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My four year old. And that hair.

That gorgeous, long hair with the kind of natural, sun-kissed highlights that the rest of us pay money for. Cut only twice in her life, and so long it is making her look so grown up lately. She loves to have it braided, but equally loves to have it down, messy and in her face.

I stared at this picture for a long time when it hit my editing screen. It made me emotional and I thought I knew why. I thought it was because I saw how long her hair was getting and how it made her look so old and grown up. But then I realized I was connecting with it because it looked so familiar to me. Because I see the back of that head pretty often.

I see it when she walks away after I’ve told her to “hold on a minute” after she’s approached me and asked me to play a game with her.

I see it when she’s walking out of my office when I tell her to give me 15 more minutes to finish my work and then I’ll go outside with her.

I see it when I’m swimming in suds from piles of dirty cereal bowls and character cups while she watches TV.

I see it after I kiss her good night and she goes to her bed to have her dad read her a book so I can go downstairs and start my end-of-day chores.

Yes. I see the back of that head a lot. A lot of times because I choose to.

And I started thinking about all of the times in the future I’m going to see it – again and again – and won’t have a choice. Because one day she will have to walk away.

One day when she’s getting on the bus for her first day of school. When she is running off with her friends because it’s not cool to play with Mom anymore. When she gets in a car to go on a first date. When she walks into her college dorm room. When she’s standing at the altar getting married. When she leaves my house with her own kids to go back to her own home with her own family.

But right now? I have a choice.

She looks in my eyes every single day and asks for me. Asks for my help. Asks for conversation. Asks to learn. Asks to play. Asks for my time. And she also wants to tell me stories. To show me what she’s drawn. To make me laugh. To give me a kiss.

And I have a ton of control over how much I give back to her. How much I look her in the eyes when she’s talking to me. How much I choose to ditch the responsibility and choose the priority.

When I choose right… the memories are formed, the spirits are high, and life is calm. When I choose wrong… the mundane continues, the frustration mounts and serenity seems out of reach.

In this parenting journey, I continue to work towards a mindset that understands that I’m not going to be perfect all of the time. That I’m not going to be in line with every “study” out there that says how you should raise your kids, respond to them and discipline them. That I’m absolutely going to make mistakes, and probably have a few regrets. That I’m going to tell my kids to get out of my hair because I’m up to my ears in stress. That I’m going to say things to them that I don’t mean because I’m tired. That some days I need my space to breathe, to decompress and to focus on me and that it’s OK to choose that and that it doesn’t (by far) make me a bad parent.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to try to be BETTER. Not perfect, but better. To turn them away less when the alternative activity is meaningless in comparison. To continue to reset myself when I think household chores are more important than doing a puzzle or playing Shopkins.

Because while I love looking at that long hair of hers, I love the face that it frames more.

So today I vow to extend the time that I get to see that face. To kiss her more, to talk to her more, to play with her more, to ask her more questions and more importantly, to LISTEN more often. So that in the future when I see the back of that head as she goes out into the world to grow, learn, make mistakes, succeed and conquer, I’ll know that we spent enough time looking in each other’s eyes that she has no doubt how much she is loved and cared for. And that she knows that if she ever loses her way, she can turn around, look for me and know I that I won’t turn her away.

This article was originally published on The Thinking Branch

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Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, speaker and photographer who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. Through her work, she aims to empower people to overcome their fears and insecurities and live their truth. She and her husband raise their three children in Pittsburgh, PA.

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