When Your Oldest is Five and You Are Undone

There are 4×6 photographs of my oldest daughter hanging around my house – in the kitchen where we work together to prepare meals and messes, in the bathroom she shares with her sister, in the hall at the base of the stairs where she and her sister sit to calm down when they’ve thrown a tantrum. These photographs aren’t framed, just taped up, and they’re all from when she was about two years old: before Little Sister was born, and before she began demonstrating so regularly the behaviors that have convinced me she will be the CEO of a continent by 25.

I hung them about a year ago when I needed a reminder that she is small and still learning, to help me remember that her fierceness is sometimes her only response to figuring out the world and herself.

Miss E is a wonder. She manages to be all of the best and worst of me and of her father and still so uniquely herself. Stubborn as mountains and startlingly sweet, at times. Her father was sick recently so I slept in the basement to avoid the contagion, and I heard her come downstairs from her room in the morning and begin to sob. I found her on the couch, crocodile tears fat as diamonds on her cheeks, and as she clutched at me she said, “I thought you were gone.”

We feel such big feelings about and at each other. We anger easily and quickly. Just this week after we’d “disagreed” about how to discipline her throwing toys around when she didn’t get her way, she said something equally impactful.

“Stupid mom.”

I told her, repeatedly, that what she had said had really hurt my feelings. Really, really, really. She began to cry, hard, curling herself up in a ball on the floor. So I held her in the same way she’d held me when, just a few weeks ago, I’d lost my temper with her and put her rather roughly to bed. When I was unkind, when I’d inadvertently taught her just how effective unkindness can sometimes be in curbing the things we don’t like to see in each other.

But she forgave me.

And I forgave her.

And as she says when we have each had time to breathe and try again to be better,

“You will always love me. There’s nothing I could do that would make you not love me.”

It’s true, my girl, forever.

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