When I was in college (the first time), I took a child development class. In that class I learned that the first 5 years of a child's life are the most formative. The teacher I had stressed how important these years are and how, good or bad, many things learned in those first five years are irreparable after that point.
It was 11 years before you would come into my life. But that message stayed with me the entire time.
The first year of your life was one focused on survival, and I figured I had a bit more time to worry about the forever forming of your little self. Before I knew it, the second year was gone too. So by the time we got to your third year of life, the panic was in full force. It has been my mission these last two years to do everything I can to mold you into the person I hope you become.
My first obsession was manners. I used to say, "no matter what else, my child will be POLITE!" When you started preschool, it was one of the things your teacher would comment on the most "she has the best manners!" Checkmark. One point for mommy.
My next focus was around family. Growing up with a single mom and a sister so much older than me meant a lot of alone time. And even with your daddy's schedule as crazy as it is, he and I both committed to spending as much time together as a family as possible. So we travel. A lot. We make memories every chance we get. We have family game night and marshmallow roasting and lots of time just snuggling in bed together. You get it...family is what matters. And it's not just blood...we've brought so many friends into our circle of family. My friends are your aunties. You refer to their children as your brothers and sisters. You're obsessed with your cousins. You get it...family is important.
It embarresses me to say that Jesus was a little further down on the list. But when daddy and I realized He was missing from your vocabulary, we did our best to rectify that situation. So we introduced prayer time and bible stories and church. You took to Him like a duck to water. I think it helped cement the concept of Him when we lost Blue. Watching you memorize Bible verses and talk about Christmas as Jesus' birthday...watching you play Daniel in the lion's den on the playground...seeing your fearlessness in speaking of faith...you inspire me. It may be the best gift I ever receive as your mom - watching you learn to walk in faith. And your daddy is forever my biggest fan, telling me how you get it and that I'm a great mom and look what I've done.
And so it continued, this race to cram in all the good I thought you needed in the first five years. Empathy, check. Charity, check. Good citizenship, patriotism, a focus on education...check, check, check.
And now the panic is on. One year left and then you're off to school. And I have to pray that everything we've worked so hard to instill sticks and you'll be the person who can stand on your own because you know who you are.
And then yesterday happened.
You had a friend, your best friend from school, come over to play. And she took a liking to a couple of your toys. Toys you love. Toys that are relatively new in your cycle of playthings. And you said to her, with feigned carelessness, "you can have those. I'm so bored with them."
And your friend was DELIGHTED! She clutched the toys like treasure and ran around with them the rest of the afternoon.
And what did I do? Seeing you exemplify the characteristics I've worked so hard to instill in you?
I discouraged it.
"Sweetie! Are you SURE you want to give those toys to your friend? I think you'll be sad. I think you'll miss them. (I think I bought the damn things and you need to keep them!)"
And you just smiled sweetly and said you wanted your friend to have them. Awwww....
And I stewed about it the rest of the afternoon.
She put the toys down at some point and I hoped it would be forgotten. But when it was time for goodbyes, they resurfaced and so did your resolve to give them away. I akwardly danced around the situation saying to the mom "I'm afraid when you leave, she's going to want them back!" To which she responded, "no problem! we are right up the street. Just call us! What a great idea...we should do a toy swap with our kids!!"
I watched as you danced around, delighted to make someone else happy, my sweet girl. You climbed in the car to give hugs to your friend and her sister, picked flowers for them to take home and generally relished in the moment.
That's when I finally got it. Is it always this way, that a little child will lead them?
You were simply showing me the things it sounded like I'd been saying all this time. But you were actually putting it into practice. How love isn't love until you give it away. How giving of ourselves is the best gift we can ever give. The truth of knowing that where our hearts are, our treasure is also.
So all this forming and molding I thought I was doing for you? Turns out, it might actually be for me. That maybe...just maybe...those formative years? They might be for the parents too. This might be my last, best shot of becoming the best person I can be.
I can't think of a better teacher.
Jesus...and the way His love shines through you.
So, as I have stressed this Christmas season, anxious to make sure you knew it was about Jesus' birth and not the presents you get...I find myself realizing that you already get it. And perhaps the one who really needed the lesson was me.
Humbled by this life as your mommy.
Your faithful student