My 4-year-old daughter comes to me with sad eyes and says, “Mom, I didn’t win the princess contest. Dora and Abby did. I lost.”
Dora and Abby are her imaginary friends. In her own made-up game devised in her own little brain, she lost to two people who don’t even exist.
This sums up the biggest struggle I have with my daughter: my inability to connect with her.
I emerged from the womb a tomboy. Once I was old enough to choose my own clothes, it was jeans and T-shirts all day, every day. I preferred playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures instead of Barbies. On Sundays, I was home screaming at the Dallas Cowboys game with my parents while my girlfriends went shopping. My mindset was antithetical to the typical female gender role.
My daughter, on the other hand, is very much the stereotypical little girl. Pink is her favorite color, followed closely by purple, and she would wear princess dresses every day if I let her. Her make-believe games are always filled with drama and diamonds. She doesn’t just throw a standard tantrum. Her crocodile tears and cries of disdain could earn her an Academy Award — several of them.
She is everything I am not, which makes it difficult to connect with her. I worry so much that I don’t get her and she doesn’t get me. And believe me, I try. I sit patiently and I listen to her stories and I try — I try really hard — to remain engaged with what the queen was doing and how pretty her hair was and how her dress sparkled in the story she tells me. I smile big and applaud loudly when she twirls in her tiara and matching necklace. I do my best to facilitate arguments between her and Dora and Abby while not rolling my eyes at the absurdity of it all.
And what makes it all worse is that I always have an absolute blast with my 3-year-old son. We play with blocks, we wrestle, we race cars, and we have so much fun. I know without a doubt that he and I understand each other. I tell myself that it’s just the mother-son bond that is forged when I carried him in my uterus.
But that doesn’t ease my guilt and fear. Guilt that I’m not connecting with my daughter. Guilt that I’m not trying hard enough. Guilt that I don’t understand my own flesh and blood. The fear is worse. The fear that this will forever be our relationship. The fear that I’ll never be close with her. The fear that we’ll never have a strong relationship portrayed in every Lifetime movie.
Deep down, I know that she is only 4. I know that she will grow and change. She will go through myriad phases and interests and activities. She will try new things and have her own adventures (with real people), and I hold onto the hope that someday we will understand one another — that we can sit at a coffee shop and laugh and cry and be equally grateful for the woman sitting across the table from us.
But for now, today, I will cuddle with her. I will hold her in my lap, my arms wrapped around her small body. I will kiss the top of her head and sing the song I made up for her when she was just a baby. I will squeeze her tight and remind myself that her genetic makeup is half mine, so there is hope and there is love. And as every parent knows, some days that’s all you can cling to.