I am a busy mother of three wonderful children, and like most mothers I strive to meet all their needs and show each of them the love and attention they deserve. Like most mothers, I fall short of this lofty goal, usually on a daily basis.
Maggie, my youngest, is eleven months old and still dependent on me for most things, and therefore usually takes priority. My eldest, Emmett, is ten and has special needs, requiring near constant prompting, supervision, and energy. My middle child, Skylar, is a neurotypical, independent nine year-old. Of late, I have become regretfully and painfully aware that many of her needs often go unmet, lost in the shadows of her brother and sister. I struggle with how to right this wrong and lift her up out of the shadows and into the light, celebrating her authentic self, keeping within my abilities, caring for two other children with more intense needs. I do not have an answer, but I believe that acknowledging her needs and her importance to me and to the world, just as she is, is the first step.
For parents with similar struggles, know this: you are doing your best. Your love is amazing and unconditional and your children, even those in the shadows, feel its brilliant intensity, even when you don’t. Keep trying, keep talking, and keep connecting. For all the children in the shadows, this letter is for you, too.
I see you. You may think that your actions go unnoticed, especially the mundane tasks and subtle nuances that make you who you are, but they don’t. I see you growing and becoming an independent young lady. I see you developing your own sense of style, coming into your own. DC sneakers and a black knit hat might not be what I would wear, but for you it is perfect. I see you mastering new skills daily, caring for yourself and others. You possess such empathy and love. I see you dancing when you think nobody is watching you, and thoughtfully penning your thoughts in your journal and the end of a long day. I see you trying to connect and reach out to me every day, even when I may seem unreachable. You don’t give up, and though sometimes I may get frustrated with your tenacity, it is such an amazing quality. I see the way you hold Maggie and read to her, how much you want to protect her and teach her. I see in her eyes that she adores you, she lights up when you enter the room, and she has already learned so much from you, including how to love. I see you trying to play with your brother and comforting and helping him when he is having a hard time. I see your frustration when your attempts are unsuccessful or unappreciated. I see your hurt. I see you desperately wanting to be noticed, trying to mimic negative behaviors or act defiantly to be seen. You don’t need to act out or be any different than your magnificent self. I see you, and I love you.
I hear you. I hear your distinct voice in a crowd, and I’d know it anywhere. Your voice is often loud and constant, and I know I complain about it, especially when the baby is sleeping, but it will serve you well in life. I hear you standing up for what’s right. I hear you lifting people up and being a voice of justice and positivity. I hear you arguing with your brother and complaining about what’s for dinner. I hear you asking questions and investigating, always learning and seeking information, asking the “big” questions. I hear you interrupting, bossing and getting into everyone’s business. I know you are craving attention and involvement. I hear you singing sweet songs in the shower and my heart fills with joy. I hear you muttering grievances in your room over the baby monitor and I chuckle, not over your complaints, but because you are precious. I hear your beautiful melodies on the piano, each note imbued with such emotion and passion, I am so happy you have such a creative outlet. I hear you reaching out to me, asking for “girl time,” and I will try harder to make more time. Our relationship is so important to me, and more than anything I want to cultivate our bond. I hear you whimpering quietly in the refuge of your bed after Emmett has had “a bad night” or your proverbial cries for help have gone unanswered. I hear you and I am sorry. You deserve more. I will keep trying. I will never give up. Oh, and your laugh. I hear your laugh and it lifts me up even on the darkest days…
I appreciate you. I joke that you could run the household in my absence, and I know this to be true. Whether you are lugging water to the alpacas, doing laundry, baking a special treat to share with the family, picking up Maggie’s toys, or chasing after Emmett with his belongings, you are independent and responsible beyond your years. Sometimes I forget that you are only nine because you are capable of so much, and often I am too hard on you and expect too much as a result. I appreciate your help, but rather than increasing your responsibility, I need to remind you to be a kid. I appreciate your naïveté and innocence even more than your impeccable productivity and want to harbor that as long as possible. I appreciate your insight and sense of humor, you certainly know how to bring me back down to earth, where I belong. I appreciate that you need to start and end each day with hugs from me. I appreciate that you give of your heart so willingly, and always see the good in people. I appreciate your kindness and gentleness and will try to respect the sensitivity that accompanies these wonderful qualities. Even though it drives me crazy, I appreciate your sass and ferocity. You are a force to be reckoned with and I am so proud of you.
Keep this letter. Read it whenever you need to remember how important you are, to me and in general. Read it with me. Remind me that you need me, as often as it takes. Keep talking, keep connecting, and keep helping. I see you, I hear you, I appreciate you, and I love you. Come out of the shadows, my darling; share your beautiful light with me and with the world.