parenting / raising daughters / Writing

To The Moon and Back

I spent the day shopping with my daughter J yesterday. We had such a fun time-and I’d like to say that it wasn’t just because I was spending extraordinary amounts of money on her. It’s true that I was spending money on her, but only because she needed summer clothes…and wanted to go shopping with me.

On the way we jammed out to 80’s music, and instead of rolling her eyes she sang along with me when I cranked up the radio to “I Love Rock N Roll.” We went to the mall that I loved going to as a 13-year-old girl, the same age J is now.  We spent the day trying on all sorts of clothing that miraculously all fit.  We spent time dreaming of having a dog while we watched the puppies play in the window of the pet store. We went to Caribou and sipped our smoothies while we browsed at the bookstore.

“Best Day Ever,” she said.

For years I knew I would have four children and that one of those children would be a little girl. Just one. When J was born, I had high aspirations for the relationship we would have. I envisioned late night secret “chats” and lots of one on one girl time. I would be the mom with whom my daughter could feel safe to share anything.  My daughter.

I value our one on one time-or our girl time. For one thing, my three sons-all of whom I love all dearly do not get the same joy from things like manis/pedis, all day shopping trips where we try on shoes and clothes all day  to our hearts content, or things like browsing in bookstores for hours on end.

I do bond with my sons, but in different ways.  J, however, is my only child who isn’t on the Autism Spectrum-the only one who doesn’t have “special needs.”  Her three brothers-who are on the spectrum-have higher levels of needs that as a parent, it is hard to juggle. J  is particularly helpful when it comes to her brothers, but it’s a responsibility I wish she didn’t feel like she had to take on.

My daughter  and I have a lot of things in common, aside from being the only two females in our family. We both share a love of reading-she can get just as obsessed about a book as I can.  Like me, she loves music and plays an instrument in band. She shares my love of writing.  We enjoy listening to the same songs on the radio.  We love going to Caribou.

There are also a lot of things we don’t have in common. For example, although I would like to consider myself smart, J pulls straight A’s in school with very little effort. She asked me recently what she needed to do to become Valedictorian and I don’t doubt that she will try her hardest to succeed.  She can’t decide if she wants to be a biomedical engineer, a lawyer, or a teacher. She is outgoing and social and has a good circle of friends.  She is active in school; and does all of the things that I never had the guts to do, like try our for student council, play on the softball team, or act in a play.

Unlike her, I have also never experienced the heartache of my parents divorcing. I have never had to go back and forth between parents, never had to readjust my life in the way that she had to. While I know that all four of my children have struggled, it is J who I know has had the hardest time.

The “girl time” has declined quite a bit since the divorce.  For a lot of reasons that are just too hard to discuss with the world, J spends the majority of her time with her father at his house. It has been like this for the past 2 years.

Things I love about my daughter. When she was a little girl, her favorite book was “Goodnight Moon.” Every night I would read the beloved children’s story and we would say the words together. She knew every word in that book by heart, and I loved when we would get to that part about the old lady whispering and in her two-year old little voice she would whisper “hush.”

She’s always had an independent streak. By the time she was 2 she would get out of her stroller and push it herself. She potty trained herself. She ditched baths when she was three in favor of more “grown-up” showers. She begged to get the training wheels off her bike so she could learn on her own.

When she was little, I used to tuck her in every night.  She called it “burrito.” “Mom, will you burrito me?” I’d tuck her in so very tightly as we both said “burrito burrito burrito.” Then she would giggle and I would kiss her goodnight.

She has a big heart.  She remembers her friends birthdays and brings them get well gifts when they’re sick or feeling down.  She’s selfless. A few years ago she rallied her brothers to give up some of their birthday money-combined with her own-to buy a gift card to Caribou for me, because she knows I love coffee, and they wanted to make sure my birthday was remembered.

Even though it has now been a couple of years since she has lived with me, she still has her own room in our house that she has yet to live in, with her things neatly packed away in boxes, waiting for the day that she will be here long enough to unpack them. When we moved she took some thought to arrange her bedroom furniture in the way that she wanted to. She still talks about the way that she will decorate the room-her room-her space.

Every night, I look at the empty room, the unused things in the boxes, the unworn clothes in the closet, and think about the now not so little girl that I always miss so terribly with an ache in my heart that never completely goes away.  I think about how hard it is to drop her off at her dad’s house, because I do not know when I am going to see her again. I think about the time that has passed and the moments that I’ve  missed out on simply because she is very rarely here with me. I think about how life very often is not fair.

I relish in the  moments that I do get with her.  I loved watching her play softball and take pictures at every band and choir concert. I proudly watched as she received an award for student of the month.  Every time I see her we go to Caribou, just the two of us.  She still lets me braid her hair.  She calls me sometimes for help with her homework.  I’m teaching her to speak Spanish, and I still give her motherly advice, which sometimes makes her roll her eyes.   As she gets older I look forward to things like shopping for prom dresses, touring colleges, and further down the line, helping her plan her wedding and being there for her when she starts a family.

No matter who she is with or where she is at, nothing will change the fact that she is my daughter.

On our shopping excursion yesterday, we passed a movie theater, one that I’ve been to on a few occasions, and J said to me, “Remember when we went to the Hannah Montana movie there? And then we went to Red Lobster for lunch?”

“Yeah, of course I remember that day,” I said.

“That was a fun day,” J said with a smile.

“Yeah, it sure was,” I said with a smile back.  Because just like me, she remembers that we have fun together.

My daughter. I hope she knows that I love her to the moon and back.  Always.

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