Criss-Cross Applesauce

Up until about an hour ago, I knew exactly what I was going to write about when I finally got a chance to sit down at the keyboard for a few moments of stolen solitude. My original thoughts came to me at about 2:30 this afternoon as I was driving to Pawtucket for the second time today (I lost my wallet after music class, but thankfully a kind soul turned it in to the building’s management office) when I noticed the students at Samuel Slater Middle School happily leaving the school grounds after a day of reading, writing and arithmetic. The sight of the children with their colorful backpacks, crisp clothes and new shoes mixed with the sweet smell of fall took me back to my own childhood. For just a moment, I could feel their excitement and anticipation as they boarded their school buses or dashed over to their waiting parents. It was bittersweet. Feeling as if it were only yesterday and I was the little girl with the bright new shiny backpack and lunch box, I looked in the rearview mirror only to see Clara looking cute and carefree as ever. And then it dawned on me – in the not-too-distant future, she was going to be that little girl and I the waiting parent.

Each day, I relish in watching Clara grow. Whether it’s a new word or a new skill, it never ceases to amaze me when she displays her growing prowess and intelligence. If I didn’t have Elyse, I would probably long for the day’s of Clara’s infancy. But, I like the balance that the girls bring to my life — Clara with her songs, imagination and other antics and Elyse with her sweet baby girl grins, snuggles and squeals. While Clara refuses to eat just about everything that I put in front of her or wear anything I pick out, Elyse is content slurping her baby cereal and fruit and has absolutely no complaints about the outfits I choose for her to wear each day. In moments of weakness, I often wish that Clara were as compliant as her younger sister, but know that I truly enjoy watching her mimic my behavior or teach Elyse how to roll her hands to accompany the lyrics of her favorite new song.

After another trying day (Clara has been much more difficult than normal lately), I decided to head upstairs for a little alone time. Clara caught wind of my escape and insisted on accompanying me to “Mommy’s bed.” Seeing as I was in need of some warmth and relaxation, I curled up under the covers and encouraged her to join me. Instead, she turned on the fan in our room (we use it for white noise while we sleep), turned off the overhead light and as she was closing the door said, “Goodnight, Mommy, good night.” She did this several times. Hmm. Well, two can play this game, I thought. I finally called her back into the room and pretended to cry so that she would get up on the bed to console me. Not to be undone, she grabbed a tissue (this girl will use any excuse to use a tissue), clamoured up on the bed and proceeded to wipe my nose and eyes (she insisted that I close them). When she was done, she hopped off the bed and said, “There you go, Mommy. You’re all set. Was that nice, Mommy?” I buried my face in my pillow and started to giggle. Then, I insisted that she read me a story. When she refused, again I pretended to cry until she went into her room to retrieve her stack of favorite books. After she pulled herself up onto the bed for a second time (thankfully, we have a durable bedspread!), she handed me the books and waited for me to begin. Now, we read the same seven books twice a day — once at nap time and again at bedtime. I know that she can recite them verbatim, as I can hear her reading them aloud over the monitor after I put her to bed. So, of course, since I was attempting to turn the tables on her, I had to insist that she read to me for a change. As it turns out, she had caught onto my ploy and was now more interested in jumping on the bed.

My little experiment provided me with several minutes of joy, as I watched my former baby — a little life that was once so utterly dependent on me — demonstrate just how autonomous she’s become over this last year. I don’t know if it’s her newfound big sister role or the fact that I’ve been trying to encourage her find her own way, but little Miss Clara is becoming a preschooler. She won’t actually begin preschool until next fall, so that means I have just under a year to prepare both she and I for this monumental event. Whew. Next September, she’ll be the little girl with the shiny new backpack and lunch box and I know she’ll be ready to take her first steps into the world without me. The question is will I be ready to let go of her hand and watch her cross another milestone? Only time will tell…

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