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A Foreign and Familiar Terrain

Grace had two friends over after school today. They were rowdy, and I may have possibly raised my voice just a wee bit. They were just being excitable seven-year-olds. But our house is small and they were rambunctious and I was annoyed. Anyway, I let Grace have it. She knew I was not pleased with her behavior.

We then went to school for the end-of-year picnic dinner. Just as the pizza arrived a massive thunder and lightning storm began. It was absolutely pouring. Grace found a different friend and they ran around in the rain. When her friend slipped and skinned her knee badly, Grace came streaking through the rain to find her friend’s mother and me. When the three of them—Grace, her friend, and my friend (the friend’s mother) reappeared in the school building, Grace had a plan. She took her friend’s mother to find a Band-Aid (which she knew the location of), leaving her friend with me. Later, my friend told me—in front of Grace—how well she felt Grace had handled the situation and I could see my daughter swell up with pride.

As I was tucking Grace in tonight, she was uncharacteristically quiet. “What’s up, Gracie?” I asked her as I rubbed her back. She looked at me, fixing me with her gaze. “Well, Mummy, you know I’m always trying to be good, right?” I looked back at her, feeling vertigo as I stared into her eyes, my own eyes (one of the very few physical characteristics, along with her cleft chin, that she inherited from me). I had a flashing moment of intense identification—that experience where my own child self and my daughter simultaneously collapse into one and burst into a million kaleidoscopic fragments.

My heart broke a little. I leaned down and kissed her forehead, stroking her hair back as I did so. “You don’t always have to be good, Gracie. I love you no matter what.” I whispered that I was incredibly proud of how she had handled the situation with her friend, that she was a good friend, and that that mattered most of all. And then I said again, helplessly repeating myself, “I love you no matter what. You are good just by being you.” How to do this right? How to make her know that she doesn’t have to please me—and everybody else around her—to be loved and worthy?

Oh, I am heavy tonight, thinking about this terrain, so familiar to me and yet so foreign at the same time. How different the perspective is when I’m watching someone else embark on it, rather than doing so myself. I want so desperately to walk these hills with her in a way that helps her know how deeply loved she is, and how fundamentally valuable, worthy, and lovable she is, just by being herself. I’m afraid I’m already doing it wrong. The sky has cleared tonight but there’s thunder and lightning in my heart. How do I help someone who is so much like me grow into herself without falling into all of the same painful ruts?


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