Warning: This post is a little more histrionic and emotional than most…
It was all I could not to burst into tears today after dropping Katie off at the bus. Everything was going fine and as she ran onto the bus holding her friend’s hand like she always does, I yelled after her, “Love you, kiddo!”…like I always do.
Then, she ran back to me for another kiss as her friend got onto the bus ahead of her. When she got to the steps at the door, she burst into tears. The other moms looked at me to let me know and I ran up to see what was wrong. She tends to get upset if her friends don’t sit with her, for whatever reason, and I thought maybe her little friend had been sat with someone else since Katie had run out of line to kiss me.
Something entirely different was upsetting her and it nearly broke my heart. I picked her up to figure out what was wrong, and she hugged me, saying, “I just want to stay with you!”
It’s been a challenging few weeks around here as we all adjust to our new surroundings. The girls have new friends next door, one of whom will start kindergarten with Katie in the fall. They love to play together every day, but I can’t let Zuzu join in when they play out front and I have things to do in the house. So Katie plays outdoors or in the house next door while Zuzu, patient as always, watches from the front windows or keeps me company as I cook.
Here’s the thing, though: Katie is the only playmate Zuzu has ever had and the two girls love each other. I’ve been trying to balance Katie’s growing autonomy with the sense that she just can’t abandon her little sister. I’ve asked Katie if she and the neighbor girls can play at our house some days. Zuzu’s face lights up when the other girls have come over to play. They really are so good at including Zuzu when they’re around. It is the sweetest thing to see.
But the lure of the neighbor’s house with their bunk beds and their snacks of juice boxes and chocolate bars (which we tightly ration around here) is too much for Katie to resist. It’s not the neighbors’ nanny’s job to keep an eye on Zuzu and I’m certainly not going to just let Zuzu roam with the big girls out front without my supervision. So I’ve really had to appeal to Katie’s deep sense of empathy, even as it has resided as she grows older, asking Katie how she’d feel if someone just suddenly stopped playing with her.
I’m not sure Katie or I have handled this too well. Katie will be cooking with Zuzu and me then want to leave to do something else, expecting us to stop while she lounges on the couch or whatever. When I tell her Zuzu and I will continue without her, she comes right back, upset.
And so it’s clear to me that she’s torn between two places right now: growing up and staying a little kid. She admitted as much the other day. How a four year-old thinks these things is beyond me. But we were straightening her bedroom, Katie picked up her blanket (her wee-wee), and said, “When I grow up, I won’t use my wee-wee anymore.”
I was trying to reassure her that she could use her wee-wee for as long as she needed and that she had some time before she was “too old” for her wee-wee. But two seconds later, she burst into tears: “I want to stay a little girl forever!”
Really? What kid worries about this stuff this young? I remember crying like this when I was graduating high school. As I was nearly crying to Mom today after dropping Katie off, she told me I was never like that as a kid, instead reassuring my Mom that I was okay as she cried.
That Katie doesn’t want to let go is actually harder for me than the pushback that she’s been giving lately. She’s been much mouthier and much more questioning the past few weeks and it has tried me greatly. I won’t qualify for Mother of Year any time soon after my behavior this past month.
But I expect Katie’s growing independence. I want her to be self-reliant, outgoing, self-confident. When I get the chance to watch her with other kids, she is all those things. And intellectually, if not emotionally, I know that the attitude is her way of testing boundaries and, unfortunately, perfectly healthy.
I don’t expect her turmoil, however, and I don’t deal well with the unexpected. When she told me she wanted to stay little forever, the mother in me of course wanted to say, “I do, too!” But what I want is not the point. Although it is hard for me when Katie wants to leave our home for someone else’s and it’s not easy to hear her say she wants to live at the house next door, I can brush that off, though…even though I expected a few more years before the “I don’t like you, Mommy!”
This is where my education has come in handy and the self-reflection has kicked in. It’s like I’m doing fieldwork again and I constantly have to question in whose interest I’m operating as I relate to Katie. I would be working in my own to keep her near. That’s my reflex.
What my reflex tells me, though, is how sheltered we’ve been the past six years and how we haven’t set down any roots. The walls of our apartment the past three years certainly were smaller and more confining than I realized. To have windows onto the outside world in our new home has done wonders for us all.
My impulse to protect Katie also tells me how hard it is for me to trust new people (okay, people in general) and new surroundings. But, my God, I am terrible at balancing my own mistrust of the world and being a parent; does my personal history really have to impact my child’s? I remember my dad saying when I was a kid, “We only have the three of us,” pitting us against the world. Really, it was though. As isolating as it is to be a stay-at-home parent, that’s not my life now- I don’t want Katie to feel that way.
When I’ve been snuggling with Katie lately, every so often she does something that’s a flash of her infancy; the shape of her face or the way she looks at me like she used to when we were telling her not to climb on something. And I’m so glad I have those moments because it is so very hard to watch her grow up. I just had no idea it would be so hard for her, too.