When I found out I was pregnant, I had a little chat with God/The Universe about my expectations. It started with me explaining that I wasn’t QUITE ready yet, but since it was decided that Will and I would be receiving this blessing anyway, I had some guidelines that would need to be followed.
- The baby had to be a girl. Please and thank you.
- The baby could not be colicky. Because, anxiety.
- The baby MUST be a GREAT sleeper. Notice that MUST and GREAT are in all caps. Because these were EXTREMELY IMPORTANT POINTS.
- The little embryo whose life I was entrusted with needed to have a temperament that made her more cautious than daring, at least when it came to dangerous situations. This one because, as I reminded God/The Universe, I might *literally* have a nervous breakdown if charged with raising a child who was like my husband and sister as children. The kind that climbed ladders before they could walk, reached all motor milestones at freakishly young ages, cut their heads open on bunk beds, broke bones doing dangerous stunts on swings, jumped into pools before knowing water could kill you, and learned how to unlock doors and run outside before they knew how to speak.
Some veteran moms out there might be snickering or muttering under their breath right about now. Because, you don’t just get to order exactly what you want when you find out you are having a baby. I get that now. I’ve grown up a bit since I made that list for the Universe.
Except, for reasons unknown to anyone, except maybe God/The Universe, I was given every single thing on my checklist. How obnoxious, right?? I could go on and on about how much I love having a girl and how blessed I feel that Gia was never colicky and how I really do stop and send up a little ‘THANK YOU!’ to whatever was responsible for Gia being such an incredible sleeper. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about #4.
It was hot outside. So hot. The kind of hot that just makes you a little cranky. I peeled my sweaty daughter out of her car seat and struggled to carry her AND her diaper bag AND my swimming tote. She had been “swimming” many times, but this was going to be the first time at pool where there was no “baby section” or splash area. Prior to this time, I had tried a few times to take her into an adult sized pool with me, each time she clung to me tighter, digging her little hands and feet into my body like hooks, burrowing her head into my shoulder and protesting “No, no, no, no! Mama! Noooo!” Each and every time this had happened I had tried to gently persuade her to open her eyes and see she was ok. When she just got more upset, I bagged it. At fifteen months, I didn’t think it was necessary to push it.
As a former swimming lesson teacher, I have found that kids generally fall into two camps: The “I love water and have no fear” camp, and the “Water is a little scary” camp. The kids who were terrified were sometimes a challenge to teach, but I always had sympathy for them and plenty of patience with them. It was the kids with no fear who scared the living crap out of me. The kids who would swim off into the deep end as soon as the teacher turned their backs, or who would run and jump in the deep end (against the rules, without supervision) at any opportunity. I remember 19-year-old Ashley sending up the prayer right there in her lifeguard uniform: “Please, God, whatever you do – don’t give me one of the jump-in-the-deep-end-when-nobody-is-looking kids.” And God was listening. I didn’t get one of those kids.
So that afternoon, I had a tiny pit of anxiety in my stomach. I already knew she wouldn’t like it. I already knew it was going to be a struggle. I already knew we were both too hot and getting crabby. But I pushed on, pretending like I didn’t know these things. Pretending like maybe today she would decide she loved deep water, and we could relax with our friends and have a lovely afternoon.
Well, I will give you one guess as to what happened. Hint: it did not involve ANY relaxation. It involved Gia screaming. Gia crying. Gia clinging. It involved me losing my patience. Me using a voice that I wouldn’t exactly describe as “gentle”. Me wrangling a squirming, upset little one who was trying desperately to be anywhere but in that pool.
I was so frustrated. I watched my friend’s child laugh and splash around. I watched her cousin relax as her newborn took a nap in the water, safe in his mama’s arms. And I held Gia, irritated and frustrated as she tried to squirm away from me to the freedom of her own two feet planted firmly on the ground. I apologized over and over to my friend. I said I was so sorry for how she was acting.
When we got home, I tossed her diaper bag on the ground and paused to take in the relief of air-conditioning. I could still feel my irritation pulsing off my skin. That was when Gia took my face in her little hands. I looked at her, and her face broke out into a huge, toothy grin with crinkled eyes. “Mama” she said. She said it the way toddlers do, as its own sentence. She said it with a smile. With an ‘I love you’ in her eyes. She still loved me, even though I made her do something she hated. She still loved me even though I know she could feel how frustrated I was.
But worst of all? She didn’t know I was apologizing for her at the pool. She didn’t know that I had prayed for her to be exactly how she is – and then I got MAD at HER for being exactly what I had hoped for.
She didn’t know that by apologizing for her being afraid, I was really saying that being afraid wasn’t ok. She didn’t know that. But I did. I knew I wasn’t really apologizing for Gia. I was apologizing because Gia was just like me. My reaction was bigger than it “should have” been because it came with years of my own insecurities for not being “brave” enough. Insecurities because I have rarely been able to step out of myself and act like I’m not scared when I really am. Insecurities that I often have anxiety about situations with the potential to be dangerous.
I have insecurities about teaching Gia to be just like me. About trying to find the balance between what is truly dangerous and with seeing the potential danger in EVERYTHING. I know what it’s like to have to apologize for myself when I feel I have let people down for not being _____ enough. Fill in the blank with whatever adjective you’d like: brave/cheerful/outgoing/easy-going etc. I know what it feels like to believe that who you really are is not enough.
This realization brought me screeching back to reality. Maybe she didn’t understand that I was apologizing for her that day, but there will come a day when she does. I don’t want her growing up thinking she has to apologize for who she is. I don’t want her growing up thinking she has to be like everyone else to be loved or to be happy.
So I made myself a promise that hot afternoon. I promised to try and walk that delicate line of knowing when to push and when to accept. I promised that I would not only stop apologizing, but actually CELEBRATE who my daughter is. She doesn’t like deep water right now. Maybe she will someday. But it’s not today. Isn’t it great that she knows her limits and has the ability to say “no” when she doesn’t like something? Isn’t it great that she expresses when she doesn’t feel safe?
So Dear God/The Universe: Thank you for answering my prayers.