Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Becoming Olivia

"You know what?" my little one said, standing next to me this morning. "I'm a person."

Maybe it was the early wake up, but when she said this, I felt a flutter in my chest. And I had to blink back a little sting in the corner of my eyes.

"Yes, of course you are!" I told her. "You're a wonderful, smart, hilarious, kind person."

Next month, she's turning 3. This fall, she'll be starting preschool. She's on the threshold of making memories that will last her entire lifetime. Every day, she is becoming more of the person she is. Every day, the things that I do (or don't do), the friends we play with, the books we read, the tent forts we make in the yard---all of it--is shaping her, or at least her view of the world and of herself in the world.

This personhood she's discovered is one of the things that made me put off starting a family until my early thirties. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that I could possibly be qualified to help shape a whole new person. What I failed to realize--what you can't realize, I think, until you've actually already taken the leap into parenthood--is that it isn't our qualifications that make us good parents; it's our love.

It is our love that helps us locate that emergency reserve of energy and patience at 3 AM when the baby wakes up for the 37th time in one night. It is our love that helps us count to 10 when we see that our toddler's latest masterpiece was drawn with a Sharpie marker on the couch. It is our love that forces us to become better, stronger, more responsible people than we ever thought we could be. It is our love that trumps our selfishness and helps us do for them first, ourselves second.

My job, as I see it now, isn't to mold her into the form and shape of some idea in my head. My job is to recognize the person she is and to reflect back to her all of the beautiful qualities she already possesses. In the end, she will become herself, not my idea of who she should be. Of course I'm not talking about discipline or behavior; I'm talking about essence.

The past three years have brought us right up to now. All the minutes and moments--most of which I've been blessed enough to share with her--have amalgamated into her glorious recognition of herself as a separate, beautiful, entirely unique person. I would happily endure 100 Sharpied couches for a single moment like this.

That's love. Isn't it?

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