Since...forever, Emma has not liked to be alone. She has always stuck pretty tight to me, first as a baby/toddler and especially after things blew up between Shaun and me and he moved out. That was a really tough thing for a six-year-old to process, and for several years her way of dealing was to pretty much always have me in sight or earshot, and in arm's reach at night since she would only sleep in my bed. For a long time, it was to the extent that if I went out to the garage or yard and didn't tell her, she panicked. Totally understandable abandonment issues.
Off and on for the past year or so, I've casually asked if she wants to stay home while I run to the store, or go up to the Tomato Annex, or do some other short errand. She always refused and rushed to put on her shoes to come with me. She wouldn't even entertain the thought of staying alone. She turned 12 in September, but I didn't push it. If she wasn't ready, she wasn't ready.
There was a little progress last summer when she walked six blocks by herself from swim practice to Kids Club (daycare) so I didn't have to leave work every morning and pick her up. I got her a phone and she talked to me during that entire half-mile journey. She wasn't entirely comfortable doing it, but it was mostly OK except for the times when she was nervous about a dog or a person or it was raining or whatever, and begged me to come get her. And I did, because she is my daughter and I love her, and she trumps any work project. Besides, I live in a small town and work for an understanding company, and taking 10 minutes off to drive across town and pick her up was not that big a deal.
Since school started this fall, her swim practice time has been soon-ish after school, so she just takes the bus to the pool and hangs out there until practice, then I pick her up after. She's been a little burned out on swimming recently, so I told her she could take December off. Now she suddenly has no activities after school, except that I said she needs to come to the gym with me (I joined a gym again!) a few times a week to still get some exercise. The original plan was to have her go to Kids Club after school until I was done with work.
Last week, however, she confronted me with A New Plan. Out of the blue, she said that she felt like it was time that she started learning how to be comfortable staying home alone. She said that. Herself. Unprompted.
Her plan is to walk to the town library on two days a week and hang out there for an hour and a half until I am done with work, then I would pick her up and we would go to the gym. On two other days, she would have a friend walk home with her after school, and they would stay here at the house while I finished work and went to the gym. On Fridays she could go to Kids Club.
"Eventually, Mom, I'll get used to doing stuff by myself."
Well, wow. My girl is growing up.
I accepted her plan, secretly glad not to have to pay for her to go to Kids Club every day in December, and implementation started this week.
Monday she went to the library. She called when she got there at 3:15, and she called at 5:03 to make sure that I was coming to get her, since I said I'd pick her up at 5:00 and I was late. :-)
Yesterday she and her friend walked home from school. She called when they got to the house, and there was much happiness and laughing on their end of that short call. I finished work and went to the gym. Did my workout, headed home. It was the weirdest feeling ever to pull into the driveway, see the lights on and know that Emma had been there with no grownups for the past two hours.
It wan't until later that it fully hit me. I had done something by myself, for myself, during a time when I would normally have had to make care arrangements for Emma. This time, she took care of herself (with a friend for company). It was a little wrenching and sad, but also exciting.
I think this was a watershed moment in my parenting journey.