When my older daughter, Samantha, was just starting to walk on her own, she quickly learned that the refrigerator meant food. It was glorious for her, walking to the fridge with the dazzling light shining down upon all of the tasty things she could eat. I could see in her eyes that she would have an almost religious experience every time I opened the heavy door for her to choose her snack, with angels singing in her ears and all. Her go-to snack was (as is true for most little ones) string cheese. "Tees, mommy. Tees, please" she would say in her adorable mispronunciation. Happy to oblige her with a healthy snack, I would open the cheese drawer, pull out one mozzarella string cheese, and open it as she studied my every move.
It wasn't long before she figured out how to open that enormous door. For a child of only 13 months, she was quite strong. She would help me carry the groceries from the front door to the kitchen, choosing the gallon jugs of vinegar over the lighter boxes of tissue. She was able to power through the strong suction of the refrigerator door to swing it wide and gaze upon her Holy Grail. Eventually she would remember that her beloved string cheese was in the drawer, conveniently situated at her level. She would proudly pull one cheese out of the drawer, carefully push the drawer back in it's original position, and close the door. Then, she would search our house high and low for me so I may open the package for her consumption.
One night, when my husband was home to watch this whole experience, things got emotional for me. Samantha asked me for her prized "tees" and I told her that she may go grab one. Expecting to see her stumble her way back to the living room where I was sitting so I can open it for her, I waited. She didn't come back. I called for her, "Samantha... where are you?" "Eating my tees, mommy". Puzzled, I got up and walked into the kitchen to find that not only did she open the refrigerator by herself, but she was able to open her string cheese (and even threw the wrapper away) on her own and was enjoying the fruits of her labor all by herself!
Proud of our little girl's independence, my husband praised her. I fell into a puddle of tears. Chuckling at the sight, my husband asked why I was crying. (sob) "Because she doesn't need me anymore!" I was uncontrollable. His chuckle fell into out and out laughter. "What do you mean, honey? She's barely a year old! Of course she needs you." (intense sobbing, now) "No she doesn't! She can feed herself all on her own now!"
Now, don't think that I actually believed that my 13 month old child was ready to live on her own at this point. I knew better than that. I was just expecting her independence to wait a few years before it presented itself. Samantha was too impatient for that. I was quite happy with being the go-to person in her world for life-sustaining things like food, and shelter. Apparently, she wasn't. She had been ready to move on and kick-start her independence as soon as she was able to figure out how to work that door, that drawer, and that string-cheese packaging.
Now, fast-forward three more years. It's Samantha's first year of being able to participate in Vacation Bible School. Normally, she's pretty shy when she is put in a loud, crazy, chaotic setting. She'll cling to me and keep me close as her safety net. I loved this position in my life. I was able to experience her world up close and personal. It would normally take about an hour for her to get settled in and start enjoying the pandemonium on her own. I walked her into the main room where all the children meet for VBS this morning, and I could feel her grip on my hand tighten with each step that brought us closer to the noise. We searched for her group so she could meet her teacher and classmates and found out that we know her teacher this year. I quietly let out a sigh of relief. Maybe this would help her ease into this crazy scene. I bent down to be on her level and asked her how she was doing. With a nonchalant look on her face, and a girlish flip of her hair off of her shoulders, she said, "You can go now, mommy."
WHAT? No! You're not supposed to be THIS okay with my leaving you in such entropy. You're supposed to ask me if I can sit to the side, or even right next to you, so I can show you that you're about to have the time of your life. You're supposed to at least hesitate before you brush me off so you can meet new people, learn new things, and run around like a child! You're supposed to look over to the sidelines at me to make sure that your safety net is nearby. You're not supposed to grow up this fast! I fought the urge to ask my friend if I would be a distraction if I sat next to her. As I placed myself in the chairs next to the multitudes of children, I watched her. She was clapping and dancing to the music. She was quiet when somebody was speaking, and yelling when they told her to. She folded her hands in prayer when it was time to talk to God, and she got in line as soon as her group was called upon to go to the next station. She never once looked over at me for her cues. What made the tears fall quietly down my cheek was when she looked up at her teacher's helper and smiled... then she grabbed her hand and calmly held it.
Gone are the days of mommy being the only teacher. No longer will I be the only authoritative influence in her life (until daddy gets home from his travels, of course). Other people are now in her world, and she's okay with that. I, on the other hand, found myself feeling a little jealous. With my tail between my legs, I walked outside to the car and finished my sobs. I know that I should be proud of how well she adjusted. It only means that she is, in fact, ready to go to school this fall. But it made me realize that each day that passes, is one more day towards that complete independence that my husband and I are diligently working her towards. And that is bittersweet. I have experienced another "cheese stick" incident, abruptly realizing that while I'm happy with where Samantha and I are in our relationship, she isn't. I'd like to think I handled this one better than the last, and that I will handle the next one even better. I guess only time will tell...