You're Scaring Me
I turn around, not surprised to see Jason standing in the door of our home office. This is about the tenth time he's gotten out of bed--to go to the bathroom (twice), to tell us something, to get a kiss from where he bonked his head, or any other excuse he could think of. At 10:30, it's long since past the time when he should have been asleep.
"You need to go to sleep," I say.
"I can't go to sleep because I'm scared with my music turned off," he says.
"Then turn it back on."
"I don't know how to turn it on."
I stand up and walk him back to his room. "You need to get in your bed and stop getting up," I say. He jumps onto his bed, flopping sideways atop a pile of blankets and stuffed animals.
Flicking on the light, I see that the little CD player on his shelf has been turned off. "Yes, I see that it's off," I say, "and nobody else was in here, so that means you must have done it. That's not OK, Jason." I speak sternly, but not harshly, and I do not raise my voice as I hit the button to restart the CD.
"You're scaring me," he says in a quiet voice.
"You're scaring me and you're making me sad."
I just look at him for a second. I know that this is just what he says when he doesn't like what I tell him, that he is not actually scared of me. I know that the tears welling up in his eyes are from frustration, not fear. He doesn't know how much his words cut me.
"I'm sorry, but you need to go to sleep right now."
"I don't know how to go to sleep!" he insists.
"Close your eyes and go to sleep," I say, closing the door.
"I'm sad and I'm not tired!" I hear him shout, and then he begins to wail. I know that he is tired, that he needs to sleep. I know that he will be out in a matter of minutes. I know that I have to say these things to him, that I have to set limits and boundaries, that it is what he really needs. I know that I am being firm but not mean, that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.
He doesn't know what it means to me when he says I scare him, or that I make him cry. He doesn't know that I have seen men rage and been afraid, or how much it matters to me that I never become a figure of fear to my children, that I never have and never will raise my hand to them in anger.
I don't know how not to feel like a failure when he accuses me. But I know that I do the best I can, and that has to be enough.
I wanted to write this to you yesterday, but unfortunately we were a day late getting home from our trip to Maine, so my very first birthday letter to you is belated. You don't know, of course, since you can't read and don't know what a birthday is yet, but my hope is that someday when you're older you'll understand how much I loved you when I wrote this to you, and how much I still do.
Today, the day after your birthday, hasn't been the best day for you--you're still tired from the time change, on top of which you're fussy from getting your shots. But you still squealed with glee when you splashed in the bath, and when we shook our heads at each other in the mirror afterwards, and when I combed your hair, and when I handed you to your mother. You have only six teeth right now, so your smile is perhaps a bit unfinished. But it is beautiful, like everything about you, and all the more so because you're so free with it. I hope you always will be. I wonder if you will.
I wonder a lot of things about you. I wonder what you'll look like when your hair grows out. I wonder what kinds of things you'll be interested in--will you like princesses like the other girls we know, or will you like swords like your brother? Or both, maybe? I wonder what you will talk about when you learn to talk. I wonder what will inspire you to take your first steps.
I sometimes wish I could see the future, to be able to know what our story will be. But none of us get to do that, and maybe it's better that we can't. I'll tell you this, though: before you came, I thought I knew a bit about parenting and babies and childhood, but at every turn you've surprised me, from your sunny disposition to your easy sleeping to the fact that you're a good eater. Getting to know you and getting to be a part of your story so far has been one of the best things in my life, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
I love you, baby girl. Happy birthday.
Soundtrack: "I Belong to You" by Lauren O'Connell. Used with permission.
She actually has six teeth now, but I'm still not used to her having any. Come to it, I guess I'm still not completely used to having her at all. But this is how time plays tricks on us all. One day your daughter is being born, the next day she has six teeth. I'm sure tomorrow she'll have kids of her own.