Monday, July 2, 2012

Grapes of Wrath

Today's post seems appropriate given that lately I've been thinking and blogging a lot about who Ella is and who she will become. I wonder if in ten years we will be shocked by how different she is, or if that same opinionated, fearless, energetic spark will still be going as strong as ever. I wonder, how much of her is just toddler and how much is really, truly Ella B?

I thought about this a lot last week when Christina and I took Ella and Loreli to the library for toddler hour. Because Loreli is only one and Ella is two, playing together can be a bit challenging. The girls were playing in a little kitchen area and Ella was filling up a grocery cart with all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Loreli kept grabbing things out of the cart and Ella was getting annoyed, and said, "No, I'm playing with this Loreli, thank you," with a full attitude. Although she was definitely pretty snotty about it, I was still proud of her for at least trying to handle her frustration politely. At one point, she decided to take all the toys she wanted to play with and carry them into a little pretend train station where she could be free of little baby hands and anything else that might disrupt her play. It's funny to see her interact with kids younger than her because I rarely get to see her as a "big kid" and, in general, she gets the idea that she is bigger and needs to be patient and understanding, no easy task for a toddler. She has also mastered the art of "you are annoying me so I am going to go somewhere else with this stuff," which is also a pretty solid life strategy.  Learning to "play nice" with others is not easy, and while she isn't perfect, she's figuring it out fairly well.

Cut to about ten minutes later when I've convinced her to stop hoarding the toys in the train station and we are all back in the kitchen area. A few "older" girls (maybe five years old) decide they are going to set up a little market to sell all the food to each other. They start grabbing everything from the shelves and placing it at their fruit stand to sell. Ella simply watches them as they empty the shelves, leaving nothing for her and Loreli to play with. The only thing left was the carrot Ella was  absentmindedly chewing on and which one of the girls promptly snatched out of her hand saying, "These are for pretend. You don't eat these." With that, the girl walked off to her now fully stocked farmer's market, leaving Ella empty handed and with a furrowed brow.

At that point, Christina gave me a look that said, "Hey, that girl totally just bullied Ella out of her carrot. Let's get her," but knowing my daughter, I wanted to see what she would do. For a minute, she just stood there and surveyed the situation, presumably sizing these girls up and weighing her options. She could simply accept defeat and move on to the next area, she could come whining to me about some girls who aren't playing nice, or she could stand up for herself. A moment later, she walked up to the table full of plastic fruits and veggies, grabbed a bunch of grapes, looked right at the girls and said quite confidently, "I'm taking these grapes," and walked away.

Now, was this the nicest thing she could have done? No, perhaps her tone was a little rude. Perhaps the honorable thing would have been to ask the girls if she could play with them or if they could share some of the food with her. But let's be honest, the rules on the playground are not always fair, and sometimes you have to let people know who you are and where you stand. I'm pretty sure she couldn't have cared less about that bunch of grapes. I'm fairly certain she picked them at random and didn't even really play with them after that. Somewhere in the back of her little two-year-old mind, she wanted to send a message that said, "Listen up ladies, I'm Ella B. Don't mess with me," and whether it was right or wrong, I was proud of her because one day I won't be there to step in if necessary. One day she is going to be on the real playground without me and someone is going to take her ball, or pull her braids, or push her off the swing, and while I certainly don't ever want her to get in a fight, I do want her to be confident enough to say, "I'm taking these grapes," and let everybody know that she means it.  

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