Dear Strong-Willed Child,
This morning was tough. I put too much toothpaste on your toothbrush, I gave you a blue plate instead of a pink one. Your cereal was, in your words, “disgusting.” Your socks had bumps in them, and I wouldn’t let you take your Pokémon cards to school. As usual, we were running late and you’d kicked off your boots and were screaming, red-faced, with clenched fists, and blood of fury.
I get it, little man. You are stifled by so many rules. You are frustrated that you can’t do everything by yourself. (I promise one day you will be able to tie your own shoes and pour your own milk.) I get that you are annoyed when I say no, or when I don’t do things perfectly. Your mind is rigid, intelligent, emotionally unregulated, and brilliant.
I get all this. I’m trying to figure it out as we go and I try really hard to remember you are trying to figure this out as you go too. I worry that you might think you’re a bad kid. I’ve told you about a zillion positive affirmations to try to negate the zillion times I’ve said no, or cried out at you in exasperation. Is it enough? Do you know how wonderful you are?
Dear strong-willed child, do you know that I thought parenthood would be easy? I wasn’t expecting you, how could I have anticipated you?
Do you know some days I let you win, even though I shouldn’t? But I’m just so tired, and I have no fight left.
Do you know some days I let you eat candy at breakfast, or wear your pajamas to school, or give in and let you watch that third cartoon?
Do you know I’m so tired of the disapproving stares from strangers and even relatives? If I hear one more person tell me you just need a good spanking, or that I need to discipline you more.
Like, really Uncle Joe, you don’t think I’ve thought of that before?
But they don’t see you, not really. But I see you.
And I’d carry you kicking and screaming out of the grocery store a million more times because it means that you are a force to be reckoned with, you have a powerful mind of your own, and your energy won’t be subdued or influenced by others.
You often get called hard or difficult and I need to catch myself to keep from saying it too. Because you can be hard or difficult, but a better way of saying it is you are headstrong and determined. And it’s hard to smush those traits into a small child who is wise beyond their years and stuck in a little person’s body, restrained from their big ideas and thoughts.
There are days where I wonder how we will make it through. We’ve fought so hard, so often.
Sometimes you scream you hate me (and an arrow shoots straight through my heart), many days my eyes well over with tears, and on way too many occasions you’ve balled your fists and pummeled them into me. I’m tired, and you’ve had your umpteenth meltdown of the week.
On days like these, I wonder if I’m doing a good job. Would you behave this way if you had a different mother? I’ve taken 20 breathing breaks and still find my body on high alert. I want so badly to be your mother, to be the best mother, but still, I can’t help but wonder, am I enough for you?
On days like these, I need to remind myself that these feelings and these moments will pass.
We won’t be defined by this battle. This battle is necessary in order to get you to where you need to be. We will be defined by the quiet moments, after the fury, those moments where I hug you and tell you I love you, or those moments when I see you are still only five, like today, when you asked to play family and you were the daddy and I was the child, and I smile because you are just a curious empty bucket ready to be filled up (not the teenager I swear I’m battling some days).
And suddenly then, I know, with gut-wrenching clarity, that one day I’ll miss this. I’ll miss the challenges, the battles, and your spirited opposition. One day soon you’ll be busy, busy changing the world, maybe CEO of a company, inventing something brilliant, or maybe you’ll even be the President. You’ll be busy being the awesome person you are, and I’ll miss this. So in these challenging moments, I find the energy to smile, I look down at you in all your frustrated glory and calmly help you solve the problem at hand.
I see you. And you are perfect. You are challenging, you are gritty, you are determined, you bring me to the brink, but you are absolutely amazing.
My heart swoons when you get excited because your eyes light up, brighter than a morning star. And I love it when you are explaining something you’re passionate about, your voice is full of conviction and confidence, or when you get a compliment —and you blush, and even though others might not see it right away, you are incredibly humble, you are sensitive, you are thoughtful and you are everything I could have ever hoped for in a child.
Dear strong-willed child, I know I can cope with the worst days we’ve had because I remind myself over and over that you will do great things. And in my heart, I’d do it ten thousand more times because I get to be with you. And you, let me remind you, are brilliant, funny, full of life, sassy, and your voice won’t be muffled.
One day you’ll channel this energy and you will stand up for what you believe in, you’ll find what makes you tick, what makes your heart sing, and you won’t stop until you’ve hit the perfect melody and are flying high.
But lord, there are still those days I’m crying into my coffee or clutching the phone tightly when I get that call from the teacher, and I’m praying I’ll make it through to witness your transformation into a butterfly.
When I peek in on you at night, when you are sleeping peacefully, I wonder how so much fury can be contained inside this little five-year-old body. I smile and wipe the stray strand of hair from your face, and I know you are perfect. I lean down and give you a kiss, and at that moment, I know that I love you with every thread of my being. And I’m one lucky mama.
I prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and enjoy every single minute of the thrill ride.