Inhabiting the Hearts of Our Children

Maeve was standing at the side of the pool, her toes curled tightly over the blue tile edge. I could see the battle in her mind: it was the tug between the glory of pushing off headfirst into the water and the terror of plunging to an unexpected doom. She waited, uncertain. I treaded in the water yelling momish encouragement. I held my arm up against her calves to help her form just as someone had done for me when I learned to dive. The moment was small, but weighty. Then, with thunderous meaning, one tear dripped over her eyelashes, splashing to the ground and ending our lighthearted diving lesson. Had I pushed too hard? Did my love for the water cloud her discomfort? What just happened?

With Maeve, I have learned there is a balance between her carefree exuberance for experience and her desperate desire to suppress her nervous moments. I don’t always sense the change- she is like a spring storm rolling over the Gulf of Mexico, bright and sunny morphing into dark torrential rain in a second’s time.  I can’t keep up, and sometimes I feel like a swimmer flailing in the waves of her emotion. That day, she went from swimming gloriously with neighbor kids to sitting quietly on the edge. I tried to change the moment to wash the clouds away, but as we all redirected to a lively game of Marco Polo, I watched my eldest, lips pursed in determination driven by what? Perfection? Will to please? Embarrassment of failure? She stood alone at the edge of the deep and plunged, over and over, attempting the jelly bean dive technique I had given her as a precursor to real diving.

In that moment, I felt lost, heartbroken over the vastness of space between our fun family trip to the Y and the depth of a feeling in her that she could not voice and I could not capture. It swam there between us, its scales flashing my faults. I pushed her too hard. I said the wrong thing. I wanted her to be like me instead of like her. Whatever it was was not singular to that moment. I have seen it in other times. Maeve and I will be doing something and her frustration will be welling up. By the time I reach for her, the door is closing. I can see it in her eyes. In my faltering, I have missed the moment, and I am fumbling through a mess of borrowed keys to try to regain access to my precious girl.

I don’t know how to do this parenting gig yet. I’m eight years deep in it, and I have moments when I feel like I knew more holding a naked baby on my chest in the hospital than I know now. It is the paradox of parenting. But if there is one thing I do know, one expression I want recorded for endless time for my girls to know,it is this: I want to inhabit their hearts. I want to crawl inside the chambers and dwell there. I want to know their inmost thoughts and feelings.  At times, it might look to them that I am expecting their perfection, or that I am forcing their obedience. I worry that I come across as trying to make their voices just an echo of mine. Lord, don’t let that be true. Each of my girls is uniquely made. None is just like the other or their father, or me. Don’t let me fall into that expectation for them. I just want to know them as they are and hold their hearts in each moment.  And I don’t always know how. But give me intention. Give me patience to sit at the door and wait. Help me listen for the tiny voice rather than silence with my loud words. In the midst of my missteps, make this message clear to my daughters- I am here for you, and I want to know you. I want to nestle so near you that I know your heartbeat over the noise of the world. Because I love you for every part of you. And isn’t that the feeling God must have about each of us?

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