In the middle
My middle daughter and I have a ritual that we do every time we leave each other, whether leaving each other is for bed, school, work, church… She developed it so let’s see if I can get this right:
She says: See you later alligator.
I say: After while crocodile. See you later alligator.
She says: After while crocodile
(If it is bedtime) She says: Good night
I say: Sleep tight
She says: Don’t let the bedbugs bite.
I say: if they do.
She says: hit them with a shoe.
I say: beat them black and blue.
She says: and they won’t bother you.
She says: I love you. I love you very much.
I say: I love you. I love you very much.
She says: I bless my heart on you.
I say: I bless my heart on you.
Together we blink the right eye, then the left eye, then both eyes together.
Together we wave the right hand, then the left hand, then both hands together.
Together we wave both hands and blink both eyes at the same time.
(If it is Friday night) we shake hands.
Blow a kiss.
She says: ”Did we do everything, Mommy?”
“Did we do everything, Mommy?”
“DID WE DO EVERYTHING, MOMMY?”
Ok, GOODNIGHT (or goodbye!)!!!!
This ritual has been a requirement before all partings for several months now. I cannot remember exactly when it started or how it began. I do know that if I get home after she is in bed and I do not go in and do this ritual with her, she will get out of bed in the middle of the night, come find me, and let me know…maybe more than once.
As you can imagine, this ritual is fairly exhausting, not to mention time consuming. If you think I am making it up you can ask her father, any grandparent, babysitter, or church worker who has watched us say goodbye or goodnight in the last several months. There is no way I could make up a goodbye ritual this detailed.
For a while Jon and I did not know how to approach it. It seemed a little ridiculous. Do we put boundaries on it? Do we be patient? What is this all about?
We got clues here and there. She seemed anxious about going to kindergarten. Ok. That makes sense. I can be patient with that. Then, one night it seemed we hit something deeper.
It was a typical night. I told each girl goodnight, prayed, and went through the whole routine with Lillian. I love you. I love you very much. I bless my heart on you. Then, as I was going out the door, Eloise, Lillian’s older sister, stopped me. She wanted to tell me about books she was reading, how she wanted to start a club. Oh, that sounds great, sweetie. Those are good ideas.
Lillian started to cry. “Mommy, when you talk to Eloise like that it hurts my feelings. I feel like you don’t like to hang around me and talk to me about stuff like that.”
I climbed back up to her top bunk, gave her a hug, reassured her, and left.
I don’t pretend to understand everything about my children. However, I left Lillian’s room that night with a very clear picture. Lillian is trying to find her place. She is the second daughter with the firstborn son coming right after her. Emmett is mommy’s boy because he is the ONLY boy. Eloise is…the oldest. Whose girl is Lillian? Where does she fit? And somewhere in there, Lillian has felt a need to grapple and grasp for position, finding it in one small way…with a special goodbye ritual.
Lillian is going to be fine. She knows that she is Mommy’s special girl. I love her dearly. She is my all out, hug you til it hurts, big hearted, wide eyed and smiled, sensitive, fun-loving, loud laughing, fashionista sweetie. She loves to cook with me, sit with me, ride with me, dress like me. She is doing just fine securing her place.
Rather than more insecurity over Lillian’s psychological state, what I was left with were thoughts about how we as adults do this, too…this grapple and grasp for position, this need to find our place in some small way.
Lillian is “in the middle”. In birth order she will always be “in the middle”. Even if I wanted to, I cannot humanly change that fact of life for her. Part of her struggle, part of her God given burden, will be learning to live “in the middle”.
Likewise, the fact of life for all of us is that we must live life mostly in the middle.
I love the last couple of weeks of summer. I just realized this about myself and am starting to understand why. When school gets out for summer, there is almost this craziness, this buzzy bee busy-ness. You’ve probably heard the questions: “What are you doing this summer?” “Which camps are your children doing this summer?” “What do you want to get done on the house before summer is over?” There is an intense amount of insecurity about what will be done, what will get done…all with such a relatively short amount of time.
But, by the end of the summer, there is a sense of resignation. Something shifts. What’s done is done. We can just…be. We can just live summer for what how it could have been lived all along…by the moment. This past week, with school on the horizon, we haven’t had plans. I’ve had work and Jon has been in Honduras, but other than that, there have been no expectations. Friends over to play, swimming at a grandparents’ house, watching cartoons in bed with mommy in the morning, donuts for breakfast. As a friend of mine said recently…experiencing a perfect chill.
When we are starting out, when we are in the middle of figuring out our space and our place, we can get so anxious. We do this with friendships and other relationships, too. We develop our own little rituals just like Lillian. We send a text message, or make a phone call, and if the friend doesn’t respond back in the right way or in the right amount of time we get anxious, insecure, maybe even angry…we might even develop complex rituals and put more rules on the relationship…all in an attempt to grapple and grasp…for space, for place, for security…in some small way.
It is all about finding our place. Making plans to get things done, wondering what will get done…in relationships, in life, in dreams, in plans, in jobs…all with such a relatively short amount of time.
I wonder what would happen if we became more aware of this tendency…more aware of the need to find our place, to get things done, to be someone…to someone, in something, somewhere…more aware of the frenzy and busy-ness we go to when we find ourselves “in the middle”.
I wonder what would happen if we said to ourselves: You know you tend to do this. You tend to get a little crazy when you aren’t sure about how things are going to end up. That’s ok because that is pretty normal AND…just be aware that you do this…this frenzy place finding…just take a deep breath. See what happens. Let it come. Ride the middle. Ride the adventure. It is a relatively short amount of time after all.
I am being patient with Lillian, just like I imagine God is patient with me when I get a little crazy in the middle, start trying to put rituals and rules on Him, which really end up being exhausting rituals and rules on me. Don’t get me wrong. I get frustrated and I am sure it shows all over my face sometimes. Ok, Lillian, YES we have done EVERYTHING! Goodnight! But, for now, I am still going to go ahead and do the ritual. I think I can understand her. Even as an oldest child, I think I understand this living in the middle, this grapple and grasp for space, time, place…all in a relatively short amount of time. I understand what it is like to go a little crazy about the unknown, the not sure’s, the what if’s.
The most wonderful gift I can give to Lillian and to me right now…and that you can give to yourself for that matter…is some patience and understanding…about the middle, about any crazy, ridiculous response to being in the middle. Making room for a little craziness, for a little frenzy does remarkable things for growth and moving forward.
Just that patience and understanding will take some steam out of the frenzy. Just that acknowledgement that yes, this is a hard place, will bring some resignation, some peace, some submission to the adventure and story worth telling that the middle really is.
And, sure enough, last Wednesday Lillian went to the “big kids” church for the first time. She is about to start kindergarten, after all. She was with her sister and a friend and she hurried excitedly to the door, turned around, and said… “bye, mommy!” No hug. No kiss. No “I love you. I love you very much.” I smiled a brave smile and watched her run in, so proud of my sweet girl.
She’s left one middle to go on to the next. Yes, she’s going to be just fine. And, I will be, too.