Yesterday at my family’s Easter party, graciously hosted by my sister and her husband, I finally felt like I got to relax for a few hours. There were several forms of relaxation I was feeling. There’s the usual form of relaxation that comes after the shopping has been done, after the cheese and crackers and carrots and wine and whatnot have been unloaded from the car and unpacked on the kitchen island, after a bottle has been opened and poured out, after hugs and hellos have been exchanged, after the clearing away of clutter and the setting of tables and the settling in of the guests.
Next, for me, came the relaxation of knowing that for once, I could retreat into my comfort zone with my family without feeling like something, or someone, was missing. Newman drove separately to the party and when, upon his arrival, Free ran to him to give him a joyous hug, I instantly recognized her desire to publicly display their growing bond and the affection she feels for him. Her natural excitement and eagerness to show everyone that she was connected to him is what I’ve felt for him for a long time, and it was lovely to see her express her own connection to him so spontaneously and naturally. I didn’t miss the moments I’ve had in years past at similar parties when I would start enjoying myself only to stop and wish he were there to share it with me.
Yet another layer of relaxation at family parties like this is being able to enjoy adult conversations (and beverages) while knowing that your child is happily occupied with her cousins. Free looks forward to these events with palpable excitement; she can’t wait to see everyone and be let loose to run around, play outside, and generally go a little nuts with a little less supervision than normal. I was noting this to my friend when she joked that perhaps I should not check out completely as she had walked in on Free kissing a One Direction poster upstairs, acting out for her audience of young female cousins and friends.
In recent months, Free is more eager to engage in “girl-talk,”whatever that means, and she is invested in capturing and maintaining an audience. I’ve been curiously following the reports of social interactions with friends and cousins in the last few months, but yesterday I got some insight into the rapidly evolving dynamics (and stakes) of “girl-talk.” I happened to walk into her older cousin’s bedroom to check on them and their friend A, and this is the conversation that I walked in on:
Free: “What’s a period? What’s a period? What’s a period?!”
A. (looking at me fearfully): “I told her to ask her mom. I didn’t tell her, I promise!”
Me (trying to stay cool): “Um, what’s this all about, guys?”
A: “I told them that my mom is going to get me a cell phone when I get my period or when I start middle school, whichever comes first. Because she is. She really is.”
Free: “What’s a period? What’s a period?”
Me: “We’ll talk about it later, honey. Now what’s this I hear about you smooching the One Direction poster?”
My initial response to this conversation was not one I’m proud of. Annoyed that Free had been introduced to this subject by someone other than me (sweet and innocent as her adorable nine year old friend is), I was feeling some anger toward A’s mother who, in my mind, had wildly miscalculated when to raise this issue and should have been more thoughtful about the repercussions. At this age, the social piece is just beginning to take over little girls’ worlds; secrets and information are shared as a way to show and test trust, as a way to gain attention and, well, more information.
Later that night, when an exhausted but still energized Free refused to take a bath, I coaxed her into washing by offering to take a shower with her. A rare occasion now that she’s older, she jumped at the chance, and the opportunity allowed for us to have a frank discussion, in an intimate mommy/daughter space, about the earlier conversation. When she couldn’t remember the word that had been used (period! period! period!), I tried to avoid re-stating it and instead shifted attention onto a more general discussion about how girls’ bodies change as they get older. It was pretty easy, given the circumstances, to get her to observe some of those changes, tell her that A had just heard from her mommy about some of those changes, and then to reiterate the “rules”: you’re not allowed to touch anyone’s private parts, no-one but you should ever touch yours, and always bring your questions to mom (because she will always answer them and has the best information).
Free seemed totally satisfied, reminding me once again that just because it seems, in the moment, like I’m going to have to tell her everything, if I just find a way to step back, it usually isn’t the case. I’m learning that kids generally don’t know what they need, and even when they beg us to help them grow up more quickly, it is our job to help them stay young and innocent as long as possible.
A’s mother had good reasons for talking to her daughter so young, as she explained to me today after A reported the conversation to her. I totally get it, and any remaining annoyance I felt quickly dissipated when I heard her perspective. I’m glad, however, that I was able to catch that moment when it happened so that I could interrupt and divert the conversation–in order, ironically, to stay involved and engaged in that very conversation. Unlike some parents who might, for various reasons, wish they never had to have these kinds of talks with their kids, I look forward to being able to share information with Free and introduce her to the secrets of womanhood.
But not just yet. For now, I’m happy to tuck her into bed with a Dr. Seuss story and mommy smooches, and as long as they’re welcomed by her, I always will be.