As I was driving her to piano this week, Sweetpea suddenly cocked her head to the side and examined me with uncharacteristic scrutiny.
"Mommy, you're weird," she said. As if the thought had just occurred to her.
Within the last 10 minutes, she had also asked me to please stop pointing out the person dressed as the Statue of Liberty (before today, one of her favorite obsessions) and please stop singing along with Jason Mraz (yeah ... not gonna happen, kiddo).
In response, I made an appropriately parental, disapproving face in the rear-view mirror. OK, maybe I stuck my tongue out at her. Whatever. Stop judging -- you're missing the point.
The point is, my daughter called me "weird." And although I was working hard not to show it, I was secretly a little pleased.
Sweetpea is 8 years old, and most days she still tells me I'm her best friend. (You know, when she doesn't hate me and want to move in with the neighbors.) As much as I love it, I know our days as best friends are numbered. At least, I hope they are.
For years her teachers told me not to worry, that it was "normal" Sweetpea didn't have a best friend her own age. Even as I watched other kids pairing up, we all put faith in the fact that Sweetpea played easily with anyone and everyone. Sunny and irrepressible on a good day, she attracted plenty of friends, if not a "best friend."
But painful as it is to admit, peer relationships seem to be getting harder, not easier for her. Now in second grade, her invitations to play dates and birthday parties seem unusually few and far between.
Naturally, I blame myself. When I was working, it wasn't always possible to take the time to get to know other moms. Casual chit-chat outside the classroom or at holiday parties isn't my strong suit. But by now, even I have to admit it's probably not all my fault.
Truth is, Sweetpea doesn't always seem interested in friendships -- she's just as content to do her own thing, act out her own invented stories. I do arrange play dates, when she shows an interest, but reciprocal invitations don't always follow. Or they don't come more than once. I suspect that school-age peers are less willing than preschoolers to overlook behavior they don't understand, and every year it may get a little harder.
This year Sweetpea does seem more tuned in to social interactions. It's often a painful awareness, as she sees her friendships falling short. But a little pain might be necessary to motivate changes that will help her form more meaningful friendships.
Just like it's necessary for her to start thinking I'm a little "weird."
I'm hopeful this all means she's becoming a little less attached to my hip, and a little more identified with her peers. Believe me when I say I'm not kidding myself. I know this is just the first, tiny step in a long process, one that will often be miserable for one or both of us. But I'm willing to start letting her go.
So when we got to her piano teacher's house the other day, I said, "Do you still want me to walk you to the door? You know, since I'm so 'weird' and all?"
Sweetpea rolled her eyes. "Of course! You're not a lot weird, Mommy. You're just a little weird. You're weird like you're my best mom."
I know "best friend" is a role I can't play for much longer. But "best mom"? That one I can live with.