Last night I was lying on the floor of the children’s suite watching TV. Our close quarters demanded some creativity when searching for some personal space. On Sunday after being cocooned all weekend together my creative solution was to let the older kids enjoy the downstairs while I escaped…urrr, I mean, retreated, ummmm…took advantage of the smaller space with the bigger TV. The idea was that we would all chill out and have some ‘space’ alone. Yeah, right.
My young daughter—never more than a literal arm’s length away from me was watching her videos on her iPad and was, as usual, less than an arm’s length away from me. It had been a trying weekend. I had battled thru my first REAL fear—the tummy bug—with her on Friday. I’d held her most of that day and was up with her all of that night. Saturday I was up at the crack of dawn with the other 2 for a swim meet which lasted until early afternoon in the 100degree heat. After which it was all the required weekend errands with the 3 of them-cranky, hot and tired. Sunday had us all at the pool and tinkering around the house. I had not been alone…not to sleep—not even in the bathroom since Friday morning at 6a. By the time Sunday rolled around we were all a bit cranky, a bit claustrophobic and a little edgy. The separation was necessary. It was also a little more ‘separate’ in my mind. But, alas, my new life didn’t allow for any sort of space. We had 4 rooms-on of which was the kitchen and 2 of which had TVs. The closest thing to ‘personal space’ we could muster was her on her iPad and me mindlessly watching TV while the other 2 enjoyed some Disney movie downstairs.
For a few minutes it worked. The 2 bigs were downstairs and were actually talking to one another. She and I were upstairs NOT talking to one another. And that was okay.
The silence was short lived. The battery must have died on her iPad (yes-I keep referring to it as HERS) because she sighed and stuck her thumb her in mouth. A few minutes passed before she crawled over me, grabbed by face in her chubby, sticky hands and kissed my forehead. “I wuv you,” she said. It was unexpected and incredibly sweet. She rolled over me (literally) and plopped down on the other side. The thumb went back in her mouth.
I rolled over to face her. “You do?” I asked. My need for silence evaporated.
“Yah,” she slid her thumb to one side of her mouth so she could answer me.
“Why?” I asked.
“What?” again the thumb slid to the side. Her legs were bent and one cankle rested against her knee. Her princess nightgown—never new to her was torn and ragged at edge of the chiffon sleeve. Her hair, was still wet from the pool, was mussed and crazy but she still managed to have one side firmly tucked behind one perfectly shaped tiny little ear. She had a dab of her “bed-snack” yogurt on her chin and smelled slightly of barbeque potato chips. She was a precious mess. My precious mess.
“Why do you love me?” I asked. She cut her big brown eyes over at me as if to say ‘are you serious?’ I was. It had been a trying, emotional weekend and I was shamelessly looking for some support—even from my 4 year old.
“I love you a watt,” she answered. That’s another game we play-do you love me a lot or a little?-she’ll say a little and I’ll pretend to be outraged. She’ll giggle and then say ‘I love you a watt silly goose.’ (Pause for a translation for those of you who aren’t familiar with the 4yrold dialect. Watt=Lot)
“I love you a lot too,” I snuggled up to her and kissed her sweet, smooth check. She sat there, ankle propped on knee, sucking her thumb when and focusing on the TV. Guess we were done. I settled back on the pillow and resumed watching.
A few minutes of silence followed and I heard, “I wike you,” my heart bum-bummed. I chuckled, turned to her again and nuzzled against her neck. “I like you too.”
“I wike you a wittle bit,” she said around her thumb. Ahh…this was the game I knew. “You only like me a little bit?!” I played my part. “Yep!” slurp-slurp-slurp on her thumb. “Hey—why you only like me a little bit?” I asked. This was scripted and I was only ½ paying attention. We did this every day.
“I wike you on-wee a wittle bit ‘cause I a wittle mad at you,” ERRREEETTTTT. This got my attention. This was off script. (Pause for a translation for those of you who aren’t familiar with the 4yrold dialect. On-wee=only while Wittle=Little & Wike=like)
I peeled my eyes off the TV and turned on my side to face her. She was solemnly staring at me. Her eyes-those big and brown and expressive eyes almost too big in that little face were looking intently at me. She had taken her thumb out of her mouth but held in close to her face for a quick ‘fix’.
“You are a little mad at me?” I inquired…still laughing a bit. At 4 she could be a baby or she could converse like a little adult. It always amused me when she was able to communicate things like emotions or wit or sarcasm.
“Yah,” she said. I asked her why—thinking we were still playing our silly game. I thought she would say ‘just kidding you silly goose’ but she didn’t. Instead she solemnly and seriously answered, “I mad at you.” I waited but she only stuck her thumb back in her mouth.
“Why are you mad at me?” I asked after it became apparent she wasn’t going to say anything else.
Her eyes didn’t leave the TV as she said, “Because I love my daddy.”
The air left the room. My heart seemed to literally skip a beat and then skipped another and another. I wasn’t so sure it was going to start beating again. I was happy her eyes were glued to the TV so she didn’t see mine fill with tears. I rolled away. I turned away from the TV and away from her. I shoved my hand in my mouth to stop the sob from escaping. Instinctively I curled into a ball as if making myself smaller would make the hurt any less.
So here it was. The moment. The moment of choice. The moment where I have to decide whether or not to defend myself to a child. This is the moment where I have to choose between telling her my truth or letting her keep believing her truth. The 2 truths were not the same. I knew it was coming with the older ones. I didn’t see it coming from this young one. The unfairness of it all engulfed me. There was no way to win. There was no way to make a 4 year old understand something that I, at 43, couldn’t make sense of. There was no way to justify my actions without explaining the actions of others. Any truth I told would tarnish the image of her hero. I was the villain even though it wasn’t my choices or my actions that led us here, to this moment, to this place.
I was trapped.
Though I wanted to sob, I couldn’t. I couldn’t escape. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t defend myself. I wanted to do all of those things. I wanted to flee the room. Flee her accusation. I wanted cry and cry and cry and cry. I wanted to shout that I didn’t have a choice, that we were here, in this place and away from him because it was what I had to do from HER! I wanted to beg her to understand that my choices were because I loved her and her brother and sister and that I wanted to protect her and them but I couldn’t. I couldn’t say anything. So I said nothing.
She laid there and sucked her thumb. I laid there and squeezed by eyes shut tight to stop the tears. I laid there and didn’t say any of the things I wanted or needed to say. The inches separating us seemed to suddenly expand to miles. I never felt farther away from her.
I couldn’t say, “I am sad too but Mommy had to make some very hard decisions because it was what was best for you.” I couldn’t say, ”Don’t be mad at me…be mad AT HIM,” nor could I say, “this isn’t the life I wanted…not the life I dreamed of…for you or for me…” I couldn’t say anything. Her Daddy was her hero and I was the enemy for taking her away from him. That’s all she knew. All she would even understand. If I told her the truth it wouldn’t change anything.
A few minutes passed and then she asked, “Mama, are you mad at me?”
Sniff. Sniff. I answered, “No baby. Mommy is not mad at you.” She scooted closer. “You not mad at me?” she asked. Her chunky little arm snaked around my back and rested on my side. A baby snuggle. A hug.
“No, mommy isn’t mad,” I assured her, “…at you.” I was mad. I was hurt. I was angry and I was appalled but not at her.
“Good,” her arm stayed around me. “I wuv you.”
“I love you,” I answered quietly trying to hide the tears in my voice.
“You charge the ipad for me?” And it was over. The moment of truth, the moment of choices disappeared. It was back to life as she knew it. Life that was as simple as her iPad being charged and her Mommy being close.
I knew the moment will re-appear. She’s not finished being angry and I’ve given her nothing to make her less angry AT ME. And, in truth, I probably won’t ever really escape her anger. Her truth and my truth are not the same. Because I love her and because I wouldn’t hurt her I can’t give her my truth. Not yet. Someday when she’s older and she asks I’ll tell her more. Maybe. Probably. For now I have to take her anger. I have to take it and take it and take it so she knows that it’s safe for her to be angry at me. I am her mom and it’s my job to protect her, to guide her and to keep her from getting hurt. This is just part of my job. It’s the hardest part of my job.