Oona has always been a suspicious and mistrustful child. Reserved and silent rather than smiley and cuddly. Of course in private she is smiley and cuddly but get the camera out and the smile disappears. Visitors? The only person she wants to cuddle is me. I hesitate to use the word ‘shy’ because I feel that once a child is labelled ‘shy’ it can be debilitating. I prefer to say they are ‘not quite ready yet’. Because it isn’t so final.
Oona doesn’t go in a pram, I baby-wear so she has always been attached to me, physically and utterly safe which has meant that she has been to the fireworks and not batted an eye. She copes with shopping trips without tears and we’ve done trips to Legoland, Chester Zoo and Martin Mere etc without a problem except for when people speak to her: of course being positioned close enough for me to kiss the top of her head, people would smile at her and include her in their conversations with me but she would just hide her face. The other kids have always been quite amenable when it comes to relatives and friends wanting to hold them on their knee or steal a cuddle but Oona has never really put up with any of that nonsense! If we visited my sister or her Grandma or any other family members and friends Oona has refused to be passed around. She would pretend to want boobie or simply cry, big fat tears rolling down her little cheeks, arms reaching for me or Daddy . She has never been a smiley cuddly baby in public. She is fiercely independent and dangerous to know! And I love her and admire her for it.
Over the past couple of weeks though, I’ve noticed a change in her. She will talk to shop assistants and likes the lady who makes her ‘chocolate brew’ in Starbucks. She shouts “Bye!” over her shoulder as she sashays off with her handbag (with blanket inside) over her arm. She is starting to want to be spoken to and noticed. And it’s cute!
My friend has visited our home weekly for about six months and up until the last month if I left the room because the kettle was whistling or to use the loo, Oona would go spare! Then she transitioned to just carrying on playing whilst keeping an eye on my friend from the furthest point in the room! She really wouldn’t trust her at all! Then suddenly at swimming last week, she paddled straight over to her all smiles! Heather nearly fainted from shock, I think!
With Grandma it’s been kinda hard. Paul’s Mum is one of the most gentle and loving people I’ve ever met and all her Grandchildren adore her but Oona has refused to go to her since she could make her feelings known. Poor Grandma has had to be really patient. She’s waited a loooong time. Today Grandma popped round to see the children. When she arrived Oona shouted “Grandma!” and ran to the stairs to meet her, arms wrapped around her legs nearly tripping her up! It was a flying visit and she was here maybe twenty minutes and Oona climbed up to kiss her about as many times! When she was leaving, Oona smiled and shouted “Bye, Mam-mar” and gave her so many kisses! Grandma melted.
She was mostly touched because Oona gave her kisses and her love of her own accord. She was ready to give those kisses, not forced. There was no duty involved, they weren’t elicited through guilting her into it or telling her she must. Grandma has had to wait, Oona is 21 months now. But I think she would say it was worth the wait!
I always say to my kids that kisses and hugs should be given, not taken and I think that this protects them. It keeps them safe and it respects their boundaries. It shows them that people who love them don’t mind waiting until they are ready to give of themselves be it a smile or a kiss or friendship and I’m hoping it might protect them if ever there came a situation when they ever wanted to say ‘No’ to unwanted attention from another person in the future. If Daddy and Grandma and I respect their physical boundaries now and give them autonomy now, then surely this will strengthen their resolve to believe in that little voice inside them, that feeling in their tummy of mistrust. Who am I to tell my child to ignore that feeling? I never want them to ignore their gut instincts when it comes to protecting themselves, even if that means people must wait a little longer for the privilege of a kiss.