My daughter is a study in the art of letting go.
One minute, she is pitching an epic fit over a 3-year-old’s injustice: she wanted a braid, not a ponytail, or she didn’t want to put on her own socks and shoes. There are tears and screaming, sometimes foot stomping and dramatic flops on the floor. Some days I keep my cool and respond calmly but firmly. Some days, I don’t.
By the time we’re loaded into the car, she has usually calmed down and is politely and happily requesting juice and the Frozen soundtrack. Meanwhile, I’m seething in the front seat, trying to remember to breathe and relax my jaw. I hand her the juice grudgingly (yes, that is a thing) and fight the urge to scream.
One day, though, I did something different. I followed her lead. When her storm passed, I allowed mine to pass, too. I took some deep breaths, turned up the music, and sang along. (“Let it Go” is an appropriate choice for such moments.) I felt lighter, happier. I realized it was possible to have a joyful morning even after we battled over which shirt to wear. For the first time in forever (see what I did there?), we parted without regret on my part. She happily trotted off to see her teacher and I happily went on my way to work.
One morning this summer was particularly hard. It was wonderful until it wasn’t, and I ended up sobbing in the kitchen while she watched with big brown eyes and said, “Mama, you’re sad? You’re crying? Because you’re not playing with me?” That got a reluctant laugh. I spent the day wallowing, convinced I was a horrible, incompetent mother who would never have a good relationship with her daughter.
That evening was our last session of mommy/daughter swim lessons. I was anxious and braced myself for a difficult lesson. Instead, we had an incredible time, one I hope she somehow remembers.
She wasn’t holding a grudge over that morning’s struggles. Instead, she eagerly ran to hug me, ready for fun. The pool staff turned on the water play structure and we climbed up and slid down over and over again for a half hour. She overcame her fears of the spraying water and slide, and we got soaking wet and laughed and laughed. I felt a joy and peace I hadn’t felt in far too long.
I found redemption on that kiddie water slide.
We still have tough mornings, evenings, and in-betweens. Not every moment will be joyous, and I don't think I will ever stop doubting myself as a parent. But I'm learning that we can move through and beyond the trying times together and come out on the other side, still laughing.