What does it mean to be four years old?
At four, sometimes the desire to drive the car is overwhelming and when someone says no (as surely someone must), the need to kick and scream and flail and actually say out loud "It's not fair!" is undeniable. Yet, at the same time, it is reassuring -- even to little people -- that little people can't drive just yet. Or that someone older is there to spell out the hard words or read the juicy good books and cook your waffles just the way you like them.
Full of "vim and vigor" is the four year old, as author Pam Allyn puts it. Full of vocabulary and imagination and physical ability and sheer force of will. No longer a baby or a toddler, a big kid, for sure. But sometimes still quite young. Sometimes not strong enough, or sometimes that big new word comes out wrong, or right but in the wrong context.
At four, it is essential that someone is there to hold you when you're just too tired to swim anymore. At four, reassurance in the arms of a loving adult is paramount when the big world is a scary, unsettling place. It is essential that someone who loves you is right there to say yes, sweetie, you are still young; you are still *my* baby.
And so what does having a mother with cancer do to a child growing up and instinctually stretching her wings?
Honestly, I don't know.
But I'm guessing it magnifies it.
I do know for sure: My girl is fiercely independent at times now -- going off and making new friends at the park, opening the fridge and deciding what she wants for breakfast, going on overnight adventures, absolutely knowing what she wants to wear and exactly how she wants her hair done to go with the outfits -- and by the same token she's very much in need of my arms around her tightly as often as possible.
Frequently now when she is defiant one moment, minutes later she is sobbing into my neck, "I just love you so much, mama!"
And so Joe and I are faced with providing equal opportunities for independence as well as structure and comfort. Imagine this scene: Recently Nia wanted to walk the two blocks from her friend Lola's house to our own, which involves crossing a street. We had driven there (from somewhere else, silly!), and so I drove slowly home with Nia jogging on the sidewalk right beside my car. We chatted all the way home, as is the way with her, and yet she felt totally grown up, getting to walk home from Lola's all by herself.
Perhaps her own little bed is a another good analogy of independence at arm's length.
When Nia was 18 months old, we set up Joe's own wooden crib beside our bed and created a sort of "side car" so that Nia could sleep within arm's reach, and also crawl closer to me as she desired and breastfeeding dictated. And here this bed remained -- through night and day, and in and out of weeks, and almost over 2 and a half years -- until last week.
Last week, this same beautiful crib that was handmade in 1980 was moved away from our bed for the first time and reconfigured to be a "big girl bed" (read: lower to the floor, new pink sheets, her own bedside table with a fish bowl, a banner she made herself decorating the bed, and a learn-to-tell-time alarm clock!).
We all love it: Love that Nia has a very grown up space of her very own -- that is close enough for comfort (my comfort too for I'm often awake in the night looking over to see that she is safe and sound) and yet far enough that she can stretch her wings a bit (and I can have my own side of the bed back, complete with my own bedside table and reading lamp -- *happy sigh*).
It is milestones like these that are happening despite the cancer that let me know we are all going to be okay.