Mothering Mini Me
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.