Child Demands Emancipation
“If you’re mean to me I’m gonna go out of the family and I’m not gonna be anyone’s girl!”
Last night, we were urging Kina to pick a book as she dawdled in the corner of the living room, trying to prolong the bedtime ritual. Laurea and I were really double-teaming her, and I guess we didn’t think about the impact of two extremely intense adults trying to get a kid to do something simple like pick a book, as if it were some momentous decision. Eventually, Kina cracked and slouched over to the sofa, clasping her knees in her hands in resignation. This posture is a relatively recent development, and it’s been slightly humbling to observe; I don’t like to make Kina sad, and she’s becoming more familiar with trivial sadnesses, in very visible ways. And so, as she sat on the couch, Laurea and I both backed off suddenly, realizing that we’d overstepped Kina’s boundaries. When Laurea asked her what was wrong, Kina turned to her and said:
“If you be mean to me, I’m gonna go out of the family, and I’m not going to be anyone’s girl.”
Oof. She has never threatened, even idly, to abandon her family before, and the notion that she would choose a life of solitude over her badgering parents was a real punch to the gut. I have very little in life that I treasure, but Kina’s unflinching companionship is one of the greatest gifts I have. I think I’ve assumed that the ways in which I’m raising her, even when I’m stern, feel necessary and inclusive of her. Maybe I shouldn’t make so many assumptions.
I remember being Kina’s age and being mad at my parents for some reason, putting on my boots and walking out into the snow in upstate New York to hide behind a snowbank. I remember thinking, in a way, that this will show them, and knowing that my company was important to them, and that my abandonment might cause them pain. I had not recalled this moment until yesterday, when my own child threatened to leave us behind and become a street urchin. In that moment, Laurea and I looked at each other, speechless, for several seconds; it’s the most shocking thing that Kina has ever said to us. We took a breath and assured Kina that we loved her and wanted her to stay with us forever, and Laurea said “let’s start over”. We read a book. Kina listened to her story. Everybody was fine.
Let’s start over, Kina. Let’s do this again. When we wake up in the morning, the day will be new and we can all be nice to each other. Pinky swear.