Now that I am a parent of two independent, able-bodied youth, my mother derives great pleasure from pointing out the ways in which my daughter is just like I was at her age. It’s not all bad, really, but the story she repeats most often goes like this…When I turned 9, I more or less stopped loving her. I became mean. Cranky. Fussy. Self-governing.
Until then, I was actually quite clingy and needy for my mother’s attention and affection. But just after my 9<sup>th</sup> birthday, at the end of the 4<sup>th</sup> grade school year, I guess I began to grow up.
The frustrating thing for me is that my mother is right. And I still don’t like it when she is right. My 9-year-old<em> is</em> exactly the same way, at the exact same age. We are a lot alike, me and her.
On most days, she is polite, sweet, thoughtful, accommodating. But on other days, increasingly, she whines, shrugs her shoulders and kicks out her feet (in a bit of a retreat back to the days of toddlerhood)—and rejects me. She also rejects, much to his chagrin, her younger brother. He has even gone so far as to beg her to play with him, like she used to. Sometimes the little guy resorts to simply doing whatever she is doing just to be in her company, which usually means reading. And when I plead with her, ever so nicely, to be the big sister he so desperately needs and misses, she says, simply and unequivocally, “NO.”
Even her dad fails to escape rebuff. Last year, he asked me what happened to her: When did she decide he was uncool and annoying? I’m not sure exactly, but I know he was the first to get tossed aside. She would whisper to me,
“Please tell dad not to use that nickname at school.”
“I don’t want dad to take me, can’t you?”
“When will he stop singing those songs?”
Apparently she has long forgotten the nights she couldn’t go to sleep and daddy would bundle her up for epic “adventure stroller walks” around the neighborhood until she succumbed to slumber. When she outgrew the stroller walks, she insisted I lie down with her at bedtime. Help her go to sleep. Now she reads or writes, sometimes into the wee hours of the night, if we allow it. And puts herself to sleep.
But every once in a while, she will sneak up on me, sit on my lap, move her cheek close to mine and wrap her long tender arms around my neck. Occasionally she will still ask, quietly, if I can tuck her in, tickle her back, get under the covers. Some nights, when the kids finally go to bed, I can hardly wait for what I call “personal time,” when I get to read a book, hang out with their father, surf the internet. But in that moment, I think about how those days of needing me are disappearing.
So I slip under the covers, even when she insists I climb over her to get on the window side of the bed, and we snuggle. Once I get in, she often has one last battle with her independence, manifested in frustration over the angle of the pillow or how the covers are placed over her. We settle in, talk about the day. She tells me about things that worry her. About things she would like to do. And I make her feel secure. I hold on. To each and every moment.