The first year of my babies’ lives was such a time of wonder. I felt so privileged to witness these little people do so many things for the very first time. There were the typical milestones like first smile, first full night’s sleep, first solo steps. But there were so many hundreds and thousands of other firsts. We don’t count them as milestones but they are no less awe inspiring. First time seeing a sunset with pink and orange and yellow all mixed to glorious perfection. First time sitting on the grass. First time falling down. First time getting back up.
At nine years old, my kids don’t inspire wide eyes in me the way they once did as infants, but I got to thinking recently that there are really so many firsts still happening for them. Isn’t that, after all, what childhood really is? A marathon string of firsts tied together over years and years as our kids grow and encounter an ever more adult world? We don’t record their passing in baby books like a first tooth or a first word, but the firsts don’t stop with toddlerhood. What about first friend, first chapter book, first time getting feelings hurt by a friend, first time being the one doing the hurting?
Not long ago my girls and I had a weekend together while our boys were away at a scout campout. Saturday morning we were preparing to leave the house for a swim lesson. As we hustled to get out the door we had a string of mishaps in the house. A door lock malfunctioned, locking the girls out of their bathroom. A lightbulb in the kitchen burned out. And there was something else—maybe a hiccup in the laundry room? It was a comedy of errors, but of course it didn’t feel funny at the time, and one of my girls commented how of course everything had to fall apart when Daddy was out of town.
It was a simple comment. Frankly it echoed my own thoughts. It was innocuous, accurate, and it also just hit me wrong. Didn’t she realize Mommy is capable of fixing things too? In a moment of vulnerability I let the words sting, and then I told her so. I told her she hurt my feelings.
I wanted understanding. I wanted an apology. Instead, she started to cry and left the room. I wanted to be the grownup and make things right in that instant, but my darn hurt feelings made me pout and sigh in frustration instead and we hurried out the door.
We stewed on the drive to swim lessons.
Then, for the next half hour we sat on the hard bleachers together, smelling chlorine and humidity while we watched her sister swim. After a moment I leaned into her a little and looked at her and said “I think maybe we should talk about what happened.” So we did.
I told her what I thought and felt. I told her why the comment hit me so hard and I told her what I had wanted from her. She told me why she retreated instead of apologizing, because she’d been so upset with herself for hurting her Mommy’s feelings that she didn’t know how to apologize just then—she was still processing her own dismay at what had happened.
Things are so much better when we talk.
My girl and I hugged—like, really hugged, right there in the bleachers by the pool, and we both felt so much better by the time lessons were over that I think we were almost grateful for the morning drama. Because having weathered the storm together and come out stronger on the other side, we now felt fortified and drawn together.
I thought that’s another first. Another milestone worth celebrating. Not that I’m going to record in some baby book how my girl and I had a misunderstanding and then patched things up. But really, the struggles of growing up never stop. And we never stop learning to navigate our way through them. Perhaps that wasn’t really the first time my daughter hurt my feelings, or the first time I failed to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it was a reminder of the ways we feed off each other, muddle our way through communicating together, and figure each other and ourselves out along the way. Maybe what feels most powerful of all isn’t the dustup in the first place, but the making up. The victory at the end. The coming back together that says conflict is inevitable, but my love and commitment to you will not waver. Together we will repair whatever we break. We’re in this together.
I want my kids to know I’m in it with them, no matter what hurdles we’re clearing or smashing straight into as we run. Sometimes we’re cheering each other on; sometimes we’re unfortunately the ones throwing those obstacles in each other’s way. We all do things we wish we hadn’t sometimes. But if there’s a first conflict, there will be a first reconciliation. And if there’s a 100th conflict, a 100th reconciliation will follow. We’re in it for the long haul together. Milestone after milestone.