Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Flipping The Switch

I watched something stunning the other day, and I've been replaying it in my mind ever since. It's one of those quiet moments people don't tend to talk about, but that I think moms have been quietly marveling over for eons.

In the run-up to kindergarten, I was extremely concerned about Abby. When she went into her preschool two years ago, she was so painfully shy that it took months for her to become comfortable there. The class photo of her first year shows her standing to the side, unwilling to be part of the group shot, her leg poised to rocket her away from the scene as soon as the shutter clicks. By a year later, she was front and center, criss-cross applesauce, surrounded by true friends. The journey from photo one to photo two felt endless.

She had been resisting kindergarten with all her energy. She mourned the smallness of its playstructure; I worried that she wouldn't make it through the day with shoes on, a fear I later learned I shared with almost every parent from our co-op. The shoes! What about the shoes? Friends, I blush to admit that she was still nursing to sleep at the beginning of the summer, something I myself resisted mightily (and guiltily) but that she fiercely clung to, as she had clung to her diapers two years earlier. I went with the same irritated logic -- that nobody goes off to college doing _______ -- and was rewarded both times with eventual cooperation. This time, I fibbed, at first, that the milk was gone, and she looked up at me with big brown sad eyes and asked, "for real? can I check?" and found that I was "mistaken." A month or two later, I distracted her for a number of days in a row, and by the time she tried again, she declared, "It's gone, mama! You need to go drink some milk right now!" "No, honey, it doesn't work that way -- it's gone," and hugged her. No tears. No mourning. Just hugs.

Of course, now she has to figure out how to get to sleep on her own -- which is difficult, as it was for her mom. Is for her mom. Yeesh.

Anywho, all this is to say that a month ago, she didn't know a letter from a number -- in contrast to her sister, who picked up reading as easily as breathing -- and I was fretting my face off, worried that she would feel frustrated, embarrassed, envious. She mentioned often that "Penny can read but I can not," and played it off like it was NBD, but man, it bugged her.

She's been in school about a month, and this week she is Student of the Week, which means she has to fill out a poster that's basically a giant form with questions about her favorite food, her family, her interests. I noticed that she was already able to write letters as long as I told her which one was next. But when we got to the name of our dog, I said, "Remember you were looking at Penny's get-ready chart? Lulu's name is on it, and it's a pattern, remember?" She ran over to the wall where the chart was, and found Lulu's name easily, then ran back and forth looking at L ... U ... L ... U. Her hummingbird heart racing, her body crackling with energy and heat. She had it. She had this.

Flashback to last summer at our friend's pool. After weeks of lessons, Penny still couldn't put it all together, till she spent the afternoon watching Moses flit through the water. Just as everyone else went inside, in a flash she pushed away from me and swam across the pool under the water. Just like that. And then again, and again, and in a different way, and now trying this and that. It was the same, her body energized with her brain's discovery. Long after everyone else had gone inside for dinner, she and I stayed in the pool, shivering, until she had sated that need to feel her body doing that new thing, till it was muscle memory and she could leave it for the night, unable to wait till morning for the next chance to try it out.

So rarely have I felt that switch in my own mind, but how precious the memory. Watching it is such a privilege, and reminds me that my job isn't to pull them along, but to clear the way for them to do their things. So. Freaking. Cool.