(First posted in August of 2010…)
These preteen years are uncharted waters for me as a parent.
I find that they bring up lots of intense emotions for me, and I wonder why. I am finding that loving my daughter, truly loving her, even in her angry pre-teen moments when she thinks she isn’t lovable, brings me a deep satisfaction and often moves me to tears.
Don’t get me wrong… when I speak of my daughter being emotional I’m talking about a 15 minute spell of her feeling irritable and stand-offish… understandable when I take a look at her pre-teen body and all the changes that are swirling to the surface. Long, colt-like legs, girlish figure entangled with the baby one that I used to know so well… teeny tiny little pimple coming up on her perfect nose… evidence of changing hormones and changing times.
All result in Clara, on occasion, having a need for space that she didn’t have before. It’s not so much that she is pushing me away, as she is tending to her own needs, even though she doesn’t know what they are yet. She stands confused for a moment… and wants me to go away. And I am proud of her for verbalizing this. I love that she trusts me enough to hold her space.
I’m learning how to read her, to know when she is feeling like a child and when she is feeling like a pre-teen, even if that swings back and forth like a pendulum multiple times a day. I wonder why this normal phase, which I am so very in awe of when I watch my daughter, feels so damn intense to my own heart?
When she aired her frustrations as a child, I found it so easy to stay centered… to be an unmovable oak tree, sheltering her through any season. When she airs her frustrations now, I find myself feeling like a lonely sad leaf… wildly fluttering through gusts of wind in a storm, and I wonder why the heck I have lost my footing so easily.
But I think I’m on to something here. I think it’s quite possible that the time that we find our children the most challenging is probably the time in our own lives when we stopped loving ourselves wholly. For each parent, this is going to be different. Maybe this is why some times, some parents seem to have a harder time with the toddler phase. Maybe as a toddler, they were told no a lot, or spanked. With some it might be when the child first goes to school… maybe this was a particularly rough transition for the parent when they were a child.
For me, the babyhood and the toddlerhood and the early school years have all been so effortless to love them through… it’s this first peek at my daughter’s scoffing at me, distaste of me, emotional complexity that has me reeling. And for the first time, wondering what I should do. She looks at me, and for just one moment in time, I can see that she finds me lacking… and it just brings up what I felt for myself at nine.
I remember back to being a child, turning 9… this puts me in 3rd grade… right when my mother had my little brother. Whoa… that was a really rough time.
I never felt uglier… hated my crooked tooth and frizzy hair, and I remember being a nervous wreck… I developed a nervous tic of biting on my lip when my mom entered the end of her pregnancy and went to the hospital to have a c-section… I rember visiting her in the hospital and just feeling so separate… coming home felt so empty. I started whistling a nervous little whistle that I couldn’t even hear… my dad or my older brother would ask me to stop… I wouldn’t even know what they were talking about, until I realized that I had been whistling instead of watching the TV program they were watching.
I think even though 9 can seem so grown up, we need our parents more then ever. My parent’s arms were full with a new, lovable little baby, who I loved very much too. I think I loved the new baby more then I liked myself actually, at that point.
But what would I say to myself, if I could go back now? I would demand to myself that I was so very lovable too, right then, twisting my lower lip into a nervous knot and biting on it. Staying up all night unable to sleep. Whistling an invisible song. Ugly frizzy dirty blond hair and crooked teeth and blue circles under my eyes.
I was lovable and now I do have the chance to believe it in myself, because I look at my own daughter… who I can’t find a single thing wrong with… and can say it so easily to her. I LOVE YOU CLARA! Even when you feel confused! Even when you don’t know what you want! Even when you get your first tiny pimple on your absolutely precious little nose. Oh my God it makes me love you more!!!!! Even when what you really want is for me to go away and you push me away through your actions or your words.
Loving someone, even when I can think of reasons I’ve been wronged, but loving anyway… that is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Choosing to love, and focus on love, even when my first impulse is to push back… this is changing my life.
Choosing love over strife is very scary. It seems common sense, who wouldn’t rather have peace then a fight? Should be an easy choice… But in the moment, when my daughter pushes me away, the wind feels literally knocked out of me and I feel desperate to re-connect… to *correct* her… to make her love me again… to demand her to show some respect… in those moments, choosing to remain quiet and let her walk away is so very very scary. It *feels* like a huge, frightening, letting go of control… where I’m not the mother at all any more, but instead the one who is tumbling down a well, head over heels, and trying to stay in the moment.
“Who is this person who has come to you?
Not to be shaped
Not to be bent
Not to be formed
Not to be changed,
But to be loved.
Can you recognize
That everything you mistrust and fear in your child
Is a part of yourself that longs to be loved?”
-(who said this quote… does anyone know?)
In those very moments, I can see that I did the right thing. My daughter knows I still love her, in my quiet, oak tree kind of way. Inside, I might feel like a leaf in the wind, but my *presence* and my trust in her held the grounding of an oak tree for Clara. And can see in her eyes that my daughter still does love herself. And then she smiles at me. And she isn’t lost… Oh my goodness I have never never been so grounded and calm and healed in my entire life.
Loving when society would tell me to send her to her room. How dare she talk back to me, right? Screw that. I don’t care how she talks to me. I care how she feels. I *want* her to be able to tell me how she is feeling, the happy and the ugly and the dark and the light sides, the lovable and the unlovable, as if there really was such a thing…
Loving when a whisper in my ear says she has crossed the line, this is my greatest moment.
Loving when I can see that she feels unlovable takes an unbelievable amount of my courage. But it has never failed. Dammit, I do love her. I love her all the more. Loving my Clara is easy. Loving myself is hard. This is deep and meaningful soul work that I am doing… it feels right.
I have to walk a fine line between what I want to do (run over and scoop my baby up in my arms and kiss her and hug her and smell her) and what she is testing me to do (trust her and leave her alone.) And I find a new balance, when I find new ways to reach out to her that are still within her comfort zone. I find instead of a full fledged hug, sometimes Clara will accept a foot rub. Or spending time together means going out and hunting through a thrift shop and driving through for ice cream instead of her sitting on my lap ever again.
My goal is for her to believe and know, no matter what phases she grows through, that she it totally, utterly, completely, irreversibly LOVABLE. And to surround her with that knowledge.
And while I’m learning how to do this, it feels like the person I’m helping most here is me.