When my daughter was eight I was so envious of my friends who had daughters the same age, because they were going out together, having mother/daughter outings, getting pedicures, doing girlie things and I despaired that I would never have these kinds of outings with my child. I know how selfish this sounds. I know this statement is all about me and has nothing to do with my child or her interests or her feelings. I always dislike hearing parents talk about their children as though they were some sort of glorified extension of themselves, like a conduit for all the parent’s failings, as though this child was a metaphoric phoenix rising from the parent’s DNA, destined to be all that the parent hopes for, but has failed to do and be themselves. But at the time I did feel envy and also, was aware enough to also feel badly for having those feelings.
Flash forward to this summer.
A friend of ours returned home one Saturday afternoon with Emma, who ecstatically showed off her newly painted RED toenails. I was astonished. “You guys went and had a pedicure?” I asked. “Red toenails!” Emma exclaimed with glee, while positioning her foot next to our friend’s, who had the same color red on her toenails. “They match!” Since then Emma and I have gone every other weekend for our “pedicure spa” where we sit side by side and have our toenails painted. Emma picks out the color, which she insists we both have so that we “match.” Both of us look forward to these outings.
There are other examples of times I’ve despaired, thinking that whatever our current situation is, it will remain so forever. This is not specific to my daughter, but is something I am aware that I have a tendency to do in life and always have. The idea that things are fluid and constantly change, is a tough concept for me. I tend towards extreme thinking. When things seem bleak, I am convinced they will always be. When things are good I am suspicious and await the inevitable.
It is as though I believe I will have to pay for those good times, like an invisible law that shows no mercy. The good times are tempered with the “knowing” that they will be fleeting and won’t last. Over the decades I’ve gotten better at this, I am aware this is my tendency. I catch my thoughts quicker and am able to remind myself that I do not know what will happen next. But still I find myself easily sliding back into that old way of thinking. It’s not the reality of someone else’s life, it is the idea of someone else’s life that I compare myself to and that idea is never true.
These days I try to head off comparing the minute I become aware of it. It does not serve me. It does nothing to help me. I am not a better person because of it. It makes me sad and miserable and has nothing to do with either of my children or my life. In fact that thinking hurts my children. Both are highly sensitive to other people’s moods, they easily pick up on emotions and take them on.
At the moment, Emma and I are sporting pink toenails and every time I see our toes, I smile. They remind me of all those years when everything seemed grim and hopeless. When despair surrounded my every breath, when desperation hung in the air I breathed, when I believed I knew what we were up against, when I believed this was going to be our life, when I thought I knew and no one could convince me otherwise. That toenail polish, that gorgeous pink toenail polish that Emma insisted we both wear is proof of just how wrong I was. About everything. About everything.