Kevin and Sophia were locked in mortal combat. I was eavesdropping in the next room:
“Different socks CHANGE LIVES! I will NEVER wear that shoe. If you get off me, I’ll calm down. If you don’t get off me, I’LL HIT YOU. I’m trying to calm down, but you never give me a chance. LEAVE ME ALONE! I want to be ALONE!”
(Actual tantrum monologue. I am not clever enough to make this s*** up.)
That was Sophia a couple of months ago. When she was four. All fire and fight.
This is her now:
Sophie just fell out of her chair because, despite my constant warnings, she had been precariously perched on the edge, hanging on by its black shaker spindles. In the first minute after she hit the floor, I watched her decide whether to cry. Perhaps she was considering whether the tears would garner her some sympathy and spare her a lecture about sitting properly. I narrowed my gaze and stared at her intently, my eyes full of disappointment, my mouth tightly drawn and silent.
Someone must have once looked at me this way; it comes so naturally, occurs so unconsciously, I am barely aware of it.
Sophia immediately implodes—wailing and dripping tears.
“No! Mommy, don’t look at me that way. I’m SORRY! Don’t be mean mommy. Bring back real mommy. Be the nice mommy.”
It is heart wrenching. And even I, hardcore behaviorist who has no time for ploys, manipulations or histrionics, am moved by this display.
“Come here,” I beckon to her. She crawls onto my lap and sobs as uncontrollably as she used to rail against me, not so very long ago. “You don’t love me. You will never love me again.” I pet her soft head and run my finger along her even softer cheek. “Shhhhhhh,” I tell her. “Shhhhhh.”
I know her tears run the risk of becoming a habit with too much attention. At the same time, she appears truly injured. Deeply sorry.
I am moved. And a little bit afraid.
She finally cares about what I think. She is finally contrite. I finally have the power my parents once did, to wound with a withering look. Not that I want to wound her, but I do want my words to have some weight. I want her to listen.
Of course, I still want her to challenge authority, to question what she is told—just not MY authority. At least not all the time.
I had heard or read somewhere that five is the year of mellowing. The year when rules become important pillars to abide by. When dualism, in it’s most concrete forms—good and bad, right and wrong, black and white take hold. It is the age of obedience. The advent of tattling. The first blush of guilt and remorse.
With it comes the desire to please. Fear of disappointment. Pride in doing well.
Please let this be so.
Sophie calms in my arms. Heaves become whimpers. Whimpers become giggles.
“Mommy? What’s that word again? What you called that weird lego?”
“Doohickey.” I say.
“Doohickey!” she squeaks. Giggles turn into laughter. She is suddenly my silly girl again. Talking nonsense, dimples breaking through her tears. I can feel her urgency to fix this. Her desire to make me smile too.
She gives me a quick peck on the lips, slides off my lap and climbs back into her chair.
“Look, Mom. I’m sitting in my seat and eating. Just like I am supposed to.”
And indeed, she is.