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Mommy Impermanence

Yesterday was a Mommy and Cora day, and
during the morning Cora suggested we play Light Sabers with our
pipecleaners. “Mommy, you be the bad guy and I’ll be
the good guy,” she said excitedly as she walked away from me,
followed by “I’m going to go looking for some bad guys

Our house has a continuous flow floor plan – you can walk
from one room to the next and eventually go in a big circle. So as
Cora started to circle around, I hid in the dining room behind the
china cabinet. I tucked myself in that alcove just as I heard Cora
come back around the corner.

“Mommy?” she said. I chuckled to myself.

“Muh-muh-muh-Mommy? I’m suh-suh-suh-scared!” she
said and I laughed, thinking she could fool me into coming out so
easily. I heard her get close to where I was hiding, and so –

“Ah-HAH!” I yelled, and jumped in front of her. Cora
screamed that awful, high-pitched child’s shriek of danger,
and on her face was the look that said she’d just realized
there actually does exist darkness and scary things in this world.

And then she burst into sobs.

I immediately realized, of course, that
she hadn’t been faking it, and I swooped her up in my arms,
crooning continuously as her body shook with sobs in my arms.

“Mommy, why didn’t you answer? I thought you’d
gone and left me! I thought I was all alone! I thought you were
dead!” she cried, shuddering on my chest. I held her tight,
murmuring apologies and reassurances, for a good five minutes.

When babies are born, they don’t have Object Permanence:
babies believe that if something’s out of sight, it ceases to
exist. If you pick up a toy and put it up on a high shelf with a
four-month-old, they cry because the toy is gone. Forever. Around
nine or ten months, though, they develop Object Permanence, and
when you put that toy up on a shelf – so high that they
can’t see it – they simply stare at the shelf, secure
in the knowledge that the toy is still there, and begin calculating
how to get it back.

Cora’s such a big girl – so amazingly advanced in her
emotional and verbal skills – that I sometimes forget that
she’s only four years old. And I’m still the center of
her existence – though that axis is rapidly shifting as she
discovers more of the world. And while she’s still such a
baby (I mean that in the sweetest sense), she’s old enough to
have learned that danger and uncertainty exist. Those two things
are a dangerous combination.

Which is why, when I disappear for sixty seconds inexplicably, she
immediately assumes that while I still exist, I’m probably
gone. For good. Traumatically. She’s not yet old enough to
reason with herself: “Let’s see. Mommy’s only
been gone for ten seconds, and I didn’t hear the door open,
so she’s got to be around here somewhere. And Mommy would
never leave me alone in the house – she says that all the
time – so she must be hiding somewhere! Problem

For the rest of the day Cora was a bit clingy, and if she was in a
different room than I and asked me something and I didn’t
immediately respond she’d come running, a worried look on her
little white face. At bed time, she sobbed a bit, worried about
dying (herself) and leaving all her beloved stuffed animals behind,
or about dying (me) and being left behind. Hard enough stuff for a
grown-up to deal with – exponentially harder for a

We may be back to a little separation anxiety and honestly?
I’m ok with that. She’ll work it out on her own time. I
just hate that the “it” she’s working out is that
the world’s an uncertain place and she’s got to come to
grips with that.


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