We have just had a wonderful time running from “the boyfriends” (Sophie’s twin 4-year-old playmates) who were masquerading as T-Rex’s, and their younger sister, Rachel, who goes by the alias “Super Poodle,” so I was puzzled by the dejected face that was staring back at me in the rearview mirror.
“Soph, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m very sad.” Sophie said, solemnly.
I, for one, was feeling fine. The play date had started off with a volcanic tantrum during which Sophie had ripped off her pants and underwear and stood in the kitchen crying, naked from the waist-down, because I refused to take off my jacket when she did. But the evening had ended on a high note--the kids, with bellies full of hot dogs and chocolate cookies, sat rapt while I read Naughty Parents at the kitchen table.
“I’m thinking about how I’m going to be a grown up soon,” Sophie replied, “ and I’ll have a house of my own and my own child, and I won’t see you every day.”
How is it that our hearts, when deeply touched or in despair, actually feel pain? It’s a clutching. A constriction.
I swallowed to return my heart to the place where it belongs in my chest.
Part of me has the impulse to pull over to the side of the road, gather her up in my arms and exclaim: “Oh Sophie! You don’t have to leave mommy! We can be together for ever and ever!”
But the saner part of me knows that this is not true. That there will come a day when she does not jump around with excitement that it is a “mommy day,” when just the two of us are together. And, though I have difficulty imagining it, I suppose there will come a day when I will be ready for her to seek her fortune in the world. When Kevin and I will return to the city lifestyle of our pre-Sophie days, enjoying the freedom of being able to go where we want and do what we want, when we want.
So this is what I say instead: “Sophie, you still have many years before you become a grown up. FIrst you’ll be a big girl. Then you’ll be a teenager. Then you’ll go off to college. But when you finally become a grown up, you will be ready to have a family and home of your own. You will be ready to leave mommy. But you can come to visit mommy, just like we go to visit grandma. And I will be so happy when you come to see me. And I will visit you in your new home.”
You know you have satisfied a child’s curiosity, or quelled their fears when they settle and there are no more questions. The consternation that had wrinkled her brow, moments before, had disappeared and was replaced with a placid, contented expression.
The pain in my heart from moments before dissipated too, a warm release of calm spread through my body with every beat.