My daughter turns six years old today. She’s lost one tooth. She can read novels and children’s encyclopedias. She plays the flute. She recites poetry. She does second-grade math.
She and I are very similar in temperament. We both like ample alone time. We both like to spend time with our friends but need to balance it with quiet time at home (and if given the option, home is where we prefer to spend most of our time). These similarities help us with scheduling since it’s not often that one of us needs more time out and about at the same time the other needs quiet time.
But we also both have hot tempers, and we have little patience with ourselves when we can’t understand something or master a task quickly. Neither of us likes to admit she’s wrong. These similarities bring on clashes, but they also help us both to confront the negatives of these qualities and learn to face them. Having a mirror for these qualities allows us both to be more aware of them.
And from the moment of her birth, and maybe even before that, she’s been teaching me more about who I am and challenging me to be my Best Self. Her arrival began with a battle between me and a doctor who insisted that healthy me and my healthy baby were simply taking too long and needed a surgical birth. My daughter and I worked together to shift her position and move things along more quickly. Together, she and I were able to win the argument, although this didn’t guarantee smooth sailing during those early weeks.
She didn’t act like I expected a baby to act. She wouldn’t sleep, we had trouble nursing, she cried a lot. I cried a lot. It was a time of great darkness for me during which I doubted whether I was truly the right person to be raising this little girl. I still visit that place on occasion. After so many visits, though, it’s become easier for me to see the way back out, or at least to know that there is a way out, if I look hard enough.
She pushes me beyond my limits, makes me stretch and strain to keep up with her. I am a stronger person for these exercises, even as I dread the constant challenge some days.
I love watching her grow and change. Looking at her now, I see how her limbs have lengthened, how her muscles are becoming more defined, how her face is thinning out. She moves with confidence and enthusiasm. She still comes back to me for reassurance, but she does this less and less frequently as time passes.
Watching her grow, I realize again and again that my job is to launch her away from me. I bore her in my body and every year after that closeness brings greater distance. It’s bittersweet. And I feel privileged that I get to be a part of it.