We ran to the Halloween store to pick up a lace fan you needed for a Spirit Week outfit last week. The fan has since been ever-so-delicately Scotch-taped together because I made the mistake of giving it you in the car, but I digress. It was approaching lunch time, so we went to Chick-fil-A for their nuggets and air conditioned play area.
After polishing off your meal, you skipped off to play while I stayed at our table with Asher, watching you through the glass wall. You scaled the apparatus quickly, waving to me from the very top, a proud smile beaming on your face.
After a few minutes I went into the play area for the last leg of play time. I didn’t spot you for a bit, and then one of the other kids said, “She’s crying.” And after some probing (5-year-olds aren’t the most expansive conversationalists), I realized he was talking about you, “the girl in the green shirt.” And then I heard you crying at the top of the jungle gym.
I tried to speak to you, but all the voices in the tiny space bounced off of all the surfaces, jumbled together, making it nearly impossible to hear you. But I knew the cry. You were scared. You wanted me to appear at your side, let you curl onto my body and scramble safely back down together.
For lots of reasons—the narrow opening between the platform steps, Asher being left alone, my inflexibility and poor lung capacity—I wasn’t prepared to climb up to you.
Another mom sweetly tried to coax her older son to help you down, but in the middle of that debate, someone said, “She’s coming down. That girl is helping her.” Sure enough, I caught a flash of your green shirt, and then your tummy as Caroline, your new friend and my new hero, tugged on your top to keep you moving ahead. You were doing it. Caroline was making sure.
After much effort, there you were at the last descent, only dangling legs and two sets of dirty little girl feet with chipping toenail polish. You didn’t want to drop that last inch. You couldn’t see the step, and you couldn’t feel it, no matter how hard you stretched your tiny toes toward the floor. I told you it was RIGHT THERE. I promise, if you let go, you’ll land on your feet. And you did it. You squirmed, millimeter by millimeter, until those soles touched the ground.
Of course, as I stood fighting back tears at my embarrassment of not being your rescuer, of all the things I was certain everyone must think about me, of what you must think about me, you didn’t waste a second worrying. You were off, tagging along right behind Caroline, on to the next adventure.
So that’s what a lot of the past year has been like for us. To me, it has felt like either I was fighting my own battles and mentally distracted, or I was pregnant and physically exhausted and disconnected from you. I have felt both drawn to you as your rapid changes and maturing reminds me what a blip we have together, and also stuck in my own head, unable to fully match your unquenchable energy.
But oh, what heroes we have in our corner. Our village has been friends who have raised kind, thoughtful little boys who are some of your most favorite people; grandparents who will move heaven, earth, schedules and overflowing chocolate milk to spend time with you; an uncle who adores you and a daddy who embodies selfless, unconditional love.
It’s been a roller coaster. Not necessarily a fun one, or a thrilling adventure. Just plain scary and overwhelming and unstable. A big part of me looks back at the past year and worries about the time I wasted, wondering if you will remember that person, that version of me. I hope that you don’t. All of my effort and energy spent getting back to a healthier, more whole me is motivated by being a mom and a woman that you can be proud of, a person that you’d want to emulate, a presence that you’ll always want in your life.
Reflecting back now, I realize how much change was thrown at you in such a short period of time. Pre-school, potty training, a sibling. We all certainly know I haven’t managed my chaos with any semblance of sanity, so your quirks must be expected.
But you were a pretty interesting version of you for the past 18 months, too. Probably not one that we’d ever choose, if able. You hit toddlerhood hard around 20 months and never looked back. I kept waiting for the taper, and it never came. Tantrums—intense, lengthy and frequent—colored our days, every day for awhile. I believe we’re out of those woods. For the most part, since Asher arrived, you haven’t maintained that level of impossibility. There are certain moments, and certain days, but the pervasive displeasure has waned, thank God.
Sure, there were lots of things your Daddy and I could have done better or differently to ease some of the issues, but I really think that your third year was the perfect storm of personality, developmental changes, growing independence and frustration with my decreased participation when I was pregnant. And you know what? We still made it. A bit worse for wear, but here we are. Still moving, still laughing, still snuggling.
Your tastes change with the days, so it’s nearly impossible to name a favorite food outside of cake, the only food group with any staying power. I’m always worried you’re not drinking enough water.
We thought we nailed the potty training in a few weeks’ time. We were wrong. Like all the other developments in your life, you called the shots and regressed for a few months before deciding that you were good and ready to commit to a life without pull-ups. And once that’s what you wanted, it was smooth sailing, to the point where you now try to lock me out of the stall in public bathrooms because, back off mom, I can handle this.
The term threenager exists for good reason. You are three going on 23. You’ll pick up on sarcastic phrases and voice inflection and use them right back at us in the appropriate context. Some examples: “Have you lost your mind?”
“I didn’t see that coming.”
It’s a little tricky to discipline you for adopting our way of speaking, but don’t worry—we still do. I am a little glad that you get it, though. We are going to banter like it’s our job when you are a real teenager.
I am at a complete loss as to how to manage your unruly hair. Your Daddy and I can’t bear to cut off the curls, so we let it fly and tangle and frizz for now. You’re quite opposed to any styling or combing, so usually it’s a hair clip or a loose ponytail and you’re off. You don’t want anything that may make you “like a boy.”
You love princesses, pink and parties; your BeeMa, PawPaw and Kunkle; girls’ night with a movie and popcorn; any night with a move and popcorn, actually; running, roaring (at friends and strangers) and racing your Daddy; Max and Everett to the moon.
When you wake up in the morning, you put on an entire outfit, complete with shoes, before coming out of your room. It’s always a dress, and always the most sparkly shoes. So now I lay out your clothes the night before, and by the time I’m awake, you’re already dressed for the day. That’s one small way I’m learning to work with your personality rather than fighting it. Because let’s be real: you’re already so much stronger and braver than I am, Addison Brooke.
When I worry about my failings, the full depth and magnitude of all the “what if I’d done this” labyrinth, your very presence assures me that I have not failed in the ways that matter. I have not given up. I have not given in. I have not un-loved you for one second. My heels are dug deep in the soil of this season, holding steadfast to the most basic, most calming truth that we are in this together, in this forever.
Like most things right now, I wish I had more time. Time to keep telling you how spectacular I think you are. A beautiful, infuriating, hazel-eyed whirlwind of raspy giggles, sweaty curls and bruised knees. Running around the playground in shoes that are supposed to be for church. Walking into the mall with a “Sophia the First” purse on your shoulder. Furrowing your eyebrows at me from the the back seat. Wanting everyone at the park to play with you and not understanding when they won’t chase you. Calling me a princess when I put on a dress. Holding your palms up to mine to examine all the ways our outlines are so similar and how much space you have left to grow into this world of womanhood.
You are fire and strength and power. You are sensitive and silly. You are strong-willed and independent, girly and mischievous. You are a little girl that I am so extremely proud of. You make our lives louder and crazier. You make our family bonded in the battles of raising a tiny dictator. You make our minds alive with thoughts of the greatness you will achieve when you harness all that brilliance. You make our love well-worn and sturdier. And you make my heart so very full.
From My Whole Heart,