My Chickadee sometimes drives me completely insane. You know how chickadees were named for their call? “Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-deeeeee! Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-deeeeee!” My daughter’s nickname evolved because she, too, twitters constantly and loves the sound of her own name (as in, if there’s talking going on, it had better be either by her or about her, or she’ll set things straight). If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said “You know, honey… when you don’t have anything to say, it’s okay to stop talking,” I’d be a wealthy woman.
Marcey calls her my “prickly pear.” Eileen says she’s “complex.” Her teachers tell me (with a smile that conveys fondness seasoned with exasperation) that “she’s got a mind of her own.” I forget who told me she’s “an old soul” but I find that one particularly apt. And her therapist loves to remind me that “she’s got a lot going on in there.” My parents and I, of course, got right to the crux of the matter.
She’s my Mini-Me. (Lord help us all.) Different, of course, but eerily similar in so many of the ways I’d hoped she wouldn’t be. There’s nothing quite like seeing both your most vulnerable and most spectacular selves blended and reincarnated in the more compact, extra-melodramatic, yet less cynical model.
It’s been a long couple of years for our family, and through it all I worried most about her. She seemed to bend under the strain more than was possible for a child of her age. My outgoing, precocious little girl went from acting out (not fun; but understandable, and to be expected) to pulling back into herself until I thought I would drop from the fear and exhaustion of trying to extract her once again. Bit by bit, she came back to us, and it’s true: kids are more resilient than you think. She’s okay. She still seems to feel things more deeply than some, and holds onto angst a little longer, but she’s learning how to cope and feel okay (aren’t we all?). And she’s now a “normal” 6-year-old: obsessed with the tooth fairy, alternately protective and tormenting of her little brother, mouthy as all get-out, loving being able to read, adoring her little friends, and quite secure in the knowledge that I am becoming dumber and more unreasonable with each passing moment. It’s a beautiful thing.
Ever since the Chickadee could talk, bedtime has been an introspective time for her. The day is done, I’m half-asleep myself, and hoping she’ll skip off to dreamland the second I kiss her goodnight… but no. When she was younger, bedtime was when she would Why? Why? Why? about all manner of minutiae. When she was falling apart from the stress of being so angry and not knowing how to express it, bedtime triggered hysterical crying about every wrong–real or feared–ever visited upon the world. I came to dread bedtime. I would talk her down as best I could, and then–more often than not–once I got her settled, go downstairs and have a good sob, myself.
I know this weird bedtime affliction. I have it, too. You want to rest and drift away, and your mind wants to first resolve the unresolvable, find evidence that Things Are Right. I don’t relish this particular feature of mine and I doubt my daughter does, either.
But bedtime is becoming a better time for both of us. As I lay down with her tonight and she filled me in on the last few days’ adventures that I’d missed, I stroked her forehead and felt her relax under my touch just briefly. Her tale of the zoo complete, she turned to me and flung her arms around my neck. “Mama, I don’t want the doctor to give your tummy a boo-boo! I’m feeling scared about that!” Tears came to my eyes. I’m feeling scared about that, too… but I was also so proud, and grateful, that this little one who once folded in on herself and hid can now recognize and vocalize her fear… and she lets me in to help make her feel better. I know grown-ups who have yet to make it that far. So we talked about it, some, and I offered reassurances and reminded her of the last time I had surgery and how that worked out okay, etc.
Bringing up the last surgery caused her to switch gears; she went to a different school, then, and she started remembering friends she hadn’t seen in a while, and asking why she’d changed schools, and would she ever see them again, and what about next year, and her friends now? This is how I found myself, this evening, having a heart-to-heart with my firstborn about the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas. We’re always choosing our path, and we can always look back and wonder what might have been different, but how does that make you feel? “Kind of yucky,” she confessed. (Me, too.) We talked about all the great things the school change had brought… and how next year, when she changes schools yet again, more good things will happen, and maybe a few not-so-good things, too, but it’s our choice what we dwell on.
I wanted to tell her that I’m no better at it than she is; that if I thought I could get away with it, I’d stamp my feet and demand to know what would’ve happened if… and but why…, too. But I played with her hair, instead, and talked of all the things that don’t change, that anchor us amidst all the stuff that does. After a while she was ready to rest, and I promised we can talk more about this tomorrow.
Only I know, from experience, that tomorrow she will content herself with which pretties need to go in her hair and whether the chicks at school have hatched yet and how many things will the Monkey really do at her command before I break up her benevolent dictatorship? She bounces back (until bedtime, anyway). I’m trying to learn from her example, even as I hope to teach her from mine. I’m pretty sure I’m getting the better end of the deal. (Please remind me of this tomorrow when we’re late for school and she spills her milk everywhere….)