Walks and Talks With My Daughter, Through Childhood and Beyond
by Chrystal Rambarath
It was her half birthday, a coincidence that will forever make this day memorable. It was the day I registered my elder child for kindergarten. She starts in less than four months. To say that I have mixed feelings about this milestone is an understatement. I am excited about her entrance into formal education and all that she will learn and experience, and the friends and memories that she will make. At the same time, I fear that I will lose a bit of her, even as I know this is inevitable.
My daughter is my rainbow baby. After the devastating second trimester loss of her brother almost exactly one year prior to her birth, she was born red faced and feisty, destined to be a ray of sunshine in our previously dimmed world. So wanted was she, that I knew she was on her way when I was only three weeks pregnant. Every two weeks throughout my eventful pregnancy, we were lucky to hear her beautiful heartbeat during doctor’s appointments. My pregnancy with her was long awaited, and her birth was celebrated by everyone we knew. From the moment I felt her leave my body, I knew that she had changed my life forever, and that she had already taught me how to fiercely love and protect another person with all my being.
The early days with her were not without challenges, but nothing prevented me from giving myself wholly to my daughter. There were days in her infancy during which I never put her down. I sang and read to her, and simply delighted in her company. Despite all recommendations, I chose to co-sleep with her, and it was not until the birth of her brother 20 months later that I ever spent a night apart from her, and even then, it was for only two nights. My love for this child knows no bounds.
But as is said, all good things come to an end. By nature, my daughter is strong, independent, and vocal. She likes to be busy and is very sharp. Her terrible twos started early, and her intense threes were infinitely so. At five, she is articulate and often behaves like a rebellious teenager. I am surprised and pained when my daughter and I are at odds with each other. I am especially sad to hear her say and act as though she prefers her grandmother, father, or aunt to me. I will never get over hearing her say “I wish I could live with grandma.”
She attends pre-school, which has been very good for her. It gives her an outlet for her energy and creative talents in ways I cannot. She also has a number of friends and seems well liked. But an unanticipated consequence of this has been my diminished role in her life. Though she is my elder child and my baby, she is exposed not just to her peers, but often the older siblings of her friends. I am sometimes surprised that she knows the things she does which seem beyond her childhood experiences. I am even more stunned by the mean girl attitude she sometimes adopts and practices on me. I was extremely sad when my attempts to engage her in conversation one day after school were rebuffed with the words, “Stop talking – my head hurts”. I am floored when she openly calls my bluff and challenges me. I wonder, what happened to my baby? And, I think, this is happening too early.
As our family prepares, mentally and emotionally, to send our first child off to the world of formal education, fears that not too long ago seemed irrelevant to us, now appear alarmingly close. In my time, teen pregnancies, smoking, and drug abuse seemed to be the threats to our childhood years – certainly our elementary aged child could not be touched by these issues yet. But these days, with not so infrequent school shootings, drugs disguised as candy, human trafficking, and vaping, the threats seem nearer and more potent. How can I protect my child is a thought that I am sure runs through the minds of all parents.
In the grand schemes of things, I suppose worrying about my five-year-old flexing her muscles by challenging me seems rather insignificant. I know that part of her growth is to become independent of me. I just wish it would not start so soon, or be such a quick process. In some particularly heated moments, I turned to my annoyingly too calm husband and demanded that he support me. To my greater irritation, rather than immediately banishing our daughter to her room or scolding her, he asked me what I wanted in my relationship with my daughter.
Though I hate to admit it, and while I truly think our daughter needed a consequence then and there, I know that my husband is right. I want my daughter to be able to come to and confide in me, knowing that she can always find comfort, calmness, and trust. To do that, I cannot be quick to reprimand her. I know I need to evaluate the circumstances from my daughter’s perspective. I need to reaffirm the strong relationship I have with my child so that we can continue our conversations as she grows.
I have recently begun to think about the days of her infancy and the early days of my son’s arrival into our lives. I remember how much time I spent with my daughter, and how as soon as my husband could assume the care of our baby boy, she and I would escape for a walk or trip to the park. I also think about the present, that even after a difficult day of butting heads, at bedtime, it is me who my daughter wants to read to her and put her to bed. It is always me that she wants in the middle of the night to comfort her.
As we count down the days to the start of kindergarten, I acknowledge that there are a lot of uncertainties I cannot control. However, what I can do is shape the person I want my daughter to be. I want to cultivate and nurture her strength, passion, creativity, and zeal for life. I want to foster in her the ability to care about others and our world, to lead, to protect, and defend, and to show integrity and humility. I cannot do this without talking to her, even when she does not want to; listening to her, even when there is not always time; and loving her, even when she is behaving unlovable.
Though it is more difficult to have two bedtime routines, I started put my younger child to bed first, and allow a little time to read with and talk to my daughter. When time permits, I get her out of school early and take her on a mommy-daughter date. And, as trying as it is to work with a know-it-all preschooler, I try to cook or bake or instruct her in some activity.
There is never enough time, but I am trying to carve out times for just the two of us. It may never be enough, but as with everything in parenting, I can only do my best, and hope for the best. I will continue to shower my ray of sunshine with as much love as I have, and remind her every day that she is loved and cherished for all that she is. Instead of thinking that I am losing her to the world, I will believe that she is my gift to the world. I commit to walks, and talks, with my daughter, through her childhood and beyond.
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