“You are the most beautiful thing, I’ve ever seen. You shine just like sunlight rays on a winter snow.
I just had to tell you so.
Your eyes sparkle as the sun, like the moon they glow. Your smile could light the world on fire, or did you know?
Your mind’s full of everything that I wanna know,
I just had to let you know.
You’re my butterfly… Fly High… Fly Fly Fly…”
-Lenny Kravits, Butterfly
I get nostalgic and weepy on my kids’ birthdays. I remember every stage of labor… This time, 11 years ago, my water broke. I watch the clock and think about that day. I drive my kids nuts with my reminiscing. Because I don’t say these things in my head. I say them out loud. To my kids. All day. Every year. They don’t love it.
But this is what moms do, right? We relive moments and cling to our babies at the very moment that we should be letting them go. Because my baby is actually not a baby. She’s 11 years old as of yesterday.
And she’s almost taller than I am.
So I guess I can’t call her a baby anymore. (Though I will. I always will. But that one I’ll do silently in my head.) The little girl who’s turning into a young woman in front of my very eyes. In spite of my holding on for dear life, she’s growing up.
She was born an old soul. We could just tell. They laid her on the scale and she stared silently into my husband’s eyes. He still gets emotional if he talks about that moment. The nurse swaddled her up and brought her to me. I wiped my eyes of the tears that were a combination of joy and pain. I held her and started to meet her. Examining her tiny hands, her sweet lips, her intense eyes. They gazed at me in studied concentration. Searching my eyes. Holding my gaze. She was meeting me. She was checking me out.
She rarely cried. She was a content baby, easy to please. She would wake up in the morning and just hang out in her crib until I would hear her cooing and gurgling over the baby monitor. Her older brother would clamor into her room with me and greet her with his marble-mouthed “Hello sunshine.”
I loved her with everything I had. But I didn’t feel like I knew her. She was a mystery to me. I would stare at her, watching her, trying to figure out what was going on inside her head. I had a sense that there was more going on than was obvious to the rest of us. I spent those first few months nursing her, playing with her, singing her songs. Trying desperately to understand her.
This may sound a little crazy. But I need to know my kids. I need to understand them. I knew how my son’s brain worked. I just knew him from the moment he was born. I was struggling with the fact that it didn’t come as easy with my daughter.
At three months old she got sick. It started as a cold and developed into something worse. I couldn’t sleep because I was worried. Something didn’t seem right. She was still smiling, still happy, but her breathing seem labored. One afternoon I watched as her breathing became raspier. “She’s wheezing!” I yelled to my husband. I packed her in the car and headed to the pediatrician’s office. My heart was starting to race and I was on the verge of panicking. I drove, watching her in the rearview mirror. She looked blue to me. Her breathing was getting worse. Much worse. I made a sharp u-turn and pulled into an Urgent Care.
I ran into the building clutching her baby carrier “I need help, I don’t think my baby’s breathing.” The receptionist stood up to peer over her counter and took one look at my daughter and called the nurses to come to get her. As the nurses whisked her into the examining room, I followed in a state of disbelief. I was worried, that’s why I’d brought her here after all. But seeing the concerned look on the nurse’s faces was freaking me out even more. As the doctor whipped past me to assess her, I pulled on his sleeve. “Is she going to be ok? Is my baby going to be ok?”
Her oxygen levels were low but not dangerously so. They wanted to send us to the hospital for chest X-rays and a flu test. They wanted her to stay overnight and be monitored. They offered to have an ambulance transport us but I told them I would drive. They admitted that the ambulance was more for me. They were worried that I was too upset to drive.
X-Rays, tubes down her nose to extract fluid, blood was taken. My calm, serene baby was now screaming and flailing, fighting to break free. I held her arms by her head and whispered words of comfort to her.
Soon we were in our hospital room, waiting on a diagnosis. All of the scary tests came back negative. The diagnosis was R.S.V. A respiratory infection. She would be ok. They told me she’d need breathing treatments with a nebulizer. OK. That we could do. They told me that each time she got a cold we would likely have to do the treatments. OK. They said it was not serious and she would outgrow it. Thank god. Relief flooded me.
The doctor and nurse left us to rest. I finally let myself relax a little. I started to come down off of high alert. I was breathing again after holding my breath for hours. I felt the fear start to drain out of me, exhaustion taking up residence where adrenaline had been.
As I was unpacking the diaper bag I heard a noise. I looked up and my daughter was staring at me. Looking me steadily in the eyes, she was struggling to form words. I could hear her little voice, for the first time. Beyond the coos and the gurgles. I could hear her experiment with sounds as she rolled her tongue around and moved her lips. She was trying to talk. She had a look of amusement in her eyes. My three-month-old baby stared at me and babbled for 10 minutes.
I started to laugh. I walked over to her and caressed her head with both hands as she continued to stare at me and babble. I was laughing and crying with relief. I was weak with gratitude. I responded to her through salty tears. Urging her voice and kissing her forehead. I felt like we had been through a battle together. Just the two of us. We had just experienced some scary moments. And we came through it together.
I cried and laughed. I felt different. All of the questions, all of the searching for the last three months, trying to figure out my daughter. None of that mattered. I knew that she was a part of me. She had a hold on my heart and that was unbreakable. I didn’t need to understand everything about her in that moment. I just needed to know that she was ok. I needed her to know that I would stop searching and would just be. I would let her be and grow into whomever she was supposed to be. I was ok not knowing how that was going to play out. All that mattered was that she was ok and that we would go through the journey together.
My daughter just turned 11 yesterday. I’m still trying to figure her out. She’s still a little bit of a mystery to me. I have to be patient with that. She’s brilliant and beautiful and funny and creative. She’s so much more than I ever imagined her to be. She’s who I want to be when I grow up. She’s her own person and she doesn’t need me to “get it.” She just needs me to love her. To support her. To be there to guide her when she needs it. And to back off when she doesn’t need it. And to be patient. To be patient with the fact that I’m still figuring her out. She knows that. She watches me. And every once in a while I get that intense soul-gazing stare. When I “get her,” when I understand something about her, she gives me that look. It’s her way of saying thank you. It’s her, knowing that I understand one more piece of her that I didn’t get before.
I’m ok with not knowing everything about how her mind works. I don’t think I’m supposed to. I’m just walking through life with her – now just one step behind – letting her make her own way. But I’m watching. Closely. I’m still studying and still trying to figure her out. Only now with more patience. With a little more understanding than yesterday. Some things you have to wait for. Some things, often the best things, you have to wait for. I’ll be waiting and watching and guiding. And I’ll never stop.
Happy birthday to my artist, to my old soul, my pajama pant wearing, book devouring daughter. My “I’m not a princess, I’m an artist”, “I don’t have time to brush my hair”, my laugh at anything with the word “balls”, dry humored, crazy girl. My beautiful spirit, my sweet girl, my baby. I love you.