I've been so proud of Lizzie this week. She's growing up, my little Bean. Not quite seven years old, but showing some awesome, early signs of blossoming.
Back in February, when it was time to sign the kids up for their annual week of basketball day camp, the boys said that they didn't want to go this year, but Lizzie was resolute about needing to attend. I wondered privately about whether or not she'd actually attend on her own, without her brothers leading the way, but I signed her up anyway.
Then, just last week I received an email from Athletes in Action (the wonderful group that runs the camp) offering to change the camp from a half-day camp to a full day camp, at no additional charge to us (they were trying to accommodate parents who needed a full day of camp activities for their children). I asked Lizzie if she wanted to go for a half day or for a full day and she clapped her hands and yelled that she wanted to go for a full day!
Well, she's doing it. Despite my private wonderings, she's doing it. Today will be day 4 of her camp.
On Monday morning, as I was prepping her lunch and snacks with her (side point: I virtually never have to send lunches and snacks out with my kids, b/c we h/school...how do all of you mothers accomplish this every. single. day. I hate it!!), Lizzie said that she was "so excited"...and then in the next breath she said that she was "so scared" to go on her own.
I was privately pumped to hear her express both sides so clearly, because that's a classic sign that she's beginning to develop mixed feelings - when she can recognize two different (often competing) feelings at the same time. Five months ago, when I signed her up, she would not have been able to recognize that she would have fear as well as excitement...she was just excited all the way. But this week she could recognize both feelings and they were both strong within her. She was very conflicted.
I dealt with it the way I've dealt with mixed feelings in my other kids; I tried to hold her in her mix for as long as possible, to cultivate her brain's ability to simultaneously handle two different feelings.
"Wow, Lizzie, those are big feelings to have," I offered. "On the one hand you feel so excited to go and have some fun learning basketball; and on the other hand it's really scary to go on your own."
Lizzie: "Yeah! I'm excited and scared!"
Ruth: "Wow, you must be growing up to handle both of those big feelings at the same time. To be excited and to be scared at the same exact time is pretty big. Tell me first about the excited part."
She went on to tell me that she was hoping her "awesome" coaches from last year were there; she was hoping to learn some more about basketball; and she was really looking forward to being able to take her pretty pink lunch bag and to eating the snacks and lunch I would pack into it! We had a good laugh about her love of her mostly-unused lunch bag!
Then I asked her about the scary part of going. "So on the one hand you're so excited, Lizzie. You're so excited about..... And on the other hand you're scared, too. Tell me about what's making you feel scared?"
She was worried about going in without her brothers; she was worried that the coaches wouldn't think she was good; she was scared that she might get hurt and I wouldn't be there; she was worried that she'd miss me; she was anxious about being too little, still, to be able to get the basketball as high as the hoop; and she was scared she wouldn't be able to open all of her little snack/lunch containers.
Rather than immediately solving her problems for/with her, I simply acknowledged each thing that she brought up.
"That really must worry you to walk into camp without your brothers, Lizzie; they were there with you last year, when you didn't know anyone, and they helped you to feel safe."
Each time I heard her fears, she echoed them back and said that yes, this was exactly right and sometimes added to the fear I'd restated.
Finally, I summarized everything again, still trying to hold her in that mix. "Wow, what huge feelings you have, Lizzie. I can tell that your brain is becoming a big girl brain because it can hold all of those mixed up feelings inside. On the one hand...and on the other hand...."
When she finally felt replete of the need to talk about all of her mix (and Lizzie's very verbal and I was trying to hold her in her mixed feelings for as long as possible, so this process took a while), it was Lizzie who ultimately sighed and then made a few suggestions to help with the anxiety.
"Mommy, maybe my brothers could walk in with you and me when I first go into the gym...could you make sure that I meet my coaches because I might not know them...maybe one of my coaches could help me with my lunch box containers if I need help." etc etc etc
Before we left the house, I again acknowledged her mix and then asked if she felt big enough that day to put on her badge of bravery. She said that she thought she was ready and that, even though she was still scared, she was going to try it. I took an imaginary badge of bravery out of my pocket and gently slapped it onto her chest. She looked down and said "good" and we went out to the car.
When we got there, the boys and I took her in together (and I'd coached the boys beforehand that I wanted them to give her a hug and wish her a good day...something that would not happen naturally!). Lizzie immediately recognized two of the coaches, which was awesome, and was thrilled to see that one particular coach was back - she is a young, black woman who was very kind to Lizzie last year and Lizzie really took to her and loved that both of them have hair that is ultra curly!
Even though Lizzie recognized two of them, I still did my usual match-making thing between Lizzie and each of her coaches and I could see that Lizzie was more comfortable afterwards and knew, too, that the coaches had each made a personal connection with her.
The boys and I hung around for a few minutes, watching Lizzie run around the gym, and then I called her over.
"Lizzie, I'm thinking that the boys and I are going to head out now. Is there anything I can do to help you feel more comfortable before I leave?"
She ran at me, gave me a quick hug and and an "I love you," and then started running away, yelling over her shoulder, "Bye Mom, bye Matthew, bye Seth. Have a good day." She never looked back.
It's been a great first few days for her and I'm thrilled. Thrilled to see the beginnings of mixed feelings in my girl; thrilled to see her excitement over a week at camp; thrilled to see that she's such an active, delighted child; thrilled that she's a kid who can put on a badge of bravery and attempt new things without feeling pressured to do them; thrilled (in a sad sort of way) that my baby is growing up just a little. I totally believe that holding her close, enabling her to be dependent for as long as she needs (rather than following society's pattern of pushing children into independence faaaaar too early, IMO) is a factor in her wanting to spread her wings just a little. I'm loving the process of helping her want to learn to fly!
P.S. In case you haven't read my earlier posts about match-making, this is what I do whenever my kids encounter new situations (doctor, dentist, summer camp, soccer, swimming lessons, etc etc).
Here's how it works.
First, I try, whenever possible, to find something out beforehand about the person my kids are going to meet (in this case I called the Athletes in Action camp the week before to ask the names of the camp coaches and to find out something about each).
When we arrived at camp on the first morning, I deliberately took Lizzie by the hand and went to each of the coaches in turn and our conversation went something like this with each of the coaches.
Ruth: "Hi there. My name's Ruth." (the coach introduced him/herself...handshake...eye contact...smile...Lizzie is watching a connection start between her mother and the stranger who will be looking after her in my absence)
Ruth: "Oh Bob...yes, how nice to meet you. I understand that you are attending the University of ____ this year and are studying _____. (I then note something interesting about his course of studies and he smiles, feeling flattered that I know about him.) How great that you've taken the summer to come back and help run the basketball camp this summer for the kids. Thank you so much for doing that." (so far it's me who's connected personally to the stranger my kid sees me talking with in a friendly manner, and the coach has made a connection to me and he's going to remember me because I knew something about him and he's been touched personally)
Ruth: "Bob, I'd like you to meet my daughter, Lizzie." (look down at Lizzie, who's been listening and seeing the adults smiling at each other and nodding at each other - the beginnings of her being able to rely on the new person) "Lizzie, do you remember Bob from last year 'cause he's back and he's been waiting for this camp and for the chance to see you again. (Look up at Bob) Right, Bob?"
Of course he nods and smiles and says an enthusiastic "yes," which is the beginning of the connection between the two of them. He crouches down a little and looks Lizzie in the eye and says that it's nice to see her again and she smiles back at him and says hi.
I go on to look between Bob and Lizzie and tell Lizzie that Bob is going to look after her while I'm not there, and that if she needs something (water break, bathroom break, to open lunch containers, to ask to call me if she needs me, etc) she can ask him. After each point, I look to Bob and say, with a smile, "right, Bob?" and of course he smiles and nods and says that he'll help her. Lizzie gets to see him smile and nod and hears his friendly words and offers of help and, a mere minute after we first walked up to him, there's the beginning of an attachment happening that I've orchestrated.
And not only does Lizzie feel more secure after that process, but whichever person I'm matchmaking her to also has a much better memory of Lizzie than they do of of other kids walking through the door. So guess which kid they're going to remember by name the earliest/easiest...the kid they've been match-made to...which is all the better for my Lizzie. It happens every time.
This is match-making and it's been such a helpful thing to do. I've become quite good at it! I used to feel rather awkward about doing this (and I'm still a little self conscious), when I started about 18 months ago, because I must seem like a bit of a weird mama at first for doing this. But it's had such a massive impact on my kids that now I just do it. It doesn't guarantee that Lizzie is going to have a great day at basketball camp, but the odds of that are radically improved if she and her coaches are connected at a personal level than if I simply leave her in a gym with a bunch of adults she doesn't know. Also, if Lizzie is connected to the adults in the room before she's connected to the kids, the odds are far better that she'll listen to the instructions of those coaches before being drawn in to potential mis-behaviour with the other kids. And when I walk into the gym every morning to drop Lizzie off, guess which mom the coaches are going to be sure to acknowledge - right, the one that acknowledged them and took the time to get to know them a wee bit and who greets them by name every morning and asks how they're doing, etc etc...and surely that is only good news, too, for how my daughter will be treated at camp!