I am in an online class called Sleeping Ink. Here is a link to it.
This is my second assignment for the class.
“Momo, can we go to Seaside again and buy another book with all the stickers in it? This one is almost gone.” I’m in the kitchen, LB’s in the living room. I ignore her question because if I answer it I might explode. But she persists, asks again, her voice fueled by indignation at not getting an answer.
I sigh in the way that she knows means I’m probably about to talk a lot. “Come here, please love.” She walks over, her mouth moving as fast as her legs, thinking I might actually say yes to a trip to the coast just to buy something. She really ought to know me better than that.
And then I launch. “Sweet one, life is about more than things. Life is about relationship and connection. Not stuff.” I’ve already lost her, but I keep going because I’m on a roll and a spiel like this isn’t complete without an empty threat. “And if I have to take away all your stuff to teach you this lesson…” I trail off. Even I don’t believe I’d do it so why finish the sentence?
LB ups the ante, busting out with, “Sometimes it feels like you don’t love me. Like you loved me when I was a baby but you don’t now because I do frustrating things.”
Damn! I didn’t know she knew how to wield a spoon that way to cut my heart out.
I take a deep breath and try to channel the friend and mentor who told me that it is LB’s job to be focused on stuff and not connection. It is developmentally appropriate, at almost eight years old, to want all the things all of the time, to constantly chatter about what she will get for Christmas and her birthday and please can’t we buy a toy today? and what will Santa bring me? and on and on and on until I want to scream. It doesn’t make it any less annoying or problematic for me to know this is normal for right now. I want it to, but it doesn’t.
So there we are in the midst of this values and developmental stage clash, and she says she feels like I don’t love her. Part of me marvels at her ability to notice she feels that, and her willingness to articulate it. The rest of me is still reeling. So I breathe and cuddle her up on the couch with me. “Tell me, Little Bear,” I say, “do you stop loving me when you get mad?” She shakes her head.
I try to explain that not everything that frustrates me in the world is about her, in fact most of it isn’t. And that people in relationship get mad at each other, they feel sad and angry and hurt, and it is OK. It is part of being in relationship together. Then I realize, from her lack of focus, that I’m saying too many words, again, like usual.
So I hug her close and make it simple. “I always love you. I loved you when you were a baby. I love you now. And I’ll love you when you are 45.” Thinking about being 45 makes her laugh. She doesn’t imagine much further than turning nineteen, her go-to age for anything older than she is now.
Then she asks, “Do you still love your sister even though she is dead?” Once my breath returns to my lungs from her stinging, insightful question, I assure her that I do.
“Yes, Angel, I’ll always love her, too.”
As we get ready for bed a few minutes later, she isn’t listening and I get annoyed again. We both have short attention spans for staying connected right now.
From within the dissonance of my own frustration I often miss the ways she is merging my values with hers. Almost every time she plays with the thing of the moment, she asks where we got it, so she can get one for her best friend because she knows River would really love it too. Yes, it is a focus on things from her seven year old brain, but it is melding with a devotional connection to a friend which I model almost constantly to her through my own enduring friendships.
Love from me to LB is remembering to be gentle, turning down my stern voice in favor of the voice that sounds like velvet and tastes like popsicles. Love is digging up the last shreds of my patience, the ones all covered in dryer lint from being stuck in the front pocket of my favorite jeans. Love is hours and hours of braiding on our weekend together for a finished style of a hundred tiny box braids with beads that click clack as she joyfully turns her head. Love is listening to, and sometimes even singing or dancing along to, KidzBop music in the car when all I want to hear is Sara Bareilles. Love is saying I’m sorry for yelling at her and not expecting her to absolve me for being an imperfect parent. (Love is taking this class so I make a point of writing about her.)
Love from LB to me is singing along with me to Sara Bareilles in the car or rocking her songs with me at karaoke. Love is using the sign language for Momo that I made up when she was a baby and just learning to communicate. Love is asking the cashier how their day is going and caring about the answer because that’s the way her Momo does it every single time. Love is the gentle way she asks if I look sad because I miss my sister. Love is watching her love on my siblings and parents and delight in her fourteen cousins the way I always have my own cadre of cousins. Love is hearing her yell “Momo!” as she runs across the dusty playground at the end of her school day. Love is her sweet good morning kiss to my cheek when she wakes up in my bed, even though I don’t remember her crawling in the night before.