My baby turned five in June last year. She finished up at kindergarten and began a brand new adventure at ‘big’ school. I watched her eyes dance with the “anxcitement” (her word) of an early birthday party, friends, family, a rainbow cake and presents that turned into treasures over night. I also watched only as her mum can, those same eyes look unsure. I noticed the gnawing of her lower lip and her little body wired for fight or flight. I caught her eyes seek mine for reassurance in the rear-view mirror on the drive to kindergarten on those last few days and felt her little hands hold mine tight as I dropped her off. I’ve been amazed at how much emotion is compressed in her little person and was on the look out for the meltdown or two that was bound to happen.
Somehow, I took her ‘anxcitement’ to heart and turned them into self-doubt. Did I do a good enough job? Did I prepare her enough? Did I love her enough? Maybe I should’ve tried harder to stay home with her instead of working full time. The list went on and on.
15 years ago another of my babies – my only one at that time, mirrored almost exactly the same behaviour and emotions when she was starting school. Back then I was a stay-at-home mum with every opportunity to pour myself into motherhood. But the questions and the self-doubt were much the same. My reaction to both situations though are markedly different.
15 years ago, I did not have the ability to carry the weight of my feelings. I believed that feelings were a bane to be coped with resolutely and gotten over quickly. The quicker one got over their feelings the stronger, more resilient they were. Those thoughts are a fairly accurate reflection of who I was as a mum. My heart aches at the realisation that in believing so, I failed to teach my baby then how to honour her feelings around the huge changes in her life. By example I taught her to ignore the big feelings and soldier on regardless. I didn’t have the courage or the foresight to calm the quivering lip or hold the wound-up little body reassuringly. I by-passed her emotion and praised her for being a brave little girl. I realise that I did not have the courage or the awareness to admit that letting go of my baby was damn hard. I feared that no one would be able to care for her and love her the way I did. Somewhere deep down was a greater fear…. that maybe someone would do a better job than me.
“Like the spine of a good book, scars, by their very nature, imply there’s a story to tell. They represent a wrinkle in time in which a person’s life is changed forever, and they serve as permanent reminders of an incident that, in one way or another, has made a lasting impression on one’s life.”
― Sharon Jaynes,
This time it is different. Somewhere between the two babies I have learned to sit with my fears and feelings and make friends with them. Somewhere in between one and four I have discovered the invaluable gift of permission. The permission to feel.
As I sit here deep in reflection I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of permission. In listening to me share about the changes my baby faced I’ve had good friends ask me “…and how are you?” And right there without realizing they blessed me with the gift of permission – the permission to feel sad and to acknowledge that this was hard…. BIG time hard.
My usually reserved-with-words husband sent me a text on a hard, teary school run morning that said ” Thanks hon for doing the hard yards in our family. It’s not easy having to leave your little ones crying or when you know they are not settled, but you’ve done it for so long without complaining. I love the mother you are“. He blessed me with the permission to accept that this was hard. He saw me.
My first baby, now twenty two is an incredible young woman who knows her mind and heart and knows what works for her. She got to where she is with an inordinate amount of courage in the face of challenges. The grace she gives me by not holding my failings as a first time mum against me is a gift I hold onto with both hands. When she sees me parent my other young ones with wisdom I have gained over the years from mistakes I made through raising her, she gifts me with the permission to do it right without holding it against me.
I appreciate my team at work who popped their heads in through my door to see how things were. The permission to have a flexible start time in the morning while my baby settled into school is a gift I will always remember.
A few weeks into her new school routine, the meltdown that I had been watching out for came, not just once, but a few times. And each time instead of encouraging her to be strong and brave, I was able to hold her little body safely in my arms and as gave her the permission to fall apart.