She and I, well, we fight. She points at me from across the room and says, “Don’t talk. Don’t talk, Mommy. Don’t. Talk.”
I tell her I’m not saying anything, but she gives me a look, or yells all the louder, “DON’T TAAAALLLKKKKK!!!”
She likes her space. And she’ll tell me that, too, just like that: “Get out of my space!” or, “No, Mommy, sit over there!”
Sometimes, she will look me straight in the eye as she does exactly what I told her not to do. Classic.
And it’s happened more than once that she has run the length of the subway car, with me hot on her heels, saying, “No Mommy, stay over there! I don’t like you!”
It is, most of the time, hilarious. I have to keep myself from smiling or laughing out loud. I have to remind myself that this is real, that she isn’t joking, that she is sincerely upset. But when our arguments are about things like our hard-and-fast rule about wearing underwear at the dinner table, or whether or not she can have a potty treat, it is probably about as endearing as it is exasperating. How can I be truly mad at her when she’s buck naked and/or stuffing forbidden chocolate in her mouth?
But it’s hard not to imagine what this will look like in 10 years or so, when stakes are higher, when emotions are higher, when I can’t distract her and win her heart back with a couple of chocolate chips or gather her in my arms and kiss her little face and hold her until we are playing instead of fighting.
That prospect scares me. Just a little bit. I worry that I’ll get tired of fighting, that she’ll find her own space that I don’t even know about, that I won’t be able to keep up as she runs away. I worry that it is starting right now and that she really means it when she tells me to not talk and to sit over there.
Then again. At the end of the day, when she’s tired and just can’t sleep and she’s lying on the floor in front of her door, her voice echoing out from the gap, who is she calling for?
“Mommy! Mommy! Mama Heiselt! I need you. I need you Mommy.”
When she’s fallen off a chair for the third time this week, who does she reach for?
And what do I hear when Micah comes to her rescue in the middle of the night after she has wet the bed and is naked and crying, waiting for someone to help her find some new jammas?
“NOT YOU! NOT YOU! I WANT MOMMY!”
And that’s how I know that even though we fight, and she yells, and she tells me that she doesn’t like me, she is also looking to me to teach her how to be—that for all the cries to “Get out of my space!” she really wants me close.
She sits on the counter and finds a way to help me cook dinner. She hands me my mascara after my shower (and insists I brush some on her lashes too). She climbs into my lap at dinner time, and story time, and nap time and prayer time. She is usually the first to recommend that maybe we should have just a small taste of chocolate.
She’s my girl. I’m holding on tight. And I’m staying right here.