of seashells.
The teacher has this amazing tradition to celebrate the kids’ birthdays. A parent or loved one comes into the classroom and the child holds an earth globe and then she walks around the sun with each month a step in her rotation, each full rotation a year in her life.
I was up late last night doing one million other things, and so I didn’t do a very good job finding photographs. There were lots of baby photos, one or two recent ones, and a big blank space in the middle. And I thought I had a minute to organize myself once I arrived to school to write down my ideas so I wouldn’t leave anything out, but when I arrived I realized I was first on the docket.
I began with my tale of their early birth, the time spent in the hospital, the NICU. She hopped off the couch and started showing her friends her photos. And then she started talking. She talked right over me. Every time I started to say something she interrupted. And she wasn’t even telling the story right.
And it’s a funny thing, our day went like that.
I sat between her and her brother for lunch. He had saved a spot for her so she could join us, even though the day before when I came to celebrate his birthday, she had been a total, aggravating interloper, dramatically running off crying when I wouldn’t let her interrupt his day. She sent a friend over to tell us she was sad. I told the friend she was choosing to be sad, but thanks.
While at lunch she made some inappropriate jokes about being sexy. She then started trying to make everyone laugh by hitting herself in such strange places that even the naughty boys at the table gave her a raised eyebrow.
She went to give her eight-year-old brother a hug, which he didn’t want, and so they bashed heads in the middle of the dining hall. They both burst into tears. He was so ashamed, and in that moment I felt more for him than for her.
I watch her playing soccer, and I sometimes have similarly conflicted feelings. She is so close to being just terrific, but then she’s tentative or loses focus completely. She wants to play goalie so she can be like me (I was actually a field hockey goalie, but whatever) and then she looks over to the sideline to wave to me and misses the ball.
In fact, she’s always a little too dramatic, a little too loud, clinging, almost pretentious in her emotions. Sometime she talks too much, telling personal things about herself to get a response. (Start a blog already- am I right?)
And so I grabbed the free hour after crafts and before the popsicles, and I threw on some running clothes and snuck away from school for a short run. I played a little game I call Birthday Gris-Gris with a Spotify mix I have that contains about 80 songs that mean something to who I am and how I am. I hit shuffle and let the random Spotify God find the mystical message of my day.
Landslide came on, a song I discovered in my 20s when I was a lot lost, but out there trying to figure my way out. It’s the Dixie Chicks version, rolling and lovely. Listening to the words I had a bit of a realization.
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Maybe my problem both is and is not my daughter’s.
Which is to say, maybe my daughter is just an awful lot like me. And sometimes it’s the me I’m not so enamored with. As my daughter turns seven and tries to find her balance, the fine line between funny and inappropriate, being personal and being too intimate, being a good friend and being a crazy friend-stalker, maybe it’s even more unclear than I remember.
Maybe what I need to do is gift her with the things I wish people had said and done to and for me when I was being that same awkward child, teenager, adult.
It’s a hard thing to consider, being nice to ourselves in that way, let alone to a slightly changed mirror of ourselves. But if I allow myself, I can see that she is bold and brave. She is an excellent artist, a kooky story teller. Kids and teachers ding-dang love her. She wants to please other people, make them happy, be a good friend, help you laugh.
She wants to shine because she loves things that sparkle, and she talks so much because she’s honing her voice. When she is trying on different personas, she’s actually being her most authentic self. And while she may not find the perfect fit at the lunch room table or walking around her sun, perhaps I can help be there for her as she grows closer to her best self.
In the middle of being slightly peeved at her procession around the sun, I suddenly found myself unable to say the months of the year. That chunk in the middle when I couldn’t find photos, it went too fast. I looked at the teacher, fanning my face, and with my chokey voice whispered, “I think I’m getting emotional.” He chuckled and nodded.
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too
Oh, I’m getting older too
When she left me, she was running down the hallway with girlfriends, having shaken off the collision with her brother. The girls were holding hands, skipping and singing the Fight Song by Rachel Platten. They’d found their own gris-gris.
I turned and said to their retreating backs, “You go, girls! This is your fight song.”
Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion
Happy birthday, big girl!
(This is one of a two part twin celebration. Check out her twin’s birthday here.)