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Going It Alone

I’ve talked many times about how parenting is continuously building fences around our children, only to knock them down and re-build them a few feet further out, over and over and over again.

I feel like I’ve done a lot of re-positioning lately.

Maddie’s becoming aware of her independence in new ways, and is tentatively testing it out in different situations. She’ll often shyly ask if she can do something herself – and then move forward hesitantly, but without looking back. And when she’s finished, she glows with triumph -and skips happily back to nestle in my arms.

The other day we were enjoying a typical outing at Starbucks – a couple bags of popcorn, some milk and a few cookies, and a stack of books to read through while enjoying the patio breeze. Apparently the popcorn and milk was not enough, because after a while Maddie said, “Mommy, can I go buy a yogurt and granola parfait from inside? I’m still really hungry.”

I looked at my two girls piled on my lap, the stack of books next to us, and my shoes kicked off below my propped-up feet. “Oh, honey, are you sure you really need something else to eat?”

Maddie nodded solemnly. “I’m really hungry, Mommy.”

I sighed internally. “Ok, kiddos, climb off Mommy.”

Cora burrowed deeper. “No, Mommy, I want to snuggle.”

Maddie spoke up. “Mommy, I can go buy it by myself. I know how to do it, I promise.”

I looked at the store. I had a clear sight line of both exit doors. The people behind the counter know my children, since the girls take an excruciatingly long time to order. Still, I hesitated. Call me a New Yorker, but I really don’t enjoy letting my girls out of my sight in public.

“Please, Mommy?” Maddie pleaded. And I nodded.

I handed over my Starbucks gift card and sent Maddie in. I stared hard at both doors the whole time, mentally calculating how long the line might be, whether or not there would be any yogurt parfaits left, if Maddie could scream loud enough if some strange man picked her up and started running. Cora squirmed.

“Mommy, can I go in with Maddie?”

“No, baby,” I said distantly.

“But Mommy, I’d be careful, I promise! I’d pay attention and not run into anyone and stay very close to Maddie, I promise!”

I could picture the scenario. Cora, dancing in the walkway, tripping over some guy’s laptop cord and bringing it smashing to the floor. Cora, entertaining the baristas by spinning until she loses sight of Maddie. Or hurls up her glass of milk. Cora, dumbfounded, taking someone’s hand and going with him out the back to help him find his “lost puppy”.

“No, baby,” I said again, still focusing on the doors.

“Mommy,” Cora said, taking my face in her hands and forcing me to focus on her, “I can do this. I am a big four-year-old now.”

I stared at her.

And then Maddie came out the door, saving me from the moment.

Maddie ran to me, beaming, and handed me back my gift card. She proudly set her yogurt down on the table and then carefully placed the spoon and napkin she’d clearly had the foresight to pick up all. By. Herself.

And then she climbed on my lap and folded her coltish legs back up, snuggling in again.

About half an hour later we were packing up to go, and had a ceramic plate to return to the staff – they know we don’t like trash and humor us with real dishes when we hang out. I should’ve seen it coming.

“Mommy,” Cora said. “Can I return the plate all by myself?”


“Yes,” I said.

Cora’s face split open.

“Cora, I better come with you,” Maddie said. As Cora looked mutinous I said hastily, “No, Cora can do this all by herself.” And Cora slid off my lap and skipped happily to the door.

Which she could not open because it was too heavy.

Maddie ran quickly over. “Here, Cora, I’ll open it for you,” she said, and Cora slipped quickly inside. Maddie started to come back to me, stopped, then inched over to the glass door.

“I’ll just watch her from here, to make sure she’s ok,” Maddie mumbled.

How can I fault that? I’d been thinking the same thing.


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