Jun 29, 2010

So Long, Sarah

I have a secret to tell you, my four year old whispered to me on the couch a few weeks ago. She got up on her knees, cradled my head with her hot little hands, and managed the following, very serious statement:
Sarah's not real.

Wow. For over a year we've been hearing about Sarah. First Sarah lived in Africa. Then Sarah lived in a house in the woods somewhere near the Hudson River (she pointed it out as we drove over the Bear Mountain Bridge one Sunday in the fall). Sometimes Sarah lives in Manhattan--"Muh-hattan."

Sarah's parents were dead. Sarah has an older sister and an older brother. Sarah is much smarter than anyone else in our family.

When we were driving back from Ohio after Christmas we used our new blackberry/GPS device to find a family style Italian restaurant a few miles off the interstate. As we pulled up to it, the four older people in the car (ie. everyone but the four year old) were admiring the curtained and cozy little brick building--we were all so grateful for a change of pace from the same-old same-old service area places.
My daughter was unimpressed. Sarah brought me here when I was two, she said, dismissively.

It's been hard to keep up with Sarah these past two years. Sarah knows so much more than any of us do. One time when my daughter and I were butting heads about dressing warmly on a cold wintry day, I told her that it was going to be cold all day.

No, she said, it's going to be sunny.

No sweetie, the weatherman just said it's going to be freezing cold.

Well Sarah said it's going to be sunny.

Well maybe Sarah didn't see the news this morning.

No, she told me it was going to be warm out. And she told me--and then she paused for effect, and she slowed down her words so there'd be no mistaking her--before YOU were born.

So Sarah was a big know-it-all who breathed all kinds of words of wisdom to my four year old daughter, over forty-two years ago. It was pitiful watching my little one--the baby of the family--try to keep up in this world of taller smarter people, and kind of heartwarming that she'd invented this Sarah--a clear attempt to level the playing field a bit.

I'd often wondered how far to take the Sarah business. There was no evidence that my girl knew that Sarah wasn't real. While we never brought Sarah up out of nowhere, we did nod along and pretend to believe most of the stories that involved her.

The name Sarah would pop up here and there as well. Any new doll or stuffed animal was instantly named Sarah. And once, when recalling the day she was born my daughter told this story:

I was born at the dentist's office and you came to pick me up. And I wanted you to name me Sarah but you didn't so I was sad.

Sarah had hair like my daughter's (blonde), but then once it turned out that the lovely Asian dancer spinning in front of my family as they sat on a curb watching the Macy's Day Parade go by was Sarah.

It was hard to keep track of Sarah, and yet some things always remained the same.

I got worried one day when I was handed the telephone and told that Sarah was on the line. If I pretended to talk to Sarah wasn't I going a bit too far? Turns out Sarah wanted my girl to come for a sleepover. When I expressed concern that Sarah's parents had died so the two girls would be all alone, I was told that before they died they'd told Sarah that my daughter could come sleep over.

So, this Sarah isn't real comment was a bit of a jolt. Clearly my daughter was ready to put her to rest. The big question is: Am I?

Have you been waiting a long time to tell me that? I asked sympathetically.

Yes, she nodded.

Should we tell anyone else?

She glanced towards the kitchen where her brother and sister were doing their homework. No, they might miss her if we tell them she isn't real.

Well then, do you want to keep pretending that she is real. Just only sometimes? I asked--adopting her 'just-only' phrase, another thing I'm not sure I'm ready for her to be done with yet. She shrugged. We didn't hear about Sarah for about ten days after that.

And then, her PreK class went ice skating on Tuesday, and when I asked her about it in the car this morning she offered this:

There were lots of animals with us. And I only fell down once. And there was a unicorn, and I got to ride on it. And the animals weren't wearing ice skates, they just slid around on their hooves, and Sarah was there and everyone wanted to hold her hand. But she just only held mine. And when I fell down, I did a flip, and I landed on my feet.

I was glad to hear that Sarah made an appearance. They're much fewer and farther between these days.

Of course it's sweet that the unicorn was there too. None of the parents who chaperoned the outing mentioned that part to me.

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