As a child of the 70's, one of my favorite songs was Peter, Paul and Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon." As a kid I imagined having my own dragon playmate. I wondered what "sealing wax" was, and when I found out, wondered why it was considered "fancy stuff." In college, my friends and I would listen to the lyrics to try to decide if the song really was about smoking pot. Now as a mother, when I hear the song I think of my Miss J. Sometimes I feel she is the Jackie Paper to my Puff.
Miss J is nine and she is straddled between the worlds of childhood and impending adolescence. I know that as the days pass she will spend less time in her childhood world.
She is is no particular rush to grow up and for that I am grateful. She still will offer up public hugs and kisses. Each morning she still shouts "I love you" as she boards the yellow school bus. She will still lay on her bedroom floor and color for hours and still finds joy in finding the perfect "climbing" tree. She and her friends will still play tag and hide-and-seek. Her bed is still a menagerie of stuffed animals. She loves boys....but only because they like to climb trees, play in the mud and, like her, are not afraid of bugs and worms. The idea of a boyfriend remains, thankfully, quite gross to her.
She is changing though.
She has an ipod and Raffi and Ralph's World have not made her playlist. Instead she dances around her room with Katy Perry and broods with Adel. Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders have been cleared away to make room for Scrabble and chess. Her hair no longer smells of Johnson's baby shampoo after a shower, but instead of some overly scented and overly applied tween topical concoction from Bath and Body. The flowing cotton Hanna Andresson dresses that used to hang in her closet have been replaced by more refined skirts and sweaters. We have bid farewell to Curious George and Dr. Seuss.
She wants to know at what age she can play at the park with her friends without me and when she can stay home alone. She asks when I think she might need to wear a bra. She likes to talk on the phone with her friends and asks me when I think she should have a cell phone. She's lost interest in the kiddie menu when we eat out and would rather try more dynamic, adventurous fare.
She has more on her mind, too.
She confides in me that as much as she loves M, she would love to have a sibling that she can really play with and have a conversation with. She admits that she sometimes envies her friends...not for their possessions or the size of their homes, but because they don't have to live in a special needs world. She tells me that she gets tired of explaining her brother to her peers and sometimes would rather not have friends over because they find her brother a bit odd.
"My friends just don't understand what it is like. They never will"
She tells me she gets tired of the stares when we are in public. Tired of the things we cannot do as a family because of M.. Tired of M's appointments. Tired of M's meltdowns. Tired of M in general.
In these moments of confession, I say little. The intense emotion pours out of her and do my best to be there to catch it. I do not try to convince her that yes, her friends do understand or no, it isn't so hard to live with M. I don't give her the "but-he's-your-brother-and-you -have-to-love-him" speech. I don't have to...I know she does.
Yesterday was a difficult day for Miss J. M was getting on her nerves and she was telling him that he had wrecked her life. I wondered if I just might see her head spin or see fire shoot from her eyes. (Did I forget to mention that among Miss J's changes are the pre-adolescent mood swings?)
The evening wore on and when it was bedtime she asked to blow up the air mattress so she could sleep in M's room. She prepared her bed and read him a bed time story.
When I went in later that evening to check on them, I noticed the air mattress, which I had placed several feet from M's bed, had been shoved against M's bed. Curled up in two little balls under a sea of blankets, they slept soundly, just inches apart.
Hours earlier I had been wishing for the day to end. Now I was wishing for time to stand still.