38 years and 109 days old

1992. Girl meets boy. Girl and boy spend months chatting on the phone about everything and nothing, as teenagers do (or once did). Flirtation evolves into nothing major or official. They move on and apart. They break other hearts and get their own hearts broken. Fast forward. The year 2000. Boy and girl (now technically, man and woman) find each other again. Man and woman become man plus woman. It’s on.

Hearts get broken. It’s off.

It’s back on.

He puts a ring on it. Engagement!

Hearts get broken. Again. The ring is returned. It’s off.

But not really.

Fast forward. 2006. Baby is born. Oops. Man plus woman (plus kid) struggle to make it work. They cohabitate, nonetheless. Fast forward. 2011. Kid’s about to turn 4, and things still aren’t right. Man plus woman decide to no longer be man plus woman. But they’ll still be parents. Mom and dad. Just not together…And that, my friends, is the abbreviated, less torturous tale of how a beautiful girl named Madison came to be the best surprise of my life.

So, as you can see, and thankfully so, this is not a story about an ex and all the lessons he’s taught me (that topic’s been more than covered.) This is about something much sweeter-my happy, sweet, little Madison. Ok, I exaggerate. She’s not always so sweet or happy and frankly, as of late, there’s been a lot of boundary testing and head-butting-Is this normal for her age? Perhaps more typical in a mother-daughter relationship? Who knows? But truth be told, she is the only person in this world who has the power to make me feel so angry, like punch-your-face-and-rip-your-head-off (figuratively, not literally, of course) angry. But she also can make me feel so much love, like I-can’t-imagine-life-without-her love. It’s an interesting dichotomy. I can’t deny that those anger-inducing, head-butting moments really hurt me, and some have brought me to tears, making me question where I’ve gone wrong, if I’ve gone wrong, why I’ve gone wrong. And while it’d be much easier to blame anything that goes wrong on the ex, his genes, his influence, his neuroses…I’ve decided to approach these battles and hurdles with love and gratitude. MANY parenting moments require us to make this conscious decision.

So, as Madison just turned 9 last Saturday, this week’s post is an ode to her. She’s deserving of only my very best, after all, and this is me consciously deciding to take a break from the continuous battles over her challenging attitude, homework, and inability to follow instructions-it’s my chance to be loving and grateful. This is me putting into practice here in writing: an ode, a declaration, an affirmation of why I’m thankful for every part of her, for every hurdle we overcome together, for every joyous moment we share-simply, why I love Madison…

9 Things I Love About My Daughter:

1. She’s super resilient. She has adjusted well to a life of two homes, changing schools, and everything else that comes with having separated parents. Her strength here shows me she’ll be a boss when it comes to handling the challenges of adult life.

2. She is warm and considerate. I see this most when I observe Madison with her little girlfriends-how she hugs them, how she gives one the other half of a “BFF” necklace set, how she talks about them without judgment but instead, with entertainment and genuine admiration. I love that she’s got the makings of a good girlfriend.

3. She is always up for trying new things. The other week, her school volunteered to march in a parade. On the day of the parade, I anticipated temps would exceed 100 degrees (which they did), but my daughter still wanted to be in the parade (her very first.) I tried to subtly talk her out of it. She didn’t back down, despite the heat, as it really didn’t matter to her. This was a new experience she had to have. So, she marched. Proudly. And it ended up being a proud mom moment for me.

4. When she’s eating something she loves, she takes the teeniest, tiniest nibbles and savors every single bite. She’s a girl who appreciates good food-a girl after my own heart.

5. Although I’d never tell her this until she’s older (hopefully when her ego is less fragile), dancing is not her strength. No doubt she got the one-second-off-beat gene from her father (oh, you best believe everyone knows that her mama can dance.) Yet, she still loves to dance and actually just joined a dance crew at school. I love seeing her confidence grow.

6. After only a couple years of lessons, she’s well on her way (fingers crossed!) to becoming a great golfer. She has the gift of a natural swing and a passion for the sport. For some, it takes a while to uncover their innate talents (or perhaps they never do), but hers is right there, in plain sight for friends and family, and even strangers.

7. Like me, she’s scared of bugs-ridiculously terrified of them. And ants, too. After some thought, I realized I love this about her, not because we have this in common, but because she’s not embarrassed by it. She will run from an ant or a fly, freaking out on such a crazy level. But it’s her fear, and she’s not afraid to own it.

8. She still wants to hold my hand and cuddle with me-and I love it. I know she’ll soon outgrow this stage (heavy sigh), and eventually, it’ll be a boy’s hand she’d rather hold (heavier sigh). But for now, I’ll hold her hand tightly and keep her close.

9. Lastly, when she is happy and smiling, her entire face radiates joy-her eyes, cheeks, mouth…they all light up, and I cannot think of anything more beautiful.

There you have it, nine of the many things I love about Madison for the nine years of joy and lessons (plus resilience training) she’s given me so far. I may not have expected to have a daughter this way, and she certainly wasn’t part of the plan. But everyone knows what they say about the best laid plans…Life is full of wonderful surprises. It’s easy to get caught up in our own expectations and grand schemes, and not realize what’s happening for us. Instead of trying to make things happen, whether it be for career, love life, or family, let’s remember to just flow, learn, adjust, and above all, stay thankful.

Donna Estudillo

Donna Estudillo

RN and associate program director for a non-profit charity, plus mom who's working on being the hardest spiritual gangsta around, living the YOLO life and enjoying mishaps along the way. Current vibes: only positive ones -- which have led to her blog (www.AmI40yet.com). "Am I 40 Yet?" is an idea conceived after turmoil, inspired by a determination to get her sh*t together, and launched at the start of her 38th year. She writes, she learns, she shares…and hopefully, she entertains and inspires.
Donna Estudillo