The other day Callie said she wanted to have a friend over after school some day. At the time we were in the middle of a session of swimming lessons so I told her to get her friend’s mother’s phone number and we’d arrange something for the next week. It took delicate questioning, but eventually she said that the friend she wanted to invite was a boy (no idea of the distance to his house or what after-school activities he might have). I am the opposite of the play-date-arranging mother. I assume that the reason I had more than one child is so they can play with each other. When the weather is nice, our street is an old-fashioned mass of kids coming and going. But if she mentions it again, I should make an effort, and that boy better be excited to come over of an afternoon!
Callie is old enough now that she doesn’t need me physically. She can make herself a sandwich, she is the eagerest of helpers in the kitchen, passing Avery in scrambled-egg skills and pizza-forming prowess. She bathes herself, even remembering to shampoo her hair most of the time. She dresses herself, reads to herself, puts herself to bed, does her math homework on her own.
Now she needs me emotionally. She is prone to cyclonic outbursts, out of the blue. They are infrequent and short-lived, usually. When they follow a pattern, every morning before early school, for example, we can circumvent them by setting her alarm clock and letting her be responsible for her own waking. Now she will surprise us in the pre-dawn hours, standing patient beside the bed, dressed to the coat, backpack on, ready.
But when they’re disconnected, disjointed from what I think is going on in the day, throwing her body into a disjointed, disconnected spasm, I’m lucky if I can gather her awkward limbs in my arms in the nursing chair (no nursing for her though) and rock her to calmness.
She shows me her loosening front teeth, a little blood showing, and I shudder. Tom suggests tying it to a doorknob, and maybe she agrees. Hours or days later she shows me the latest tooth. I am not involved. She is total in her ownership of herself, physically.
But I can help with the confusing tangle of emotions, when it’s the feelings and middle-girl hormones making a mystery of the motions of her body and the tears on her face. Tom has wondered a time or two, last maybe when she was four, or six, if this is normal, if she needs to see a doctor, and I tell him this is nothing. You should have seen me in second grade, I say, when my penmanship wasn’t perfect and it was the end of the world as we know it, and my mother gathered me in and rocked me.
(Perhaps she too will get the baby mean reds, which either means I am not a reassuring example, or that I will be able to tell her then too, that it is okay. She is okay.)