My 5-year-old daughter was supposed to earn her yellow belt in karate last month. She’d prepared for months for this moment. When it was time to be tested, she stood proudly before her instructor. She kicked and punched and upper-cut like a pro. There was no doubt that she was ready to move forward.
But, when it was time to receive her new belt, she froze.
“I don’t want to give up my old belt. I’ll miss it too much.” Her lower lip quivered as she spoke.
We reassured her that she could keep her old belt, that everything would be fine, that this was a happy occasion. Still, she cried the whole way home.
“It’s not just the belt, Mama. It’s everything. Everything changes. I miss being 4 and 3. I miss my old clothes and baby toys. I HATE growing up!”
The pain in her voice cut through to my heart. I did my best to comfort her. But, nothing seemed to help. She fell asleep nestled against me, her curls damp with tears.
This isn’t the first time my daughter has struggled with these big issues. Ever since she took her first wobbly step forward, she has been looking backwards over her shoulder just to make sure I wasn’t too far behind. But, since beginning kindergarten, these sentimental moments have become overwhelming. She worries about outgrowing her car seat, about not being small enough to fit in my lap; she even worries about her hair turning gray.
Last week, we went to a fair. My daughter chose a bright blue cloud of cotton candy for her special treat. But the moment the first sugary puff melted on her tongue, tears sprung to her eyes.
“Don’t you like it?” I asked.
“I love it,” she sobbed. “But there will never be a first time that I try cotton candy again.”
I squeezed her sticky hand until the tears subsided.
My daughter’s confident shell protects the softest heart I’ve ever known. She is a sabra by nature, if not by birth. Everything is sentimental to her. Every person she knows, every place she’s ever been, all means something. The thought of losing them is unbearable.
Her room is a fortress of broken baby toys and ripped shreds of wrapping paper from past birthdays. I let her keep these little tokens of her babyhood because they offer her some comfort. But, I know that it’s not really the “things” that she’s yearning for. It’s the comfort of youth, the secure attachment, the passage of time. The things that we, as adults, are all too keenly aware of.
I don’t think that I realized how different my daughter is from other children her age until I volunteered in her class last week. The children went up to the front of the room and shared their illustrated stories. Most of the girls had drawn detailed pictures of themselves playing dress-up with their friends. Their words were neat and straight, if not accurately spelled. The little boys drew pictures of superheroes and ball games.
My daughter’s picture was a swirl of colors. There were abstract faces mixed in amongst the bright shades of blue and red. With her backwards letters and misspelled words she had written, “Lost in a Whole World of Color.”
I wonder if that picture was a window into how she is feeling right now. Maybe the social and academic demands of kindergarten have been wearing on her little soul. Perhaps this surge in sentimental feelings is her way of holding onto her babyhood, to keep from being lost in the “world of color.”
Bumps and bruises can be kissed and made better. Lost toys can be found. Arguments can be settled. But, there is nothing that I can do to make my daughter a baby again, much as she longs for it. Much as I sometimes do, too.
Time will continue to pass. My daughter will (God willing) grow and change and let go of things and people, even though this seems unimaginable to her right now. As much as I want to protect her, I know that no comforting words of mine will be able to ease the pain of those partings.
All I can do is be there for her and hold her hand. Until one day she lets go of that, too.