I’m in a bad mood pretty much as soon as I wake up.  JR hadn’t cleaned the dishes he’d been promising all weekend to clean, it was 5:30 and I had only gotten about 4 hours of sleep since SOMEONE decided that 1 am was a perfect time for a baby party.  The house was a mess (and I’d be the one that had to clean it) and it was Monday.  The week loomed before me like a dark cloud.

I’m not going to lie.  I don’t like being a suburban stay-at-home mom.  There’s not enough to do during the day, and the Kid gets cranky.  I don’t blame her, it’s boring at home with just the two of us.  I try to DO things – indoor playgrounds, The Children’s Museum, Gymboree – but there’s only so many times one can crawl up rope netting and slide down slides before it gets mundane.

She’s not old enough to play on playgrounds by herself, plus she’s not quite independent enough.  She’s a confusing mix of not enough and too much.  At home, it’s “no. no. no.” all day.  She doesn’t want help putting on her shoes, or walking down the front steps.  She wants to drink out of a cup by herself, and play DVDs on her own.  But we get in public, where she can run and jump and climb, and she’s afraid.  She doesn’t climb up the netting alone; she wants my hand to help her over the plastic rims into the tunnel.  I know she could do it, but she doesn’t.

I’m in a bad mood, and she’s not helping.  She insists on being held when she eats.  She says she’s hungry, but doesn’t want any of the usual lunch time meals.  We end up with cranberry sauce, and she eats a few bites before she screams in her highchair; twisting and thrashing until I pick her up.  It takes me three tries before we finally are on the road; I left my cell phone inside, then I forgot that JR took the carseat out of the car this morning.  She fusses the whole way to The Stomping Grounds, and I find myself wishing I were sitting in a cubicle, having a conversation with someone in English, not the French my daughter seems to be speaking.

We arrive at the indoor playground that we’ve been to at least 30 times in the last month.  Our shoes come off, and I notice how many other mom’s are here.  They’re all in groups of 4 or 5, laughing, reprimanding, smiling.  They all look older than me, all in matching, high end clothes.  A sharp contrast to my grey corduroys and red Element t-shirt.

We walk to the big kids playground.  Claire wants nothing to do with the “Under 2” side of the park.  I help her up to the top level and we putz around a bit.  There’s a tunnel at the very top.  It’s made of interlocking strips of mesh, divided into 4 parts each separated by a slippery yellow piece of plastic.  We’ve never been through that tunnel; Claire’s feet slip through the holes and she thinks she can’t get them out by herself.  She always notices that tunnel, even lowering herself into the first section, before she gets discouraged and climbs back out to play somewhere safer.

There are about 10 kids running around today.  Some of the boys are as old as 6 or 7, but there’s a little girl who couldn’t have been more than 2.  She wasn’t much bigger than Claire, but she was noticably braver.  She climbed up the rope ladder, ran through the tunnels.  She was by herself, and very determined.  She never cracked a smile, and she noticed Claire right away.  Claire noticed her too.  Claire followed this little girl over the bridges that she knew, around the ball pit where she loved to sit.  Then the little girl went up the steps to the tunnel.

Claire followed her, cautiously.  I sat back and watched, reach to jump to her rescue should she get stuck.  She followed the little girl into the first part of the tunnel, carefully placing her feet in the cross sections of the mesh so as not to fall through.  The little girl flew through the first section, and jumped over the yellow plastic divider.  Then, she stopped and sat in the second section as Claire carefully put one leg over the plastic piece.  Claire reached one hand out and felt the rope on the side, and pulled herself over.  The little girl raced ahead, vaulting the second divider with ease.  Claire followed her, putting her hand where the little girl had, placing her feet carefully.  She climbed over the second divider where the little girl was waiting.  They continued on this path through the whole tunnel; the little girl going first and Claire following slowly behind.

They reached the last section when suddenly the little girl turned and went back the way they had just come.  Without blinking, Claire turned around and followed.

We had been to this playground at least 30 times in the last month.  Claire had never even tried to go through that tunnel until today.  She never tried, until a little girl, not much bigger than her, showed her the way.  When she came out the front again, and saw me waiting for her right where she left me, her face broke out into a huge grin.  I reached for her to give her a hug.  I wanted to hold her and tell her how proud I was of her, for figuring out something on her own.  I wanted to thank her for showing me how to face my own tunnel, with a quiet determination only kids can master.  I wanted to kiss her and tell her how glad I was that I was here to witness a huge step toward her independence.

But she pulled away before I could say anything, and went back over the bridge to sit in the ball pit, chit chattering in her own French the whole way.

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