The Price of Independence

>> Monday, October 22, 2007

“Mommy, can I have another fork?”

“Sure, the utensil drawer is right over there.”

“Mommy, can you find Baby Doll for me?”

“Not until you look for her first.”

That I don’t immediately get up from the dining table to fetch another fork has nothing to do with laziness. After all, did I not just come home from a long day of work, head straight to the kitchen and make a spaghetti dinner without first taking off my shoes or going to the bathroom? And when I don’t stop folding the laundry, or washing the dishes, or going to the bathroom to hunt for baby doll, it’s not because I have a cruel streak. It’s because I want my girls to be independent.

Trust me -- some days it would be a lot easier just to do their bidding. Asking Elizabeth to get her own fork causes the following sequence of events: she disappears under the table (where are you going?), finds a lost Froot Loop (what is that?), threatens to eat it (don’t eat that!), throws it back on the floor (pick it up!), tickles my foot (please stop!), bonks her head (are you OK?), emerges from under the table (hello there!), throws the Froot Loop in the trash (close the lid!), opens the drawer (not that one!), examines the potato peeler (put that back!), and finally locates and removes the fork (close the drawer, please!). Then the entire process repeats itself in reverse.

So you see, it’s definitely not laziness. I am just fiercely, insanely, committed to their independence.

But despite my efforts to raise self-sufficient children, it’s weird when they actually start doing things for themselves. I hear a strange noise in the house -- the clank of the toilet lid. I look over at Michael who’s putting Legos away. Nope, not him. I’m fishing out a cat toy from under the couch, so it’s not me. We look at each other with raised eyebrows. Wow, we think. She’s going to the bathroom by herself without first announcing, “I have a Big King Poop! Mommy, can you come with me?” Weird.

We just don’t expect to hear these adult, independent noises coming from somewhere else in the house. Not long ago, these people couldn’t manage to bring food to their mouths or wipe their own butts. Now they’re going to the bathroom, playing by themselves, and even making their own sandwiches.

“Can I make a cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich?” It was Elizabeth.

Michael and I were in the living room. We looked at each other. Uh, what’re we gonna do here? I don’t know. What do you think? I don’t know. Sounds messy. All of which was said without opening our mouths.

“Sure, why not. Go help yourself.” I was feeling reckless.

Elizabeth was thrilled at this vote of confidence and skipped into the kitchen. We heard the refrigerator door open. She rifled through the drawers and placed items onto the table. OK, that’s the bread I’m guessing... now lettuce... cheese... (thunk!) and the jar of mayo. Any minute I expected she would call me in there. “Mommy, how do I open the bread? I can’t open the mayonnaise...” but she didn’t. After a couple of minutes, she emerged from the kitchen with a smile on her face and a sandwich in her hand. And it looked... normal. Like something I might eat.

And in that moment I was so proud -- and then so sad.

Dang it! I’m an idiot... Idiot! Now she’s one step closer to leaving home. First they start making their own sandwiches. Then they drive to the grocery store to get their own beer. Before you know it, I’m lucky to get a phone call from their personal assistants and wardrobe consultants. Stupid independence!

With mixed emotions I went into the kitchen. There on the table was my salvation. Lettuce was everywhere. Bits of cheese was smooshed onto the table and floor. The mayo was left out and the bread was left open. What a horrible unholy mess.

Yay! She still needs me!

With a smile on my face, I called her back to the kitchen to help clean up. “You like your sandwich?” I asked. She smiled and nodded enthusiastically, her mouth full of bread and cheese. I got her a plate. And a napkin.

I suppose this means I’m slowly moving from “need-based Mommy” to “nag-based Mommy”. There’s no need to make her sandwiches, but I’ll be nagging her to put the bread away. And maybe, if I’m lucky, she’ll let me fix her a grilled cheese once in a while.

For the record, here are some of Lizzy’s somewhat crazy sandwich concoctions:

  • Sliced American cheese and blue cheese sandwich
    (That’s a slice of cheese, crumbled blue cheese, and then another slice of cheese -- no bread.)

  • American cheese, lettuce, mayo, 1000 dressing, BBQ potato chips on white bread

  • Bread-Bread-Bread sandwich

  • Any of the following items between two slices of bread:

  • Macaroni and cheese

  • Carrots

  • Froot Loops

  • Basically, everything is better between two slices of bread -- or cheese. (She can’t help it -- it’s in the DNA.)

    Viva l’indépendance!

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