Stepping Back

Any discussion of my daughter’s birth starts with the fact that she was two and a half weeks late. For some people this would be a joke about the fact that they’ve been late ever since. For my daughter, it’s a joke about her reluctance to leave my side.

For the first month of preschool, my husband or I stayed in the building. I used to joke that I’d be the only parent hanging out at high school parties. For many years she insisted that she would go to the nearby Catholic college, and live at home. We both put up with a lot of well-intentioned advice about our need to separate from each other.

But, by the first day of kindergarten she didn’t even look back at me as I walked out the door. Then came slumber parties and overnight camp. First, for two nights, then three, then five, now this year she’s declared she wants to go to two separate overnight camps for one week each. For her fifth grade outdoor ed trip she announced that I should not chaperone, since this was all about having a chance to get away from your parents. Of course, this came after her ten day trip to Paris, with her grandparents, not me.

Then, this weekend, she became upset that one day I will die and leave her alone. As soon as the words came out of her mouth she burst in to tears and has been only intermittently consolable for the past few days.

I am healthy. My daughter still has all four grandparents, several great aunts and uncles, and even one great-great aunt. She is not worried about me, she doesn’t think I am dying any time soon. But she is sad about the eventuality of us being separated.

I think for a lot of kids, this realization, this phase, comes earlier. Maybe her relative good luck with older relatives has delayed it for my daughter. I think it’s being spurred by her fascination with what she terms “devastating fiction,” in which a parent or sibling is always killed. I think it’s being spurred by a Thanksgiving weekend with my husband’s family, including his adult cousins whose father is very ill.

But I think mainly it’s coming from the same place that a meltdown a few weeks ago came from. The meltdown was over  the proposed renovations to our house. She has always wanted her own room, but she does not want our cozy house to change.

She is ten and she is changing in ways visible and invisible. Neither she nor I can control the changes. I think she is sad not because she truly thinks she will be unable to function without me, but because she believes what I told her last night. She believes me that while she will never be happy about my dying, one day she will grow to a point where she’s ok with it.

Years ago she never would have believed she could go to dance class, let alone Paris without me. In less time than it took to get here, she’ll be leaving for college without me and deep down she knows that one day she will live without me.

I know that it is my job to make sure that one day she can walk in this world without me. But we are not there yet. So, we are both taking a little step backward on our journey. We are spending less time stressing independence and maturity and more time hand in hand, snuggled together. We are putting aside the “devastating fiction.” We are not yet starting the copy of “Are You There God It’s Me Margaret” I bought recently at a used bookstore. Instead, we’re going back to old favorites with talking animals, read together under a blanket.

We are also going back to extra songs, tucking ins, and sleeping together at night. I am not worried, it will not last, she and I both know now, everything changes.

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