My baby girl turned 4 last week, in a blaze of wrapping paper, buttercream, and a steady stream of declarations (hers) about all the things she can do “now that I’m four.”
Four does seem like a momentous shift. No question that toddlerhood is well and truly over, and her independence has grown by leaps since we last rounded the sun together. As these milestones tend to, it got me thinking about where we’ve been – our journey together, so far. My memory landed on this feeling I had all through my pregnancy. I worried that my kid probably wasn’t going to like me.
Before she arrived, the things I knew to be true about my future child were: I would love her with the ferocity of a thousand charging stallions. She would love me, too. I would do the best I could figure out to do for this confounding little person.
I was fairly certain, however, that while she would love me, she wasn’t going to like me. Me – the rule maker, setter of bedtimes, and restricter of screen time. Me, who would always tell her where she needs to go and what she has to wear to those places. The one who would make her clean up messes and wash her hands before dinner. I imagined that I’d be the buzzkill. Oh, she’d love me, but how much fun is the one who is always trying to keep you in line?
In our earliest days together, it almost felt there was truth to my premonition. We didn’t get off to the most cordial start to our relationship. I had a hard time feeding her properly due to supply issues, and then her dairy and soy intolerances, which took weeks and weeks to work out. I had one job. One job. To provide nutrition to this kid – and I was failing at it. The poor little hungry and uncomfortable thing was none to happy about it, either. Then, there was the harness she had to wear for a month to correct her hip dysplasia, just as she was trying her hardest to get mobile. And, she hated to sleep. Hated. It.
As I predicted, I would have jumped in front of a moving train for that little bunny, but she really wasn’t having the best time with me.
And then, sometime around 6 months, things started to click into place (except the sleep – the blessed, blessed sleep!). We hit our groove. She’s always been fiercely her own person, with her own will, but it never occurred to her for one second not to like me.
In my mind, I’d somehow turned my baby into a tiny teenager, not realizing what a long road of cuddles, devotion, and emotional need we had before us before we reached that age when her tenuously growing independence will cause her to sometimes see me as the spoiler of plans, and the ruiner of fun.
I look back now, and remember fearsome tantrums at 18 or 20 months, which I learned to let run their course, until I’d finally step in to offer a hug to an emotionally drained toddler, who would collapse into the respite.
I will never forget her first ear infection, around age 2-1/2. As I carried her to the doctor’s office, she sunk her sore head on my shoulder and told me she loved me, of her own volition, for the very first time.
These days, my baby girl can feed herself, put on her own shoes, and pack her own toys away. There are more rules and restrictions from me now, than there have ever been. And, sure, she doesn’t always love putting her blocks away before TV time or having to wear a hat to play outside, but she also loves bigger than ever. We have a hundred snuggles a day. She tells me she “really, really, really, really” loves me. We talk about her observations, her dreams of being an astronaut or superhero, and her very real fear of monsters. Even when I’m short with her, and down on myself for losing patience, her forgiveness is immediate and unconditional. She can be shy when new people talk to her, but never with us, whose faces she scans the room for, and whose company is still her favorite in the world.
As expected, there’s a big, big love between my this girl and me. But it’s the unexpected gift of this unwavering little best friend that humbles me the most. To steal a line from Parks and Recreation, I love you and I like you, my Hushpuppy. And, it is the greatest gift of my life that you love me and you like me, too.