Several months ago, I repeated something I had been saying to myself for years: “When my oldest, Lucy, is 5, she will be in school and life will be so different.” That’s when I realized, “Hey, wait a minute! She will be 5 this year!” Ever since then, I have felt I have been trying to catch up and wrap my head around the fact that my baby has grown up.
Perhaps all of the momentous changes that have taken place since she turned four has had something to do with this: having a baby sister and therefore no longer being the sole bearer of her parents’ attention; being away from mom at preschool for the first time, learning how to make new friends, and discovering that she can climb trees all by herself. Even her appearance has been altered with a brand new short haircut. Her long baby hair, that curled at the ends and made her sweet face even sweeter, is gone. Now she seems to possess a sense of maturity. She has become one confident and capable little lady, and I am proud.
As I consider each of these wondrous changes that have taken place this past year, I can’t help but feel bittersweet about my little girl’s growing up. On the one hand, what transpires in her mind during her day–and how her thought process develops and is carried out–amazes me and, on the other hand, I feel the beginning of a separation. She pushes boundaries, fabricates stories, and repeatedly carries out little offenses against her sister. She has found new language and behaviors at school that are hard habits to break. Dinnertime lasts two hours. She tries to cross the street without holding my hand and repeats my boundaries I set for her back to me: “If you choose to say that one more time, you may leave the table.” At least her humor is still present and loveable. Most times her comments are said with a straight face, but her stinker-dimple tells me she is being, well, a stinker. Did I mention dinnertime can take two hours?
My mom laughs when she tells me how much Lucy reminds her of me when I was that age: drama at most turns, boldness, rolling of the eyes. Uh-oh. Teenage years flash to my mind. Can I hide now? I find myself repeating what I promised never to use with my children for the sake of ridiculousness: “Your eyes will stick that way if you don’t stop,” or “If you eat all of your dinner you will be able to climb more trees.” At story time, I even told her a tale about a boy who was warned to be careful because as soon as he picked his nose 101 times, his finger would get stuck. Sigh. At least a couple of weeks later she asked if the story was true…and then only minutes passed and I caught her again in the rearview mirror with her sly smile.
As difficult as it is for me to repeat myself over and over and over again as I establish boundaries, I have also witnessed the angst she has in trying to stand her ground to do as she wishes and to also do what she knows is right. Some things are nonnegotiable: she must always treat her sister with kindness, and they both must be safe. But I find that two things have been helpful so far: consistently standing my ground on the things that really matter and staying calm at all times (even if my tone happens to become more serious and a middle name is thrown in there somewhere). Sometimes her tears will flow, but a reassuring hug is always waiting. Lately, once the tension has subsided, I have also been acknowledging that becoming a big kid is really hard. I want her to know I truly see her. That I see her just as she is: a perfectly magnificent child, with big inquisitive eyes and a hole where a bottom tooth used to be, learning to find her way in this really big world.
Jennifer Sullivan is a LifeWays Certified, Waldorf Teacher-in-Training, Mama of two beautiful girls ages 4-1/2 and 8 months.