My five-year-old snuggled into me as she fell asleep tonight and told me that I make her heart smile. She was exhausted after our quiet little Christmas of three in our new home, thousands of miles away from family and friends, and trying to stay awake if only to be aware of my arms around her little body. She’s a big girl now so the deal is I snuggle until she lets herself relax into dreams. Daddy bought her a new bedding set to celebrate the milestone back in Tucson and we’ve reverted a bit since landing in Maine on Thanksgiving. Sometimes it’s because of my anxiety and the resulting insomnia and I eventually wake up not sure if I’m in my bed or hers. Other times it’s because of her own and nightmares and missing the friends she left behind.
“Daddy, is it okay if Mama sleeps with me tonight?” She has asked him that question the last two nights, afraid of what his answer might be and grateful for when he hugs her and concedes. Just one more night.
“That’s a pretty nice quilt there,” he says, kissing her goodnight as he stands to leave the room.
“Yep, it sure is,” she says.
“Remember why we bought them for you?” It’s a gentle reminder. No reprimands.
“Oh yes, Daddy. I remember.”
“Just one more night then?”
“Just one more night.”
And then they love each other to the moon and back before he closes the door. We read and whisper and snuggle and I tell her that I love her and she tells me again that her heart is smiling and I pray to God never to be the reason behind it breaking. I kiss her forehead and hold her close until her breathing slows and her head heavy on my chest. That’s when the tears start. That’s how I ring in the 35th year of being. And I wonder, for the first time in so long, which words to use and how to say what I need to say because it was Christmas and now it’s my birthday and instead of merriment and happy thoughts, I’m wishing I had gone the fiction route because it’s so much easier to hide behind plot lines and strong female protagonists than only half truths and general smart-assery.
She is my wish, my reason, the Why behind the words I write. Love yourself, I say to you. Just The Way We Are is hand stamped on bracelets designed for my web site because I hope to convince myself that one day I am as beautiful as The Husband says I am and as perfect as my daughter believes me to be. You are worth every ounce of self-love and acceptance right now, as you are, I say to you. And I mean it. I just don’t think the words apply to me. Not yet.
I have my good days. But the bad have been more frequent lately, which doesn’t surprise me. I tend to cycle in fives. She’s five. I just turned 35. My dad died four weeks before my thirtieth birthday. I went back on Prozac when I was 25. I was 20 when I sat in a bath tub crying as I read a letter from a sorority sister telling me that I’d be dead already if I was really suicidal because she had grown tired of my ups and downs and self-destructive behavior. Five years before that I officially joined the ranks of the Eating Disordered as a bulimic. Through it all, I saw a few therapists and earned a few labels like Clinically Depressed and Anorexic with Bulimic Tendencies and Daughter of Alcoholic. But Clinically would mean Always and the ADHD was missed. No one picked up on the anxiety, even though I kept saying I felt better but….
And because I always shared just enough to make it seem as if I had bared my soul even though I had barely scratched the surface, no one pushed for The Why. Why was I hell-bent on self-destructing? Why the self-harming behaviors focused on my body and resulting distorted body image? Instead, we focused on the issue at hand and the basically boiled down to screwing my head back on and making sure I did it straight enough to function until the fog lifted and then suddenly voila! The day I’d been waiting for would arrive. I would awaken with a clear head, fog dissipated, and firm convictions that I was never going back there again because I was happy and tapering off of the antidepressants because maybe I never really needed them but no one had realized the need to get to The Why behind The What. And so the cycle would end as I’d skip out of the therapist’s office ready to take on the world.
You’d think I’d be better prepared by now. The sun will come up tomorrow. The work week ends on a Friday. Just enough chocolate makes you feel better but too much makes you feel fat no matter the actual size of your ass. These are all accepted as truths. So why did the fog always seem to come out of nowhere and throw me for a loop? I have my guesses. I’m trying on new labels and definitions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and seeing my reflection through new eyes because I’ll be damned if the only breakdown I have at 40 isn’t the one that comes with leaving your thirties behind. Besides, The Why behind the words I write says I make her heart smile and I have promised myself not to break it.
She’s been asleep for a while and yet I linger and wonder at her innocence. I revel in my success at The Great Parental Lie that comes with Santa and elves and who worked late into the night to get those presents under the tree and the magic and wonder that comes with it all.
She’s five. And The Husband and I high five each other when she isn’t looking because everything is as it should be.
I never believed in Santa. I wish I had.
In the morning, I will wake up to a loving husband and daughter. We will spend the day together going window shopping and celebrating my birthday and there will be hugs and kisses and I will feel happiness. I will field calls and test messages from family and friends wishing me a wonderful day. Those who may have seen these words are asked to pretend they didn’t. At least for now.
And sometime before the end of the business day, I will have slipped away for a few minutes to myself and gotten penciled in on a therapist’s calendar. That will be my gift to myself in my 35th year of being.
Before I get into my own bed tonight and hug my sleeping husband, I will check in on our little girl once more. I will kiss her forehead. And my heart will smile.
Pauline Campos contributes to Funny Not Slutty, Owning Pink, and 30 Second Mom. She blogs three times a week at Aspiring Mama (or when she remember to take her Adderall) and is the founder of Girl Body Pride. This post originally appeared somewhere else and most likely on her personal blog in 2010 and when her hair was, in fact, long enough to pull up in a pony tail.