My daughter’s teacher told me recently that second grade is when girls start comparing themselves to other people to find out not only who they are, but who they want to be around. Oh, snap, I thought. You mean it hasn’t even started yet? I was terrified. I thought we were already halfway through she-bop crazytown.
When my daughter first started showing signs of social angst a year ago, her first-grade teacher said it was important that I model appropriate emotional behavior every day. Show her how it’s done.
I thought about all the evenings when I’d been hauling groceries inside—bags ripping, kids kicking each other in the shins, freelance emails waiting, my mother calling, baby wailing, and the dog goosing me like a wet wipe, front to back.
That’s when my girl and I started checking in every night, sharing each day’s rose and thorn.
I always go first. This helps, because when it’s her turn, I have work to do. She recently said that her favorite part of the day is at night when I’m calm and apologizing for stuff I’ve freaked out about during the day.
How’s that for an elbow punch in the baby maker?
I know these nighttime conversations are like little pearls that I’ll recall some day with a gilded tilt, so I keep them up, even if I’m so exhausted that I talk while lying face down on her pillow.
Once, she asked me to tell her a childhood secret, but not the one about how I used to wipe boogers on my bedroom wall. “You already told me that one,” she explained.
So I told her about the time I stole a shiny hematite rock from school because I wanted it so badly, even though taking it wasn’t the right thing to do.
She reciprocated with a story about how she’d wanted the colored marbles at preschool so badly that she took them home. In her underwear. Her what? Her underwear. She put this stunt on replay until she’d filched a whole collection, later stashed in a sock, as big as a knobby winter squash.
After the big panty-smuggling marbles reveal, our chats got even more serious.
A few weeks ago, trouble was brewing with her best friend.
“I just want to be friends with other people and not have her be mad at me!”
It was a teaching moment, delivered right in front of my face, like goey egg yolk on toast. Scoop that up. Now!
I started sweating. She scooched over toward the window.
“Mom, do you need some room so you don’t fall off the bed?”
I love you so much, little girl. Please don’t ever kick me out of your bed.
We hashed out the details. She worried that she’d retaliate against her friend’s anger with her signature silent snub.
I slipped into the only mantra I could think of. I told her that what she was feeling was okay, and that it was okay to talk to her friend.
She asked me if we could role play what the conversation might look like.
She exercised the awkward hemming, hawing, and lip chewing she would go through.
Afterward, she turned to me and said this:
“Mommy, I hope you live for a hundred years!” and she hugged me.
I didn’t tell her that I would have jumped into the underworld and eaten cottage cheese for eternity just to share that moment with her.
After I kissed her goodnight and told her that I loved her no matter what she does, she popped her thumb in her mouth and rolled over. I wanted to burrow my arms into the mattress around her fawnish body—all limbs and elbows—and kiss her downy brow, no longer furrowed in distress.
Instead, I stood next to her bed and said the kind of silent prayer that my godless heart knows best, thanking the holy mother ethereal spirit of Carol Gilligan that I probably got one right.