Today my Lea turns 13.
Lea was never what you might want to call an easy child. Prenatally, she put me on bed rest. She took her good sweet time coming into this world, not upside down but backwards, resulting in a ridiculously long 'back labor' for me. Upon entering this world, instead of being thrust onto my chest and into my arms, she was immediately wheeled away. She had entered this world with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Not tightly, but enough that they wanted to check her out before allowing us to bond. Practically my first glimpse of her was of her being wheeled away from me.
The first few years of her life we were always together. I always made her the first priority. We played together constantly and I worked when she napped. For a couple years, Lea had my undivided attention. It wasn't hard for her to get this - I was utterly enchanted by her. I clearly remember one incident, when she was a couple months old. We were visiting relatives and I was laying on the floor with her, playing quietly, winding down. My mom and my aunt suggested that they could watch the baby so that I could have a little break. I remember saying, sincerely and incredulously, "a BREAK? Why would I want a BREAK from my BABY?" I adored her.
Lea was a beautiful baby - full-on Gerber beautiful.
For her second Halloween she was Princess Leia. (Come on, her name was Lea. Like we had a choice...) Her grandmother had made her a little costume and I had braided and cinnamon bunned a long wig. Which she called her hat. She had a light saber that was almost as big as she was. I was hugely pregnant with her sister and had to opt out of trick-or-treat that year. Call it hormones, call it whatever you want, but I couldn't stop crying as I watched her happily skipping down the street, holding hands with her daddy and telling him things I couldn't hear. Things that were just for them. Walking away from me.
I wanted her to go to pre-school, because I didn't want her to have a rude awakening when she started kindergarten. She had some little friends, but the bulk of her socialization was with me. I wanted her to have some experience dealing with other little people under her belt before I put her on a school bus. Separating on that first morning was much harder for me than for her. I offered assurances, tears welling up behind my eyes, that I wouldn't be far. She said, "Ok. Bye." and turned her back on me to begin playing in this new room full of new to her toys and new to her kids. Ok. Bye. I cried in the car for the full hour and a half - missing her - knowing that it was an important step that she'd taken that day. An important step away from me.
When she was a little older, she wanted to go to Girl Scout Camp with a friend from her troop. I reluctantly agreed. No contact for a full week. We couldn't call each other. I wrote to her every day - starting before she left - so that she would be sure to get something at mail call each day. Despite the fact that I'd packed self-addressed stamped envelopes for her, I got nothing all week. Tom was not surprised. I was devastated. When I picked her up, though, I got the biggest hug I have ever received from that child. She ran at me like a thing possessed and gave me a full on arms and legs monkey hug. Lea is - to put it mildly - not much of a hugger - at least not with me - so this was one of my happiest parenting moments ever. Still walking away from me, but at the same time running towards me.
Last summer at a large festival, Lea wanted to be free to walk around with her girlfriend. I was reluctant, but there were a lot of other kids their age running around sans parents, so after a long lecture and a check to make sure no-one's cell phone was in danger of running out of charge, we watched them walk away. She and her friend proved themselves worthy of our trust. Every 15 minutes or so they sent us a picture of themselves. Here we are. Safe, sound and happy. Checking in. Independent, walking away, but still connected.
As with that first day of pre-school, it's always been easier for her than it is for me.
A wiser person than me once said that the best things we can give our children are roots and wings. Give them roots to keep them grounded through tough times. Give them wings to soar above everything, explore new worlds and fly farther than we ever did.
Lea, my first born, my dearest love - giving you roots has been easy. Giving you wings has been harder, but I'm trying. I know when it's time for you to fly you will indeed soar above it all and fly farther than I ever have. I know this. I HOPE that you will always remember where your roots are and that you will always find a way to return to them.
Happy birthday, baby.