March 14, 2008

Loving and Letting Go

Tomorrow is my daughter’s thirteenth birthday. I wrote the following story on the eve of her fifth birthday and thought it would be fun to reminisce.

It’s amazing as we officially enter the teenage years, the lessons I learned then, will become even more important in the years to come. And now that I’m a Christian, I'm thankful that I can also share the most important lesson with my daughter—the grace and love that comes from knowing Jesus. He is the Rock we all need as parents.

Happy Birthday, C.G. You are turning into such a remarkable, lovely young woman with a beautiful heart to match.

Last week my daughter, who is days from turning five, decided to leave home (aka runaway)and live with her friend. She packed her suitcase, filled her backpack, put on her coat and asked me to tie her shoes. Stunned, I tried to project a calm image like this sort of thing happens all the time. Inside I was filled with equal parts of amusement and sadness. When I asked her why she was leaving she replied matter-of-factly, “It’s funner over there.” I asked her to visit once in a while and said goodbye. Off she trudged, luggage in hand, through the backyard to our neighbor’s house.

It seems like only yesterday this independent preschooler was a tiny bundle. As nervous first time parents, my husband I shared our hopes for our unborn child. We talked about every aspect of his or her life—clothes, discipline, personality characteristics, girl vs. boy toys, sports and activities we wanted him or her to participate in, education, dating, playgroups, and on and on! We had it all planned right up to college! Ridiculous? Of course.

But, I think these conversations helped us put some shape to the unknown. Maybe we were trying to create a situation that would overcome the shortcomings of our own childhood. Maybe we wanted to create little, better versions of ourselves. And maybe we wanted to control what we knew, but were afraid to admit, is ultimately uncontrollable.

If I had internalized this message a little earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have felt so helpless and inadequate when she didn’t sleep through the night until she was over twelve months old. Or when she threw a record breaking temper tantrum in the supermarket because I wouldn’t let her take the little shopping cart home. Or when she went through a “terrible three” stage of hitting and pushing.

With each of these “phases,” I scoured parenting books, called the pediatrician and talked to other moms—frantically looking for guidance or a simple solution that would end the unwanted behavior immediately. Of course the search was in vain. There aren’t any quick fixes or magic potions when it comes to children and their behavior. They are real live works in progress with a will of their own.

I'm learning that I can teach. I can guide. And I can love, but my child is who she is. As parents, my husband and I just have to figure out who she is and how we help her become the best version of herself she can be. Even if that version doesn't match the plans my husband and I so carefully laid. One thing is for sure, while I never doubted that I would love my newborn child, I was completely unprepared for how much I would fall in love with her.

So as I watch my independent, almost five-year-old daughter stoically walk through the yard, I realize that this is the first in a long line of experiences that I hadn’t planned on and can’t control. And as much as I want to make her stay, I know I have to let her play this one out on her own terms.

I went to “visit” my little runaway a short while later, not sure what to expect—half-fearful that she really did want to change addresses. But, instead of the strong-willed determination I witnessed a short while before, I was met by a vulnerable little girl with tears streaming down her face. She had pushed the limits of her bravery and wanted to come home to her mommy and daddy. I scooped her in my arms, kissing away the tears, grateful that at least for now a mom’s kiss and hug really does make it all better.

We gathered her things and set out for home. As we walked through the yard, hand in hand, I fell in love all over again.


danregan said...

I remember...she was SO determined walking across that lawn. What Kelli left out of the story (and Codi will only ever know if she reads this post), is that we called our neighbor Sandy as Codi was on her way, told her what was up and asked her to just play it cool. She did - when Codi walked in the back door of their house, she boldly announced that she had come to live with them. Sandy just said, "OK, you want to put your stuff in Allie's room?" The apparent ease of it all, and complete lack of shock value, was probably her undoing.

Or, maybe she actually missed us. Anything's possible.


Peggy said...

That is the second best love story I've read. The first one is of God giving His son to the world to cover our sins with His blood, and give us eternal life.
For Codi I wish a wonderful, blessed and fun birthday, and for you and Dan, I pray that God will bless you with great strength this weekend.
Blessings and Love,

Katherine said...

Awwwww... that's so cute! Yes, girls can be quite independent at age 5.