Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ramona knows how to break her mommy's heart

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."

Strike One.

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.

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Love2Learn Mom said...

Aw, kids really get to you, don't they? Ramona reminds me here of my oldest, Ria (now 13). She had major mommy separation anxieties when she was little. Somehow she became obsessed with the concept of college for a time when she was about three years old. I kept reassuring her that she didn't have to go to college unless she wanted to, but it would drive her to tears, the thought of leaving me. She had quite the dramatic streak.

We drove out to California one summer to visit my family when Ria was about six. We stayed with my younger brother for a few days and Ria fell in love with one of his big dogs - I kid you not - his name was Romeo. We have video footage of a huge tantrum of crying and tears over Romeo in the car while traveling to the next relative's house. Now she keeps reminding us that we should send it into AFV.

Liz said...

Hi, Karen,

You know what happens to clingy little girls who can't stand to have you leave? After you've filled their emotional tank full for years and years, it actually gets full. Then they leave and move into an apartment of their own miles away. If you're fortunate they come home most weekends (thankfully even with gas prices what they are it's cheaper to do laundry at home and get fed to boot). Then it's mom who gets to have separation tears.

My darling daughter was here all weekend, this weekend, along with her dear bf. We went to the beach in New Hampshire, we went to Mass together, we talked literature, we talked philosophy, we talked theology of the body, we talked economics. A good time was had by all or at least by mom. However, I may go to Burlington this week to return library books and get to see her some more.

Parenthood -- it's not for the faint of heart indeed.

BTW this was the child whom a friend predicted would never be independent at all because we didn't make her stay in her Sunday School class by herself when she was 2. To be fair the teacher only had one child, and he was a non-clinger.

K said...

Your post was so beautiful and so true. Parenting is all about opening our hearts and then learning to let go. Our children, unfortunately are much better at is then we are. My "clingy" one is off on her own now and checks in on me every few days. She always asks, "are you ok, Mom?" And I always answer, "yes". Little does she know, I miss having her to tuck in..

Margaret in Minnesota said...

The good news is: you had the day off!

The even better news is: you are very loved and were much missed while you were gone.

That, in my opinion, is the best of both worlds.



Karen E. said...

Yes, and thank you, to all. :-)

The Sunday school thing is funny -- I would never have predicted that Anne would be the one who would want to stay and would love it, but she did. Betsy cried the first time she tried it, so I didn't make her stay and she never wanted to try it again. With Ramona, I knew there was no reason to try it. She would have no interest in anything that involved me leaving her anywhere.

It feels *so* much better to follow one's instincts in this area than to follow the type of parenting books which encourage you to walk away as your child screams for you ....