Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Mother/Electrician/Emotional Caretaker/Mere Bystander
Tonight Avery was climbing up the steps to the deck and said something when she got to the top that stopped me in my tracks, literally: “You can’t get me, monsters.” Now, there is little doubt that Avery and I share nearly identical emotional circuitry, but this particular statement is one that I used to say often (and its variation, “Monsters come and get me”) as a child. My own battle cry, of sorts, that I would declare once I was certain I was in a safe zone. And hearing Avery say it…How does that happen? How does Avery echo iterations identical to mine, thirty years later? My personal childhood soundtrack, in her three-year-old mouth?
She’s sensitive, this we know for sure. She is very loving and affectionate. She’s creative and gentle with animals and infectious with her joy. She has a sense of humor that cracks me up. And…she’s a little needy, which, of course, is adorable when one is three, but not so much when one is, say, close to 40. Life is hard when you go around with your heart stapled to your sleeve. But how do you warn a toddler about that?
Avery is also very impressionable, which was reinforced today when I introduced the Elf on A Shelf thing to her and Madeline. I told the girls the whole story (elf watches the girls all day; flies back to Santa and reports at night; relocates to new spot each morning). This highlighted Avery’s other quality silmilar to mine: She asks a LOT of questions. How does he fly, she asked. He has no wings. I said he flies by magic, like Santa. But Santa has flying reindeer, she responded. Oh. So that’s how it is now. I actually need to work on my lies. I can’t leave Grand Canyon-sized holes and assume she will not see them. I wormed my way out of that one. Just barely.
She kept an eye on that elf all day. I caught her sneaking peeks at him. She even referenced Chaco to her sister: When Maddie misbehaved, Avery warned her that Chaco saw it and Chaco would tell Santa. At the end of the day, she asked me to pick her up to see if Chaco was smiling. I assured her that Chaco would deliver a glowing report, and she seemed visibly relieved. I swear she sighed with relief. It is cute and charming and all that, but I felt terrible. I know there is a tangible reward for all of her good behavior (lots and lots of presents) but the writing is on the wall: We have a people-pleaser, an approval-seeker; keep-the-peacer on our hands. Hello, Mini Me.
We went out to dinner tonight, and meet up with Auntie Annie. The girls were both a little not tame, which is never good when spaghetti is involved. Madeline literally had a hysterically laughing Avery in a head lock and Auntie Annie told the girls that the waitress talks to Santa, so they better behave. Avery’s face went white and she became still as a stone, lips pursed, hands down at her sides. Maddie continued her hi-jinx — if not escalating said jinx — as if to pooh-pooh our waitress and her Santa connection. Then Auntie Annie delivered the best line of the night: “Maddie doesn’t care about Santa because she can make a toy out of a stick and a rock.” And that is so true. Maddie doesn’t need the toys. Or approval. Or incentive. Or even to please. I don’t mean that in a bad way; indeed those very qualities will serve her well in life. I admire that immensely. Maybe she can teach me a thing or two. But my Avery, she just sat there, almost petrified. Because she is afraid she is disappointing Santa and disappointing Santa hurts her.
So all day I found myself delivering Yoda-like speeches to Avery: “You don’t have to be perfect all of the time, but you must show remorse if you were not good.” And “Being good is its own reward sometimes.” I delivered various other statements that I am sure went over her head because the truth is, I have never been good at imparting lessons to the toddler set. It’s an art, really, and this coming from someone who is good with metaphors and similes and such.
But let the record reflect that there is a smidge of concern over here. I want Avery to be Avery, but I also want to shrink the lessons I learned after almost four decades of living to fit her. Going through life overly concerned about what others think is not the greatest way to live. How do I dial that down without overly distilling who she is? How do I cater to her emotional needs, while also showing her that she doesn’t need to be so needy? How do I let her exercise free will while also molding her? This is the parental paradox. On one hand, I am just a caretaker of this beautiful blooming flower. In a way, my job is just to protect it in the most basic way and watch it grow, because with or without me, she will. On the other hand, I am trying to add some fertilizer to the soil and help the flower be the best it can be. I love my daughter exactly how she is. But I can say with certainty that her emotional makeup will lead to quite a few sad days in her later life.
In many ways, I am proud that my daughter will grow up and be like me. In a way, seeing this girl evolve into me — especially lately — has made me feel a little more confident about myself. But I don’t want her to suffer the heartache and break that comes to those of us with such raw emotional circuitry. So I find myself scrambling a bit now, to burn the end of my own emotional circuits and disconnect a few wires that have proven to always end in sadness; to remember that while my job is to feed and bath and clothe, it is also to be a role model for my children, which is a role that often gets lost in the shuffle.
But if Avery chooses to live her life that way, then I am fine with that, too. I know how to feed that kind of soul. And I can promise her that I will always be there to help her pick up her pieces.
It is raining and I love the thud of the big drops on the roof. My girls are up now. It’s time to see where the Elf landed last night.
Pictured above, this is the face Avery had when I told her that Nicole and Maddie went for a walk alone. Avery, like me, wishes she could Velcro herself to Nicole. Alas. Also pictured, the Elf on the Shelf. And Avery, concentrating on painting her spice rack for Nana.