When Munchkin went off to kindergarten 2 weeks ago, she did so excited, confident and, frankly, like a boss. In fact, she told me after we brought her in, “You can go now, Mama. I’ve got this.” And, she certainly did. On day 2 she didn’t want us to bring her in. She wanted to be dropped off and walk in on her own. By Tuesday of the next week, she decided our flimsy excuses of why she couldn’t ride the school bus didn’t match up and so she started riding the bus home. Part of me, like any mother doing this for the first time, was a little sad that she did all of this without needing her old Mama very much. The other part of me was reminded that this is what I am training her for.
At 5 it seems a little extreme to say I’m training her for independence. She still needs Mommy and Daddy in so many way and will always need us as her parents. But, even as she hits kindergarten there are things we are doing that increases her level of independence and self-sufficiency a little more each day. She thinks it’s complete crap that I won’t jump up and get her whatever she needs. She is perfectly capable of getting herself a drink, getting her snacks and, as her Daddy wants to push, even start making her own sandwiches for lunch. We war over cleaning her room, picking up her toys and doing chores around the house. She looked at me a little shocked this summer when I told her it was part of the gig of being the younger cousin that you sometimes were teased (in a loving, but definitely older cousin kind of way). I am reminded of my own days of being “Donde-Magombe” though now when they try to call me that I tell them it is “Dr. Magombe” to them. Good laughs. Good memories. Horrible nickname.
But, she is perfectly capable and needs to learn from these early tasks that she can take care of things herself. It starts now so that it is not a complete surprise the first time she is told to figure it out for herself. She needs to learn the skills early on so that when bigger challenges come up she can feel confident in creating solutions on her own. This includes learning to deal with conflict in school, being able to handle it when she fails at something, working hard toward a goal and feeling the great sense of accomplishment when she does it and learning, as much as I do not want to think this way, that Mommy and Daddy may not always be around to fix life’s challenges.
Anyone who knows me, knows I have always felt this way. I was raised with an emphasis on independence and self-sufficiency mainly due to circumstances. But, this was brought to the forefront again this week with seeing the devastating loss 11 children are going through in Oxford, MS. It was brought to the forefront with the responses of those children in the light of tragedy in considering how they will take care of their brothers and sisters. Those kinds of attitudes just do not appear in children. They are carefully cultivated by parents. I was reminded once again in a very stark and sobering way, that as much as I want to be there for Munchkin and be the one to make sure she’s never hurt or in trouble or has to need for anything, life may deal a very, very different hand. I was reminded once again that my task is not just to love my child unconditionally, but also do the very hard work of building all of those really hard, difficult skills they need. I have thought of those children constantly and also of those parents who probably never dreamed of this outcome.
I was much older when I lost my precious father and there were many things I still depended on him for—a listening ear and his humor just to name a few. That void alone has been difficult to manage. But, again, those skills of coping do not just happen. You do not suddenly reach a specific age and BOOM! Coping skills! Those are also learned through a life time of challenges and problem solving. So, next time when she yells that I am, “Completely unfair and I am ruining her life!” over making her do something she does not want to do, I’ll just keep remembering that one day she may still yell that something is ruining her life, but she will know how to pick up and get to figuring it out. And, it is with all of my hope that I am the one there to provide a little humor and a listening ear as she rants and raves about whatever it may be she is facing but also with pride as she figures it out.