Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Embracing Ella

Last week, I took my princess and two of her princess friends out to lunch. We dined where all royalty (and all of Middle Tennessee, for that matter) go...Chick-Fil-A. Now, between the three girls combined, they have 30 years. Do the math. As I waited for the food, they asked if they could go play in the play area. “Sure.”

Now, I’m a cool Mom. I got them a table, wiped it down with Clorox wipes so they could eat a relatively germ-free meal on it, or we could do an impromptu surgery, and then I walked away. It was only eight feet, but I found a little two-seater across the way so that I wasn’t a Glommy Mommy but I could keep one eye on them at all times. They sat there eating their waffle fries and laughing and talking and I thought how adorable they were, how much potential they have, how special the friendships they’re forging are.

Then I heard this from a woman seated behind me:

“Did you see those girls over there? They were in there playing...with Jordan. Jordan was in there. How old are they? Did they drive here?”

I discreetly pivoted in my chair to get a look at this beast and see what it looked like. Imagine my surprise when I turned around...and saw myself. It was me, eight-and-a-half years ago, sitting in a Chick-Fil-A with a friend, with our toddlers seated beside us, dropping as many fries and they were eating. There sat Jordan, all 30 pounds and 2 years of him, wearing a t-shirt with a dump truck on it.

I wanted to despise Jordan, his loud mouth Mom, and the horse the two of them rode in on. But I couldn’t. Because it hasn’t been so long that I don’t remember being that over-protective, judgmental mother. I can remember vividly how ecstatic I was when Little Bit first gained the confidence and physical prowess to navigate a fast food restaurant jungle gym. And, almost simultaneously, I vowed to protect her from any and all possible threats inside this labyrinth of slides, crawling spaces, mesh and puzzles. If someone had a runny nose, she got relocated to another area. If someone was aggressive, throwing things, or hadn’t learned to share, I would passively-aggressively say something like, “whew, someone needs a nap!” I gave any unaccompanied male, and really anyone whom I deemed untrustworthy dirty looks and kept my eye on them the whole time, lest they should entertain the idea of an abduction. But the one occurrence, which I never understood (until now) and that really got my goat was the “big kids” who would insist on playing in Playland on top of my princess.

I can remember being at a McDonald’s and there was this girl named “Ella.” Now, at the time, Ella was probably 6 or 7. My baby was 2 or 3. Ella probably looked like this:

But in my mind, this is what I saw clod-hopping around my girl:

I looked on in horror as Ella tried to go up the slide the wrong way and ran around the tiny, enclosed area like Frankenstein. Towering over the other two-year-olds, she made them look like Lilliputians. Her mother would quietly chide in a sing-songy voice, “ careful with the little ones, sweetie.” And I thought to myself, or maybe out loud, “did Ella drive here?” And now here I am with not one, but three Ellas. I felt terrible. But at the same time, I wanted to freeze this time between child and adult. In my mind, as long as they can play in Playland, I can protect them. Once they no longer play in fast food restaurants, they’re no longer mine, but the world’s. They’ll have their hearts broken and be grounded. They’ll have curfews and term papers. They’ll have to deal with mean girls and mean teachers. They’ll be their own person, no longer needing nor wanting me, even at a table eight feet away.

So here I am, with one foot in two worlds, embracing Ella and all she is and all she will be.