Guinevere is pointing to the side of our great room, where a side table is nestled in between two chairs with a lamp on top. She has been saying this since Christmas.
“No, baby“, I respond as I get up to walk over and point to the lamp. “This is a lamp. Can you say lamp?“
I know that she can say lamp. She says it often, and in the correct connotation. She also uses “table” in the correct connotation, but just in case, I point to the table and emphasize its name.
We’ve played out this scenario a dozen times. I have no idea where she learned the word “mountain”, and it is odd to me that she continues to say it in this space. So I continue to respond as I think a good parent should – by correcting her, telling her that there is not a mountain there, and that the items there are a lamp and a table. I am mentally patting myself on the back for the calm way that I explain things to her, my hands-on approach of explaining words. I believe that I am being a wonderful mother.
Last night, Guinevere again walked over to that area and pointed. “Mountain!” she exclaimed. I was prepared. “No, baby, there are not any mountains over there. It is a lamp. Can you say lamp?” I am sitting on the floor by our coffee table, and Tyler is in the chair right next to the side table with the lamp.
“Kel,” Tyler says softly. “Look.”
He uses a finger to trace an outline of the wall, an outline created by the way the light is spilling out of the lamp shade and playing against the shadows on the wall.
It looks just like a mountain.
The emotions flooded me. I had been crouched over my heels, and immediately rocked back to sit on my bottom and all I could do was look at Tyler. In that moment, I felt humbled. Sad. Lost. Wholly inadequate. I felt like I had let my daughter down by trying to stunt her view of the world – the beautiful, creative, colorful and abstract way that she sees everything. I’ve become so black and white, so matter of fact, I forgot to look at what my daughter was showing me. And I certainly wasn’t listening to her.
I struggle quite a bit with what kind of a mother I am going to be. Tyler seems so natural in his role as her father. He’s able to have so much fun with her, he remembers the names of the different antibiotics she has taken and how quickly she bounced back on them, and he thinks of things like wiping down her hands with sanitizer after she touches an arcade game in a restaurant. I’m jealous of the comfortable way he balances being the fun and silly hero that she is SO thrilled to see every night, and the way he can manage that with being responsible, firm, and protective of her.
It is harder for me to know how to shape our relationship. I am a lot more free-spirited than Tyler. Sure, I’d love her to eat broccoli and salmon for dinner, but I don’t think Mac ‘n Cheese five times a week will kill her. And sometimes, I believe ice cream instead of dinner can be great fun. I don’t scrub the handle of the shopping cart before plopping her in the front of it. And I believe that playing outside in winter when properly bundled is a good thing. But that backfires when I forget about how she needs quiet time to settle down before bed, and flip on the Top Hits station for impromptu dance parties. And I’m embarrassed when Tyler asks about the last time she received Motrin and I look down and realize, well, it was that morning, when he did it. I forgot.
On the other hand, I can be strict about some things. I dislike whining and pouting, and I’m quick to put her in time out when she hits the dogs. She is very, very smart and I believe that she knows what she is doing is wrong, and is trying to manipulate me, so I try to curb that behavior by correcting it. I lecture when she throws something off her high chair and I routinely prompt her speech with the correct pronunciation. I have a zero tolerance policy when she bites, and it is not difficult for me to listen to her cry it out at night if I believe her tummy to be full, her diaper to be dry, and her self to be healthy. I’m too quick to help her solve the puzzle pieces in the correct places, or hold a tea cup the right way. When we got a “report card” for her daycare, I was so defensive about the only area where she didn’t receive a perfect score that I believe she should have received. And since she only got a 3 out of 4 on the area of being able to put on/remove simple garments, I have been practicing with her diligently to dress herself. To get that 4 out of 4.
I seem to be drowning in this in between place of being her friend, and being her parent. I know there is a balance here, and I haven’t figured it out yet. Sometimes I feel like Tyler is the parent to both of us (and it wouldn’t surprise me if he also felt this way) and sometimes I feel like I am far too strict on my one year old. My baby.
When I finally saw Guinevere’s mountain, I was reminded that she sees things differently than me. She is a sponge, absorbing the world around her, delighting in everything new that she learns each day. It is all a beautiful game to her, and her innocence and wonder are fascinating to me – like when she thought the snow was actually bubbles coming down from the sky.
Every day she spits out words that I had no idea she had picked up on – when a gust ruffled our hair last week she commented, “ohhh, windy!” and when she had her surgery for the ear tubes, she looked at a chart on the wall with a series of (smiley) faces to quantify pain, and she pointed to the face at number 10 and kept saying, “oh, so so so so so so sad. So so so sad.” It was the multiple “so”s that got me. She got it. He was EXTRA emotional.
But for everything she learns, I still need her to teach me. There is going to come a time when I tell her that I know best as her mother, or with age comes experience, or some other line. My parents said them all to me. And I hope that when that day comes, I will have raised a smart and respectful little girl that can say, “I appreciate your opinion, mom, but I’m hoping you will listen to what I think and take it into consideration” and then can still continue to teach me how to parent her. I’m never going to be perfect. And I have no idea what I’m doing. But I really hope that we are able to figure it out together.
Until then, I promise to keep looking for all of her mountains whenever she tells me they are there.