Sunday, September 02, 2012

window into her future

i often say that she's more self aware than i am. somehow this statement doesn't slip into the category of playground boast or preschool parent banter. instead, i marvel at it. i admire her. she has such a keen sense of how she feels at any moment, and she searches for just the right words to articulate her feelings. before turning two, she'd often say, "i'm not happy about that book;" a concise, explicit admission of her strong feelings regarding a book that doesn't please her. later, she'd cry out dramatically as only a toddler can, screaming that she's crying because...

"...i'm sad about not going on an adventure!"
...i'm sad because i want to listen to 'Jasmine' [sic Summer Breeze] again!" (during her Seals & Crofts phase)

i remember mindful parenting classes where the instructor drilled into our heads that as soon as we begin to rehash the past or rehearse the future our baby will yank us back into the moment, whether we wanted to be there or not. a powerful image, this yanking. one that i never forgot. and it's true: mostly, the kid is in the current, the here and now, The Moment. but this was different.

today she experienced two very similar moments where adults weren't treating her fairly. she noted it. brilliantly.

in the first instance, my sister and her friend were visiting our house and chatting away with the whip. when she refused to put her shoes back on after being asked, the friend chided her, joking that she might take her shoes because they'd probably just fit her small feet. the whip loves these new and apparently perfect shoes. she's said as much. she also didn't understand how this adult-sized human could fit into her perfect and small shoes, and she most certainly did not want her shoes to disappear. the whip was noticeably uncomfortable, which the friend acknowledged by ceasing her game.

soon after, we entered a neighborhood store we've visited since she was a baby. the shop keeper recognized her and immediately set out to start a conversation. she scurried away, offering her typical admission, "i'm shy." but this time she didn't break out of her shyness, and the shop keeper continued to engage with her, clearly stepping over a line i didn't know how to cross back into safety. i could tell she was uncomfortable, but the woman was sweet and has a young son, so i didn't interfere. i thought her teasing was harmless.

the whip told me later that it was not.

during our bedtime snuggle, she wanted to know why both her auntie's friend and the woman at the store wanted to take her things. both had teased about her belongings--her treasured shoes and constant furry companion. she couldn't wrap her sweet little mind around adults' seemingly harmless teasing and the very real fear that they might take her tangible possessions.

i apologized. i felt so bad that she felt bad. and i racked my brain for an explanation that would provide clarity without damning these two sweet adults whose intent was fun, not harm. i started by using the word "tease" which she immediately connected to her favorite book series about Yoko, a sweet kitty who has been teased by schoolmates. "teased like the Franks?" she asked. yes, only the Franks were being mean, and these women were playing a game with you that you didn't think was fun. we spent a lot of time talking about both experiences.  each time i thought we were done, she'd refrain, "can we talk about what happened today and why those women wanted to take Racoony and my shoes?"

i'd start again, until finally i turned a corner on to a possible solution, or at least a scrap of one.  when faced with a similar situation in the future, i encouraged her to say out loud that she doesn't like what is happening. i promised i would help if she could tell me. this tact made her nervous (it would do the same to me, but sometimes little kids are uncommonly brave), so i changed my route and made it into a game of sorts. "the next time you feel uncomfortable or scared or bad, we'll have a secret sign for each other. look at me right in the eyes and blink blink blink blink blink many times, like this, and i'll help you. i'll know." she smiled then looked at me knowingly and said, "ok. but i'll just blink once." and she did it, proving that really, she's still in charge.

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