I want to remember that small moment last night when I rose above my frustration, exhaustion and distraction and said to her, “What will help? What will help you hear me? Because I’m feeling really frustrated right now.”
“You can say, ‘I love you, Stella,’” she said.
I know that won’t help the real problem, which is that it is the end of that hard year for our family, and I’ve been sick so much that I’ve lost some authority and she’s practicing being almost 5 by choosing to ignore me sometimes just to see what will happen. The real problem is that I’m tired and my attention is on healing and finding the threads of my life again. My attention is mostly not on the subtle nuances of parenting this small person who is learning to be independent. My attention is needed so many other places, so I’ve been letting it drift away from her until there’s a battle to fight, and then I come in stomping and laying down the law. I set consequences for failing to pick up the pink and green Legos from the living room floor at bedtime, or all of the tiny cut up pieces of paper strewn across the dining room table so we can sit down and have a meal as a family, because we missed so many meals together when I was laid up on the couch during chemo and this is important to me. I want our routines back and I’m going to enforce them.
Even though I don’t really think she has given me the answer I was looking for, I hear her in a way I haven’t been available to hear for a while. I hear, “I need you, Mommy. I need to feel connected with you.”
So I turn down the heat on the pan of salmon and I step over to where she stands with her back to me on her step stool, fiddling with a rubber band on the counter in front of her. I run my hand down her hair, growing so long. I lean in and kiss her temple. “I love you, Stella,” I whisper, and she curves her body a bit into mine.
“I love you, too, Mommy.”
“Now will you please clean off the table so we can eat?” She doesn’t turn or move quite yet, but I sense her smile. Something, some small thread, has been repaired between us. She’s softer, and so am I.