"Girls' night!" I squealed with enthusiasm as the boys left for drum practice. "Milk and cookies? Don't tell the boys, k?" She nodded her head as she swung an arm around me, batted her eyelashes to convey her "girl code," then stifled a giggle with her hand. "Seeeeecret!"
We've had a tough week. L has been crying every single day. All day. Before going school, at drop-off, during school, at dinner. She's complaining of stomach aches, but a quick inspection lets us know she's totally fine physically. Tired maybe, dark circles under her once-bright eyes, but nothing major. She can tell us that she's nervous or anxious but not why she's feeling so sad. And with a parenting editor for a mother, believe me, we've gone down every possible line of questioning. It's absolutely heart-breaking. It just popped up out of the blue and now I want to know when it will go away.
We read Virginia Wolf last night, one of my favourite Canadian kids' books from 2012. It's told from the perspective of a young girl, whose sister is suffering from depression (obvious to grown-up readers and blurred slightly for younger ones) and how her illness affects the whole house. "Mama, I'm feeling wolfish," L said quietly as we closed the book. "I know sweetheart," I accepted, "but we'll get through this together."
We had a Skype session with our homeopath/friend Dr. Zee this morning, but it seemed to yield little change in my formerly joyous and gregarious little girl. So, I thought, we'll just have to wait it out. I went on the school run and endured the tears and the begging for me to take her home. I cried as I walked to work. And then I did something I don't do very often: I listened to my mother.
In an email, she reminded me of how my younger sister always had phantom tummy aches growing up. Don't pay it too much attention, my wise mother said, grating on my every last nerve with her rightness. Because we do that, don't we? This generation with our books and our internet and our trying to be present every moment -- we take things too seriously sometimes. And the attention, especially in the age of busyness, well the attention would be addictive to even the strongest person, let alone a 5-year-old. If you had a captive audience that snuggled you and told you that you were loved every time you did SOMETHING, wouldn't YOU keep doing that thing?
I walked in tonight, holding my breath. "Mama, I cried today at school," came the familiar refrain. "Oh well, it happens," I shrugged it off. "Yeah..." she replied and then proceeded to hug me and kiss me and make me laugh. My sweetie, back, a bit.
"They're gone! Quick!" I said, taking out several packages of strange Italian cookies that got passed to me via my mom via her Italian neighbour. "Warm milk? With cinnamon?"
"Yessss! And honey please."
I fixed her my famous "Warm Cinnamon Milk" and we dunked cookies and laugh. Then I noticed my herbs -- that I've so meticulously kept alive indoors -- out on the deck, frozen dead. I seethed at the fact that while I am married to someone who cleans the floors, he doesn't know that putting delicate herbs outside in -11C weather will kill them. It's petty, but I blamed their whole gender in that instant. (Which still probably doesn't excuse what I did next.)
We ran upstairs to get on our jammies and watch some Harold and the Purple Crayon, because that's kind of a sleepy bedtime show, with Sharon Stone's soothing, sultry voice, and then I don't have to think about what was just published about kids who watch TV before bed not getting enough sleep.
Still pissed about my herbs as we got dressed, I whispered, "I am going to tell you the biggest secret in the world." She gasped with anticipation. I made her promise she would never tell. Horrible things will happen if she tells. OK, she breathed, just tell me.
"Girls are smarter than boys," I said, kind of regretting it the moment it escaped my mouth, but then her reaction was so swift and perfect that I was secretly glad I was doing this slightly wrong thing.
"Yesssssss! I knew it!" Air fist.
"It's because they have penises. We think with our brains and our hearts. They think with their brains and their penises."
"Yeah, I mean, big deal, you have a penis."
"We can't say that word at school anymore."
"Because when you say it to them, sometimes they just pull down their pants and just show you! Can you believe that?"
"Yeah, that's sort of what grown up boys do to grown up girls, too."
"They think saying it means you want to see it!"
"Yup. Yup." I sighed snuggling in, realizing the miles we have to go and that, based on this interaction, I am not equipped to handle any of it without acting like a teenager. I felt guilty for a moment, but then I'm pretty sure my husband has had a similar interaction with our son. Not the penis for brains part, obviously, because he's far more mature than I am, but the part where the opposite gender doesn't understand the opposite one and somehow feels smarter. And then shares that theory with his impressionable offspring.
"I think I'm going to cry at school tomorrow," came the quiet voice when the fun had passed. "That's OK, we'll deal," I said casually, hoping the morning will have more laughs and less heartache. Then Daddy walked in and L gave me a look that said, "Seeeeecret." I hope it empowers her tomorrow. And I hope she forgives me when she finds out I'm wrong 50% of the time (on a good day). Just like I'm going to forgive her dad for killing my plants - tomorrow.