Separate.
HeartstringsStories

Separate.

Little girl running on meadow with sunset
written by Becky Tountas

“I don’t want a braid, I just want my hair down,” my daughter instructs the hairdresser.

She is sitting in a pink toy Jeep at the kids’ hair salon and watching an Elmo movie while

simultaneously directing how she wants her hair styled. It is late summer so the room is

crowded with other kids getting their back-to-school haircuts.

 

“Like this,” she points out to the middle-aged hairdresser while pulling her bangs down.

She doesn’t even look at me sitting in the chair nearby. Even though I love how grown up

she looks with her hair up, I keep my mouth closed and let my daughter express her

preference. Still, I fidget in my seat.

 

The hairdresser turns to me and tells me that I have an independent child. I nod.

 

I know.

 

My daughter is two, which means that she is finally beginning to understand that she is

separate from me. At least, that is what the parenting books and Internet say, that we are

starting to separate: to become two distinct beings.

 

Her understanding of our separation transforms me into a short order cook at dinnertime.

Any food I offer is rejected, and she demands something else for dinner. When I mention

bedtime, she runs from me, screaming that she is not tired. My days are filled with

battles.

 

When my patience is wearing thin, I think about the simple advice I have received: to

encourage her independence and sense of self so that she can establish her own identity.

So, I find that I am the sidelines more often, watching closely and feeling the growing

space between myself and my daughter.

 

It is late summer and we are at the playground; my daughter has befriended another little

girl. They giggle as they run around, exploring. The girl’s mother approaches me as I sit

on a bench and we make small talk. Eventually the conversation veers towards nursery

school, which will be the first time that my daughter is in a classroom without me.

 

“Has your daughter separated yet?” she asks, as we watch our two year olds fly down the

slide, one right after the other. Their hair blows behind their small bodies like wings.

“No,” I answer. “Not yet.”

 

“Did you do partial separation with her?” the woman asks. I know what she is referring

to: the classes offered in our town where the parents are in the room for half of the class,

then sitting in the hallway for the second half.

I shake my head no. “But I am sure she will do fine separating in nursery school. She is

very independent.”

 

The other mother nods and smiles. “I am sure you will both do great when she starts

school.” I nod, but there is a lump in my throat from thinking about it. I watch my

daughter, making her own friends and exploring without my guidance.

How can I explain that I could never really separate from her? Even when we are

physically apart, she is always the air I breathe and my beating heart.

 

It was different when I was deep in the newborn trenches with my daughter; she felt like

an extension of me. She drank my breast milk and only slept when I rocked her to sleep.

She couldn’t even hold her head up without my help. It was hard to imagine her

developing a personality. I viewed her as an extra limb.

 

I spent many sleepless nights lying in bed, listening for the sound of her cries. I wondered

what would happen if she needed me and I didn’t wake up. So, every time my eyes

drifted closed, I jolted awake, thinking that I had heard her screaming for me. One glance

in her bassinet would assure me that she was sleeping, but I never relaxed. I felt

constantly needed.

 

All I wanted was a break from this tiny creature who demanded my body, my sleep, my

sanity and every inch of my heart. So I hired a babysitter and counted down the days until

she would be old enough for nursery school. Then, the inevitable happened: she started to grow up.

 

One Saturday morning, we went out to breakfast at the local diner, which was busy and

loud with other families. When the dark haired waitress came over to take our order, my

daughter spoke up.

“I want pancakes,” she said loudly. I stared at her, not believing that my toddler had just

ordered breakfast by herself.

 

In the following weeks, she started doing more on her own. I no longer had to supervise

her art projects. She picked out her clothing each morning and dressed herself without my

help. We began to have real conversations.

Now, instead of pushing her in the stroller, we take evening walks around our block, hand

in hand, and talk about our day. Her independence is what finally brought me relief from

feeling trapped.

 

The irony is that the more she has grown away from me and into her own person, the

more I want to be with her. My desire to be separate from her diminishes each day. I long

for the weight of her body on my lap and the feel of her hand in mine. I love how she

wants me, all of me, and secretly relish the way she claws at my clothes and throws her

arm around my neck. I wonder how it is possible that I want two such distinct outcomes: for her to

become a strong independent woman while never leaving my side.

 

I sneak into my daughter’s room to watch her sleep at night. The light from the hallway

creates a yellow triangle on her floor as I tiptoe in on her plush carpet. She sleeps with a

dozen stuffed animals, which are scattered around her crib in small piles. I notice the way

her legs are tangled in the white blanket and it makes me think of how my heart is

intertwined with hers.

“Stop growing so fast,” I whisper. I lean over her crib and observe the way her small

chest rises and falls with each breath.

With every inhale, I watch her heart being pulled away from me, back into her own small

body, separate from mine. I resist the urge to lean in closer and instead focus on my own

breath.

 

Sometimes I need the reminder that I am separate too.

 

 

 

Becky Tountas

 

About the Author: Becky Tountas is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, a Stroller Strides Fitness Instructor and a stay at home mom to her daughter. She dreams of having more time to write, but usually spends her days chasing around her toddler instead. Check out Becky’s blog and catch up with her on Facebook and twitter.

4 comments

  1. debilewis
    Reply

    It is so true! This gets more painful AND more beautiful as they get older. My first baby is entering high school in the fall, and I just calculated that she’ll be gone in 4.5 years. It hurts and it is wonderful. You have many more sweet walks holding hands in front of you, and it sounds like you are poised to appreciate every one!

  2. Yvette
    Reply

    They grow faster than we could ever anticipate. I remember wishing my kids could do certain things on their own so that I could have a break. They’re teens now and I catch myself feeling nostalgic of the days when I would carry them around or feed them. I still tell them to stop growing so fast!

  3. ntexas99
    Reply

    beautifully written, and perfectly captures that dichotomy of tension between holding on, and letting go

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