Of the many pictures we have commemorating Olive’s birth, this is the one I am drawn to most often. Almost nine years later, I still remember when she was finally returned to me to hold after being whisked away immediately following her arrival. This picture is always so fresh in my mind because that feeling of being simultaneously overwhelmed, protective, and so very tired is one I have revisited almost every day since then. She was, and continues to be, the primary reason for my emotional and physical exhaustion and yet I cling to her, unable to let go.
By the time Olive was finally born, I had already begun questioning every preconceived idea that I had about being a parent. In my idealized syrupy-sweet visions of motherhood, we would sing together, read together, cook together. My little bundle would find joy in the same things I love to do and in the future they would be infinitely more fun because I could share them with her.
What I did not consider was that she may not want to do any of these things. It never occurred to me that beginning with her delivery, she would fight me at every turn in order to do things her way, in her time. From birth, Olive made it clear that she is not one to do what anyone else wants regardless of why or how much they want her to do it. “Strong willed” doesn’t begin to come close to describing my little Olive. To call her “strong willed” is the equivalent of calling Hurricane Katrina a thunderstorm. This is a girl who knows what she wants and long before you figure out what it is, she already has a plan for how she’s going to get it. Olive is generally unconcerned if your plans do not match up to hers because she has no intention of doing anything other than what she wants because she is so entirely confident in her ability to make decisions on her own behalf.
I often look at her and wonder, Where on earth did this child come from? And yet, it is when she is at her most difficult that I see the most of myself in her. Her quick temper, her resistance to change, and her lack of patience are admittedly among my strongest and least attractive qualities. Despite Olive being a smaller version of myself, I still find her to be a puzzle for which I do not have all of the pieces. When I was younger I was timid, lacking in confidence, and happy to go along with whatever anyone told me to do because then I wouldn’t have to voice my opinion and draw attention to myself. My impatience and need for control are traits have developed very slowly over the years, and I find myself surprisingly ill-equipped to figure them out in a child who was seemingly born with them entirely intact and in full force.
It is a very real fear of mine that our mutual tendencies toward stubbornness will one day collide and leave our relationship permanently altered. Or worse, that like two North-poled magnets, we will hover at a certain distance, circling, but never able to connect. Every day with Olive is a delicate dance to figure out how to navigate our similar need to be in control with minimal friction between us.
I tell myself over and over again that her strong sense of self will serve her well in the future. While there are many days that having a pliant child would make my days easier now, I recognize that the very virtues that I currently battle with will make her a strong young woman and a formidable adult. On the nights where we make it to bedtime without tears and slammed doors, I go into her room to say goodnight and I am rewarded with a hug that can only be described as fierce. My prize for making it through our daily dance without any missteps is the gift of her affection. Those nights, I hold on to her as tightly as she clings to me because I know the next day will bring a whole new dance and we’ll both have to learn it as we go.
It is March 29th. The forecast yesterday was nothing short of dismal here in Pennsylvania — overcast and cold. In fact, as I sat here typing yesterday morning, I saw flurries floating in the air outside my window! I have given up wearing gloves in protest of winter’s unyielding grip on the landscape and now my hands are red and chapped. The kids have both been fighting a cold for the past 3 weeks that will not go away. We have gone through enough tissues that our family alone has likely been responsible for the demise of about 5 trees. Every day that I put on my winter coat it feels heavier than the day before and yet I’m still cold. The incessant damp and chilly air sometimes makes me feel like I will never be warm again, which is downright depressing.
Usually in the northeast, we have one uncharacteristically warm day in March. If you live here, you know what I mean. For one day, everyone strips off their coats and sweaters and heavy boots. We break out the tank tops and flip flops so that our skin can feel as much sun as is possible. We drive with our windows down and the radio turned up. If you hadn’t looked at the calendar that morning, you might actually think it was an early summer holiday the way we all carry on and rejoice over the simple gift of warmth and sunshine. The warmth doesn’t last but that one day is enough to raise our collective spirits, to see us through the last bit of winter until spring finally arrives.
This year we haven’t had that warm day and I have missed it. And so, I have find myself searching for signs of spring elsewhere. Olive and I went out in the yard searching for it on Friday night and we found hints of it everywhere. Buds on the trees, tulip leaves pushing up through the frozen ground, deer tracks, bird nests, all indicators that while the world around us seems frozen and stubbornly unchanging, nature has begun the slow and tedious process of rebirth.
For the time being, I have found spot in a southeast facing window, where the sun shines so bright that I almost need sunglasses. I can see flower buds on the rhododendron right outside the window and if I concentrate, I can tune out the sounds of video games behind me and hear the birds chirping. There won’t be any flip flops yet today but for now, this is enough.