When I picked my daughter up this evening, she looked tired. It was warm here today; her face was flushed, as if she was overheated. She seemed a bit standoffish, not greeting me right away. Then when she spoke, she was speaking in baby-talk. Regressed syllables, clipped sentences. It took me a bit of time to get her moving towards the car. She wanted to be silly; not follow directions, play games, dawdle, etc. I had a feeling I was in for a long evening.
My daughter is seven. She is bright, beautiful, curious, empathic, and extremely loving. She’s been facing more than her fair share of challenges lately, which leave her more often than not wounded and wondering. Not much different from the rest of us, really, though we have the luxury of life and learning and how to bounce back better than a seven-year-old now, don’t we? The regressive speak is a product of feeling vulnerable, and a yearning for being nurtured. I also gather it’s related to spending time recently at her grandparent’s with her 18-month-old cousin; watching him being coddled and cared-for in a way reminiscent of what she feels she’s needing, when she is expected to be the “big girl” in the room must be especially frustrating for her at the moment.
The toddler-talk continued for the entirety of the car ride home. I did my best to calmly tolerate it, while also reminding her to use better words. When I could tell her frustration level was rising, I tried instead to shift topics or distract with music rather than continue to correct. There’s a time and a place, and an over-tired child won’t soak in the message anyway, so why hammer it in?
When we got home I focused on minimizing her stimulation level (no television), and maximizing her comfort level (giving her my full attention). I put on some music and we played a game together while Daddy cooked dinner. As she continued with the tiny words, I tried a different approach. I told her that I knew it might feel safe to pretend to be little sometimes, but think of all the things she would miss if she didn’t grow up? Measuring how tall she was against my chest, riding the bigger slides at the water park, getting to go on overnights with her Girl Scout troop. Those were pretty cool things that only big girls got to do, and she surely wouldn’t want to miss out on those, right? She answered back in her normal seven-year-old cadence and added a few of her own achievements – getting tall enough to no longer use a car seat, riding the cooler roller coasters, and tackling me when she hugged me, which she then proceeded to do. After the tackle, she got quiet, looked up at me, and said, “But what about rocking, what if I get too big for rocking?”
I pulled her onto my lap and held her close. I told her, “You will never be too big for rocking, baby. We all need to be rocked sometime, even big people like Mama. I’ll always rock you, no matter how big you get. Promise.” Then she clung to me tightly for what seemed like a moment in between worlds – where baby and big girl and Mama all blended together in one swirly thought – and we just rocked there, together.
I don’t even remember who won the game…