Since Monkey was little, he's always been a bit reserved. When he was little, Monkey had no fear tackling his little girlfriend (sorry Beanz!) who was almost 6 months younger than him, but she was the one to throw herself into the fray at birthday parties, while he held back. When the two of them took swim classes he was the most reluctant in the pool. Though Monkey enjoys the freedom to entertain himself with a train or a good book at home, he's always liked to have an eye on my husband or I at big gatherings.
This summer, however things are changing. When Monkey went to a trial soccer class with a friend last year, he had fun, but consistently kept an eye on me and came back repeatedly for a reassuring pat on the head. When I took Monkey to soccer last month, he ran off with a smile and focused on the coaches, laughing and running gleefully the whole time.
In July, I decided it was time for Monkey gain some confidence in the water and learn to swim, so I joined a gym with a pool. The first time we went, Monkey clung to my neck and didn't want to let go. By the end of an hour in the water, he had loosened his death grip and started to relax. Just days before Monkey's first class, when I told him he wouldn't be swimming with me, but with teachers, he was upset. He kept saying, "I don't want to be with teachers! I want to be with you." I tried to conceal my anxiety and told him he would be fine, but I dreaded his reaction to the class. Lo and behold, we got to class early and the teacher immediately put him at ease. Within minutes, Monkey was off with him swimming around while Munchkin and I played a few lanes away. I was shocked, impressed and happy all at the same time. Now, the little boy who used to hate water on his head, voluntarily puts his face in the water and tackles the local splash pads with glee and goggles.
Even the mundane has become simpler. When visiting my sister, I had to break the news that his beloved cousins weren't home and couldn't keep him company in the basement playroom. Instead of being upset about, he said, "That means I can play with the trains all by myself." When we tackled Coney Island, he enjoyed a roller coaster ride that would have scared him last year.
All these steps of independence and confidence have made me very proud, though I'm not sure I can take much credit. I used to wish Monkey was a little braver than he was, but instead of responding to any pushing from me, he has tackled his fear on his own.
For all the pride I feel, I also fear this is a bit like the beginning of the end. Sure, he's still going to be cuddly and near me for years to come, but I can now see a future where my teenaged Monkey doesn't need me anymore. I've always wanted him to be an independent and decisive child so that he can grow into an independent knowledgeable adult, but his easy departures sting just a bit.
The other day I took Monkey to a three-hour drop off camp for the first time. When he heard the owner say I couldn't stay to watch, Monkey was sad and kept saying "Don't go." But when the gate to gigantic play area opened, Monkey immediately ran off. Munchkin and I watched him for a few minutes and I tried to catch his eye to say goodbye, but Monkey never looked back. I guess brave little Monkeys don't need to.