Sunday, May 30, 2010

Her bags are packed, she’s ready to go

I don’t remember what things I packed, but I remember the red plaid and black vinyl, soft-sided suitcase I’d dragged to my first ever sleepover at a friend’s house when I was in third grade.

It was the same piece of luggage I’d hauled to the mailbox the evening I ran away from home a few years earlier. The mailbox was as far as I’d gotten since I was only in Kindergarten and not allowed to cross the street.

Historic occasions, I figured, call for handbags with a history.

Nevertheless, the things I assembled and squashed into that old suitcase were probably similar to the possessions Ittybit packed into her princess backpack with the telescoping handle and rolling wheels.

I couldn’t help but smile when I unzipped the top and found the little pink mouse she calls "Mini" sitting atop two changes of clothes, a favorite night gown and about a half-dozen books. No toothpaste, no hairbrush anywhere.

Although, I must admit she’s probably more prepared than I ever was as a traveler.

She is only six, after all, and she thinks about outfits and spills and changing her mind.

I’m *cough-cough-clears-throat-much-older-than-six* and I’m patting myself on the back for checking her overnight bag and inserting the missing items for basic hygiene. Last summer we asked her to pack her own bag for a family vacation and, because I didn’t bother to check her work, I didn’t realize until we got to our destination she’d packed nothing but toys, books and winter shirts.

Sleepovers, however, always seem to be more of a kid-pestering readiness decision for parents as opposed to something that is based on chronological age.

Geography is also a likely determining factor as to whether a child is ready to drag their blankets and other lovies to some strange house and sleep there the night.

After all, no one wants to drive too far at 2 a.m. to retrieve a crying child. Likewise, no one wants to impose a lengthy period of waiting while another parent has to sooth your homesick sprog.

Parent readiness can’t really be overlooked in the decision, either.

Which brings us to where we stand now, quivering on the bank of new territory as Ittybit dips her toe into the shallow waters of independence.

(OK. That's a little dramatic, mom.)

"It's not a big deal. It's just a few hours," I tell myself.

But there's no denying this waking desire for independence is also a trickle in the river of emotion that will one day separate us.

(Again, with the drama!)

It’s not as if she’s packing for college or moving to Tibet. This is more like taking her first big-kid amusement park ride all by herself.

I could have picked some age as a benchmark that she would have to reach before she could ride this particular ride.

Yet, unlike an amusement park regulation, I know any measure I create would be arbitrary.

She's ready now.

She is brave and willing to explore — now.

She’s confident and comfortable with her friend’s people. She knows she can tell them she’d like to go home and no one with think "the worser" of her for it.

I figure the excitement of the novelty may keep them awake and giggling far longer than will be humorous to the other parents, but when she finally closes her eyes, she'll likely sleep through until morning.

If I'm wrong, it's only a few minutes of lost sleep and a few miles in the car.

But I am not wrong. When I go to pick her up the next morning she’s happy to see me … for only a moment. I recognize the expression on her face immediately as the best kind of "I can do it" pride. And then she remembers why I’ve come.

"Just five more minutes, mom … please-oh-please-oh-please-oh-please?."

"OK. Five more minutes then. I’ll get your bag."

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