Since we’re just two days away from Independence Day, it seems only fitting to focus on independence in this post. However, I’m not talking about stars and stripes, or backyard barbeques and fireworks. No, this kind of independence lands squarely in the camp of “I can do it myself.”
My four year old has been exercising her independence for as long as I can remember. She started picking out her own clothes at age two and has developed an amazing (and unique) sense of style for herself. She is driven and confident (and at times bossy), and wants to assert her independence as often as possible. This has most recently come to fruition in public restrooms – she wants to go in the stall “by myself.” After mentally running through the list of all the things that could go wrong by letting her do this (she falls in the toilet, she doesn’t wipe well enough, poop goes where poop shouldn’t be…), we’ve come to a compromise that feels right for this blossoming little lady. She can go to the bathroom with one of us and in the stall by herself, but can’t lock the door. This gives her the sense of doing it on her own while still gives us access to her should she need help (unlike the time when I was 5 years old and locked myself in a bathroom stall at Disneyland then got stuck so I crawled out of the stall to my mom and had to face a long line of women who needed to pee with one fewer stall to choose from… alas, that’s a story for another day!). As she gets ready to go to elementary school, I am watching my eldest grow into a girl – not a baby, not a toddler, but a real kid. It’s frightening, and exciting, and happening way too quickly.
Then there’s my middle daughter. She’s two and a half, and really good at it. Tantrums, silliness, strong opinions, defiance, exploration, snuggles… you name it, she’s got it. She is also exploring her independence, but from the strong-willed “I do it myself” approach. She so badly wants to be a big girl, but hasn’t totally outgrown the baby phase yet. So when she says she will do it herself, that’s usually accompanied with a whine or a tantrum or a set of incomprehensible tears. And the thing she wants to do herself usually centers around opening her own applesauce packet or putting the lid on her milk cup. These aren’t earth shattering actions, but for her they provide the smallest bit of control in an otherwise predetermined world. While I’m not ready for her to grow up so fast, it is exciting (and often aggravating… see tantrums above) to see her explore and exercise her independence.
And lastly, there’s the baby. The sweet little baby who can’t talk (or talk back!), who laughs at every face I make or sound I coo, and who can’t do a single thing for herself (unless you count spitting up, in which case she’s a champ!). Though she isn’t ready to exercise her independence in the same way as her sisters, she’s about to embark upon her own first step of independence. Next week marks the end of my maternity leave, and her first week at daycare. I’m beyond sad that I won’t be able to spend my days with her anymore. However, I know that this is an important moment for us. Separation from one another won’t be easy and I have no doubt that there will be plenty of tears Monday morning (mine, not hers). But, I also know that this separation can be good for both of us, and will make our reunion each night oh so sweet.
That’s the funny thing about independence. We long for our children to gain it – to be able to do things big and small for themselves. But once they do it’s impossible to refrain from longing for the days they needed us for every little thing. So, for every step that I set my girls free, I hug them that much tighter so they know that no matter how independent they get, they can always depend on me.