Diving under the water I feel the cold hit me and take my breath. I swim two strokes away and then quickly turn back. When I surface, she is smiling and jumping with excitement.
“See,” she says in a voice filled with joy. “It feels so great mom. It’s amazing, right? I just love this.”
She throws her head back and raises both arms in the air and shouts, “I LOVE THIS!!!”
“It’s wonderful,” I say and she collapses into me in a giant whole body hug that ends up under the water.
We play follow the leader along the Tahoe shoreline, she swimming just a few paces in front of me. I marvel at the girl she is becoming.
Occasionally she stops to point out a fish, a rock, or part of a log that looks like an eye. The smile never leaves her face. Or mine.
“I love you,” she says as we stop to catch our breath. I can see the truth of those words radiating off her. She is positively glowing and it melts me.
It feels like I’ve been waiting forever to see her embrace the adventurous side of her personality. I’ve wanted to see her let go of her fears and just allow life to come her way for so long.
I’m positively giddy at seeing her growth.
How I love you.
For many years now, I’ve been certain that I’m screwing up as a mother, particularly her mother. There are so many things I want for her and no skills to help her achieve them.
I see her being scared of spiders, heights, talking to strangers and lots of other little things and I feel like I’ve let her down.
I have felt my dream of raising a fearless, self-confident girl slipping away from me, and it sends me into spirals of doubt and fear.
Do I set a good example? Do I push too hard? Am I not pushing enough? Does she feel like I don’t accept her? Am I trying to make her something she isn’t? Does she feel loved enough?
It’s all so much and I don’t want to screw this up.
She deserves my very best self, and I don’t always give it to her.
I don’t always know what to do.
I’m lying in her bed and we are saying our goodnights. I lean in for my kisses and she grabs my face with both hands and looks at me. I see her eyes fill with tears, her face redden and she asks me a question that I’ve never wanted to hear from her sweet little lips.
“Mommy, do you think I’m weird?”
Without waiting a second for an answer, her body erupts into such intense sobs that all I can do is hold her.
My baby thinks she is weird.
My amazing, wonderful, funny, creative, kind, spiritual, beautiful girl thinks she is weird.
My heart breaks.
I want to tell her that she is being ridiculous. How could you think such a thing? Who told you that, because I want to punch them in their stupid, ugly face? Don’t you know how special and incredible you are?
But that is not what she needs. She knows how I feel about her and this isn’t about me. She wants to be heard.
So I take a breath and listen.
She tells me she worries because she doesn’t like to dress like a girl all the time or do her hair fancy. She doesn’t like the same things as other girls. Dragons are her favorite animals and she would rather do karate and hold a snake than dance and dream of unicorns.
“Nobody is ever going to be my best friend,” she sobs. “I’m so weird.”
Her body rocks as another round of hard sobs course through her. I let them come.
“Do you think I’m weird?” she finally says.
Her eyes are so intense and sad. I don’t know what to do.
“I love everything about you,” I say. “Do you like you?”
She blinks up at me and she stops crying.
“I think so,” she says.
“What do you like about you?” I ask.
She stares at me and I can see her face change.
“I’m funny and I am special because I don’t just do what everyone else does.”
“I’m kind and I give good back massages.”
Smiling she went on.
“I’m really good at round-house kicks, my sensei told me so.”
“I bet I will find someone who likes all that stuff, huh?”
“Maybe, but they don’t have to like all the same stuff. They just have to like you.”
Her face becomes intense again and she says, “Do you really like me mom? Like, for real?”
“More than you can possibly understand,” I tell her. “You’re my girl and I can’t imagine you any different.”
We end in kisses, cuddles and hugs. Her brother, who overheard it all, comes in to tell her how much he loves her. Summer sister gets in on the action too and soon the night ends in a ridiculous love fest.
Learning to love this girl and letting her find her own answers is the hardest thing about being her mother.
My heart wants to fight away all things that come in her path and protect her from all sadness.
She needs to find her own strength and it comes from letting her feel pain.
I can’t fix things. All I can do is Listen and Love.
That’s my job.
Listen. Love. Repeat.
Thanks for the lesson, my dear girl.