Ramona doesn't like it when I leave. (Define "leave" however you wish: walk out of the room, use the bathroom, go to the store, head for a doctor's appointment ....) If I'm out of sight, her quality of life is diminished.
On Friday, I took the kids and a couple of their friends to the park. Knowing that I was going to be out of town for part of Saturday, I thought I'd try subtly preparing Ramona for the idea.
"Hey, you know, Daddy could bring you back to the park again tomorrow."
"No," she said, shaking her head emphatically. "I don't want him to. I don't ever want to leave you."
Saturday morning, she was up early. She said, "Are we going anywhere today?"
"We-e-e-ll," I said, mentally scrambling. "You might be going somewhere."
She looked stricken. "Without you? Does that mean you're going somewhere? Without me?"
Why does she have to be so clever?
"Yes," I said, thinking it best to be honest and get it out in the open. "Mommy has to go out for awhile today."
"Will it be a long time?" she said, tearing up.
"Wee-e-e-e-e-ll," I stalled again (thinking, how accurate is a four-year-old's perception of time?), "it depends on what you mean by long." I knew this was a feeble attempt at evasion, but I was desperate.
"You know!" She was exasperated with me by now. Rightfully so. Illustrating the point with her outstretched arms, she said, "A long, long, long time!"
"Well, yes," I confessed. "It will be a long time. But I'll be home later today. I'll be home waaaay before bedtime. And Daddy wants to take you to the park. And out for ice cream."
"Can I go with you?" she sniffled. She always breaks my heart at this point.
"Not today, sweetie."
She cried. She grieved my going. I comforted her and we snuggled.
I think she passed through the five stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance -- in about 15 minutes, which is faster than she's ever processed any separation. Because just a bit later, when we were in the kitchen and Atticus was preparing the Saturday morning Monkey Bread, Ramona said to me, "You know, Mommy. It's okay that you have to go out today. And after you're gone for awhile, I might even forget about you!"
She said it so brightly and with such bravery that I thought I might crumble. But I donned my own brave face and said, "Yes, you just might have so much fun with Daddy and your girls that you won't even think of me!"
And then I told her the story of when Anne-with-an-e was a little older than Ramona is now, and she went to her first Sunday school class. Anne and I were both a little apprehensive about our separation, but when I got back to pick her up, she said happily, "Mommy! Hi! I forgot to miss you!"
I told Ramona that it was okay if she, too, forgot to miss me, even as the thought stabbed at my heart. I told her I wanted her to have a fun and happy time with Daddy and her sisters.
And she did. But, her perception of time is uncanny. I was running late, and she did get very sad when I didn't get home at the expected time. She got over that hump, though, thanks to a great daddy, fun sisters and a cell phone call that cheered her up (now, how again did people parent before cell phones and printer/copier/scanners?)
And so -- yesterday was a huge step for both of us. We both had broken hearts. We both had to be brave. And we both survived.
Parenting ... It's not for the faint of heart.
Tags: parenting, motherhood