Teaching independence

Letter to Nikisha (Six years nine months):

Dearest Nik,

This morning I watched you walk out the front door to head to your bus. Alone. The scared feeling I get every time you do that has gotten smaller with each passing day. I know now that you’ll be just fine without me attached to your schoolbag until you’ve stepped up that first step onto the bus. I know that when I hear the bus round the corner at just before 4PM every weekday, you’ll be walking through that door in just a few minutes.

Each and every time you do, I feel relief. And pride.

But do you remember at the beginning of the school year? That day when we both got scared and the only thing we wanted to do was cry?

I remember that day so clearly. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it. It was the first time I ever felt so terrified that I’d lost you and I didn’t know what to do. I waited at the bus stop until every last kid got off the bus. When you didn’t, I panicked. It was only the second day you’ve ridden the bus, so the bus driver had no idea who you or I was. I ran home and hopped in the car to look for you. Heart pounding and tears running down my face.

I can only imagine how freaked out you were when you realized you got off at the wrong stop. You tried to find your way home, didn’t you? But when you thought all hope was lost, you sat on the curbside and cried.

That was when the nice lady walking her dogs noticed you. She helped calm you down and gave you the confidence to find your way home. You did. I wish I had your confidence so I could look for her and thank her for helping you. Maybe even give her the biggest bear hug ever.

Except I fear that she will tell me how awful I was for not waiting at home for you. What a terrible mother I was because I hadn’t thought to walk around the neighborhood with you to show you different ways to get home. I’d probably cry so hard in agreement that I wouldn’t be able to explain that I had gone looking for you. That the thought of you having to go through this never crossed my mind until it happened. That I’m sorry I’m so pathetic.

I vowed from that day to do whatever it took to prevent this situation from happening again. But I couldn’t go about it the wrong way. I’m sure that other parents in my situation would choose to not let their kids out of their sight, but your mama? No. I was going to teach you what needed to be done if the situation arises again. Not that I want it to, but I’d much rather prepare you for these situations now instead of waiting until you’re “old enough”.

I believe you’re old enough now.

We started off slowly. We took a stroll around the neighborhood to familiarize ourselves. Now you know where the other bus stop is and how to get home from there. You carry an emergency contact card just incase you need to tell an adult.

In the beginning I continued to walk you to and from the bus. I wanted to make sure you got off at the right stop from now on. When you and I were both confident enough for you to make your way home alone, I started waiting for you on the porch instead.

Over time it got to the point where you’d walk to and from the bus while I watched from a distance. I wanted us both to feel like you could do it on your own. Eventually I started waiting inside for you when you got home.

And now? Now you leave the house when you’re ready.

It makes me beam with pride to know that you are becoming more and more independent. I can’t believe that you wake up on your own in the morning, get your cereal and milk (if you’re hungry), get yourself dressed, and feed the cats all with some time to spare.

Then you look at me and say in a very confident voice, “I’m going now, mommy. I love you. Bye!” I just want to cry.

Love, mama

We’ve reached year six

Letter to Nikisha (Six years):

niki is 6!

You were born six years ago on sunday and I’m freaking out. How did we get this far so soon? I look at you and then your little sister and I keep thinking that it really wasn’t that long ago when you were that little.

Despite our differences and constant arguing, I’m glad you’re my daughter. We’re getting closer and better at this. We are. You make me proud to be your mom. I’m always learning new things because of you. You are the first driving force to come into my life and make me strive for great things. For all of us.

"I'm going to go read this!"

You’ll be in the first grade soon and I’m excited. You’ve already learned so much in Kindergarten and I know you’ll learn even more. It still shocks me when you try to read and you don’t need too much help. I just hope that you don’t spend all year pretending to be a kitty when you should be participating in your class activities.

Did you know that your sissy loves you and looks up to you? She tries to copy the things you do because she thinks you’re so awesome. The two of you still fight over things, but you help mommy take care of her. You do it so well, too. I think she’s lucky to have you as her big sister. She’ll have someone awesome teach her the ways of the world.

Happy birthday, my little girl.

Love, mama

Put to the test

Letter to Nikisha (Five years seven months):

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Dear Niknik,

What a month this has been, huh? It started out fine and we were content.

Then our tolerance for each other was put to the test. In many ways we failed, but we made it through without injury. All four of us were sick at one time or another, overlapping each other at some points. You can only imagine just how awful that was for us. Tension ran high and patience ran low. We got on each other’s nerves and couldn’t help but get mad.

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Being sick for so long also made us tired and sad. Coughing and sniffing, and blowing our noses. Unable to smell anything good or taste our food. All we could do is lay around and watch cartoons. Doesn’t sound so bad, huh? Except when Mommy was the one that was sick and couldn’t do anything. You wanted to play games and I wouldn’t. You wanted to talk and I couldn’t. You wanted to sing and dance, and I just didn’t have the energy to even entertain the thought. It hurt me inside seeing you so sad because I couldn’t do anything with you. I failed that part of the test, didn’t I? The one where I’m supposed to be SuperMom even when I’m sick?

Do not worry, though, because even though we didn’t pass every test, we’re learning.

I knew that the next week was going to be all three of us girls… all the time. Your school district was having a mid-winter break and you had no school all week. You didn’t even have jazz class this week. Added to that, Daddy had a full schedule with his regular job, his part-time job, plus his side job. We hardly saw him these past three weeks, and when we did, he was on the computer working some more. We were both sad that he didn’t have time to hang out with us, but it’s understandable. He’s doing what needs to be done to give us a good life. Mommy knew what to do to make things better.

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When I felt well and my mind was clearer, I came up with an idea. We were going to have the mother-daughter crafty time we so deserved. You didn’t even know what the idea was, but you jumped onboard without hesitation. You trusted that I would have something fun for us to do. That I did, and I planned to spread it out through the week. On the plus side, there were enough things that you could do on your own that I could get some of my own things done. That is, when I’m not playing with your sister.

The first day I had you sit at the table and make a list. You had to write the names of all the people that you love. Since you were learning to read and spell in school, I figured this would be a good test of how much you’ve learned. With very minimal assistance from me, you spelt out each name by sounding them out. I was so proud of how well you did, it didn’t matter that you spelt every one of them wrong except for the one I helped you with.

Then, over the next few days we drew and cut out shapes, wrote messages and glued things together. Let the ones we started dry and continued the next day. Finishing the first set, then starting on the second. The morning after we finished the first set, you were so excited to put it in the mailbox. We did a little every day and are still working on them.

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The best part? It had been warm outside despite the fact that it’s still winter. We needed the fresh air and sun, so I got us dressed and headed to the playground for some fun. We went three days in a row, and you got to be as loud and crazy as you wanted. No one got mad and you loved every minute of it.

An emotional roller coaster was the ride we got on for February. What a month it’s been, huh?

Love,
Your Mama

Report card

Letter to Nikisha (5 years 4 months):

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My little school girl,

When Grandma was here the first week of this month, we would talk all about you, your sister and your cousins. When we talked about you, we talked about how amazing you are with school and everything you do. Then Grandma mentioned something that is part awesome, part scary. She thinks you might be a perfectionist, and I agree. You seem to get upset if anything is done or said wrong. If we ask you if you know the answers, you say ‘yes’, but if we ask what they are, you shrug. You refuse to answer or change the subject when you don’t know the answer to the questions we ask.

Halfway though the month you came home with what you called ‘the bad note‘ from your teacher explaining that you don’t listen and refuse to participate in class. She noted that you would prefer to play with your classmates instead of learning. We were shocked to learn all the things she’s said about you. The next day, we went to your very first Parent Teacher Conference. It was full of surprises for us. You are a completely different person with us than you are there. It’s so hard to imagine you being so shy and not willing to participate in class.

Daddy and I decided to work on that with you almost immediately after we left your classroom. We wanted you to know that it was okay to be wrong sometimes. You shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and tell your teacher you don’t know the answers. You should try to answer if you think you do. Of course, we didn’t pressure you, but just let you know.

A week went by and we hadn’t heard anything. I was unsure of your progress until you came home one day with a note and puzzle from your teacher. She gave it to you because you’ve been doing so well in the following week the conference and wanted to encourage you to continue.

I wrote an email to your teacher telling her about what happened next.

Hello Miss Kim,

My husband, Nikisha and I would like to thank you for the puzzle you gave to Nikisha. It was very thoughtful and generous of you. It’s also nice to know you remembered the things we’ve mentioned about her.

On our way back to our place after school, she told me about it. Immediately after we got in the door, she wanted to get started on it. It took her about 10 minutes to put the whole thing together. It IS too easy for her, but she loves it despite that. She took it apart after showing me she did it, and then proceeded to put it together a second (and even third) time.

Now (the next morning) she took it apart and decided to try to put it together flipped over where she can’t see the picture and can only go by the shapes. As I’m typing, she is halfway done with it. It amazes me how she’s able to do that and wanted to share that with you.

We’ve been working with her to teach her that it’s okay to speak up in class and she doesn’t always have to be right. I’m very happy to hear that it’s working.

Thank you again for the puzzle. I hope that we’ll continue to be able to work together to bring out the best in Nikisha and further her awesome development.

Sincerely,
Nicole

My little Niki. Oh how happy it makes me to know that you are mine. I can already tell you’ll be a smart little cookie when you are older and that’s a good thing. You’ll give all those boys a run for their money. You won’t be easily fooled. YOU BETTER NOT BE OR SOMEONE WILL REGRET IT! I’m just not sure who (him, you, me) just yet.

Love, mama

Night Fright

Letter to Nikisha (5 years 3 months):

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Sweet Little Niki,

You’re growing up way too fast. Every time I look at you, I wonder where the time went. Then all of a sudden, you remind me that you’re still small and vulnerable. You still need us even though sometimes it seems like you don’t.

This past month something happened. Maybe it’s the sound of the cars driving by, or the people’s voices as they walk past our apartment, or maybe it’s something else. All I know is you’re back to crawling into our bed because you’re scared and don’t want to sleep alone. Some nights, after we lay you down to sleep, you cry and cry. It’s not a fake cry, but almost a pleading for us not to leave you alone. It breaks my heart, but I can’t figure out how to make things better.

One night, when I told you it was time to sleep, I had laid your sister down next to you so I could put your clothes away. You were so happy that I did and said to me “Thank you, Mommy, for letting my sissy sleep with me”. When I told you she couldn’t because she could fall off your bed, you began to cry that pleading cry. It broke my heart even more knowing that you would even settle for having your sister, who is just a baby and much smaller than you, sleep with you. I explained to you that she couldn’t because she’s been extra cranky lately and refuses to sleep in her own bed. Then you asked to sleep with us. I explained that our bed isn’t big enough for the four of us because you and your sister are getting too big. You looked so sad and I knew you would end up in our bed sometime in the night while we were asleep. So, I gave in just a little, and made a bed on the floor with a comforter and pillow. As you laid down and crawled under your blanket, you closed your eyes and had the most content look on your cute little face. It lightened my heart and the weight on my shoulders, even if it was only a temporary fix. Looks like that little “bed” will be there for you for whenever you get scared, but I’ll still have you go to sleep in your own bed and hope that this fear goes away.

Let me not leave out what drives me crazy about you, for it wouldn’t be fair to either of us. You are far from being the perfect little angel I make you out to be sometimes. Not that you aren’t awesome, because you most definitely are.

This is the highest point you’ve hit on the ‘I want’ phase. Almost every single toy commercial expels that constantly growing despised ‘Wow! I want that!’ phrase from your cute little mouth. Saying ‘no’ doesn’t work anymore because you just start whining knowing it gets on my nerves. I’ve even tried compromising with you. I first explain that there is no space in your bedroom for anymore toys. If you let me get rid of some of the toys you have now, maybe we’ll get something new. You say yes, so we head into your room and I ask you to choose a bunch of toys you would like to trade. You say okay and get to work, but after going through the huge lot of toys you have, you pick out two or three of the smallest toys possible. The rest end up right back into your toy bin. I also noticed that some of the toys you chose to give away were your sister’s!

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Your cousins Alicia and Baby Josh came to visit. They came for your sister’s first birthday, but stayed a whole week and two days. You got to go Trick-or-Treating with them after dressing up as a Princess Kitty. You couldn’t decide on what you wanted to be, so you just put both of your costumes together. You all had so much fun during their visit that I wish it hadn’t ended.

I know that you and Alicia missed each other so much. You kept asking if we can go visit her. She said she wanted to go to school with you. Oh how I would love to have her and her brother stay with us. I know she would love school so much more because you’ll be there with her. She’ll see how much you love it and want to love it just as much as you. She’ll feel the love our family has amongst us and be a part of it. Our love is and always will be unconditional. Never fleeting, always without reason except just because. Not because we feel we have to love them, but because they are meant to be loved. I wish we could give them that, but our hands are tied. Hopefully someday they will know the life you live everyday and live the same way.

That was the original plan, staying together with them at your grandparents’ house, instead of moving here to Seattle. Problem is, things beyond my control forced us to make the difficult decision of changing our plans and actually moving us farther away from your cousins instead of closer. If you ever want to know why, I’ll tell you personally, but not here. It’s not something that should be shared with the world. All I can say is that the events leading up to our decision is embedded in my mind forever though I wish they would disappear. I just hope that it will fade from yours as time goes by.

Believe me when I say that I may not be able to give you everything you want and most definitely deserve, but I will do my best to teach you how to survive in this world. I will teach you how to live life to the fullest and take chances. I will teach you how to make decisions on your own. There may be times when I do the wrong thing, but I hope you’ll forgive me because I’m doing my best to do what’s right. Please know that I fight with myself all the time to do what’s right and not do things with selfish intentions. The things I do are for what I feel is best for you even if it’s not what’s best for me. I will always put you first when you need to be put there. You, your sister and your father are my highest priority, and I will drag myself through a road of broken glass if that is what’s best for the three of you.

Listen to me, crappy sappy mushiness flowing through my fingertips through this keyboard and onto the screen. I want to delete it all so you don’t think your mother is a big softy, but it is who I am and always will be even if it doesn’t always seem like it.

My Little Monster

A Letter to Nikisha (5 years 2 months):

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My Little Monster,

Yes Sweetheart, you read that right. I called you a monster, because that is what you are 2/3 of the day. That doesn’t stop me from loving every ounce of your little being. I can’t even begin to describe the emotions I’ve felt throughout the years because of you.

You’ve given me life and a reason to reach for the stars. Your crazy little quirks remind me why you are so awesome. You are so freaking smart that sometimes I don’t know what to do with you.

When you are not happy with Mommy or Daddy, you let it be known. Recently you drew a picture and said it meant “No Daddy Allowed” because you were mad at him for getting mad at you. I think it might have hurt Daddy’s feelings a little, but it was cute. I like how you draw pictures to express how you are feeling at the time even if sometimes they have sad or crying faces.

I’m trying to understand why you do things backwards. When you write your name, you write it backwards from right to left. You could read it perfectly fine… if you hold it up to the mirror. I asked you what time it was the other day only to find out that you read the numbers backwards. It wasn’t as late as I thought and I was already rushing you to get ready for bed. I’m going to take it as a sign of ingenious behavior. Maybe you’ll be a little Einstein.

You started school earlier this month. What a big girl you were. No tears on your first day, only excitement. You even got upset when I picked you up afterwards because you wanted to ride the bus. You seem to enjoy riding the bus to and from school. You’ve already received a Sparkle ticket and then won the Sparkle Award all in the same week. Most of your homework is a piece of cake for you, probably because you have the best teacher ever at home. Your Daddy. You now know how to write your whole first name, but for some reason you always put a “I <3 U" at the end. I'm not complaining, though, it's cute. That day you insisted on going to school even though you threw up just minutes before we had to leave the apartment was amazing to me. If I had been in your situation, I would have stayed home. Nik, you have a constant stream of amazing things flowing from you. Even though you can drive me crazy with little effort, you amaze me even more.