A few months ago, there was a night, like most nights, when I lay in bed with my four-year-old, Lark, snuggling her as she prepared to drift off to sleep. All parents know these moments, that fill you with such a fierce, protective, animal joy. Whispering, sharing dreamtime thoughts. As I tried to get her to settle down, I was fending off licks because she was also pretending to be a kitten.
At times my daughter seems to have the magic power of divining my thoughts. As we lay together in the darkness, I was brooding about Jess, the young woman who had been abandoned by her family when she was at her most needy and vulnerable. Just the day before, I had watched Episode 5 of Queer Eye. (see my previous post)
Out of the blue, my Lark piped up, voice small and disconsolate, “Mum, I would be very very sad if you gave me away.”
“I would never, ever give you away my sweet baby,” I said. “You are my beautiful child and I will love you forever.”
We were quiet for a moment. I was thinking of the long, hard struggle I’d gone through just to have this sky-rocket child in my life. About what a supreme gift it feels like to be her mother.
“Will you love me forever, even when I’m a grown-up?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said. “Even when you’re a grown-up. You will always be my baby.”
“Good,” she said. “Because I never want to leave you and I want to live with you forever in your house.”
I’ve been around this parenting block a few times, so I know that small children believe with utter conviction that they’ll want to live with their parents for the rest of their lives, even when they’re adults. I don’t want to disabuse my darlings of this notion, but I suspect that by the time they are 18, they’ll be ready to fly the coop.
“That’s fine. Of course you can live with us,” I told her with a kiss, but she had turned back into a kitten again and kept trying to lick me.
After escaping and leaving her to sleep, I felt thoughtful, her little question, Will you love me forever, even when I’m a grown-up? replaying over and over in a loop.
That is what the human condition boils down to. Will I always be loved? I want to be loved and accepted. First, we seek to be sure of that love and acceptance from our family members, and then when we are older, we cast the net wider, and seek it from friends and partners. And if at some point, we lose that love and that safety, we lose our sense of self in the world.
If you ask any parent, they will tell you that their biggest fear is losing their children. I live with the unfortunate and realistic fear that both of my children will get brain tumours, but I’ve somehow had to come to grips with the possibility of that loss, and live our life with as much grace as I can muster with daily, hourly, minutely gratitude that it is MY privilege to be their mother in this life.
Part of my gratitude towards them is acceptance. I work to accept them for who they are, with their likes and dislikes, which may not always align with my own. I accept them for their strengths and for their flaws. And I always let them know that FIRSTLY they are loved, and that when we hit roadblocks, we’ll find a way to overcome and muddle through together.
And when I fuck up, which I do, often, I ask for their forgiveness, so they can see me owning my mistakes and moving on.
So I will love them when they make poor choices, like an ill-considered hair colour or gawd-awful tattoo. And I’ll champion them when they make good choices that lead to their success and happiness. And I’ll love them when they are acting awful and being completely self-absorbed, which they do, and they will, because they’re humans.
Love, compassion, gratitude and acceptance first. And the rest will fall into place.