The Oldest Child.

"Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light/The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight/For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above/While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love..."
- "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

On Mother's Day, I reflected not only on the complex nature of the relationship between myself and my own mother, with whom I am close, and of the relationships between myself and other "mothering types" in my life, including my grandmother and my aunt, but also of my relationship to my own children.  This marks my fifth "official" Mother's Day, though I still celebrated when I was pregnant with Lolly, my first child.

Any parent can tell you of the feeling of unspeakable joy, pride, wonder, intensity, fear, and euphoria that one feels when a child comes into one's family, particularly a first child.  After all, it's an experience like no other, and when you've experienced it for the first time, life seems to take a deep breath.  (Even at Lolly's birth, I wanted a mirror to see what was happening... I didn't want to miss a moment.)  When parenthood begins for the first time, it can feel like there is no other single person greater than your child - certainly not yourself.  You want to savor every moment.  You protect, you obsess, you worry.

Lolly in a box.

Now that I am the mother of three young children, I've relaxed somewhat.  I no longer feel ill when my baby cries; instead, it's a fact of life that babies will cry, and we just do what we can do help.  I no longer write down every single first - including things like "first dog seen" or "first apple tasted" - because I just don't have time.  I no longer have the same resolutions... life gets in the way before I can hold onto those things. 

However, when I was the parent of one child, I tried to devote all of my free time to her.  Unfortunately, I had to go back to work when she was less than a month old, but it made me cherish the times with her even more.  We went everywhere together: amusement parks, restaurants, New York City, everywhere from Maine to Pennsylvania to Florida, and all around her native Boston.  She sat in the front row every week at church.  I took her to the Museum of Fine Arts ten times before she was two years old.  I wasn't able to do attachment parenting practices all the time because I worked, but I definitely got the concept.

Lolly was my baby, my little seed of perfection.  Dammit, the parent says, I may have made lots of mistakes in my own life, but this kid is going to be perfect!  Look, she was born perfect!

Lolly's very first day of preschool.   I think I was just as nervous as she was.  I cried every day that week.
Of course, you also want to treat that child perfectly... you spend all of your money on professional portraits and trips to the zoo... you read to your child all the time, you don't let her watch any television... you create elaborate birthday parties, you make sure she eats her vegetables... you videotape her singing and even sleeping.  This child is a reflection of not only you, your family, and your values, but possibly of life itself.  Don't screw this up, your conscience seems to say. 

My biggest fear with Lolly is that her joy will be taken away.  We all know that innocence inevitably fades; that's just part of maturing.  However, joy doesn't have to fade... her sense of wonder and excitement about life.  Nor should her empathy and sensitivity fade, I hope.  It can't happen, I tell myself.

A happy, healthy, moral, confident kid... that's all we parents really want, right? 
The seed of perfection got older, and I had more children.  I got more busy and, admittedly, more lax about some things.  Yet I never stopped trying to mold Lolly, it seems.  Since she now knows the answer to 9 times 12, I get anxious for her to learn the whole times table and long division.  Since she now reads Babysitter chapter books, I get anxious for her to start on great works of literature.  I've been consistently amazed at how quickly Lolly learns, but the more she learns, the more I want her to know.  I think she's brilliant, so I keep pushing her.  One of these days, she's going to go on strike, and rightly so.

Then I worry about what's going to happen as she gets older.  Her personality, at least for the moment, is so much like mine was when I was her age. She is a people-pleasing perfectionist, a sensitive girl who loves performing but feels embarrassed when called to do so, a voracious reader with a strong imagination, and someone who might be lonely someday.  What if she goes with the first guy who says he loves her?  What if she falls in with the wrong crowd?   Just like any parent, I want to keep her from any hurt.  I don't want to see her get her heart broken or to be ridiculed or to feel humiliated or to dislike herself or to hurt others.  I guess that never stops.

We're really close now... we would do everything together, if I would let it happen.  I am worried, on a selfish level, about whether she'll decide that not only does she not need me when she becomes an adult(which is appropriate, of course), but that she doesn't want me.  Yes, I realize how remarkably immature that sounds, but those are my insecurities, right there.  I want us to continue to be close.  I also want her to learn from my mistakes.  And I always want a part of her to be my baby forever.
My recipe for perfection now is to let her have more tea parties, read more books for pleasure, have more playtime, and to keep making a big deal about all of the birthdays and holidays and visits.  Saying yes more often - when it counts - is a good thing.  She is never going to get these years back, and neither am I.

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