My M is smart. Crazy smart. She was speaking in paragraphs at 20 months. By age 2, she had memorized most of her books. Now as a 3 year old, she uses words like “certainly” and “perseverance.” She knows all her letters and sounds, and she is starting to build words. This morning at breakfast we had a conversation about rhyming! She’s also fiercely independent. She is entirely determined to do everything by herself (except when she tries to act like a baby to receive the same attention her brother does but that’s another post…). She’s been getting dressed, brushing her teeth, setting the table, putting away toys, and cleaning up ever since she was stable enough to walk. I often feel like she arrived on my doorstep right out of a Montessori catalog. In so many ways, this independence has been her identity. So when I recently saw another side to this precious child, I was powerfully impacted.
We were enjoying a nice family night out. I took M into the bathroom for a quick potty break. She picked up a stick along the way to the bathroom, so naturally it made the trip with us. After we had successfully navigated everything that is a public bathroom (“But I don’t have to go potty!” “Will the toilet be loud?” “What’s that for?” “I don’t want the dryer to come on!”), we headed to the sink to wash hands. M carefully placed her stick on the counter, and I lifted her up so she could reach the sink. When she was finished I put her down, handed her a paper towel, and started for the door. I turned quickly when I heard her start to yell.
“MY STICK!!!,” she exclaimed with desperation in her voice.
I turned around to see M standing on her tiptoes and stretching out her little arm as far as it would reach. It was nowhere close to her newfound treasure. There was no way she could reach that by herself. “My stick,” she said a little more calmly but still with a sense of urgency in her voice. “I can’t reach my stick!”
That moment ran right into me. It stopped me in my tracks. I was overcome by how frustrating life must be sometimes for this child, and for so many like her, who wants nothing more than to be the independent and capable little being she is destined to be. How courageous she must have to be time and time again as she surrenders to what she cannot do, asks for help, and carries on fighting to do it “all by myself.”
As adults, we are terrible at this. When is the last time you had to ask for someone’s help? Maybe you were on bed rest, maybe you were sick, or maybe you finally realized you couldn’t do it all. If you are like me, then you probably acquiesced to the help and begrudgingly admitted you needed it. It’s not really in our nature to welcome it with open arms, and the experience of not being able to do what you want to do can be so unbelievably frustrating to us, can’t it? Our children feel like this every. day. My M is especially caught between being so capable and at times so entirely dependent on me. It was in that moment that my heart filled with compassion, with empathy, and with understanding for everything that she is and for everything that wants desperately to be.
I promised myself in that moment to do everything that I can to honor her independence and facilitate opportunities for its growth. I will protect that part of her for it is at the very core of who she is. I will treat the next meltdown (there’s always one right around the corner!) with a softer heart, and I will remember that it is probably born from a place of helplessness and frustration. I will celebrate every moment that she achieves the independence for which she is striving. And in the quiet of my mommy heart, I will savor the moments where she still needs me to reach her stick.