I've been decoding my daughter's cryptic messages for months now.
"I'm wanting something cold and tasty and sweet" she'll say, boring holes through the freezer with her little brown eyes. At dinner she'll often tell me she has a stomach ache when faced with the prospect of having to eat our token "two more bites."
It disappears the instant she's excused from the table.
"Do you want ice cream?" I'll say firmly, telling her to just ask for what she wants. Every time she has a "belly ache," I tell her it's okay to tell us that she's full.
But lately, it's picked up - her roundabout ways of asking me to read her more stories or her new "fuzzy throat" that just so happens to require chocolate milk at dinner time. And I find myself continually telling her to say what she means, particularly when it comes to us, her parents that love her completely and unconditionally.
It scares and frustrates me. Because for the first time, I realized that I'm parenting myself. A smaller, probably smarter version of me.
She wants so much to be right, and struggles deeply with the feeling of being wrong or unliked. She desires approval and harmony and will go to great lengths to get it.
She wants everyone to just be happy.
I used to blame my inability to say what I mean and mean what I say on my parents. I'd snake my way in and out of everything, mostly to avoid the wrath of my alcoholic father and my unpredictable mother.
I quickly learned how to ask for what I needed and get what I wanted by doing various dances. I'd spin when they wanted me to spin, and I'd jump when they asked me to jump - mostly to protect my own fragile ego from being damaged any more than it already was.
It became a choreographed life of lies.
And while my husband is not a drunk and I'm fairly predictable, I can't help but fear for my daughter what was often a difficult existence for me. And still is.
But as I'm learning, much of it is branded on our souls, to be molded and shaped by our circumstances, and not so much the other way around.
So when I tell my daughter to speak her truth and accept the consequences, I realize that I need to tell myself the same thing. And my frustration with her just not getting it, has a lot to do with feeling the same way about myself.
The tightly lipped "I'm fine" followed by random blow ups aren't working. The brush offs by acquaintances, family, and whoever else that I seethe about for weeks even months should be handled with a phone call or email.
I'm learning that parenting is like talking into a mirror. Except now there's someone watching to see if you're actually listening.