When I picked Julia up at camp later that day, she was slurping a cherry popsicle, an ear-to-ear grin visible through the slippery red juice that was dribbling down her chin, sliding through her fingers, and running down her forearms.
I smiled and waved, then ran across the playground to her as if in a slow-motion movie where I'm running through a field of grass into the arms of my long-lost love. I scooped her up and, as she wrapped her sticky arms around my neck, she said: "Guess what, Mama? I was afraid at first, but I had fun today. I did yoga, and said "Ommm.'"
The next few days were like a preschool version of the movie Groundhog Day, where we re-lived these same events over, and over, and over: Julia crying hysterically all the way to camp as I tried to reassure her; Julia happily slurping popsicles and telling me how much fun she had at the end of the day. But by week two, she was practically skipping her way into camp, and I'd have to remind her to give me a hug and a kiss at the door. Now she comes home regaling us with stories and songs and paintings and art projects. And I have been reveling in the camp hours, in my new-found quality time with Charlie, and in the knowledge that Julia is being exposed to so many amazing new things.
So what's the problem?
The problem is this: there are days when Julia trots around town holding onto a rope.
These wordly pre-school types are off to the library, off to the park, off for a fieldtrip on the train. Here is this little person of mine, out in the great big world, with only a flimsy little rope separating her from danger.
It's like when Will and I went shark-watching on our honeymoon, when we donned our masks and snorkels and jumped into shark-infested waters with all the other giddy honeymooners, clutching a rope that was intended to delineate the people from the sharks. I'm guessing there wasn't a single honeymooner so blinded by love that he or she really believed a shark wouldn't cross over our illusory barrier if it suddenly decided to make one of us fishfood. But, I may have been the least willing to put my faith in that rope. In one panic-stricken moment, I nearly drowned my new husband when I clamored up onto Will's back and caused underwater pandemonium reminiscent of a JAWS movie. No, the shark hadn't crossed the rope. My toe just happened to touch some scary-looking coral.
Yes, I can overreact sometimes. Maybe I get a little freaked out. Still, I worry about the sharks, even as Julia clutches the rope like a good girl.
After camp the other day, Julia was munching away on a carrot stick at our kitchen table, telling me about her morning:
"We made glitter pictures and sang the alligator song. And then Charlie -- not our Charlie, a different Charlie -- told me that he hates me. And then we had chocolate ice cream, Mama!" Julia's voice sing-songed off in the distance, in some far-away tunnel, while my mind reeled with this information:
Someone hates Julia?! My baby?!
A long interrogation ensued: "And what did you say? And what did he say? What were you doing at the time? And was Miss Rachel there?" And:
"Juje—did it hurt your feelings when Charlie told you that he hates you?"
"Nah," she shrugged. "Mama, do you think they'll have ice cream again tomorrow?"
Julia was nonplussed. But, I worry. Not just because bad things can happen to her when she's out of our care. But, because (ahem), Julia is out there, doing and saying things that I may not be so thrilled about. As it turns out, my line of questioning eventually revealed that Charlie "hates" Julia because she insisted on snatching toys away from him. And, let's not forget the time when Will dressed Julia for camp, when he put her underwear on sideways, and I later heard Julia animatedly telling the story at camp, at the top of her lungs: "CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT DADDY PUT THE VAGINA PART HERE?!" pointing to her hip for illustration.
My little Julia is out there, navigating life, on her own. Sure, there are the amazing teachers, the aides, the parent volunteers, and the counselors in training, guiding her, teaching her, protecting her. But I'm not there, directing the show like some deranged stage mom, whispering cues to Julia from the wings: "Now Juje, it's Charlie's turn to play with that toy. Juje, that's not really appropriate. Julia, that's dangerous. Juje, say 'Excuse me, please'"
Julia is out there, sitting all alone on that swing, and I can't rush in to help her.
Ironically, in the midst of all this separation anxiety, Charlie is about to take off crawling. Any minute now.
For weeks, he's been rolling and flailing himself across the room, backstroking and sidestroking his way to once-distant horizons. I'll sit him down on a blanket with a few toys at his feet, run into the kitchen to start the dishwasher, and run back to find (in a sometimes panic-stricken moment), that he's not where I left him. Now, I'm scanning the minefield of chokeable items around our house and I'm thinking: We are so not ready for this.
Julia and Charlie are moving forward, regardless. They're being exposed to so many new things. Like yoga. Freeze-pops. Trains. Hate. And tiny, chokeable objects. With each step forward, I am less and less able to shield them from things that could hurt them. All I can do is stand back, hope, and pray, as they take their first baby steps into the world.
While all of this has been going on, my thirteen-year-old cousin, Nolan, and my Aunt Jenn have been visiting. Nolan, whom I can still picture as a baby, and as a preschooler, is now a bona fide teenager. This sweet boy, who once clung to his mother so tightly, is now asking my dear, lovable, fun Auntie Jenn to please stop doing whatever it is she's doing because it's embarrassing him. He even presented her with a thoughtfully-compiled list of "Things You Do That Embarrass Me" (Talking...Laughing...Breathing...) as a sort of quick reference sheet to help prevent any future episodes of embarrassment.
I have seen the future. Suddenly, Julia is wearing black eyeliner and text-ing her BFF. Suddenly, my Charlie, who once cried when we'd leave the room, is hanging a "Keep Out!" sign on his always-closed bedroom door.
Whatever separation anxiety my babies may have once had is fading. And mine is just beginning.
Even now, as I pick Julia up from camp and drive home peppering her with questions about her day, she is suddenly three going on thirteen, clamming up and staring silently out the window.
Then, she'll say: "Mama, remember when I was a little girl, and I didn't like to go to camp, but now I do?"
And I smile on the inside when I say: "I remember, Juje. I remember like it was yesterday."
Join FitPregnancy.com's Managing Editor Dana Rousmaniere each week as she chronicles life with a new baby.
Read the next entry: 8.13.07: Kiss Me, Will