After careful consideration and consulting multiple sources, I have found the root cause of Little Sister’s distress and reluctance to leave me. Sit down, because you are in for quite a shock. It’s me.
I have taken great care to be there for our kids. It has been my joy (almost all of the times they have needed me) to tend to them, making sure that they were fed and watered and given adequate sunlight and shade. I went even further than their basic houseplant needs. I held them, sang to them, (mostly “Happy Birthday” and “99 bottles of beer” in the beginning, but in a soothing tone) stocked their favorite foods, read to them, rocked them, and carried a gargantuan diaper bag prepared for the apocalypse long after it held diapers. In short, I was ready. Perhaps just a few blades shy of a helicopter mom.
The payoff has been eye opening. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I have cultivated a strong bond with my children. Now to foster independence… Hmmmm. About that. I counted how many times I used the term “my baby” for our five year old (she will be six in three months). It was eleven. As in, I called her “my baby” eleven times. Today. And I am not even a weirdo.
Today this kindergartener had a full blown two-year old tantrum when I tried to deposit her at school. As in the holding-on-to-the-railing, screaming-NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, gnashing-of-teeth, arm-and-leg-flailing (remember one was attached to that rail), had-to-bring-her-to-the-front-office variety. We waited for a guidance counselor (while she sat perfectly still and happy) who received us and kindly explained that she would need to talk to Little Sister alone now and I should go.
This is the part where my heart burst into a million tiny pieces and I separated myself from my shmoopie. Then I walked calmly outside where I obviously burst into tears (out of view and behind the privacy of my sunglasses, lest you think I’m a monster) and gave myself about ten minutes before calling my girls’ pediatrician, my husband and then my mom. The consensus was that she will grow out of this. That her individuality is being created in the space where we are separate. The refrain remained the same; that this experience, though it is hard, was also necessary.
I shouldered my burden as I went through the morning and two hours later the guidance counselor called me back. In the most gentle and supportive way possible, she explained how I could best serve this sweet little nugget of a child. Guess how? I could do this by being unwavering in my belief that she could totally handle going to school. I should hold her and hug her and love her and also continually remind her that she is capable of success where so ever she might go.
I looked for a pattern and one developed almost instantly. When Daddy was with her, she remained calm and determined. These both just so happen to be two of his strongest personality traits. When she was with me she was me she was reluctant to leave and unfailing in her devotion. After I left and she calmed down, she went on to have a fantastic day according to both her teacher and the guidance counselor.
I must say I was incredibly impressed and grateful for the speed and sincerity of the staff to work to assist me as a parent. I wrote her teacher a note asking for tips and tricks to ease this transition and she graciously called to talk to me after class. I think somewhere inside I realized that I was contributing to chaos by trying so hard to fix it for her. In all fairness, it is a pretty universal experience for parents to want their children to suffer as little as possible.
What I hadn’t seen was that when I wavered, I opened the situation up to alternatives. When I delved into why she didn’t want to be away from home or from me I neglected to remind her that she was capable of doing both. When she complained that it was hard, I tried to highlight the reasons it wasn’t so bad, instead of agreeing and then explaining that she was fierce and could do things that weren’t easy.
I chose to write about this because when I was researching how to deal with Kindergarten separation anxiety, my research pointed to time and consistency above all else. Once again, life reminded me that there are no real shortcuts. Tomorrow is a new day, with opportunities and challenges ahead for us all. Luckily I was able to put down my pride to enable me to pick up a few new tools to better assist not only Little Sister but me as her mother, and if my hands ever get too full of carrying what I find, I still have that diaper bag hanging around here somewhere. I just know it will all fit in that sucker.