Sometimes I remember that even my 7-year-old needs to be rocked like a brand new baby.
She has such a sensitive, comedic, and pleasing soul. Layla is the kind of girl that can make anyone her friend. She is inquisitive, sassy, and beautiful – and she knows it. My first child, she has known me as her mother the longest of my three, and her place in my heart is absolutely untouchable.
Tonight, I realized that her heart wants so badly to please me, and how she is seeing me is changing – as she changes. Our relationship grows and deepens as we both continue simply trying to figure out how to make this all work, me in my life, and she, in hers.
It is so easy for me to get caught up in this world, in the day-to-day mire of housewife, mother, and partner, and I forget to see the naked blessings that are so obvious before my eyes; Layla, of all my children, will be the first to remind me to be here, now, and it’s something I love about her, though at times it drives me mad. Because she forces me, with words or sometimes merely a frustrated glance, to see that I owe them more than the very least I can give.
That getting down on the floor to color matters. That sometimes, who gives a shit about the dirty dishes and instead, let’s have a dance party. She reminds me that we need more milk because Jemma said three hours later that she couldn’t make warm milk, and she runs through the grocery store to retrieve from our list – just because she knows it’ll help me out.
It just pulls my heart apart to realize I don’t give her all of me, and I choose whatever else over these simple, eloquent moments – when before my eyes, they are changing and growing; she is changing, growing, and if I don’t stop, I am missing it.
There are times like today when I watch her get to know me better, intentionally.
We were upstairs during naptime. Jemma was fighting sleep in resolute protest against the very mention of a nap, and Delaney had been down for about twenty minutes. I unlatched the baby, set her in the crib, and walked myself into the playroom where I had instructed my oldest child to straighten up from the playdate yesterday. She had done her work and so I found her relaxing on the couch.
“Mama, how come you’re always cleaning, or you’re mad that the house is a mess?” She inquired after I remarked, emphatically, how great a job she did cleaning.
“Well, baby, I just want to make sure you guys grow up in a clean place, and it is important to me to do my work as a Mama and a wife. That means I need to keep the house clean.”
She, silent, stared into the carpet, obviously in thought.
We quickly ventured into a new topic and I mentioned that I wanted to try and lay down, and sleep while Delaney slept. She said she would like to go downstairs and watch some TV, I agreed that was fine.
Fast forward to this evening.
Jemma finally succumbed to a day of no rest (she is one who absolutely still needs that nap!) and Delaney easily went down for the night.
I walked downstairs, collecting laundry and cups as I went, mentally preparing myself for the tasks ahead. Dishes. Wiping counters. Cleaning toilets (seriously, how freaking often do I do that and they NEVER stay clean! It’s almost as if people are shitting there every day!). Taking out trash. Folding clothes…
I greeted her on the stairs as I walked through the gate. Immediately I could sense her sleepiness and asked if she was ready for bed. 9pm, after all, way past her normal bedtime.
She lazily answered that she wanted to help me clean up. I casually offered that she could help for 15 minutes and then would need to go to bed.
The music on for company, I set Pandora to Crosby, Still, & Nash, tiptoed myself gracefully to the kitchen, and began my work.
She followed behind me, asking what she could do. Trash on the counters. Give the dog some dinner. Easy stuff.
I busied myself for a few minutes all the while keeping an eye on her. Her pace slowing, her eyelids drooping more by the second.
“Baby, ready for bed?” I motioned to the stairs as I asked, turning my head away from the sink to catch her eyes.
She began to cry.
A tired cry, yes, but something deeper there lurked. I dropped the spatula and scrubby and rushed to her, setting myself onto the floor to cradle her in my arms.
It was a posture I don’t take much with her these days. She is my big girl, after all, she doesn’t need me like the younger ones do.
Within my embrace she wept.
I held her tightly, silently, awaiting the inevitable dump from her heart to my ears.
“I just, you do so much for us, and you work so hard on this house, and I feel bad that we don’t help you”.
My heart, broken.
Except, in that instant, hearing those words, I rejoiced. She WAS paying attention! What a great moment for me! To show her what matters to me. What matters as a mother, a wife, a housewife. . . We take care of where we live. We maintain it…
Except. I was showing her THIS mattered to me? The house? The work…?
More than… HER?
I squeezed her into my flesh and began to feel hot tears behind my own eyes.
How could I have missed it?
How did I not see this?
SHE needs me.
She wants me present. Untethered by this world and all I feel I am called to do, and be.
First I was called to be her mother.
As she cried, I just thanked God for these moments. I breathed in the scent of her freshly-washed hair, it smelled like apples. I ran my fingers down her arms to once again feel her skin against mine.
I realized she may be 7, but she needs me to rock her like a baby.
To give to her what I give to my youngest – all of me.
You see, I began to believe that she didn’t need me like that. She didn’t need my breast to give her nourishment like Delaney requires. She didn’t need me to walk with her to the bathroom to turn on the light, like Jemma demands.
I have been watching her grow, and change, and our relationship has moved on to a new place. Where I convinced myself if even in some small way that I could stop giving all of me to her. She doesn’t need it. She can handle less. Requires less.
I saw tonight that this isn’t true.
What a beautiful gift, but it’s a bitter pill unless I actually commit to giving her what she deserves.
She matters more than the house, but I learned tonight, with her pleasing soul, she wanted to give me what she thought I NEEDED.
She has heard me say a thousand times that it matters to have dishes out of the sink. To keep our toys picked up. To clean up after meals.
Could I have missed teaching her, showing her, saying and doing – that what matters to me IS HER! Her sisters. Their happiness, tenderness, and well-being. . .
“Okay, baby, time for bed”. I pick her up from a squat and walk us to the stairwell leading up to her bedroom and our goodnight.
“I just want to make you happy, Mama”, she whispers, her face in my neck.
I kiss her forehead, breathe her in, and lay her atop the makeshift bed on my bedroom floor.
“I am, baby. I love you”.
I hope she knows I do. And I hope I get better at SHOWING HER THAT.
And, sometimes, when she needs it, I will scoop her into my mommy arms and rock her like a baby. Like my first child. My daughter. My Layla.
The one that matters most.
I’ve been watching her lately, really paying close attention.
She’s becoming more aware by the minute, it seems. Her perspective is shifting from an entirely “me” focused universe to grasping a world outside herself.
Tonight, she felt heavier in my arms. The weight and size of her frame has grown bigger in the past two days, and she’s napping longer and eating more to compensate for these changes.
It has happened…
Delaney is no longer a newborn. She is in the midst of her infancy; nevermore an entirely helpless new life but, now, ever-stronger each day, she’s becoming a little person.
I’ve come to realize these moments are precious. She is my third child, and quite possibly my last, so I have purposefully slowed down my pace to ensure I watch more closely; I cannot bear to miss this. . .
As I watch my sweet baby grow, so too are my eyes more aware of the changes taking place in my older daughters. Layla is nearly 7 – a spritely, sensitive, and charismatic young lady, she is hungry for attention, loves to read and solve math problems, and can dance very well to any music I throw her way. Jemma has learned her alphabet and I find her eager to write, and we spell together – I make the sound of the letter and she’s able to interpret this and write it; her thirst for knowledge is really evident these days. She loves to sing, have tickle fights, and paint her nails.
. . .
Watching them develop is a practice in trust. Contemplating their transformation from children to young adults to women, I find myself praying more often because I know, eventually, I’ll have to let them go.
One day, Delaney will walk out of my front door with her hand in her partner’s, and together they’ll set off to create a new life apart from me. Jemma will get a job after college and seek to find out who she is, and I’ll have to simply listen when she stumbles, falls down, and has a hard time getting back up. Layla will become a mother and, as she navigates this new life she’s made, I’ll look deeply into her eyes and wonder – where in the hell did the time go?
Stepping back, recently, I marvel at the way life goes. That I was blessed to have three amazing people call me mother. That me, simple old me, was given the distinct privilege to mother Layla, Jemma, and Delaney.
How did God know we’d be perfect for each other? Of all the amazing souls He could have chosen, it was fate that they are mine and I, well, I’ll belong to them, forever.
Motherhood forces you to examine yourself. To boldly face yourself in the mirror, naked and honest, because the weight of responsibility of this venture is mountainous. How could I ever fail them by being cavalier? Indifference or, worse, refusing to change – I can think of no greater disservice to my children than this.
They look to me to provide them with the framework for their womanhood. To help them grow into kind, patient, caring women someday so that they may give to the poor, be loyal to their principles, and know God and honor one another with love. From me, I bestow upon them a legacy of my actions, my choices, my beliefs, my failures, and my successes; whether you admit it to yourself or not, who you are, as a parent, at least somewhat directly influences who your children become.
My successes – perseverance one of the greatest; I try and show them that overcoming difficulty may not come when you desire it, but if you keep on going and will to change, you can surmount just about any obstacle. My failures are many and my daughters have seen me weep. I’ve shown them that it is okay to break down, to honor your emotions, and to work through hard feelings; if, from my mistakes they learn anything, let it be this: Forgiveness is impossible to experience unless one accepts it heartedly, but when you stumble, it’s the only thing that lets a broken man walk again.
How my beliefs influence them, well, that is something I just hope to show through my heart. Grace. Giving it and receiving it, with gratitude. My choices have made Layla and Jemma live in a different home apart from me for some of the time each month – I’d be a fool to assume this won’t affect them in some way growing up; but I validate their feelings, help them to know and love their father, and pray that we can make the best of it always. Finally, my actions – this is the part I’ve been observing lately as I watch them grow. . .
Actions reveal your spirit. A peaceful, content spirit does not get easily angered, is eager to contribute, and seeks to create harmony in the lives of others and within. This is what I’ve been trying to achieve, but Lord knows I have not yet mastered it. If my children learn anything from my actions, may it be that I was supportive and encouraging even when they stumble. That I am calm and level-headed when they disobey the rules and harm themselves or others. Please that I love them without judgment regardless of their choices, and accept with an open mouth and listening ears that we are different people, and at different points in our lives, we will diverge – this is okay.
Examining myself, I see so many flaws. I am lazy, moody, lack direction, and nit-pick at the little things. But, I am also fiercely intent on growing past these negative attributes, and I am especially aware of my intentions to change when I stop and really pay attention to my children.
I want them to become soft, loving women. Warm, welcoming wives. Nurturing, attentive mothers.
How special that I was given girls. My entire life, I desired sons. To raise young men, future husbands. I’ve mourned the loss of this dream but, at the same time, can absolutely thank God, wholeheartedly, that I was given girls.
Because, my greatest life’s work is not 350 pages of a best-selling novel. It won’t be how many babies I’ve delivered. The list could go on of the worldly contributions I may set out to make. . .
But these things won’t matter. Not really. Not as much as the time I stopped to watch Layla dance barefoot across the living room floor, her toes pointed and her face wistfully smiling. It won’t matter as much as hearing Jemma laugh when she makes up a silly song and sings it all the time. Not like holding my new baby girl, falling asleep getting heavier in my arms by the second as I rock her into peaceful dreams. . .
I may have taken a different road than most. To get here, now, I am actually grateful for the journey. Because I’ve learned to stop.
To appreciate this, entirely. To forgive myself the mistakes I’ve made, and still make, and just fiercely love my children. Fiercely devote my life to them, and help them grow safe and loved in their own skin.
It is, and will be, my life’s greatest work.