As I watch my daughter dance barefoot around the living room my heart rate quickens and soon all the dreams of her future flashed within my mind. Her last day of High School when I kiss her forehead and shed a tear. If she chooses college that too will be another educational milestone skyrocketing her further into the sky. From there, will she wed? Will she become a mother? The possibilities, for both of my children, are tremendously unlimited.
Layla, my firstborn daughter, has a tender nature. The greatest goal she has in life is to love everyone she can possibly wrangle into a friendship. Eager, inquisitive – she is the person taking initiative, walking up to a stranger bravely and, with a smile, she coerces even the shyest of playmates into friendship.
Thinking about her, watching her move freely atop the cool tile floor, intentionally my mind drifted back into reality so that I could, once more with full intent, watch my sweet blue-eyed Lebanese American princess get her groove on.
Time stubbornly marches forward; babies grow, learn to walk and speak and dance, and soon they fly into the world. I am hesitatingly enamored with the notion that I will get to watch my babies grow into beautiful, intelligent young women… But slowly, time, can we make a deal?
Let her stay young. Fresh-faced, innocent. Layla to dance truly like it does not matter who is watching. Jemma, stark-raving naked running like a kitty-cat in the back yard… Their precious livelihood is a marvel to me, and lately, my heart has been quietly observing and taking in this moment. Right now. When she is five and baby sister is just two-and-a-half.
I can remember my childhood with an accuracy that at times shocks even my dad. Details of interpersonal relationships have always held specific importance to me: The way my mom held my hand while we were driving, or the way my dad would always stick out that one long finger just to jab me in the side because he knew it always made me buckle (he STILL does it to this day, and I STILL always collapse onto the floor merely to get away from that stinking tickle finger!) Everything my parents did, whether they knew I was looking or not, surely made an impact on their children. We all have traits we can say mirror our parents’ exactly, so obviously some sort of psychological mechanism occurs that make us learn from our parental examples.
What occurred to me is that the memories I have from even early on, well, my children are at THAT age – when their memories develop and they start to form an opinion about the ways of the world. Everything I do, say, feel, and teach them (inadvertently or intentionally) matters TREMENDOUSLY.
I thought about that as she was dancing and I wondered, has she watched me dance? Does she see me move carefree and gracefully across the floor on my tippy-toes? Does she see in me the things that teach her what a lady should do, and is my example what she really needs? Mothers want to influence their daughters especially – to have tenderness, faith, compassion, love, grace, patience, virtue, honesty, and to pursue one’s passions… At least, these are the goals I have set for myself – but am I doing it right?
Right before I began recording her dance, she sat beside me and told me that dancing makes her heart feel happy. That her feet can even get tired but her spirit tells her she has to dance. It makes her feel alive, she said, and in her exact words, “I am so into this right now”. I about cried listening to her freely tell me what it felt like – the self-awareness and understanding of her feelings in that moment astounds me – and then she proceeded to show me, with her moves, exactly how those feelings translate into rhythm. It was… breathtaking, really, the whole sequence from emotional insights to the final tip-toed swirl.
You see, the thing is, time moves too fast – she will grow before I know it, and soon her little sister will be one who is five. The thing is, I am not the world’s best mom, and she will watch me make mistakes, but hopefully I will model forgiveness, grace, and unconditional love so perhaps they learn that from me, too. The thing is… This world is going to push my children to grow up.
From the media, to “drama” in the primary classroom between all the five-year-old girls, to the way I run my household. From the signs and billboards she soaks in that dot along the freeway, to the subtle sexually suggestive or otherwise negative advertising she will catch now and then on television. She will be force-fed propaganda and idealisms that strive to make her believe in accordance with mainstream trends in a world where freedoms are no longer free. She will be pressured to look a certain way; perfect hair, perfect teeth… Or else if she doesn’t, society will inform her both subtly and obviously that she is not good enough because her physical form is not an objectified, unrealistic standard.
Today, my big five-year-old daughter danced in the living room. Without a care in the world.
A thousand moments flashed before my eyes, but then I remembered that I, too, can live like a free, purposeful child whose radiance shines from within. Instead of dread the changes ahead, let me as her mother simply do my part to be present for her. To kiss wa-wa’s, explain about why people love each other, talk about God and the stars and why the grass is green, read bedtime stories and write short stories with brave characters named Layla and Jemma. I am the master fort carpenter, the bird-feeder filler as they eagerly await the chance to hand me up handfuls of birdseed. I am the chopper of their fruit plate, the scooper of ice-cream, the reluctant insisting that they eat their broccoli. That is my job. To be HERE. Now. Because soon she won’t be my dancing blue-eyed princess anymore. And her little sister will not be far behind…
I say, let them dance. Encourage the dancing. And when they do, stop, because in that moment, nothing else but her there, twirling with that smile that beckons, “just watch me one more minute, Mama,” will be the most important thing in the world to you.
Every person experiences it when the second arrives. It happens in an instant. Everything anyone ever told you before that moment will just not do it justice to when you feel it – truly experience it – for yourself: When we became parents, we finally, absolutely understood about unconditional love. The blossoming of a soul happens in the blink of an eye, from one final push to the first breathe of a brand new life; we change from merely grown-up children into parents – we see life in an entirely different light. The light of our children.
When it happened for me, nearly five years ago now, I was 24. Many people whispered about the joys of parenthood, and the challenges that would accompany them. From those conversations, I recognized it would surely be love, but quite honestly, nobody is ever prepared… The love overtakes you. It truly does.
Now, I am edging closer to 30 than I would like, and Layla has a sister in the throes of the wonderful, dreaded two’s, and together, they hold my heart in their small effectual mouths – Jemma screams because she wants more candy, and big sissy tattles on her, as if I did not know what drama was unfolding already she feels it her duty to inform the authorities. I am mother; Jury, Judge, and Pardoner. I am the see’er of see’ers, the do’er of do’ers, and the final axe to the grindstone. Reverse the rolls, however, and who are my children to me? My greatest reward, the most tenacious challenge, and the purest example of God I have ever known…
I am, in all ways, entirely, and absolutely in love with my children – I never knew love could be so deep…
Which inevitably speaks to the reality that my daughters, my precious, tiny baby girls – well, they’re growing. Where once I held a wee-one whom relied on my every move to sustain and keep her safe, now replaced by two opinionated, loud, and reliant beings.
I loved them both, wholly and without fear, the moment they were born – one January 19th and the other August 27th – on those days, I celebrated life, and the motherly pursuit of infant bliss wrapped safely in my arms.
Now, they are heaping sacks of burning coals; they keep me warm and motivate me to move, but sometimes, I am so burnt out it does not make sense that tomorrow, I will have to get up and start the same day all over again. Now, they are not babies anymore – I am both reverently nostalgic about this and at the same time overjoyed that we enter into new stages of development constantly.
Layla understands multiple languages. We can speak to her in Arabic, French, Spanish, and English – she translates words when I do not understand what she says, and she is teaching me things I am not familiar with. She can write the entire alphabet, and all her numbers, and she understands complex emotional problem-solving situations, expressing herself articulately and with little frustration when an idea is new or foreign. She speaks eloquently, uses cordial language, and knows about respect and honesty. She loves to dance and sing, play dress up, and dig in the dirt. She loves to look through books and hear stories… And she loves to cuddle her family. She is FOUR.
Jemma is hilarious, a total cheeseball. Her comprehension of language is vast, and she can speak more articulately than most children her age. Her ability to pick up and carry a tune, after hearing a song a handful of times, astounds all those whom hear her do it. She loves people but especially her closest family, and when she spies someone she loves, she always comes running with a big, gap-toothed grin. She can sing songs in French as if she was singing the plain old Itsy Bitsy Spider in English – in fact, today in the drug store, she sang “Frère Jacques” to a complete stranger whom just so happened to BE a French woman – and almost made the woman cry she was so impressed! She is TWO.
I am not certain where the time has gone. I really do not comprehend it myself and I am the one who has lived the past four years as their mother.
We have lived a hell of a lot of life together – these girls and me. I can go back through pictures in my mind and remember when I told two different men that I was pregnant, and I can remember the day both chose to walk away. I remember becoming a single mother once, then twice, and the heartache Layla endured because Jemma’s father was so demanding and hard on her. I can think of the cries my second daughter had when daddy wasn’t there anymore – she was only 6 months old, she could not have understood. The joy and heartbreak I have known with these children in-tow, I believe, is what has made my love for them more fierce and true than anything else I have known.
I choke back tears now when I think of the sheer fabrication of it all – how it created the kind of mother I have become – and why most of the time I allow my children to act as they please because I feel I owe them at least their individual freedoms… But there is no sense in regretting any time spent and gone; I did the best I could, but at least I know that time, loving them throughout the struggles, has made me realize why our bond means so much to me. Still, though, it feels rather crazy – how fast the time has gone – and how true it is that one cannot stop nor slow it down…
One of the common threads that always accompanies the inevitable phrase, “you have no idea how much you will love your child…” is this, “… But just wait – it goes so fast – do not blink!”
I can remember holding both of my children for that first moment of their lives. I recall staring down at this pink-skinned, squinty-eyed newborn baby and falling into a consuming love. It was like nothing I had ever known. I have been fortunate enough to experience this twice.
As I sit and remember that, for both Layla and Jemma, I almost tear up at how much has already changed. But, it is for the best – I have to remember that – because growth, and change, are really the only things we can earnestly count on in this life. They have to grow. If they stopped, that means death. I would never dream or want anything, then, but their continued maturity.
But I am slightly feeling bittersweet at the pace of it all.
One day I found out I was pregnant and then, poof! Five years later, here they are – these little people who like Dinosaur Train and Super Why on PBS. They love yogurt and cheese and ice cubes. They prefer to shack up in my bed than sleep with each other in their own room. They fight but then hold hands. They scream at me for reprimanding them but then chase after me to cuddle. They can enrage me sometimes too easily when my patience meets its end, but then, I feel immediately remorseful and crave closeness to get us back to what feels optimal: Love.
Relationships take work – it does not matter with whom. They ALL do.
But, with children, it just feels so worth it to give them all of me. It feels so natural – almost as if I was born to do it. And no, I do not mean merely in the biological sense because I have a vagina, but in the belief that Layla SaMaya Roberta and Jemma Anne Ileen were meant to be my daughters. That they were placed with me on this earth so we could teach each other about life.
They remind me to slow down, but to be honest, I do not do it enough. I cannot even recall the last time I wrote something purely about parenting or simply about/for my children. Life gets in the way so often. Priorities change – plans change. A year ago I would never have guessed I’d be in this beautiful home with a wonderful man and my daughters all together. I never imagined I would be here…
My girls were once my babies. I was told I would love them, but man, do we ever under sell THAT experience!
To love them is like breathing. Absolutely essential. That is what it feels like; I could not ever imagine life without them in it, and I do not want to try.
As they grow, I will only love them deeper – we encounter challenges together, we laugh, and we cry. They will watch the lines around my eyes deepen and my hair change color, as i too watch them grow to one day soon become women, and someday, I pray I get to tell them how much they will love their own children. I will hold the memories of having my precious tiny newborn daughters in my arms, as I watch them give birth to their own tiny miracles. Then, and only then, on that special day, will they ever know how much they mean to me. How much I love them… Nothing I would or could have said will do it up until then. Unconditional love is not explained, it’s born.
- Babies! (timothymessenger.com)
- How Many Is Too Many? Michelle Duggar Says She’s Trying for Baby Number 20! (thebump.com)
Yesterday while driving down Main Street I tuned my car stereo to the old Amy Grant mixed cd you burned for me in 2004. “If These Walls Could Speak” is the first track – this one in particular always makes me miss you; I do not intentionally listen to it very often for that reason. On this day, however, every word seeped into my soul and I could almost hear you through her melody. I could almost see your face and your dark brown eyes as you lost yourself in the familiar song. It broke my heart.
I cried the rest of the way home.
Living life without a mother is something I have gotten used to, most of the time, but when I actually stop and think of it, the pain has never faded indefinitely. Certain days are more difficult than others, of course, but it just hurts too much to dwell; it is obvious why I do not make a habit out of doing so.
You would love my little girls. Layla actually reminds me a lot of you. She has your magnetism and charm, and though she looks a lot like George, there are instances when all I see is you. The way she arches an eyebrow, or the way she moves her mouth when she speaks… She becomes a piece of the Grandmother she will never meet. She becomes a part of you. Jemma is the sweetest baby I have ever known. She is funny and smart, just like her big sister, but there is also something so magical about my second daughter; she is unique and pure and I love her with incredible, never-ending passion.
They both are the reason I am still standing. Second only to God, my children inspire me, empower me and teach me to be patient. If you had one moment more, and you could see that your oldest daughter has become a mother, and that I raise them well, teach them about the Lord and manners and respect – I like to believe you would be very proud of the mother I am becoming.
During all the years I watched you get sicker, and all the time I invested in trying to help the best way I knew how, the reality of the fact that you are gone still hits me sometimes; never more than when I hold my girls, breathe in their skin and feel a sense that I was meant to be in that moment – a Mommy to the most precious gift any person can receive.
There are times, when I hold Jemma in the middle of the night and sing her back to sleep, or I answer Layla’s endless stream of innocent, curious questions, I think of you… As if a torrential rain pours from a blue sky falling just on my head, I feel as if I am the only motherless daughter in the world, and I wonder how I am supposed to live the rest of my life this way. I still wish for just a moment more with you – as stupid as that is. When I hold my daughters, all I want is for you to experience that, just once.
You left us too soon, Mom… And the irony of it, regarding history in our family, is that I grew up never having the chance to know MY Grandmother, either. Now, my daughters will experience the same exact thing. What’s more is Layla’s birthday; could God have orchestrated such a marvelous and indefinable gift just for me? Lord knows it wasn’t for my daughter because on the day she was born you died. Sometimes, I still do not quite understand the meaning of that.
I have been through so many things since that day. I have loved greatly and suffered great personal loss. Choices have been both glorified and regrettable. Somehow, I am still in Texas, but I absolutely love it here. I was thinking a lot today about the house in the country where we played in the tall grass and built forts and “collected” feral cats. I realized I was meant for the country. I was meant for a place where I could roam and feel safe. Boerne gives me that, and I am grateful each time I walk down our little Main Street. People smile as you pass by. People seem to slow down around here and at least pretend to care about a tall woman walking past, pushing a double stroller with no ring on her finger. Even just something as simple as a glance and a half-grin, I feel as though at least an effort was made. I was seen, if even just for a moment. I do not believe we find that much in America these days, so I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
When it comes to the love I have lost, well, I guess this is an area where I take after you. I am a restless, wandering spirit. You were this way, too, but unlike you I find my strength in something outside myself. I find it in taking accountability for my choices, for learning from my mistakes and striving to become better than I have been. Sometimes I think had you been more like me in those areas, you could have overcome what took your life. Needless as it may seem, I still wish you would have fought harder, because as I live here alone now, as I sleep in an empty bed and miss what I have lost, I still wish sometimes to be able to hear what you would tell me. To hear what you would think.
Maybe that part never goes away?
One area where I have to forgive you is in comparing the fact that my mother died to every woman whom comes into my life to fill that “mother” role. You would have adored Najwa, and she is a gift I KNOW God sent me, because she loves me as if I am her daughter even when it has been years since her son and me were married. But, Natalie, well… Where I have to forgive you, mom, is that you stole from me the ability to rely on a mother figure completely. To trust, completely; although she never gave me a chance, not a real one, and I resent that because I deserved at least that much – but I see now that maybe part of it comes from losing you. In and of itself, because I lost my mother, there is a void in my heart. Natalie could have tried harder, and Najwa tries harder than she should because I do not deserve it all the time, but I am grateful. The point is, when it comes to allowing my heart to open up and trust a woman wearing what should be your shoes, I think the only way I can have a good relationship in the future with that woman, whomever she may be, is to forgive the fact that MY mother died.
I guess, all of this to say I miss you. Yesterday, today, and perhaps even tomorrow.
Even in my own occasional sorrow that you are gone, I do rejoice that at least your pain is gone. At least your journey did not have to endure more heartache, more struggle. You got to be delivered from that, and I am grateful. I am sure I could focus more on that, but because I am emotional by nature and go by feelings and I am not well-versed at talking myself down from emotions with rational thought, I will just conclude this by saying, “I miss you.”
A lifetime feels like a blink of an eye. I pray my children never endure the loss of their mother until I am old, wrinkly and have lived a well-spent life full of lessons learned, trials and victories – all celebrated by giving thanks to God. In honor of you I love my children wholly. In remembrance of you I devote my time to bettering my situation so that in some small way I make you proud. And because I love you, I occasionally sit through the entire Amy Grant song we played the last time I ever saw you… I cry, I breathe in and exhale, and then I go on with my life. For you, I go on. I pray I always will.