Every Tuesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
Parenthood is filled with milestones that mark transitions between childhood stages. I could argue that most of those so-called stages are social constructions designed to make child-rearing meaningful, to give us parents something to observe and record. Yet it’s also noteworthy that while parents may do the recordkeeping, many of these milestones indicate a shift from the caregivers’ arms to the wider world—like those first baby steps. The ability to walk means the ability to walk away; the ability to talk means the ability to talk back. And so parenting goes, with the ultimate objective to render the parents mostly superfluous.
I didn’t expect my child’s first sleepover to be such a major milestone, but it felt as significant (though less restful) than that first time sleeping through the night. More so, perhaps, because we still regularly regress on sleeping through the night. It started when we picked up my daughter’s friend. I drove the two of them to ballet class, realizing that, for the first time, I was playing the role of chauffeur. The little one was at home with her daddy and the big girls were making a ton of noise in the backseat—insulated in their giggly, imaginative world that did not include me. It was a strange kind of peace.
The ability to walk means the ability to walk away; the ability to talk means the ability to talk back. And so parenting goes, with the ultimate objective to render the parents mostly superfluous.We headed home after class, and my younger daughter expressed her delight at the friend’s arrival; our whole family adores this vivacious child, and we were happy to host her. Our guest changed the entire climate of our evening; my husband and I got to snuggle on the deck while the children entertained each other. The three girls paraded past occasionally to show us their costumes or songs or dances, or to invite us peripherally into their play. But we’d clearly shifted from the center to the margins, necessary adult supervisors whose usefulness comes in reaching the highest shelves of the fridge.
I don’t see this milestone as a loss. Just like sleeping through the night, which represents the child’s increasing ability to self soothe and the physical development to make it through the night without eating, friendships shift familial relationships. Just like sleeping through the night (or not), children of all ages sometimes can’t soothe themselves. And we all need a midnight snack or sip of water once in a while. These milestones aren’t so much linear progress as curlicues; we step away and we circle back. The child who can walk can walk back; the child who can talk can say “I love you.” And so parenting goes.
This first sleepover showed me new ways how my girl interacts with the world around her, one of the first people outside our family she truly loves. And it shows me the way that she is loved by someone on the outside too, someone who cannot see her as we do. I can only imagine the many ways that I’ll look at her from the outside as the years pass—seeing her in relationships, choosing whom she loves and responding to a love that I never can or will understand.
The sleepover serves as a reminder for past, present, and future of my limited vision. I see and record what I determine as meaningful, but there is One who sees all the days of my daughters’ lives, and He sees them beyond simply being my daughters. Actual sleep proved elusive at first (as it tends to at sleepovers). After the 20th drink of water, bathroom break, and request for more or fewer blankets, I went up to the room with the girls. Our guest wiggled in her makeshift nest on the floor, and I curled up next to my daughter on the bed. I prayed silently over them both, that my household and everyone in it would be filled with peace and the Holy Spirit. I heard yawns and the room slowly grew still. And I just have to pray that as they walk and talk away from me they walk and talk—always—with God.