She works deliberately, providing only one-word answers while she hunkers down, focused on the task at hand.
I watch her move her markers across the page. Her face lights up as her picture begins to match the one etched across her brain. This is not just a scribble on a page; this is the result of hours of thought.
She thinks in stories and pictures, this sweet girl of mine.
Her imagination is always hard at work, even when she stops to rest.
When people first meet her, they see the mix. At first glance, she appears to be the perfect combination of Mommy and Daddy. She is her, with traces of us.
What they don’t see is what I can’t help but notice with each thought that escapes her. What they don’t see is her inner me.
Listening to her craft the perfect story, both simple and complicated and always with the happy ending brings me back in time. Watching her gaze out the window, lost in thoughts that won’t be quieted, takes me back to childhood bedroom. I never once suffered from loneliness because I had my stories to keep me company. No matter the circumstances, I could always watch the plots unfold in the context of the perfect daydream.
I watch her do the same, and smile with relief as the realization finally hits me: She will never be alone in this world. Her thoughts will always keep her company.
There are the other parts of me too, though. The parts I wish she didn’t inherit…
Tears well up when life gets frustrating.
“It’s not right. It’s not perfect. I have to throw this out and start again.”
“I know how you feel, sweet girl. It’s hard when you want something to be just exactly how you thought it would be, but then it turns out different.”
“I made it with my thinking, but this isn’t the right thing.”
“Let’s have a look before we try again. Come sit on my lap and help me understand.”
She curls up on my lap and makes herself small. With a little voice, she tells me what went wrong. A line out of place. A letter that isn’t quite right. A name that just won’t fit.
“I couldn’t fit a very big D for Daddy and that might make him sad.”
“Daddy will love that D, sweet girl. Daddy will know that it is meant just for him.”
“But that blue line shouldn’t be there. It’s ruined.”
“We could try white out, just to see. Maybe it will look better.”
Intrigued by a “Mommy thing”, she takes the bait. Satisfied with the results, her smile shines once again.
“It’s as perfect as I thought.”
“I love how you worked so hard on this, and that you didn’t give up when you got frustrated.”
I build her up with praise so that she will remember this time when she worked through her frustration. I hug her and hold her and whisper I love yousbecause sometimes even big girls need just a little extra love.
Secretly, I wish that she didn’t share this burden. This need for perfection. This inability to settle for anything less than the story etched across her brain.
It’s a funny thing, this teaching of resiliency. I stand by her side, build her up, and help her when she struggles. I teach her to look for solutions and think outside the box.
I teach her to just keep swimming…
But these lessons are still a work in progress for me. Perfection sometimes slows me down, making goals feel unattainable. Following a dream is easy one day, but nearly impossible the next. I’ve considered giving up and heading back to the safety of what I do best. I’ve come close to turning my back on the one thing that seems just out of reach.
But then I stop to help my sweet girl and, in turn, she helps me too. Her ability to fight through the hard and revel in the good inspires me…
To just keep swimming.
Because dreams are always worth fighting for.
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She has a four year old daughter, three year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog, Practical Parenting, and can also be found on Twitter.