Saturday, June 02, 2007

She's So Sensitive

Not long ago Muffin and I were taking one of our patented World’s Slowest Walks, and we passed a woman helping her daughter learn to ride a bike. The mom’s method could only be described as tough love. The little girl was on the verge of tears, but her mom kept telling her to stop crying and keep going. The girl fell, not all the way to the ground but enough to bring on true sobs of fear and frustration, but the mom again insisted that she get back up. No hugs, no kissing boo-boos, just sharp-tongued, Bobby Knight-style mothering.

Of course, Muffin had to examine a crack in the sidewalk just as they were slowly passing, so we ended up kind of inadvertently gawking at them. I couldn’t help but recoil at the mom’s lack of sympathy, even though I realize (in a way I never could have during my pre-mom years) that you just don’t know what kind of parent you’ll be until you’re there.

A few months ago we were at a friend’s birthday party. My friend’s mom was crossing her leg and inadvertently brushed Muffin. My daughter looked like someone had actually intentionally kicked her as her smile headed south and she scrambled over to me, arms out. She clutched me tightly and buried her head in my shoulder. She didn’t cry but I could hear her trying to catch her breath. She didn’t move for a good five minutes.

And here’s the terrible thing: I loved every second.

Muffin is generally too busy to be much of a cuddler. But at random moments she zooms over to me, whispering “hug, Mommy.” Often she’s tripped or pinched her finger, but sometimes someone just looking at her funny is enough to do it. Once the Canuck was pretending to be asleep on the couch and surprised her by blinking his eyes wide open suddenly. She ran off and buried her head in her hands, even as we were explaining that she hadn’t actually woken him up and that Daddy wasn’t mad at all. Guests are a mini-trauma every time; the buzzer rings, she yelps and rushes into my arms for a “carry you” (still working on those pronouns). In these moments, I am The Mommy, and my touch can restore her to her normal bouncy self, and it’s one of the greatest feelings ever.

But I am beginning to wonder if I am coddling her just so my mommy ego can get a stroke. I’m not talking about those times she’s truly injured – in those moments I can feel the gray hairs sprouting from my head, and I would gladly forgo the hugs and take on her pain in a second if I could. But then there are those minor daily wobbles and bumps, where a parent’s reaction can often determine the child’s. Sometimes I am breezy and all walk-it-off. But just as often I am offering a hug before Muffin can even figure out if she is upset enough to need it.

We have friends with a daughter so shy and sensitive that she had to bring a bucket to preschool to throw up in each day before she went in. Now she is 6, and her mom has decided she can no longer accept birthday party invitations, because there have just been too many times where the poor girl cannot get up the courage to leave her mom’s side and join in the festivities. I know her mom is proud of what a sweet and sensitive girl she is, but I also know she’s at her wit’s end trying to draw her out and toughen her up.

Maybe the woman on the street was in the same place.


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