On the Teeter-Totter

By Tsgoyna Tanzman
Web Exclusive, July 17, 2006

Mother and daughter“I don’t want to be like you, I just want to be like myself!” my daughter raged.

I knew this was coming. Everyone said it would. I just didn’t expect it for another ten or twelve years. My daughter was two-and a half when she declared her independence.

I had forty years and a hundred pounds over the two-foot tall, twenty-five-pounder that stood defiantly in front of me. Yet, she took me down like a Sumo wrestler. Wasn’t I supposed to be her universe? Her everything?

They say be careful what you wish for you because you just might get it. Somehow I knew that in parenting Zoe, I was definitely in for a lot of “it.”

Time, that’s what I wish for. Just a little. I thought. What about preschool? Two days a week for three short hours each day? Perfect for an only child. She’ll learn about holidays, and how to take turns, she’ll get to play with all that messy gooey stuff and I’ll get to go to the gym and do errands without bringing toys or dealing with tantrums or fragrant full diapers begging to be changed when I’m next in line.

“Preschool will be fun,” I said preparing my daughter as if she needed that.

By the third week of the new routine, Zoe practically leaped out of the car as we pulled up to school.

“Wait up,” I said, scurrying to catch up and hold her hand, but she balled it into a fist, pinned it to her side, turned and gave me the shoulder.

“You wait here, Mommy,” she said. Then with her tiny index finger pointed to the precise spot on which I was to stand while she walked into the classroom…alone. She took several steps before turning back. It wasn’t that she had second thoughts—she just wanted to make sure I hadn’t moved. While other mothers inside the class struggled to remove crying toddlers from clinging to their legs, I was outside trying to sneak an inch closer to mine.

“You’re so lucky,” they’d say adjusting their clothes as they raced for their cars. My “Yeah, I guess,” was drowned out by the roar of gunning engines.

Pick-up time was no different. If I saw Zoe before she saw me, she’d just flat out pretend I wasn’t there. If she saw me approaching, she’d hide. Aside from feeling like a stalker, I was truly crushed.

“Is she mad at me?” I’d ask the teachers. “Is she trying to punish me for leaving her?”

“No,” they’d smile. “She seems quite well-adjusted, happy, and involved—just very independent.”

Had I forgotten about all those noble qualities I had prayed for in my child: hoping she’d be curious, self-sufficient, adventurous, independent? It’s not that Zoe never needed me; in fact, there were plenty of times she couldn’t get enough—like when I was in the bathroom, or on the phone, or sleeping.

And so, for years we struggled to attain that perfect teeter-totter balance between my need for her and her need to be her own person. Invariably it was I who landed with a thud when I didn’t get it right.

Sooner or later, I would have to face the truth: my child was born fuel-injected and destined to fly. In the meantime, all I could do was work on my balance.

It didn’t seem like seven years from the playground teeter-totter to the Mother-Daughter tea, but there we were suddenly preparing for this big-girl event.

The second grade teacher asked each mom to bring in an old childhood photo so we could try and match the present day mom with her past. As Zoe and I sorted through the pictures, my own second grade portrait slipped out.

“I don’t remember that dress, Mom, when did I get it?”

“Sweetie, that’s not you.”

“Are you sure? It looks just like me. Who is it, then?”

“Honey, it’s me when I was in the second grade.”

“It is! Oh my gosh, Mom,” she said looking in the mirror with the picture next to her face, “we look exactly the same! Do you have any more pictures?”

“Well, here’s one when I was about fourteen,” I said passing her the photo.

“Mom, you look reaally cute in that bikini. Seriously, you do!” she said lifting her shirt to examine her belly button. “Do you think I’ll look like that when I’m fourteen?”

Hah, was this a trick question? When she said, “that,” did she mean me? Did she actually want to look like me, or like herself? Once again, I was back on the teeter-totter, wondering how many more thuds I had left in me.

“Maybe a little,” I said biting my lip, “but you have your own style—you always have—plus, you’ll probably end up cuter.”

We teetered for just a moment.

“That’s too bad,” she suddenly slumped, “I really hoped I’d look just like you.”

Freelance writer and author of several children’s books, Tsgoyna resides with her husband and daughter in Palos Verdes, CA. When she is not carpooling, Tsgoyna volunteers her time as a Speaker/Child Safety Educator and director of Characters Come Alive, a program that brings historical characters to life in elementary classrooms.