My daughter has reached the age at which I formed a consciousness.
We all have snippets of early childhood, maybe even earlier; bits and pieces of memory. Sitting on grandfather’s lap to create a painting. Banging on the ledge above the backseat because you couldn’t sit quietly in mass. How much is real memory, spotty because of time elapsed, and how much is fabricated from photographs and family story? And when does the real narrative begin?
I remember all of third grade.
I remember playing at friends’ houses, sleepovers, sitting under a desk goofing with a classmate. That is the year I think of as starting true friendships and forming my own separate identity (though I didn’t know it at the time). That is the year my eldest daughter has just begun.
Four days into school and she asked for her first ‘play date’, though I’m sure that term has fallen out of fashion with her set. She and her friend had already arranged it on their bus ride home one afternoon; it was just up to the adults to assent once they’d filled us in. She’d had her first sleepover at this girl’s house last year (her one and only thus far save relatives’ houses and no – I wasn’t ready for that), played there once this summer, and gone to the beach with her once. This was the friend’s first time at our home.
I later realized that I adopted the always-appreciated (on my part) mode of parental supervision my mother employed whenever I had friends over growing up. There, but not. Seen, but not noticed. Moving through, not hovering. Accessible, but not in your face. My mom always joined the conversation when drawn in – and usually made some fun comment – but never horned in. She always made sure we were safe and having fun, but in such a way that made us still feel like we were on our own. Similar to my mode of relating to young children, which I think I also adopted from my mother: let them come to you when they’re comfortable; don’t force yourself on them.
As my daughter and her friend’s conversation floated in from the adjacent room and later the porch window, I heard the exchanges and tenor of my own third grade days; the way kids talk when there are no adults around, the free and easy language and grown-up cadences because they are the big kahunas with no one else around. My daughter introduced her friend to her way of life on her own turf; her likes and dislikes, her favorite activities and special belongings. Her friend got to see how she interacts with her sisters and me and my husband. She welcomed her into her home, her nest, a secret club of sorts – a level of friendship that can’t be reached at school.
A level of friendship that can’t be reached, I don’t think, until this age, this magic number where our little kids morph even more into distinct little beings.
My daughter and her friend played so nicely. They were polite. My daughter didn’t even goad her friend to join her in tormenting her little sisters. But I sense the shift. One more step in her leaving the home, one more layer of my baby shed.
I know – not because I’ve mothered a child this age before, but because I’ve been this age before. I remember it as formative, solid memories in my experience.
She’s on her way.