A profound sense of sadness wafts over me. I’m driving my daughter to school. It’s just before 1:00 pm. We are driving in silence.
She will be five tomorrow. I’m thinking back on the first five years of her life. The hope and excitement I felt as a new mom when we first brought her home. The overprotective, I-will-do-anything-to-keep-her-safe feeling that I felt as I lay curled around her in the dark each night. The fear I felt for my own safety as I crossed a busy, rainy street a short distance from our home on my first outing out of the house without her since her birth. What if I got hit by a car and lay dying on the wet road? Who would feed her? Who would love her like I do? Who would help her grow up into the beautiful woman I knew she would someday become? She would have her father, yes. But her mother would be gone. I kept my eyes peeled on the traffic coming toward me for the slightest indication that any driver in their cars on that rainy night might be unable to stop as they approached the cross walk.
All of those feelings that I experienced in the first few weeks of her life, they are still there, hidden beneath the stress, the frustration, the exhaustion, the regret and the new layers of a different kind of love and appreciation that has grown with the years that my daughter has graced my life.
Rather than take maternity leave and spend that first year focused on her, I continued to work. I’m lucky in that the kind of work that I do allowed me to be with her every day. But I was not solely focused on her. I told myself at the time that she needed to learn that life isn’t always about her and I scheduled time with her like she was a client I was meeting for an appointment. But my choice to continue working throughout her first year allowed us to buy a house that would, soon after we moved in, accommodate the addition of her brother. I regret that decision to continue working now. I wish I had spent that year entirely wrapped up in her baby-ness.
Our move and the addition of her brother complicated our lives a little (as the addition of another human being—even a new human being—often does).
I felt I owed my daughter for that first year when I wasn’t around as much as I wish I had been. And with two children to look after, I couldn’t fit work into my day, so when Little Brother arrived, I took the year off and tried to be present for my daughter (and new baby).
But I didn’t count on the energy level of my toddler daughter. I didn’t count on those nights that I had so enjoyed with my infant daughter being so long and sleepless with my infant son. I didn’t count on the exhaustion I would feel. I wasn’t prepared for how the exhaustion would affect my attitude, my demeanor, my parenting, my everything.
I tried to remain patient. I tried to get enough sleep to stay happy and rested for my little girl. I tried to enjoy her and live in the moment with her. Mostly, I failed.
There were entire days spent in anger. We had happy times, too. But when this sadness grabs me now, all I feel is the regret that I couldn’t be more present, more loving, more focused for her back then.
I see this all clearly now, five years later. Her little brother rarely experiences my outbursts of upset that I heaped on her in those exhausting days at the beginning of her brother’s life.
And now, one day shy of five, she is cemented and fixed into a personality and attitude that is full of frustration and yearning for acceptance and recognition. And yet, the more her triumphs are recognized, the more she strives to be recognized.
This desire to be the shining star all the time is not bad if she knows in what way it is good to shine. But I fear that my little girl wants only to be recognized and does not care for what.
There’s a saying about the first five years a of a child’s life: The years before five last the rest of their lives.
She is four years and 364 days old. Today is her last day before she turns five. Her whole life is ahead of her, but her first five years are over. She is generally a happy child, full of imagination and fire. But she is my first. And for that she has suffered. I was a new mom, lacking confidence and trying to follow “the book”.
I didn’t trust my instincts and I thought I could do it all. I was wrong, but it took me longer to learn that than I care to admit.
So, to my beautiful daughter who needs so much more nurturing and love than I gave in her first five years, I say this:
When you were born, I was born.
When you were learning, I was learning.
I made a lot of mistakes. I have a lot of regrets.
But we grew together. You taught me well.
I have learned from you how to love, how to accept.
Your years before five will last the rest of your life.
I pray I did some things right for you in those years,
Because your years before five are my life’s greatest lesson.
Happy 5th Birthday Pumpkin. I love you.