“You don’t need a mommy, do you?”
The golden-haired toddler, as per her usual forthrightness and unquenchable curiosity, blurted out her most recent observation. It was just the two of us at my home, a first for both of us. She didn’t think twice when asked if she wanted to stay with me a while but immediately responded with an excited “Yes!” She was focused on the Barbie dolls and strange clothes strewn on the floor between us. The privilege of a hands-on experience with these treasures was a first for her; the dolls–with the hand-sewn outfits and crocheted hats and purses–were mine since Christmas 1971.
When the “adults” drove off, we two “little girls” found a small plastic tub and covered the bottom with water; it now became a swimming pool. A small table fan provided a “breeze off the ocean”. A small shoebox was transformed into a car. After we drove to the pizza place and picked up dinner, we parked the car underneath the step stool as a garage and went up one level to eat in the kitchen. We climbed up to the next level where a larger shoebox became our bedroom. It was bright yellow with crayon drawings. A blue terry cloth towel was tented over all as the roof.
I was waiting for her to realize that her grandpa and her grandma had driven off without her. I was waiting for her to panic at being abandoned in a somewhat unfamiliar place. I was waiting for a meltdown or a temper tantrum over not having the right snacks for her. Instead, in the midst of our pretend play, came that statement-question.
Over the next hour, we were mommy-and-daughter in Barbie world. We changed doll outfits and combed hair and looked for additional means of improvisation. We explored all my rooms and my back patio. She especially liked the eggs in my refrigerator. She focused a good three minutes or more on inserting the gold key into the door of the utility room and learning how to lock and unlock it. After she had inspected every inch possible, “I like this place. I can reach everything.” She wore my seashell necklace from the Bahamas with pride; it matched her blue-pink-yellow plaid sundress and brown cowgirl boots perfectly.
She did not whine. She was not afraid. She helped put things away after we played. She unbuckled my sandals so that I could slip into my tennis shoes. She discovered that my sandals fit her just fine (even though they were twice the size of her feet). She was delighted to discover my extra cane, so she was able to walk with one as I did. This child who owns my heart is openly curious and observant without shame. She took in everything and adjusted within the limits of her ability. She appeared to revel in sharing my circumstances; she did not rebel or struggle against them, expecting the circumstances to conform to her. Could it be that she felt safe and secure enough to be openly curious?
“You don’t need a mommy, do you?”
With her open observation maybe, just maybe, I transitioned from “little girl” to “little adult” for her that day. Her level of trust and respect may have gone up a step. Sharing my Barbie dolls certainly forged a stronger friendship.
With her as my teacher maybe, just maybe, I will learn how to revel in my circumstances and not rebel or struggle against them, expecting the circumstances to conform to me. Could it be that I only need to feel safe and secure enough to be openly curious?