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For the Daughter I Felt Like I’d Lost

For the Daughter I Felt Like I’d Lost

About five minutes after we had to leave for kindergarten, my daughter sat in the middle of the floor, wearing her pink snow pants, pulling some rubber boots on. The morning had gone well that Monday, compared to her rage the week before over getting out the door. I always allotted for some time of readjustment after she went to her dad’s. This time had been different. She sobbed at night, missing him and not knowing when she’d see him again. Her anger, aimed in my direction, came out in constant arguing, refusal to listen, and taunted me in nasal tones and head wagging. I turned at the sound of her loud growl, then scream as she kicked off her boots.

“What are you doing?! We’re late!” I said.

She crossed her arms and stuck out her chin. “I’m not wearing socks today!” She pulled her socks off and threw them. It’d snowed a foot that weekend. She had to wear socks. I told her so. She repeated her decision to go barefoot. I stomped to her dresser, grabbed socks, and handed them to her. 

“Try these ones, they’re thinner.”

She batted my hand away. I reached for her feet. She kicked.

So I did what any exasperated parent would do. I picked my fifty-pound daughter up and carried her out to the truck, kicking and screaming.

I’m sure the neighbors heard. I didn’t care. My breath came out in huffs by the time I buckled myself in. I put a hand on my stomach, trying to calm the Braxton Hicks contraction that’d started. 

“I’m NOT putting on my seatbelt! I’m NOT putting my socks on!”

I turned around in my seat. I’d had it. She’d broken me. 

“You will put that seatbelt on and go to school with your socks and boots on!” I said. My voice boomed so loud within the walls of the truck it surprised even me. I turned around before seeing her reaction, but heard the click of her seat belt. Every time she tried to protest or argue on the way to school about not wearing socks, I yelled that I was going to take something away. I started with the movies on her Netflix queue, and moved to her DVDs. I said I’d go home and pack up bags of toys if she kept arguing. About a block from school, she got quiet. 

I parked and got her out. I walked her up to the office to get her late slip. I took her halfway to her class, and told her she needed to do the rest. Her hair was a mess and her coat hung halfway off her back. She took a few steps toward her classroom, then a few steps back, saying she wasn’t stepping right. She tried again. I saw her smile. 

The school administrator took her to class. 

I didn’t start crying until I shut myself in the truck. For the daughter I felt like I’d lost. For the mom I’d turned into that morning. For the task I had at hand. 

I started with the DVDs, stopping only to wipe my face and blow my nose. This isn’t your stuff to take, I kept thinking. This is her stuff, not yours! I moved to the Netflix queue and unplugged the television. I threw
in her favorite toys. The ones I knew she’d miss. I filled three kitchen garbage bags full of stuffed animals. I heaved everything down to the basement.

I skipped class. I didn’t think I could sit through an hour of Shakespeare without breaking down again. I read articles about six year old misbehavior. With all my daughter had going on with the uncertainty of her relationship with her dad, and her uncertainty of her relationship with me because of the baby sister we expected to arrive, all of this behavior was normal.

But mine wasn’t. 

I have to physically bite my tongue when other moms compare themselves to single mothers when their husband goes out of town. I never have an answer for the others who ask me how I do it. Usually I just reply that I don’t have a choice, and do what I need to do to take care of myself and my family, but it’s more than that.   

I’ve always had a belief that as long as you’re putting energy in the right direction, as long as you don’t give up, as long as you keep faith in yourself that you can do it, things will work out okay in the end. 

But my daughter’s anger was something that shattered all of that drive to complete every day with the grace I held myself accountable to. How could I expect to achieve anything if I couldn’t understand why my daughter suddenly kicked and screamed over a wrinkled sock in a rain boot?   

I told her about taking her toys and movies away before we walked in the house after school. She didn’t say much. She walked around with her eyebrows raised, inspecting my work. I could imagine her little mind saying, Wow, you even took the Monster High Dolls, Mom. Game. And. Match. 

She didn’t stomp her feet. She didn’t whine or cry. She knew why her stuff was gone, and she didn’t even ask when it’d be back. Every once in a while, she’d ask me where a stuffed toy was, and I’d tell her it’s in the basement. 

I think taking away the television made the most difference for both of us. Its absence left a silence we could only fill with talking. A few days after I’d shoved half of her toys into the darkness downstairs, she argued with me about something. I sat on the couch, trying to read a book for school that I had to write a couple of pages on by midnight. I don’t remember what she was upset about, but I watched her looking for the right markers to color with for a bit then said, “Mia, are you scared about me having another baby?”

She turned her head to look at me. And she nodded. 

“Is that it?” I said. “Are you upset because you’re going to have a little sister?”

She sat down next to me and looked at her hands in her lap. Her eyes had some wetness to them when she looked up and said, “I’m not ready for a little sister. I’m scared you won’t love me as much because you’ll need to love her, too.”

That was the break-through. She opened up and told me her fears and why she was angry.  My friend walked in about then and we both talked to Mia for a while, explaining that Mommy’s hearts can grow with love like the Grinch’s did. That visual relaxed her the most, I think, and she smiled at me. “I’m ready for my sister to come now, Mom,” she said at bedtime.

It’s been a few weeks now, and I still haven’t brought anything back up from the basement. I let her watch some episodes last weekend so I could sleep in, and tonight so I could get some writing done. Things are starting to work themselves out. I have my loving daughter back. Her dad’s flying her to stay with him the week before we have our Spring Break together. I’m planning to take her to Utah, even though I can’t really afford it. We’ll sleep on a futon in the back of the new truck. We’ll walk under arches and sit in red sand, warmed from the sun. It’s like our own version of a “Babymoon,” just the two of us, and there’s no price for that.

Keep reading for more great pieces from this fab mother-daughter duo.

Categories: essays

Stephanie Land

Stephanie Land's work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Salon, and many other outlets. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow through the Center for Community Change, and through the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Her memoir, MAID: A Single Mother's Journey from Cleaning House to Finding Home, is forthcoming through Hachette Books. She writes from Missoula, Montana, where she lives with her two daughters.
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