Motherhood is push-pull. Hold me tight-let me go. It is I want you — and I want nothing to do with you. It is a long journey of holding close and releasing my grip.
I’m experiencing it with all three of my girls right now. It’s been going on with the older two in different ways, to varying degrees for many years. Lala (you know that’s her nickname, right?) didn’t begin to truly develop a strong sense of identity separate from me until about a year ago. She began to pull away later than the others. It’s partly how we knew she wasn’t ready for kindergarten. She needed to grow in her confidence and sense of herself. It’s happening now for sure.
I can feel yanked around a bit. I’m trying not to put my stuff on them. Sometimes I’m more open after days of quiet to embrace them wherever they are; other times I’m worn out by the sudden onslaught of emotional noise and need.
I try to press in and they push back. I try to leave space, and they follow me, all clinginess and demands. There are no formulas for this sort of thing…more art than science, I’m sure.
The third day of school, Lala, J and I walked to school together (Sici usually walks with friends). Lala held my hand nearly the whole time, but when we began walking across the school grounds, she quickly told me I could just drop her off.
“But I get to come in for Book Look,” I said. “This is what I did with your sisters when they were in kindergarten. I came inside every day because parents and their kids get to read books together to start the day. It’s a special time.”
“That’s OK,” she said. “You don’t have to.”
“I want to,” I said. “I will.”
The next day, Lala told me again that she’d be great with me just dropping her off, and I gave her a variation of the same answer, adding, “I drop off your sisters now and don’t walk them to their class, but I didn’t start doing that until third grade.”
That night as I tucked Lala in, I told her that I appreciated her independence, that it was great (really), that she clearly was transitioning wonderfully to spending all day without me, but that Book Look was our time.
“Sometimes parents can’t stay to read because they need to get to work, but usually I can stay, so I’d like to. You really don’t need to keep telling me to drop you off.”
She scowled and rolled toward the wall.
I talked to a friend about the lunches she gets to share with her kindergarten daughter at another school. She’s done the same with her other three. It’s a sweet time for them to reconnect in the middle of a long day. I’ve done lunch with mine a handful of times in the cafeteria, but it hasn’t really ever become a thing. (Classroom volunteering has really always been more my thing.)
Still, I wondered if lunches might become Lala’s and my deal.
I thought I might bring it up casually, see what she thought, “I could come meet you for lunch sometime, if you’d ever want me to,” I said from the kitchen.
“No, thanks,” Lala said, her voice an upbeat, munching on her toast.
Lately, Lala’s been crawling into bed with Mike and me, waking us with her snuggling around the face. Sometimes she has bad dreams of jumping off cliffs or being chased by cats.
When I drop Lala off at school, sometimes she hugs long, other times seems annoyed, dodges my kisses. It makes my stomach hurt. Honestly, makes me want to snub back. I try to be a grownup, practice with her later the way we can say our hellos and good-byes.
Just a week after she started school, Lala told me during Book Look that she didn’t need to carry her necklace with her anymore, but she still wanted her boxing hippo. (I suspect it reminds her she’s strong.)
“OK, honey, I can take the necklace home for you,” I said.
Through our first book, Lala sat on my lap. When that was finished, she grabbed another and sat down at my side. Then, waggling her head like “oh silly me,” said, “Oh that’s right, I was sitting on your lap” and plopped down on me again.
My heart broke open right then.
When Ms. Foster dimmed the lights to signal transition, Lala clung to my arm.
“Do you want to wear your necklace for a little while to help you feel comfortable when I go?” I asked, showing it to her in my hand.
“Yeah, I can put it on myself.”
On a recent day:
“I don’t want you to go, Mama.”
“I know, love.”
I gave her an extra hug and then stepped to the outside of the kid crowd. I set my eyes upon her, just in case she needed to see me for reassurance before I left. I stayed looking at her tender face for a few moments; her eyes stayed focused straight ahead at her teacher and didn’t search for me.
I walked out the door and down the street toward home. My heart broke open then, too.
This is writing from the middle of the place I find myself. Not from a place of grand perspective, but from the now. I really am adjusting — all is well with my soul, friends — even as I seek a new way. I’ve described this new stage many times as surreal, and it is. I also know it’s right, and as it should be. Though many times, I wish I could keep & school all my little people at home, this has clearly not been the plan for this family of ours. In spite of the tugs at my heart, this is part of our good-hard, painful-sweet. It’s the place God has me — where I continue trying to open my heart, eyes and mouth, gulping down grace and giving thanks, knowing these loves are always being held, even if not by me.