Thre(e)shold

20 09 2017
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This smile, we find ourselves believing a little more strongly every day, can (and probably someday will) carry this child through anything.

It’s been a busy, busy couple of tough transition-weeks for this little person who just turned three a few short weeks ago. First, last week, her sister started back to school–Kindergarten this time, which for her wasn’t really anything at all (Primary school in the Montessori model is a 3-year cycle, and since she’d already started a few-days-a-week full-day practice-run last Spring, it was all just going back to doing what she’s been doing for years already: the weeks a little longer, the tasks a little more challenging, the playground opportunities more frequent and reliable, but the place and tools and tasks and people to share them with are all familiar), but for Tab meant, suddenly, every day being sisterless for long, long hours: the span of 8:15 – 2:45 is a long, long time when you’re still small, and it’s even longer when you have to count those hours, minute-by-minute, for seven school days before your own turn comes to start attending!

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Out for a walk with me around Barry Park, my little observer finds a mushroom city, some bright-colored leaves, a mushroom blooming like a feathery flower, and the feathered seed-parachutes of a real one.

There were definitely moments for both of us when those minutes drug, but I tried to keep our spirits up, to overlook how far behind I was slipping with my work commitments and stay present with her, without dwelling on but of course while intensely aware of how her busy anticipatory transition week was my last week at home full day with a small child: already having moved past babies and toddlers, I found myself here all of a sudden, filling the last long days with this preschooler whose name was already on somebody’s roster, printed on folders and cubbies, waiting for her to make herself at home in her own little tree-named “cottage” classroom (Tabitha’s is Oak, where the pale blue paint on the classroom’s walls will soon be bringing her one clear wish to life: when asked which class she hoped to join, with no data of any kind to work with, her heart-felt, identity-defining answer was the same each time. “The blue one!”).  We went outside a lot–the weather being miraculous, a summer revival all week long after a cold snap at the end of August that turned out to have been a total lie.  We read a lot.  We explored a new library.  And I followed a lot of little whims, even though that might not have been the best preparation for her to take on the social responsibility of having to join a classroom community and live in ways that work for everyone, not just herself, just because I could: because, mercifully, I noticed in time that this time was a gift.

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Sunflower morning: reading picture-books on the front step in the sunshine with the company of our favourite cat, while the nodding row of heavy blooms bent toward the ground in anticipation of the coming winter, and the last to bloom argued for the beauty of the liminal, half bud and half already sunburst.

The youngest occupies a weird place with regard to the family’s allotment of time: for years already, and for years to come, because she’s the baby, she gets the biggest portion of Mum-attention, at everyone else’s expense, but that expense adds up.  The Mum-attention the baby gets is almost always tinged with frustration, because whatever Mum is doing for her, it’s detracting from something someone else wants, forestalling somebody else’s wants that Mum would also love to fill: the baby wins the contest, time and time again, so it’s easy to see how and why (and to be frustrated by how) the baby is always spoiled, but at the same time, the baby has never known what the firstborn (and this family has two of them) knew: a time when there was no contest, when Mum-attention was a singular recipient and a singular source, when there was no fight to win it because there was no one to win it from.  Tab has been lucky enough to have gulps and swallows of this kind of time all along, with her siblings being old enough to be ahead in the track of playschool or “real” school to bless her with those private, baby-at-home spaces, but it’s almost over now:

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Sassy miss is determined to become a ladybug, with no regard for my logical explanation that this sort of wing requires the velcro dress; they won’t stick to her naked skin, and she’s not wearing dresses, so it’s try and struggle, hide and fluff her skirt, insist and try again, and then finally throw up hands and decide to be something else instead. Life lessons, kid. Sometimes Mummy does know.

afternoons are busy, and school breaks are school breaks for everyone.  So for this week, I did a lot of following and wallowing, not the weepy kind: the happy-pig wallow in the juicy, wonderful mud, the rolling-around in my littlest’s time and attention and the letting her roll around in mine, while we had the precious chance to do it.

Tabitha at three is my threshold: she’s the last one at the door, the last stop for the blowing straw of time and opportunity for my own work and interests, but the last warm softening of the hearth floor, too.  My littlest, my last one, embarking, changes my landscape in ways I know I can’t yet really even predict.  When I imagine what happens next, I think of it as things changing “back,” but of course they won’t: I’m somebody totally different than I was before I became their mother, all three of these little people, and part-time parenting the lot of them, now that they’re taking on daily away-schedules and obligations of their own, won’t, either, be like going “back” to part-time parenting just the first one, so my threshold challenge is really just to keep my eyes and heart open to how these changes bloom and what they offer.  For her, though: it’s just one path, leading in one direction (forth and ever onward!), but she’s got no comparisons to hold it to.  Walking forward could be like anything.  Siblings to follow offer glimpses but not promises.  So there’s a lot to face, a lot to wonder, a lot to process (screams and tantrums and all), and a big, big world to make room for inside that quick-snap Venus flytrap of a mind.

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Exploring the new DeWitt library, Tabitha enjoys a day of reveling in my total attention while doing all of the toddler things that Montessori school is *not* about: playing with trains, listening to a story about talking animals, building with Duplo blocks, making pretend food in the play-kitchen, being (and giving) a puppet-show, and pouting sleepily in Mummy’s arms.

So who’s this little wild thing going to be? It’s anybody’s guess, and most of all Tabitha’s. She is, to date: an adoring sister, loving daughter, fangirl full of squee for Daddy, loving granddaughter, and curious, just-beginning-to-bloom friend. She’s our first kid to really embrace the tricycle and go riding on her own because she wants to, and this says a lot about her: “on her own because she wants to” may be standard in many ways for three, but it’s a Tabitha description in ways in never was for the other two: Caleb lived and still mostly lives to please, and Evanny balances extrinsic and intrinsic “whys” better than the balance beam, which she rarely falls off of already. Tabitha’s soundtrack is entirely her own, and if whatever thrills her takes her wholly, whatever thwarts her inflames her entire world, so a chunk of that soundtrack is very, very loud. She gets this from me, of course, so while I don’t admire it, per se, it’s hard to genuinely complain, even when my ears are ringing. I don’t encourage it, of course, but I empathize, and I’m on my own daily balance beam, trying to keep empathy from coming off as complicity. It’s a tricky age, three.

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Outside the library, stretching those butterfly wings balancing on a rock wall, finding rainbows in the ornamental grass, then jumping the barricades and heading into the meadow, only to bring back handfuls of flowers for me.

Parts soar-so-high and parts cry on the floor, three is big enough to start thinking, and understanding other people’s thinking, in ways that really let them seem real to adults for the first time: three-year-olds aren’t just cute little creatures, they’re cute-but-challenging humans, and in their humanness we see our own challenges, and cringe at what they say about us in their turn. It happened with all of these siblings, but with Tab I think it’s going to be the deepest, richest sting: while her brother and her sister both share parts of me that I love and some I’m not always proud of, and both walk some rocky paths I know too well, Tabitha’s whole self is a lot, lot, lot like me. It’s going to be an uphill challenge to help her try to make more of her lot than I did for far too much of my youth, preferring to despair and gripe about it instead; if (or, surely, when) I get it wrong, it’s going to spear me through the heart to watch her scrape that sweet little face along the floor. But if we can get it right, o little heart of mine, how high I just might see you fly.

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