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Negotiating My Freedom

I think it’s no secret that Cora is,
um, rather attached to Mommy. She’s nearly three years old,
and is usually stuck to me like glue. If we drop Maddie off at her
classroom and I stay behind to talk to a teacher while Cora and my
mom walk on ahead down the hall, Cora will spy me back behind her
and run to me, embracing my leg and saying, “Mommy! I found
you! I was worried about you!”

To be fair, she’s gotten much better about my absences than
she used to be, and will take my working with fairly good grace as
long as she knows about it beforehand. If I park in front of the
house, where she’s got a window, and fail to tell her
I’m leaving during her quiet time, she’ll hear the
alarm chime as I go out the door, scramble to the window, and watch
me drive away, sobbing and beating against it with her fists.
“Mommy, no! Mommy, come back! COME BACK!” But if
I’m honest with her and tell her I will be leaving BUT I will
be back before bedtime, she’ll accept it pretty well.
Especially if I sneak out the back door and avoid a dramatic

But on the whole, we’re still having
problems with getting Cora to choose to leave my side. School next
year for her, even a couple days a week, is still out of the
question if Mommy can’t be there as well. It’s only
been within the last couple of weeks that Cora’s allowed me
to leave her at a friend’s house AND WALK AWAY: until very
recently, she’d simply refuse to let me leave without her,
but twice now she’s gone over to someone’s house and
stayed contentedly behind while I left. The key seems to be lengthy
explanations about who WILL be there, what to expect, what kind of
food will be served, and when Mommy will be back.

And of course, my magic weapon – Maddie. Cora is much more
likely to do something without me if her big Sissy is there, and
I’ve been exploiting that for all it’s worth.
We’ve had a couple milestones recently, thanks to some
intense negotiations and careful phrasing, and I’m hoping
there’s a dim light at the end of a very long tunnel.

First – swim lessons. I’ve always said Cora would start
swim lessons when she turned three, the way Maddie did, and
Cora’s a little fish in the water. We’ve spent the last
two summers watching Maddie in swim lessons, and I’ve taken
it for granted Cora would be happy about this. Unfortunately,
she’s also watched Maddie work through her fear of swim
lessons as well, and I think she feels compelled to not want to go
to swim lessons. So Cora’s put her foot down and flatly
refused to take any swim lessons – partly the Mommy
separation thing, and partly thinking it’s the right thing to

What can I do? I’m not going to force her, and make the water
traumatic. But she also needs lessons – we’re at our
neighborhood pool every day, all day during the summer. I did
finally hit on a solution – swim lessons somewhere else. I
found a neighborhood swim teacher everyone loves, who does
semi-private lessons at her house. Maddie and Cora will have
“swim PRACTICE” (semantics are everything with this
child) together, and Cora is quite excited about it. New
surroundings, Sissy by her side, no “lesson” in the
title, and she’s happy.

Second big milestone – Sunday school. Cora’s flatly
refused to go to Sunday school, and has been exactly twice in her
whole life. I’m simply not the mom who can leave her child to
cry for an hour and a half during church. So I’ve been
bringing coloring books for Cora, and she colors and draws
contentedly during the forty-five minute sermon, listening some,
snuggling some, and staying quite silent.

This solution was easier for me. Once I realized she was perfectly
happy with her art supplies, I just took them away. And I gave her
plenty of warning. Saturday afternoon, I said, “You know,
Cora, we’re not going to bring any crayons or coloring pages
to church on Sunday, so you might be bored with the grown-ups.
Maybe you’ll want to go to Sunday school with Maddie,
instead.” “Ok,” Cora said amiably.

Not wanting to push my luck but knowing I needed to reinforce it
one more time, I brought it up again at prayer time that night.
“And God, Cora’s going to Sunday school tomorrow with
Maddie, so we thank you that she’s going to have a lot of fun
and pray you’ll be with her on this new adventure!”
“Yeah!” Cora cheered.

And the next day, off she went. Maddie’s teachers very
graciously agreed to let the two-year-old into the
four-and-five-year-old’s class, and they said Cora does quite
well there. She’s been back two more times, and I’m
thinking this might stick.

So I’ve learned to bargain with Cora – figure out
what’s important to me, be flexible on the details, and throw
in the big sister as an incentive. Whatever it takes to get her
into structured classes and peer-based surroundings without me. My
biggest fear? When Maddie starts kindergarten, Cora won’t
understand why she’s not going too – I have a feeling
Cora’s quickly beginning to see herself on the same level as
the “big kids”.

Harvard at sixteen? It could happen.


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