"She's a really cool kid," I told my colleague. I know that my friend, who will be my eldest daughter's fantastic pre-k teacher this year, could hear the marvel and pride in my voice. I'm less sure that she could hear what was lying beneath my words; the anxiety and fear, the crushing weight of my love, the primal urge to keep her from pain and harm.
I have two daughters who couldn't be any less alike. e, my two-year-old, is a running, jumping, bounding bundle of energy and fun. She makes friends wherever she goes, charming everyone she meets with a smile and a hug. In a society that values extroverts, I know she will be just fine. But E, my four-year-old, is cautious and thoughtful. She thinks and feels deeply, and isn't always easy to read. Her first impressions are more quiet and reserved, more serious, more...well, more like me.
Before becoming a parent, I was warned of the many difficulties awaiting me. The sleepless nights. The challenges of breastfeeding. Finding just the right toys and equipment and child care. But no one told me about this, about how hard it can be to see yourself reflected in your own precious child. It's impossible for me to look at my sweet E and not be reminded of how painful it sometimes was to be the "quiet kid" myself. When E is slow to return an adult's greeting or contentedly plays alone in a room full of rambunctious preschoolers, it is so hard to not project my feelings about having a similarly tempered childhood.
When I became a mother, I experienced a love unlike anything I'd ever felt before. It sometimes feels like my body can't hold it, like I will crack open from trying to contain it within the boundaries of my skin. I see how incredibly beautiful and fascinating my daughter is. I see her scientific mind as she soaks up information about the solar system or works to make sense of the world around her; I see her kindness and perceptiveness as she finds a toy that she knows will help her sister feel better; I hear her wicked sense of humor as she jokes that a gaggle of geese play games like 'goose, goose, duck." I love this girl fiercely. Since we are so very similar, loving her must mean that I also love myself. I must take a look back at myself as a child, release whatever emotional baggage it brings up for me, and be present for loving the wonderful person in front of me.
And that - that simple little truth - has been the hardest part of parenting for me.
Teacher friends, we will have "quiet kids" in our classes this year. As the mother of one of them, I ask us to be mindful of their contributions to our schools. They may happily disappear in the company of their more outgoing classmates. Don't let them. Let's make them feel loved and seen and valued.
And if their mother happens to bug you with all her worry and neurosis, please be gentle with her.