Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Every child begins the world again, to some extent..."

When I was pregnant with Squirrel, I remember my assistant principal at the school I worked said to me, "There are three true emotions you never know the meaning of until you have children: love, guilt, and fear." I am not sure truer words have ever passed my ears, and the expression has stuck with me over these few years of motherhood I have muddled through. The most interesting thing about motherhood though, is not the experience of these emotions; surely, in my own unremarkable existence, I have had the pleasure and pain of feeling all three of these emotions at one time or another. Rather, the fact is that until I became a mother, I did not understand the depth to which these emotions can carry us, or the messy way in which they seem to entangle one another.

Squirrel began her first day of preschool this week. She was positively bursting with excitement, and admittedly, I was as well.

Squirrel is a hard kid to describe. I am told often by my mother and older siblings that she is much like I was as a child. She loves everything and everyone. She is not just a happy kid, but a child filled with wonder at all the things around her. She has a fantastic sense of humor, one that makes me laugh to tears. She thinks deep and plays hard. And above all things, she is nothing but herself. She has no fear about expressing herself, and both literally and figuratively dances to her very own tune. And so, in those respects, the comparisons I get between her and I make sense to me. My perception of her is what I remember of my own childhood. I too was carefree, a little off the wall, and was comfortable with being just the way I was. I love this child deeply and fiercely, and I love her all the more because she has in her what I would consider the best of me. 

As a mother though, this is where things get sticky. 

Love is a beautiful and powerful emotion. It is also an intensifier. Any emotion one feels, good or bad, can be radically magnified by this first emotion. 

I remember myself as a child being, like Squirrel, sometimes shy, but never ashamed. I remember recognizing the fact that I was different than a lot of kids, goofy and carefree, and unfazed by social stigmas. In short, I was kind of weird. But I was smart, and I knew I was loved, I had the greatest best friend a kid could ever ask for. I recognized by second or third grade that I would never be "popular," but the fact suited me just fine: I was far happier simply being me than conforming to the social pressures that begin emerging so early among grade school kids. As a young child, I think there is no greater gift one can be given than to have a sure sense of self...just like I had, and just as I hope Squirrel is developing for herself. 

Unfortunately, the young years never really prepare us for the blows of adolescence, that singular, dubious time. This sense of self, which kept me worry-free, and ignored by childhood bullies, began to make me stand out. I became a target, and though I held out for a long time, the inevitable began to happen. My faith, my intelligence, my peculiar sense of humor--all the things I had found safety in--were suddenly fodder to the adolescent animals around me. In most ways, I was still me, but suddenly everything I did or said filled me with self doubt and loathing, and every word people said to me, kind or not, was laced with double meanings and criticism. I let myself fall into some bad choices and relationships, simply because I started second-guessing that self worth. I built a wall to hide myself and drew inward. 

It is this period of my life that fills me with fear and guilt for my child. Logically, I know those years are far off. I know there are far greater struggles than I endured. I know that preschool a few days a week is hardly akin to sending her off into the lion's den. But there is still the fact that I am steadily marching toward that precise inevitability. I want nothing in the world more that for her to be sure of who she is, but worry that my own endowments are too scant. I feel guilty that I gave up on that sense of self, as though my past will someday say to her, because of our similarities, that she is not enough. And I already anticipate the guilt I will bear, when unlike her current pains, the scrapes and bruises of her spirit will not be fixed with bandaids and pink lemonade.

This wall I hid behind took many messy years to break back down, and still, I find my clumsy feet tripping now and again over the rubble left behind. There is no one and nothing to blame for those laborious years. It was simply life--experience, the nature of teens, and the patterns and tendencies of social constructs. But these experiences fill me with a repressive, heavy fear. And my own love, my positive joy in seeing who she is turning out to be, makes that fear more poignant because the stakes are so much higher for my own children.

The world cannot know how exquisite this child is. It cannot know how perfect and kind, how innocent and brilliant, how joyful and exuberant she is. It will not handle her with the care necessary to preserve her indefinitely. And yet, inevitably, I must send her into this world. I must trust that the gifts she has been given are sufficient and that her meager inheritance is somehow multiplied in the generational gap. And I will watch, as those three old emotions, awakened by my new role as mother, tangle and interweave around me, compounded and intensified by one another, as my child weathers the storms life has laid out for her. 


  1. That was AWESOME, Kierra. I remember so much about how wild and funny you were and how I admired that about you and wished I could be as comfy in my skin as you. Let that girl wear socks on her hands and spray paint in her hair! If she's as smart as you, and as smart as you say she is, she'll steer clear from the ones who won't value her and figure out how to be herself even if it's in their world for a few years.

  2. Wow Kierra. I love to read your blog. You certainly have a way with words. Reading this post made me think about my children and the love, fear and guilt that are so strong. I agree to everything you said about those emotions. I cannot even comprehend the depth of them sometimes. Your post also made me smile as i thought of us growing up... dressing up and dancing to Fantasia, playing Slave Catchers in the back yard (not the best idea! :) ) and even though we had some rough patches growing up... I just want you to know that I have always looked up to you for your individuality and your "self- strength!" You helped me learn what it was to be sure of one's self. Squirrel will be the same. She will make friends and help them become sure of themselves in a way they will never forget! LOVE YOU!

  3. Okay. A - none of this is pathetic! B - think about how all these things built you into the incredible woman and mother you are today. You wouldn't be you without these experiences. And everything you felt, went though, and experienced will help you help squirrel navigate life at those difficult times. Just keep loving. She'll be great - she's got you for her mom!

  4. Oh, Kierra! You've done it again- brought me to tears with your ability to put into words what I never could. Being a mom is such a beatiful, scary thing! Thanks for sharing this, I identify with this more than you'd ever know.

  5. Kierra,
    I am so amazed at how you are able to put into words those things that so many are thinking. You are amazing, and your children are blessed to have you as their mom...keep writing, keep sharing and keep being exactly who you are. We miss your free spirit here in Phoenix!!

  6. Thank you for expressing what I and many mothers feel. I think what Jenny was saying is true, that even though we regret our mistakes and wish that our little ones will never do the same things, or experience those terrible things themselves, it makes us better people to go through these things and come out on top, if a little worse for wear, and then better able to help others around us, because whether we like it or not, we are all going to stumble and fall, we just have to trust that we have instilled in our children the strength and trust in Heaven to know they can pick themselves back up again. Love you and good luck with pre-school! What a time!


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