I take my daughter to “Kids’ Klub” at my gym, where the childcare is adequate, but far from stellar. I’ve helped the providers connect with her, and her with them, but the little ones tend to get most of their attention while the bigger kids are largely left to their own devices, with little intervention and lots of TV.
It has always been hard on my girl to share attention with younger kids, and at Kids Klub she faces that almost daily. I’ve focused on helping her feel her disappointment — if only she could feel sad, instead of mad, I’d know she was adapting to the situation and not just enduring it.
A few months ago, instead of playing rowdy tag with the bigger kids, or sitting for an hour in front of the TV, she befriended a much younger girl. This is extraordinary; her energy in the past has been aggressive toward younger children. While infants escape her notice, toddlers set her off — “stupid babies,” she says, growling, especially if I glance warmly in their direction. Happily she’s no longer steering toward little ones to knock them down, but even so she’s often on edge in their presence. But now she’d taken a very caring and nurturing attitude with this little girl and looked forward to playing with her.
One morning, for the first time ever, my daughter expressed excitement about going to the gym. She was so ready to play with her friend that she walked into the room with a bounce to her step. But on my return, she greeted me with “Finally!,” an outburst of frustration usually followed by an account of everything that went wrong and a declaration that this was the worst day ever. So I was pleased when instead she ran into my arms and burst into tears. Her new friend hadn’t wanted to play. I sat with her on the floor, holding her while she cried.
It was the nearing the end of childcare hours, and only three other children remained, all toddlers. The two closest watched my girl’s tears with interest. She responded by sticking her tongue out at them. After the childcare provider engaged them in an activity further away, the remaining boy watched her from a distance, and when we looked up at him, he gave a friendly little wave. I waved back and to my surprise, so did my girl.
We made this exchange a couple of times before she turned to me and asked with genuine curiosity, “Mama, why do you like babies?” Her sadness at her friend’s rejection had softened her, allowing her to face a much more vulnerable question. I answered that I know it’s hard that I give my attention to other kids. I said I like most kids, and even love some, but she’s special — only she is my girl. And clever and vulnerable girl that she is, she immediately asked, “But what about Ryan’s kids? What if you decide to marry Ryan, and then his kids would be yours, too.” Yikes! That took us in a direction I wasn’t anticipating. Though it seemed a major shift, I recognized her question as a continuation of her ongoing inquiry: Is she OK, is our relationship OK, even when other kids get my attention? I answered, “I know it’s sad to think of sharing your mama. And you will always be my special girl.”
And I cuddled my special girl, who curled into my arms, open-hearted and sad.