The more I am in my granddaughter May’s presence, the more I become aware of the complexity of the mind of a five-year-old. As grown-ups, we take pride in our grandkids as they master and, seemingly effortlessly, move through each developmental stage on their road towards maturity. We thrill over their first word, first tentative steps, first tooth, and each inch that they grow. Then as they move towards independence, when they no longer rush into our arms upon seeing us or ask us to drop down onto the floor to play with them, we become aware of how quickly they are growing in the precious time that they have shared our world. But, do we ever stop to think about the depth of their thoughts as they journey through the ever-increasing scope of their world? Do they stop and reflect upon their journey thus far or is reflection strictly reserved for grown-ups?
On a recent visit to our house on the Cape, May had a difficult time going to sleep. Sure, she was overly tired from a busy day of shopping, going to the ice cream store for her “purple cow” cone, and proudly demonstrating her newfound ability to swing on the monkey bars in the town playground, but the tears that she was shedding were unlike the tears we had come to know as her ploy at gaining more stay-awake time. This time her tears bore a real sadness, a sadness that was heart wrenching to anyone within earshot. It was obvious that she had something on her mind and, in her tired state, was limited in her ability to express the reasons behind her unhappiness.
On this particular night, May was put to bed in her Aunt Jessica’s room where the computer kept flashing a compilation of pictures that were taken over the years. Since Eloise is our most recent addition to the family, most of the photos were of May taken since birth. As May lied in bed watching the show, she was reminded of all the happy times that she experienced during what she viewed as her “baby years:” May kite flying on the beach, May playing with the kitchen set Santa brought on her second Christmas, May beating eggs with her tiny “pig egg beater,” May licking the huge peppermint stick that was given to her by Aunt Jessica, May digging in the soil with her little blue bonnet protecting her from the sun, May with her nose pressed against the glass door watching grandpa plow the snow, May helping grandma roll a huge ball of snow for the base of her Frosty etc. At the time, May took these events as a matter of course, but now, having a little sister who has a whole new world opening unto her and with May as the observer of Eloise’s discoveries, May wished that she was once again a baby.
May’s longing for the past brought to mind conversations that I used to have with her Aunt Jessica when she was a little girl and watched who is now May’s mother steal her thunder. My older daughter saw her little sister as cute and funny and had a love/hate battle waging within. I am not sure how I handled the situation at the time. I probably made light of it and pointed out all of Jessica’s wonderful qualities before moving on to something less upsetting. However, as is often the case, with age comes wisdom and I am now better able to see the world through the eyes of the older child and I empathize with her plight.
After a long while, Nancy managed to work her magic and abated May’s sadness by turning off the computer and talking about all of the wonderful activity-filled days that lay ahead.
Change can be a scary thing for anyone, especially children. The known is usually more comforting than the unknown and right now, May is entering the world of the unknown. Summer is drawing to its close and so are the carefree days spent with her family. She is soon to begin a new school where she will no longer see the familiar faces of her friends at the nursery school where her mother is a teacher and where she has spent the last three years of her young life; the nursery school that gave her that special “mommy-May” time as they travelled back and forth each day.
May will go to a new school knowing practically no-one and her little sister Eloise will now attend May’s former school and have that special “mommy-Eloise” time. And May will once more experience the pangs of what it means to grow up. It is no small wonder that May longs to be that cute, curly-haired, toddler that continuously flashed across the computer screen.
The next day, Nancy called to ask my advice about how to handle May’s emotional turmoil. I don’t know if I offered good advice when I suggested that she tell May that right now, Eloise wishes that she could do all of the amazing things that May is capable of doing. It just seemed like a logical response at the time. I seem to lack the convictions that I possessed when I was a young mother. Then, I seemed to have all the answers, but now I know that I didn’t.
It is Nancy’s turn to stand by her convictions and I have every faith in her for finding the right words and giving the love and support that will guide her children into becoming the thoughtful and caring person that she grew to be.