This weekend I took Cleo on a little trip. She’s asked for many months, but I’ve been busy picking up pieces of myself since the miscarriage, so I’ve put it off. And put it off. And put it off. Finally her little voice piped up from the back seat again a few weeks ago, “Mama can we please go on our mother-daughter trip?” My voice may have wobbled as I promised her we would go. “As soon as Daddy comes home babe, the first weekend he is back.”
As it turns out the first weekend he is home is Easter weekend, and I get a reprieve. But the following Friday she bounces into my room ready for our adventure. We help each other to pack. I have purchased a couple of new dresses for her and she puts one on, and lets me braid her hair. We go for breakfast with Daddy and Huey before we set out. As we say good bye I whisper to Andy “I’m so scared.” But I get in the car anyway and we head out. First to the nail salon, so I can ease into this. Three months ago I couldn’t leave the house. This is huge.
I watch her play with the massage chair while she has her nails prettied, and listen to her chatter as we drive toward our first destination. It’s a Target about halfway to San Antonio, where we hang out for a while, and where I try to get used to the feeling of being unmoored. The place feels like it might actually be rocking as we try on sunglasses, and flip flops, and shop for the underwear we forgot to pack.
She knows nothing of my distress. She is a little beacon, a walking talking reminder of all there is to hope for, the why that makes the how possible. She is bubbling over with excitement, feeling special to be spending this time with me.
We visit Historic Market Square where she dons a crown of paper flowers and chooses mementos for her siblings. She eats churros on a brightly colored bench, and makes silly faces for the camera. After dinner we return to the hotel and discover there is a pool. But we forgot a swimsuit! We race out to a nearby Old Navy and grab the only suit in her size. She puts it on in the car, “What if somebody sees!” She is giggling and twists the whole thing up, so she has to start over.
The next morning she is still asleep as I speak to the fear directly. “You will not steal this day.” We spend extra time in the morning making our hair pretty and stop for sweet buns from a warm bakery. Our day at the Zoo is the part she’s been most excited for. She doesn’t want to miss a single animal, so we don’t. She pets the goats, feeds the Lori birds and spends extra time marveling at the Hippos. On the way out we stop to have her face painted. “A Dragon!” And then a last minute train ride around Brackenridge park. She’s on top of the world as we get ready to leave. “Mom? Thanks for making this special. I know it was you who made it special.”
On the way home she doses off in the back seat and I finally exhale. I have done the work I needed to do for myself on this trip, and I have gifted her with an experience that I know she will treasure. Rachel Platten sings to us on the radio and I am momentarily blinded by tears. “ah ah ah ah ah, you’re my favorite thing, ah ah ah ah ah, all the happiness you bring…it feels like I’ve opened my eyes again, and the colors are golden and bright again.”
These lyrics could have been written for my little sleeping girl. It perfectly sums up the way I feel about her in this moment, but that’s not what has me crying. When I consider what this fear is that has made this trip so difficult for me, it is quite simply a fear of letting her down. Because somewhere in my center there is a belief that she deserves better, that I am not enough. Don’t all of us mothers feel this sometimes? Yes, I have an anxiety disorder that cranks up the volume on these feelings, but don’t you feel it too?
The thing is this little girl who brings so much light will never herself be perfect. At present she is hot headed, and she can be rude. She’s bossy and crass, and her table manners are atrocious. As her mother I try to take these qualities and mold them into something socially acceptable. I try to teach her to put her best foot forward, but when she falls down? I tell her that it’s okay, that she can try again next time. Because with all of her imperfections she is still my Cleo, who wants me to set free the head lice because “they are creatures too.” Her more challenging qualities certainly don’t make me love her any less. If anything they endear her to me more. And if one day she finds herself struggling with anxiety? I will help her. That’s all.
My love for her is unconditional. Its absolute. I have total empathy, total compassion for this little being. There is nothing she could do, no dark place that she could go that I would’t follow. As long as I’m breathing I will be here for her, knowing that under all the rough craggy bits she is a little jewel, helping her learn how to shine.
But why don’t I know this of myself? Why do I beat myself up for every infraction, every flaw? Why do mothers, all of us, bully ourselves in the worst way? That love that propels our children forward, that serves as the wind at their backs? What if we loved ourselves that way? Unconditionally, absolutely? Recklessly? Think what we could accomplish then. Wouldn’t it be something, to be loved like that?