My fear. My expectations. These are the issues that plague me.
I watched Emma burst through the front door. I saw how she didn’t acknowledge or even look at the other little girl she’d just spent the night with. I saw how in the photos and from Joe’s summary of those sixteen hours spent away, Emma and M. didn’t interact despite Angelica and Joe’s attempts to facilitate. They co-existed. M. seemed a little sad, I may be projecting this onto her. But I wondered what it was like for her to have a sleepover with a child who barely acknowledged her presence. And then I felt awful that I’d had that thought.
Emma was happy, genuinely happy to have had her sleepover, in fact, seemed exuberant to be away from us for a night. When she left Sunday evening, without a look back, I could see that Emma was ready for this. Emma was ready for her little adventure, time spent away from her family. This is as it should be. This is what all children experience. That initial flickering desire to venture off, to have experiences that do not involve her parents. A flicker, which over time, will grow into a more steady, stronger, determined flame. This is a good thing.
So why am I having a problem? Because I have expectations. Because I have worries and fears. In addition to all of this, I project my own hopes and feelings of what specifically a sleepover means, onto her. Emma’s sleepover was not the sleepover I had in mind. A sleepover of two little girls connecting with each other, whispering secrets in each other’s ears, laughing and playing and interacting, holding hands and friendship bracelets. But what little girl was I projecting that idea onto? Certainly not Emma.
Eighth grade – I was invited to a huge slumber party at my “friends” house. Unbeknownst to me several of the girls, maybe all of them, got up in the middle of the night and threw my bra into the freezer, much to their amusement and my horror, embarrassment and shame. Shame because I did not require a bra, shame because I was singled out and didn’t fully understand why, shame because it felt mean and made me sad, but everyone else was laughing. Laughing in a way that made me feel all the more isolated and alone. Shame because I wanted to be included, often was included, but never felt that I really fit in. They laughed, so I tried to laugh too, which made them laugh all the harder. I remember. I remember feeling so relieved when my mother came to pick me up. “How was your sleepover darling?” my mother asked.
“Okay,” I answered. How could I explain? How could I tell her about something that I hadn’t entirely understood? How could I put into words that which I found confusing and oddly shameful?
“Did you have a good time?” my mother asked again.
“It was fine,” I said, turning my head away from her to stare out the window at the blurred landscape as we drove back home.
I am grateful knowing Emma will be spared this kind of “sleepover.” I am grateful when I take Emma to one of the many playgrounds in New York City with various water features, and she pulls off her dress revealing her favorite two-piece bathing suit, without any self-consciousness. Her belly prominently displayed for all to see, she tears from one water drenched shape to the next with gleeful abandon. Emma is without inhibitions. She is without embarrassment, she is without shame. Female neuro-typicals could learn a thing or two from Emma. I could learn a thing or two from Emma.
It is in those moments, at the water park, as I sit watching her that I come face to face with my perceptions, my expectations, my ideas of what should and should not occur in our daily interactions with one another. I catch glimpses of the fallacy, the dishonesty of the words we so carelessly toss about.
“How are you?” “Great!” “How was the sleepover?” “Fine.” “Did you have fun?” “It was nice.” “Are you okay?” “Yup, everything’s good.”
Even when we aren’t. Even when it wasn’t. Even when we didn’t.
My latest piece My Fear Toolkit published in the Huffington Post