You forget, really, once your child starts attending school or being dropped off at friends’ houses that they spend so much more time independently of you. You forget that they are increasingly traversing the uncertain and sometimes rocky terrain of friendships and, unfortunately, the more treacherous areas where the poison berries grow too. You forget that once you let go of that pink mittened hand in the morning, and kiss that sweet nose that peeks out just above her scarf, that for the next six hours or so she will go it alone. You forget that there are going to be times when it seems like she can’t find the trail markers, but she really doesn’t need the map just yet. Her internal compass gives her a good sense of direction. She won’t let herself wander too far. She knows when to ask for help.
Or at least I forgot. Though I was reminded earlier this week.
At my daughter’s school, the children play outside before the bell rings, so long as it’s above 20 degrees. Many of us parents hang around during that time too, to catch up and just enjoy those final morning moments watching our young children play with their friends. I am one of those parents who stays.
For the first few months of school, M had a trusted friend that she met up with every morning before school started. They conquered the monkey bars together. Sometimes they just stared at each other with silly smiles. Peas in a pod, those two. Sadly, that friend moved away around Christmas time. Then winter break happened, and lots of cold weather after the break forced the children inside the gym before classes started. Parents aren’t allowed to hang out when the children are inside because it is too crowded. So, it’s been a while since I’ve seen how M now handles her mornings without her friend there.
On Monday, it was warm enough for the children to play outside in the morning. I kissed her and off she went to find a friend to hang out with. She still struggles with the initiation part of this kind of thing. But she found a friend that she really likes and they were talking, in that awkward but tender way that six year old girls do. Then another classmate came along. I thought I was imagining it at first, but after seeing it unfold repeatedly for more than a few minutes, I knew it was happening. This other classmate (who is significantly taller than M) was physically moving in a way to block M from talking with the friend she had found. It wasn’t even subtle. And M just kept shifting around to try and stay in the mini-circle among their three bodies. I could tell that M wasn’t really aware of what that classmate was trying to do. Then the bell rang and they lined up.
It took all of my willpower to not walk over to that classmate and tell her to stop doing that to my child. She wasn’t in any physical danger, so I just stayed on the sidelines, watching my daughter essentially be forced out of something unwillingly. It is so hard to see that happen in front of you. But, I told myself, she has handled many other mornings in the gym without me (and, insofar as I know, without incident; thankfully M is usually one to tell me when someone is not being kind), so don’t interfere right now. I told myself that I don’t want to undermine her ability to work these things out for herself, or take away any confidence or assertiveness she may be developing at her own pace.
I’ll be honest: I fumed inside for the greater part of that morning after I left the school yard.
When I picked her up later that day, I casually mentioned what I had observed. She replied that the classmate was trying to tell a secret to her friend and told M she couldn’t listen. (The classmate wanted to know if the other girl wanted to talk about boys, no less…already? In Kindergarten? I’m so not prepared for this.) I asked her how she felt about that. She replied that it didn’t bother her. I could sense that she really didn’t think it was a big deal (she said she had no interest in talking about boys anyway), so I largely let it go, but reminded her that she doesn’t have to put up with the bad behavior of others like that. I told her that she is absolutely allowed to tell someone to stop crowding her out or trying to tell secrets in front of her, and should if she wants to. She assured me that she would. She told me not to worry about it.
And so, for now, I won’t. Though I am sensing that M is not likely in the more extroverted, crowd-loving, assertive camp of children, I’m taking a breath and letting her decide when she needs some more advice or assistance from me. I remind myself that good mama bears must let their cubs take chances and be exposed to risks and dangerous situations if they ever want to see them thrive on their own. Mama bears make sure their cubs know the way back to the den, but they also let them wander. They show them how to find the fruit that is sweet and stay away from the berries that might hurt them. At some point, however, the cubs need to test these things on their own. It is the only way that they learn. Indeed, it is essential for their survival when they are eventually fully out of our view.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
August 31, 2007. That was the day you were supposed to be born, at least according to the white-coated “experts” and their charts. In my typical Type A fashion, I planned my last day of work before my maternity leave to be August 28, so I could work right up until the end. I’d have two days off to get organized and pack “the bag”, and then you’d be born. There was a plan. Perfect.
But nope. August 31st came and went. You just weren’t ready.
So I waited. And waited. And waited.
Truth? I was already a little miffed that I could have been working instead. It seemed so important at the time to not take any “extraneous” time off from clients and the courtroom just to sit around the house. The heat wave smothering Boston at the time certainly did not help. As I stepped into my mother shoes, I was already feeling the outer edges of a life that would no longer be entirely mine. I was being introduced into the art of “letting go”. I was not a quick study.
Then, after a week that felt like an eternity, you arrived on September 6th.
You came when you were ready.
At the time you were born, I didn’t realize that your “delay” would mean an extra year until you could enter Kindergarten in our city. Once I did figure this out, probably when you were around three years old or so, I did not exactly embrace that extra year. A lot of “if only” thoughts cluttered my mind. If only you had been born “on time” instead of when you were ready. This was still my kind of thinking back then.
But then something shifted in me. I began to listen to the pure tones within myself and of my loved ones, and blocked out the white noise of external expectations. I realized that I was not entirely happy with my chosen profession, at least not in the way that I was then working. I began to accept, if not appreciate, the kind of sensitivity you innately possess. A sensitivity that, at its meridian, was so entirely contrary to the path of life we had first chosen for you: nine hours a day in loud and busy daycare classrooms. A sensitivity that still quite often means you are not ready to do things at the speed or volume that others might. A sensitivity much like mine.
If both of us were going to survive, something had to change. So, a few months before you turned four, I let go and left what I knew to start something entirely different that would nourish my soul and my heart, and also bring you closer to me more often. I sensed that it was where we both needed to be. I was ready.
It has not always been easy. There have been many false starts over the past two years. Even though I was ready to embark on a fresh new journey, you were not. You sent up several red hot flares to signal you were in distress. I put aside many of the things that I wanted to accomplish for myself during that time so that I could be the kind of mother you needed for a while, but more importantly so that you could be the kind of kid that you are. I do not say this as a martyr or a saint—you know perhaps better than anyone else that patience was in short supply for much of this past winter and spring as we untangled the biggest knots, and I am now well aware of how much I benefited from it all even though almost none of it was part of my plan.
It’s also precisely when I realized that the extra year that I had once considered a detriment was actually a gift. That extra year allowed me to really get to know you and myself. It allowed all of us to make all of the necessary adjustments before we sent you off to school.
That time is what allowed you to be ready today, September 9, 2013, your first day of Kindergarten.
You are ready to widen your circle. You are ready to weather the storms of friendships and steep learning curves. You are ready to take risks. You are ready to speak up when you do not want to be rushed. You are ready to take in all that life has to offer. You are ready to chart your own course even when it might be the one less traveled. You are ready to try new things. You are ready to discover who you are going to be.
I am ready to follow your lead.
Readers: I’m taking a blogging sabbatical for the remainder of September. After three years of doing this, I need the time and space to think about the direction I want to go with this blog, and weigh M’s privacy as a factor going forward now that she’s more “out there”. I’ll be back in October, though maybe in a slightly different way.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
See that line? That’s the line I was walking along at 8:19AM this morning. The line that I was trying to balance on before I lost my cool and snapped at M, whom was screaming at me from the back seat of the car.
We had already begun to pull out of the driveway, on time but barely, when she suddenly gets a twisted, concerned look on her face and says, “I want to bring someone!!”. “Someone” meaning a doll, like her beloved Emma or Julianne. M has a habit of bringing, most days, a doll with her in the car on the ride to preschool. She’s not allowed to bring it into school with her (school rules), but every day I bring the doll in with me when I pick M up at the end of the day. Showing these dolls to her friends is a source of pride for her (despite the fact that there are only boys during the last hour of pickup and they are usually not interested). I get that.
But M has a habit, probably due to her age but particularly lately, of forgetting things. I try to give occasional reminders throughout the morning, though it is hard not to sound naggy all the time so I try to back off a bit. Sometimes she remembers (or I do) as we’re putting on coats. Sometimes it’s in the breezeway as we’re locking the door. Sometimes not until we’ve started loading the car. But today it was while I was driving in reverse, halfway down the driveway. And so I was irritated. At first I said gently, “No, it’s too late now, but I can bring your purse inside when I pick you up instead, OK?” (it happened to be in the trunk because it was what she wanted to bring yesterday). That’s when the screaming and crying ensued.
I quickly considered my options. Do I stick to my guns and say no, trying (but probably failing) to drive home the message of personal responsibility about remembering things? Do I just let her cry the whole ride to preschool, having her start off a 9 hour day like that without me because of my parenting agenda?
Or do I give in? Do I stop the car, take her out of the car seat, go back in the house with her and let her find her doll that she wants (which is not always the same one, so there will be about 2-3 minutes of decision making as well), buckle her back in and head on our way? And if I do, am I giving in and letting her “run the show”? Or am I giving in and just loosening up a bit to “go with the flow”, because in all honesty it will only add another 5 minutes and we’re late now anyway? Is there even a difference, to her or to me?
Tough call. Either way, I am not ending up happy. But one way, she will. It’s these kinds of pivotal moments that get the better of me once in a while, and sometimes I snap.
So I stopped the car. And I was huffy and took her out and let her get the doll. My words to her were not very nice and I was a bully about it. It was completely unnecessary, and I immediately felt terrible. I apologized to her right after it happened, but explained why I was frustrated so that she might realize that she needs to help remember the next time. Smiling, she seemed oblivious to what I was saying now that she had Emma in hand–so much for getting the bigger picture across. I am trying not to beat myself up about it because we all have bad days, but here I am, three hours later still thinking about it and how I could have handled it better.
This is where parenting becomes a tough balancing act, especially if you’re the over-analytical type like me. Trying to be consistent, yet somehow also live in the moment and make exceptions when warranted. Not always worrying about the long-term consequences of everything we say or do or every rule we bend, but not letting the child drive the bus, so to speak. Accepting that by just “giving in”–no matter what the motivation or what message we might be sending–is OK sometimes, but not doing it too much or else run the risk of a shriveling backbone. Trying to remember that one lapse, hers or mine, is not going to create a lifelong character flaw, but knowing that, cumulatively, there may be a point of no return.
Such fine distinctions. Such great distractions.
Clearly, there are greater problems in the world than this and perhaps my main motivation in even writing about it is to let it go. But I wonder how much of these moments are felt by other parents, and to what degree? It is the rare occasion that I see a parent lose their cool with their own child. (Except at the grocery store for some reason–indeed, what IS it about aisle 9 and a freezer full of waffles that just causes the parent-child dynamic to completely break down?) Do we not see these moments because the child is on their best behavior in front of others? Perhaps the parent is. It almost seems taboo to talk about these less than finer moments, or at least that’s my impression. I think that is also what makes it seem weightier than it is when you’re going through a rough parenting patch. With no one ever admitting to being a jerk to their kid sometimes, you wonder if you’re overdue for a swirly* and what all of these other parents know that you don’t. It seems to create a bit of perfect parent-perfect kid pressure, albeit self-inflicted.
But since I don’t anticipate scheduling my right-brain lobotomy anytime soon, I’m sure there will be many more moments of walking the tightrope in my days ahead. Hopefully, there will be some good company on the ground when I land and dust myself off.
* A term used–but thankfully not practiced!–by my parents, referring to sticking one’s head into a toilet and flushing.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
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