We took a ridiculously long time to get to know, respect and honor each other. For years, I pushed her aside, unconsciously trying to silence her with bribes of ice cream, candy, and other high calorie sleep-inducing treats. Sometimes I gave her chocolate when she needed enough energy to get something done. I refused to consider her worthy of legitimate claims on my attention and energy.
Once the adult in me earned enough money to expand my financial offerings to her, massages and makeup joined the repertoire. Part of me understood that she loved to be touched, especially by someone who could acknowledge where it hurt most deeply. She also loved to play with art materials, and a paint-box for her face seemed a reasonable container for that pleasure. Eventually, she demanded more recognition of her body and attention to it. She discovered yoga and a health club that offered spinning. How my little girl loved to stretch out the energetic cobwebs and pedal on a bike! (She would have preferred to dance, but unfortunately a ski injury when she was young had left her legs with limitations.)
Our relationship became a bit more conscious when I was in my forties and could bring her sources of stimulation and solace. We both loved to travel, with its potential for exploration. Neither of us cared to journey with much of an agenda. Together, the little girl and the adult parts of me discovered new lands and encountered people who inhabited them. Because of this complicity, each trip we discovered something about our relationship to each other, our world, and ourselves in the world. An afternoon at the Commonwealth Society in London inspired us to take a trip to India. That proved so rewarding that the adult me soon took another risk that would bring us both joy and discovery: we bought a vacation home where we both could thrive.
That home was my greatest gift to the little girl inside me, a dollhouse, a three room eight hundred square foot cottage on the rock-bordered ocean in Tenants Harbor, Maine. There she and I stenciled everything we could get our hands on – walls, furniture, lampshades, even the frame to the bulletin board. We sat for hours watching the changing light, the moving water and wildlife (and Maine is loaded with wildlife, especially at night), the colors shifting from sunrise through sunset.
Together, we sewed curtains by hand, planted barrels with annuals for the deck and pots with dried flowers for inside the house, certain the latter would survive the winter. We wrote for hours, the adult outlining or polishing scientific journal articles that had to meet deadlines, the little girl creating journal entries laden with dreams and reflections. We were both happy there, breathing and moving and growing as we got to know and like each other a bit. The adult appreciated the little girl’s sense of wonder and delight and the little girl was grateful for opportunities and resources to experiment and grow.
Ten years later, when I was 52, I met David. He intuitively understood, accepted, even appreciated both the adult, competent woman and the Little Girl inside me. He helped the adult me realize I needed to consciously come to terms with that other part of me and her sometimes confusing or frivolous needs.
Initially I nicknamed the Little Girl inside “The Brat”. She wanted what she wanted when she wanted it and she did not have a huge capacity to delay gratification (read “be patient”) in pursuing it. My romance with David – our now twenty years together – has forced me to get to know her, to come to terms with her as well as her needs and wants (and to distinguish between them) and to treat her with honor and compassion.
Two years ago, David and I were walking down a boulevard in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. We wandered into a shop. I spotted a long-sleeved black t-shirt with words written in white script, a drawing of a bicycle, and several carefully placed rhinestones. “I want to ride my bicycle” it announced. (French designers have become fond of writing English words on t-shirts.) My initial reaction was, “I need to buy that t-shirt for Jennifer!” My grown daughter, once my real little girl, has always loved riding her bicycle. Since we are similar in size, I tried it on. “No!” I observed, “I need to buy it for myself.”
Today, my little girl remains alive and thriving inside my 72 year old body. She tells me to put on that t-shirt every time the responsible adult needs to pay attention to her own adult needs. At this point, we are unsure exactly who takes better care of whom, but we have formed an excellent working relationship. May our partnership continue to thrive as we adapt to changes in each other. Our love for each other is real.