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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Right Mommy

BB has been having some major separation anxiety and stranger fears for the last month or so, which has been stressful for all of us. (Except perhaps for BJ. And the cat.) Drop off at preschool is extremely difficult. She no longer wants to go to ballet class because we're not right there in the studio with her. Even beloved gym class has had issues -- she was in tears last week because a new teacher tried to talk to her. Poor boo, it breaks my heart.

I know where some of it is coming from. There are not one but two new aide teachers in her preschool classroom. New teachers -- especially men -- are often a challenge for BB. The new gym teacher who tried to talk to her on Friday was a man (in fact, it was BJ's own coach, which is funny -- she just hadn't met him before. He's a bit of a boisterous individual, which is great for BJ, but I can well imagine how his attempt to be friendly could have freaked BB out.) And the ballet incident happened few weeks ago, when I had to leave her at ballet class to run an errand -- which she'd agreed to and which I'd done before without any trouble -- and apparently she had a meltdown when I wasn't in the waiting room. Even though she knew that I wouldn't be.


When this kid first became mobile, it was a standing joke that she seemed to have absolutely no separation anxiety. She was the kid at the park who would head out to wander and would just GO. Most kids will at least do an over-the-shoulder check in -- Are you watching me? Can you see how far I'm going? -- but not her. I remember reading somewhere about research with small kids and parents that shows how the point at which most kids will do this check in corresponds pretty closely to the point at which the parent starts to feel that the kid is getting too far away. After reading about this, I actually did a little trial once with the help of some other moms, on the perimeter (to be sure she stayed safe). BB was was two or so, and I wanted to see just how far she'd go. She walked off a good 50 feet and was well beyond my own comfort zone when I called off the test. And She Still Hadn't Looked Back.

Now the pendulum has swung. She's had bouts of separation anxiety before, but we were doing pretty well there for a while. Preschool had been deemed "fun" and babysitters weren't a problem. But now we're back in the tearful throes of Mommy I Miss You Mode.

And you know what seems to have set it off this time?

I lost her in the Safeway.

Or at least, that's her version of the story.

"Mommy, remember that time you lost me in the Safeway?" Or, when we're shopping (it happened at the grocery that we visit almost daily) we'll pass through the aisle intersection between frozen foods and the checkout lanes, and she'll say, "That's where I got lost."

Here's what happened: I made a quick stop for milk at the store with BB and BJ on our way home after school, and just as we were headed towards the checkout, I realized I had forgotten something. Apple juice, or tortilla chips. I don't recall -- something that was on an endcap and it caught my eye as we were getting ready to leave. I turned around, grabbed the item, and as I was figuring out how to carry this one extra thing and also hold BJ's hand . He's still insistent on holding my hand almost everywhere we go, which is extremely sweet -- and interesting given BB's anxieties -- she still isn't much of a handholder, even in the throes of all this. She's more of a "lean in close, stay at mom's side" kind of kid. It makes it hard to juggle everything at times. I then realized that BB, who had been right at my heels five seconds before, was no longer with me.

I whipped around, and almost immediately I saw her. The two or three heartbeats between not seeing her and seeing her are not ones I would care to repeat. But there she was. Thank God. About ten feet away, her back towards me, stock still. About two or three other adults were between us, folks waiting in line to buy their groceries. To her, it must have seemed a sea of long legs, surrounding and drowning her. She was turning around when I called out her name and rushed up to her, kneeling down to hug and reassure her through her tears.

To a kid, one mom in jeans can look almost the same as another. Eye level is waist high in the world, or lower. I still have a terrifying memory of unknowingly following the wrong pair of jeans through a maze of metal aisles full of bins of bolts and nails and tools on pegboards and other parphenalia. I followed those jeans out the back door of the neighborhood hardware store. I was into the parking lot before I realized This Is Not My Daddy. I was maybe five years old? I don't really recall. Nor do I recall how I was reunited with my father (the guy I'd followed probably brought me straight back) though I do remember the visceral flood of relief when I found Daddy again.

That hardware store is long gone now. Looking back, I imagine I was separated from my dad for maybe a few minutes. But to part of me, that memory is fresh as yesterday, and the time we spent apart still seems like an eternity.

BB and I got separated just a few weeks ago. For her, it's as vivid anything in her memory. One moment, I was there. The next, I was not. I was gone, and she didn't know where. It was maybe ten seconds. But an eternity for her.

Several times since The Grocery Store Incident, we've been standing side by side and she's leaned up against my legs or put an arm around my knees. She looks up at me, making sure to catch my eye, and asks, "Am I with the right mommy?"

It squeezes my heart. Trying to reassure her, several days after all this, I'd told her about the time that I got lost in the hardware store when I was a little girl. "I followed the wrong person out the door," I'd explained. "I was with the wrong daddy. I thought it was my daddy, but it wasn't." I told her it all worked out okay, but that I was pretty scared. I was trying to tell her I understood how scary it could be.

Her takeaway? She followed the wrong mommy. And now all I can do is hug her close and tell her, "Yes. You're with the right mommy." And realize this too shall pass.

(Though if her memory is anything like her mama's, I'm sure she'll have stories to tell when she's all grown up about the time her mom lost her at Safeway, which ain't safe after all.)


cath c said...

playng a bit of catch up again. i had a similar story to yours with your dad. still haunts me. lol

BB might be hitting a new developmental milestone elsewhere and just needs some reassurance in the mommy department that not too much is changing.

Toots, much the same as BB in her early childhood adventurousness has recently become terrified of the stairs and must be carried down what she has traversed 1000s of times on her own since she was crawling. But she is also writing her name and showing a lot of other leaps cognitively. sometimes she just wants to say she's still a baby,too.

this too shall pass. :) BB will be a well-adjusted adult, i am sure.

tierramor said...

Oooh, big sad face for sweet little BB! I'm glad she still remembers Tia, and I know a lot of that is because you help keep me fresh in their minds when I am not around.

Who DOESN'T remember that horrible feeling? I think mine was in a Safeway too! Jeans and the right red-and-white checked shirt but the wrong smell and she had the audacity to laugh at me! "I'm not your mommy, honey, go find your mommy."

But I got over it and you did, and with your patience and love, I am sure BB will too.

Jen (Mama's Magic Studio) said...

Cathy, that's an excellent point about the milestones. That absolutely makes sense. Tough on your back with Toots and the stairs! Funny how they choose to assert their independence and dependence, isn't it?

Thanks for your sympathies, Miri. I'm sure she'll be fine -- she is, truly, fine now. But it still wrings this mommy heart to see her so upset.

And of course we still remember you! It's not just what I do, you know. You have also worked hard to give thoughtful gifts and stay present in their lives. Whether that's bear bells or books youve given or made or whatever. Just yesterday we pulled out a book you'd given the kids about cherishing the earth and being eco-friendly. In honor of Earth Day of course. and they absolutley remembered it was from you.

The rest of the week has been better, which is good. This to shall pass!