Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flower to the Sun

Today is Ava's last day of Grade 2. Like all endings, this one is bittersweet, as the girl who began the school year is now gone forever, only available in our collective family memory. She has grown and changed so much this year, turning from 7 to 8 and suddenly growing up to be aware of danger and sadness in an entirely new way.

She is not nearly as innocent and little as she used to be. With her adult teeth came maturity and awareness that I hadn't anticipated before I saw it happening in front of me. She asked much bigger questions than I thought she was capable of, and cried real tears as she came to terms with many new fears and concepts. I would say that she wrestled through a lot of things this year, moving slowly from a child who was sheltered and protected to one who began to understand that the world is not as safe as she hoped it was.

As I became vulnerable this year, Ava followed suit. I saw that I pushed her to be too independent too fast when she was a preschooler, and we both paid a price for that. She needed to feel permission to be dependent on me; to need me and not have to carry such a heavy burden for herself. Recognizing this need and taking over this burden for her changed forever the balance of our relationship. I told her it was okay to be a child, and to rely on me as her mother, and that I would do the heavy lifting and relieve her of that stress.

This opened up the space between us in a whole new way, enlarging the landscape of what existed for us as a mother and a daughter. It made her clingy and afraid to go to school for awhile, because she sobbed in the van and said that she would miss me during the day. I had no idea how to respond to this as it was so out of character for her. I expected that dependence from William, but Ava was my independent child.

It's always dangerous to label. Ava had been independent early because I made it clear that was what I expected from her, and she wanted to comply so that I would find her acceptable. I hate typing it out like that, in harsh black and white, but that's what happens when you aren't aware of the relationship dynamics churning underneath. I pushed her because I knew I could, and I believed I was helping her.

But of course I wasn't. She simply grew another layer of protective shell to hide that vulnerable core. This year, I showed her that it was okay to be dependent on me, and that I didn't need her to prove her independence anymore. I remembered to look at her and see an 8 year old child, who was fearful and unsure, and only pretending to have it all together.

This kind of thing was familiar to me, as it was my go-to defense mechanism as a child, but I didn't want Ava to get to 38 and realize that this pretense had helped her to fit in and be liked but didn't actually do anything else for her. I wanted her to be herself, in all circumstances, and to show her vulnerable core and know that she would be loved and accepted for it by those who really mattered, and to learn to be okay with not being liked by some people.

That happened, for both of us this year. I was focused on William for the first half of the school year, and by the spring, when things were more stable between him and I, Ava turned to me and began to soften and change. She grew in my direction, like a flower does with the sun, and I saw that she needed me in exactly the same way that William did, and always had. So I worked, one on one with each of my children, to parent them in the individual ways that they required.

The results were worth every tear that was shed, and every discussion that we engaged in, because the relationship that we are building is meant to last forever. We needed a new base to build on, one that would withstand all that would come against it, and be grounded in something real instead of something pretend. I am so proud of Ava this year. She has changed, and allowed herself to be vulnerable in a whole new way, and has inspired me with her bravery.

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