Last week, my daughter’s preschool teacher (whom I adore) pulled me aside to tell me that my daughter had been a little uncooperative during classwork time that week. She tells me things like that, not because my girl is disruptive, but because I have informed the teachers that our family is going through some changes. I’ve enlisted them to be my eyes and ears when I’m away from her. My hope is that we can address beginning signs of unhappiness, confusion or anger revolving around our recent split.
Here’s the thing: when the split first happened, my daughter clearly registered the change. Some of her concerns manifested at school in the way of new fears of abandonment, of strangers and with new defiances. Over time, we worked through them by keeping things light and matter of fact, and the new trepidations seemed to go away. We’re all still paying close attention though. And by “paying close attention,” it turns out that I mean “on super high alert.”
During our, “your daughter is being slightly uncooperative” conversation last week, the teacher also showed me a picture that our daughter drew in class (please see above). It’s a picture of The Family. For this section of the conversation, the teacher made sure to speak very quietly and directly, turning her back so that no other parent could see what was on the paper. And there it was, as clear as scribble, my daughter’s interpretation of her current home-life, complete with quotes. Daddy’s clearly the head of the family or something, but Mom — no, Mom “has no head because she’s lost.” Oh boy. Here we go.
Now I’m certain the teacher thinks that I must be a total mess at home, not able to get myself together for the sake of the children. It’s been revealed, falsely, that I’m untethered and unstable and unable to pretend to be otherwise. I mean, if my 4-year-old can see it, and then explain it, it must be true, right? So I take the weekend to assess. What could she be seeing? What am I doing to give her that impression? Sure, I bark orders at them when I’m exhausted because they’re acting like a 4 and a 2-year-old, as they do. And yes, sometimes I’ll look at my phone when they’re talking to me like a 4 and a 2-year-old. But that’s just because I need a brief break. To reset. But I’m present. I still smother them with love and attention as much as I maintain consistency and boundaries. I feel like I’m put together. My house is clean. I shower daily. Could she think this about me because I’m making pasta more often than I used to since it’s just easier?
I had to get to the bottom of it. I had to let my child know that Mommy’s not lost. I’m right here, and I’m doing fine. You see, daughter, my heart ached when Daddy and I first split. I was a little disorganized emotionally, but I’ve sorted out my feelings. I’ve healed, and I feel strong and ready to tackle the world. Please don’t misinterpret some mild moodiness as Mommy being lost and wandering. I’m as focused as ever and feeling great. Just great. See? (Big smile). That’s what I’ll say. I’ll bring her to my level and put this assessment of my irrational mental state to rest.
So, yesterday, I sat her down with the drawing. I asked, “Can you talk to me about this picture that you drew in school?”
She identified each family member incorrectly, so I corrected her. And I pointed out to her, “And look – Mommy has no head?”
She cracked up, “Isn’t that so funny?”
“Well,” I continued, “why does Mommy have no head?” I braced myself.
“Because I didn’t draw it on.”
That was true. But let’s keep pushing. “Why did you draw Mommy with no head?”
“Because it’s funny,” she laughed. I granted her that. But what else?
“You said that I have no head because I’m lost,” I reminded her. “Is that true?”
“Yes,” getting bored. “Because I didn’t draw your head.”
Was she stonewalling me?
Or could it be that I am a little hyper-attentive to signs of despair? Probably the latter. It appears I gave my 4-year-old the power of analysis akin to a Ph.D., or at the very least, an intern. Sure, my daughter is profound, but she’s not completely philosophical. When she’s been concerned in the past, she’s acted it out, not diagnosed those around her. So I had no choice but to let it go. I had to assume that she was telling me the truth — Mommy has no head because it’s funny, not because I’m a mess. And maybe it is funny. I don’t know. But also, why didn’t I freak out that I have no body either? Which I clearly don’t in that drawing. Should we break that down to it’s deeper meaning?
Better yet, who’s Rachel in this drawing? Maybe that should be the more pressing question. Who the hell is Rachel?