I’m so very excited to introduce you to our newest contributor, Jessica, today. She is the mother of four (yes, four!) little ones and when I read this piece she wrote about her latest pregnancy, I just couldn’t help but beg her to come write for us.
Jessica will be stopping by every few weeks to share the good/bad/ugly/funny/painful/surprising/amazing/akward parts of parenthood with her own unique voice – I can’t wait!
Without further ado…
My five-year-old daughter broke my heart tonight. She was coloring in the other room as I made dinner, and she crept in clutching her picture. She was the picture of sadness, whispering and avoiding eye contact.
For my confident, expressive little girl – the one who bursts into loud renditions of her favorite Frozen songs in the backyard and has long, animated conversations with herself in the mirror – this is telling. Then again, she does have a dramatic streak.
“Mommy. This is how I’m feeling.”
I give my sauce a stir, move the baby from one side to the other and reach down to look at her picture.
I recognize her self portrait, the blue eyes and long hair. I note the tears she’s drawn down her face and the downturned mouth. She has given herself a lovely dress and long, curling eyelashes. And she has written, “No mor luv for Genevieve!” Twice.
“What is this, baby girl? How are you feeling?”
She ducks her head and mumbles, and I tilt up her chin to catch the words.
“I don’t deserve to be loved.”
I’m speechless for a few beats, mind scrambling, wondering where this is coming from, how she’s even able to articulate such a thought. She’s five. I fall over myself trying to answer, and it’s not very eloquent.
“Of course you deserve to be loved! Everyone deserves to be loved. You’re smart and caring and a great big sister, and everyone loves you!”
The tears welling in her eyes spill over and I follow her as she leaves the room, still babbling about all the people who love her. I’m feeling some feelings myself, now. Shock and concern, because this is a big deal, right?
Or is this her little dramatic side revealing itself? I’m ashamed that I’m feeling traces of impatience and annoyance, too – how can she even think something like this?
And I have to deal with this now, during this witching hour of dinner and bath and bedtime? I cycle through this mess of emotion, and through it all, I’m asking myself where I messed up so badly that my five year old feels unworthy of being loved, even for a moment.
Every instance I came up short as her mother springs to mind. The times I’ve begged off reading to her before bed because I’m trying to get the baby to sleep, or, worse, because I’d rather just sit on the couch for five minutes by myself. Letting my impatience show when we’re rushing to get out the door and she asks for some elaborate hairstyle.
Yelling. I’ve yelled at my five year old, this tearful girl before me, the one telling me that she doesn’t think she deserves to be loved. And she really means it.
She sits in her little chair and I sink onto the table, holding the baby and leaning forward to speak into my girl’s ear.
“Genevieve. Why are you thinking this? Don’t you know how loved you are?”
I run through a handful of the many, many people who adore her, and as I’m speaking, the baby reaches out and grabs a lock of her big sister’s hair.
“Emme loves you. Look at how much she loves you.”
That gets a quivery little smile, and I jump at it.
“You deserve to be loved. Everyone deserves to be loved. But especially you. Can you say that to me?”
She looks down and shakes her head, but I need to hear her say it. It suddenly feels critical that she say it. My mind is racing and even as I’m thinking I just need to be here with her and listen and let her feel the way she feels, another part of me is shouting that I can make it all better if I just get her to say this out loud. I reach for her with one arm, drawing her in to the baby and me.
“Come on. I deserve to be loved! Say it in your outside voice. And look right at me!”
I’m smiling at her, and my girl smiles back. She mumbles it the first time, but by the time we’re repeating it for the third or fourth time, she’s laughing and shouting and she’s so beautiful that my heart is breaking all over again.
“Mommy. Will you color with me?”
I look down at her picture, and I reach for a crayon to scribble out the word “no.” My daughter smiles, and together, we add exclamation points and underline “mor” and draw hearts and stars and a giraffe. When it’s finished, we go into the kitchen for dinner and our life proceeds as usual.
But this has me rattled. After everyone’s in bed, I tell my husband what happened and he looks at me, brow furrowed.
“Where did that come from?”
I stare at him, shaking my head. My mind races ahead, to a depressed teenager, feelings of unworthiness, sessions with a therapist. Is this where all of that starts? And on the heels of that stomach churning thought, my husband’s voice:
“At least she feels like she can talk to you about it. Good sign, right?”
It is a good sign. It’s something we say to our kids again and again – you can always talk to us, about anything. So here’s proof that it’s sinking in.
I look at her picture again, and then I think of the big picture. She is a happy child. She loves school and her friends and her karate classes. She is expressive and demonstrative in her affection.
She is kind and generous and stubborn, all at the same time. Working through feelings like this is part of growing up. And I’m the lucky one to be by her side through this process, holding her hand when she needs it. I will do my best, and pray that it’s enough.