On Wednesday, my partner walked our daughter and our dog to school. Our daughter made this choice. The sun was unstoppable and our little spotted dog had such an eager and plaintive look in her eyes as she peered up at us from a “perfect sit” in the middle of the kitchen after someone accidentally rustled a plastic bag. But bringing the dog meant that for the first time, our daughter would travel the path from the front of the school to the back, in a rolling sea of children moments before the first bell… by herself. Her mom and her dog could not follow. My big girl.
It’s been a long road for us all. It’s been years of “Mami, don’t go. Me, too. Wait. Wait for meeeeeeeee!” Years of refusing to participate in dance class, gymnastics, soccer camp, recess, any activity where she had to fend for herself. Did I protect her too completely when we were together? She spent whole birthday parties at the grownup table, telling jokes and gathering gossip, her body turned away from the parachute games and obstacle courses on the other side of the room. No amount of coaxing changed her mind. No rewards. No consequences. It’s just how she was.
She spent years making one friend at a time, and holding onto that one friend for dear life. Years of being glued to my side, even at the dinner table, where she would attach herself to my elbow, my thigh, my pinky finger while I tried to eat. Some days, no amount of “Please don’t” – “Honey, stop” – “Stop now or leave the table” actually stopped her. Nothing could, it seemed. Until now.
“Two more minutes of reading, Honey, and then you have to get dressed.”
“Okay,” she says to me from the bed today, looking up briefly from her book. She’s reading Because Brian Hugged His Mother. Cause and effect becomes cause and effect becomes cause and effect becomes cause. Essentially, everyone in this book benefits in some way because in the morning, Brian hugged his mother. I like this book. She got it as a gift from my mom, her grandma, who lives far away.
“Should I come back in two minutes, or you’ve got it handled?”
“I’ve got it handled,” she replies.
Right on schedule, she’s downstairs ready for breakfast twenty minutes before we need to leave. She’s dressed. She’s handled all her morning business. She’s even turned off the light in her bedroom. I don’t claim this happens every morning. This independence, after all, is new. Remember? Today’s dialogue didn’t feel possible even a week ago. “I’ve got it handled” weren’t words I could imagine coming out of her mouth in the morning. About anything. And yet, here we are.
She’s always been like that. Determined. Full of spunk and surprise. Walking without crawling. Brushing her own teeth, dressing herself, inviting peers on the playground to join in her play, zipping through math facts when days before she barely seemed to understand the meaning of addition – each milestone sudden yet solid, irreversible, causing her moms to scramble, adjust, keep up.
And so it is with this latest step, which may seem small but isn’t for her (or for her moms), when she makes the turn toward the back of the school and heads alone to the second grade door so her dog can get some fresh air and sunshine and smell all those marvelous smells along the way. Cause and effect becomes cause and effect becomes cause.
All of us learning to need each other in new ways.