So I crawled into bed with her. I cuddled close to the little girl who won’t lean into me anymore. I listened to her heartbeat. I felt the slow, even breaths as she slept. Those haven’t changed. I stroked her cheek and twirled her hair between my fingers. I whispered into her ear that I love her. That she will always be my first baby, my special girl, the one who made me a Mommy. I whispered that I will love her no matter what, no matter what she chooses, or what she does, or who she is, nothing can make me stop loving her. I whispered that I love every part of her, that I think she is amazing and beautiful and I am proud to be her Mommy. I whispered that I am proud of the person that she is, who God has made her to be. I told her that she will always be my baby, my little mama, my special girl-no matter how old she gets and no matter how much things change. I whispered to myself as much as to her. And I prayed.
I prayed that even when I don’t feel love towards her-for whatever reasons, reasons I can’t understand, reasons I detest-that I will choose to act in love, because really love is action, not feelings. I prayed that I would show her love when she acts un-loveable, when her behavior screams to be punished or pushed away that I would draw her close and show her grace. When her behavior begs and questions, “do you still notice me? Do you still love me? Everything is changing. Is my world okay?” I prayed that I would answer by my actions, “YES.YES.YES.” I prayed that I would be able to reach her, connect with her, even when I don’t understand-or even when I do and something that used to be so easy has suddenly become so hard.
I have been there before with my son. It took me nearly a year to consistently feel love for him. But I chose to willfully, prayerfully act in love, none-the-less. Now he is easy to love. He walks into a room and makes people laugh right out loud. He melts people by his funny expressions and heartfelt affection. He is charismatic, a true people person, just like his dad. She isn’t. She is the one watching from the side of the room, following his lead even though he is two years younger. She laughs nervously. She hesitates and holds back while he dives right in, with ease. When she jumps in it is more forced, calculated, and awkward. It is as if each step has so much thought and effort behind it, as if each bit of her herself that she gives away she second guesses. Sometimes it is painful for my heart to watch. Her false confidence has grown out of her perceived expectations of others and their applause. She requires so much reassurance, so much extrinsic motivation.
It is impossible not to love him. It takes little initial effort. He sucks you in without even knowing what that means. She takes her time. To know her is to love her, but it takes some effort to know her. These days I feel torn between not recognizing this new persona of her’s and knowing it oh-so-well. I see myself standing in the corner, envying how her brother can be so carefree, so magnetic. Doesn’t he know there are things to worry about? Doesn’t he know people are watching? What if they don’t think my smile is pretty? What is they don’t think my story is funny? What if I don’t know what to say? What if they don’t love me? What if they do? What if something happens to them? What if they get sad, or sick, or go away? What if I love them and they don’t love me? What if I love them and they go away?
I know her. She is me. How can I love her when she is me and there are so many things about myself I anything-but-love? My heart breaks for us both, for the people that we are. Life will not be easy for us and our thoughts. For us and our tender hearts. When I wondered if I knew her I know I do. When I struggled to connect I realize it was a deeper struggle than just to connect with her.
So I crawled into bed with her. And I wrapped my arms and my heart around her. And I prayed. And I cried. And I whispered that I love you. I whispered it for us both, quiet enough for her sleeping ears and loud enough for my aching heart.