I’m a week late posting, but for a very good reason. I was terribly busy last week. Playing. We had 2 special visitors from Chicago, which added a second four-year-old girl to our household. And yes, Benjamin was here being his fun, delightful self, too, but this story is about the girls.
A story about spending the better part of a week with two, very sharp, creative, independent, assertive, opinionated, adult-like, four-year-old girls who love each other (and most of the time me) dearly. Their acute observational skills have trained me to pre-load fairness by having two identical unicorn coloring books and boxes of crayons, matching pajamas, and a plethora of their favorite snacks on hand.
My goal is for both to feel equally loved and appreciated—at all times. Fortunately, in our rental there are two, round, red, silk pillows. My lap has two seats. And they both love to run and giggle and have Uncle Michael/Daddy play ring-around-the rosie with them. They love animals and going to the OdySea Aquarium. They love to pick oranges and make their own juice.
But, apparently, going first is extremely important when you’re four. Let’s just say if the United Nations would like negotiation skills practice, they could invite two four-year-old girls over for a few days.
And then there was a huge values gap revealed. I was to sleep on the sofa and the two girls were to share a queen-sized air mattress. One thought sleepover meant to sleep, while the other believed sleepovers were for jumping on the air mattress and playing make-believe with stuffed animals. As I noticed the vast divide in expectations, I invited the non-sleeper to lie with me thinking I could help her get sleepy.
But then I heard this quiet, sleepy little voice, “Nana, can I come up there too?” So, there we were, all three squeezed together on the sofa with an empty queen-sized air mattress below us. I lay there wondering what I might do if they actually did fall asleep. I couldn’t help myself and began to laugh.
In the course of renegotiating sleeping spots and each of the girls expressing their opinions, and me trying to get them settled before I had my sleepover privileges revoked by the parents, feelings were hurt.
The situation quickly morphed into an interpretation by the non-sleeper as rejection: “everyone is being a jerk to me!” The sleeper called her on it: “But you said you would love me forever. Even when we’re adults.”
The non-sleeper declared, “But I want to play!” The other, frustrated and unable to understand why we couldn’t just all be sleepy, took her little hands and cupped her cousin’s face, “But honey,” she said, “we have to go to sleep. That’s how the world works.”
The non-sleeper thought it was so funny that the other had called her honey, it somehow broke the spell, shifted the entire mood. It wasn’t long till I heard the sleeper, cozy in my spot on the sofa, sleep breathing. Soon, I felt the non-sleeper relax and stop her tossing and turning and kicking me.
The next morning, I watched the sleeping angels as I drank my coffee, pondering the various interactions from the previous days and the night before. I thought about how much I loved them and how I wish I could shield them from hurt. How seriously they took each perceived slight or how vital it was to have the Bingo card with the unicorn on it. I thought about the hurts in their futures.
It came to me that maybe if I could help them understand that within each conflict the motivation is never about rejection of the other, but rather the needs of oneself. I used an example, explaining that the previous night was about the actual physical need of sleep rather than personal rejection. And how the roles were reversed the next morning when the sleeper from the night before tried to get the non-sleeper to wake up and play; but little non-sleeper, from the night before, growled and pulled the covers over her head. That too was a physical need for sleep rather than a rejection of the other.
As the week continued, each time I observed hurt feelings or perceived rejection, I would remind, “this is not about you.”
Until one of the girls looked up at me and with all irritation she could muster said, “I know, Nana! You have told me that!”
And I had to remind myself . . . it was not about me.