When you are an exhausted, exasperated, punch-drunk, teetering-on-the-brink-of-insanity parent (ie. all parents), well-meaning and often childless folks will say to you with that condescending smile, "be patient, it's a learning experience". They are talking about your child learning. Well, they are right and wrong folks and here's why - it IS a learning experience. FOR YOU. Not for the child. FOR YOU. I am truly beginning to believe that my kids know EXACTLY what they are doing, and they keep doing it until I catch on. And sometimes, my learning curve is a tad longer than I wish it was.
Case in Point: Dizzy (Elizabeth) vs. Mommy on "skills" timing. I now know that William was an easy child. How do I know this? Because now I have Dizzy who stands in stark contrast to her brother. He drank from a cup at 13 months, ate perfectly with utensils at 16 months, potty trained in 4 days at 2 1/2, only started protesting the idea of naps after he turned 4 (but still takes them now) and, in general, listened when I told him to come to me to either talk to him, dress him, etc. Elizabeth apparently wrote the book on how to be THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE of her brother. She is the child who makes me feel like not just a novice at parenting, but actually a red-faced, yelling, drooling, seriously-considering-padded-walls, IDIOT at parenting. Each day I think, "I suck at this, I really do." As I still change diapers, still have to employ some pseudo-wrestling take down and hold just to dress her, ply her with food and strap her into her booster just to do her hair, still chop her food into ridiculously small pieces just so she won't attempt to shove an entire half sandwich into her mouth (not kidding, wish I was), still deal with temper-tantrum induced vomit... I can't help but think, "I suck at this."
My therapist keeps warning me that my type-A, perfectionist, control-freak approach to life is REALLY going to have to take a back seat now that I'm a parent and I believe Elizabeth is God's way of backing her up on this. She may have an incredible vocabulary, mastered her alphabet at 18 months and show an amazing memory and imagination for a girl her age... but as far as the skills that would make mommy's life a bit easier... yeah f#@! those. She's doing it her way. Seriously.
For example, I have been freaking out for, oh probably the better part of a year, about the fact that Elizabeth flips her spoon over when she eats, thus dumping all the food out of the spoon before it hits her mouth. This is normal when a child first begins using a spoon. Noooot so normal at 2 1/2 years. At first I was patient. Then I started to get annoyed. Then I got worried that I lacked the skills to teach her properly. Then I worried that she's slow/underdeveloped/challenged (insert insane worried parent word here) and needed some kind of help. Then I started to freak and search for loop-handled spoons to teach proper grip (stop laughing... you will freak out about stupid shit as a parent... it's a given). Then I started to help her hold her spoon. Then I started yelling and having to leave the table. Then I began complimenting her when she did it right, only to have her purposely begin flipping it again. Then I went batshit crazy. Then I gave up. Just plain gave up. I said, "screw it, she'll eat like that for the rest of her life and never date." (Stop laughing, I'm serious. I dated a guy briefly who did it and I can't tell you how it grated on my nerves to watch a 21 year old eat like a toddler. I couldn't take it).
So the other day, we're eating oatmeal (Elizabeth's properly thickened in the hopes that some of it will make it to her mouth) when I see that she's not flipping her spoon. I froze. I almost said something, but then feared her tendency to do stuff JUST to spite me. I must have watched her eat the whole bowl before I breathed again. Holy crap! She's doing it! She's not flipping her spoon. And then the words of my therapist came floating back to me, "she'll do it when she's ready." Jesus, I hate it when she's right. All my fussing, worrying, cajoling, bribing, yelling, etc. was not helping her learn. She already learned... she was just waiting for me to catch up.
A light bulb went on at that moment. I'm going to have to let go of the potty thing. Really and truly let it go. She knows what she's doing (and what she's not doing right now). The more I freak, the more she'll resist. I need to fight that ridiculous, perfectionist, competitive, worried-parent in me who thinks all girls should be potty-trained by 2 1/2 and move on. I'm going to have to let go of the combing hair, small-bites, dressing her quickly, expecting her to be ANYTHING like her brother, and ANY of my old tricks working on her. It's a learning experience... and I'm learning slowly.
Speaking of learning slowly... here's another important lesson, this one learned thanks to my lovely son. The aforementioned son who is so EASY compared to his sister. The lesson: with each proud moment, comes an equally exasperating one. You may think me unnecessarily negative, unless you are a parent, and then you know what I'm talking about.
Agh! "Thanks, William," I mutter and he, totally baffled just says, "what mom? I was reading."
Another example, mature social skills. In an earlier blog, I lamented William having trouble at school and my fear that he, like me, would have trouble socially and be bullied and thus hate school. Well, it turned out that with some guidance from myself and his teacher and with just some good, old-fashioned "time", William did just fine at making friends and handling himself socially. By the time the parent-teacher conferences came, William's teacher assured me that academically as well as socially, William was more than ready for Kindergarten. She felt he was well-spoken, had great coping skills, great cooperating skills and that the only frustration she saw for him socially was that he might be frustrated with children his own age as most would be lagging behind him verbally and socially. Boy did I feel proud. Then came the down side of social maturity... watching a 5 year old flirt and have crushes on MUCH older girls. You think I'm kidding? When Mike and I returned from our day at the Comic-Con to our hotel suite where my folks had spent the day with the kids, my step-dad informed me that William managed to flirt his way into a free smoothie from the pool girl (who must have been 18 or so). Then the other day as he and Mike are enjoying an ice cream outside of Ben & Jerry's, Mike notices William suddenly entranced with a reflection in the window. When he asked William, "what are you looking at?" William kind of muttered and then said, "oh... that car, I've never seen a car like that." Mike, noticing there was nothing remarkable about the late 90's Toyota except the teenager sitting in it asked, "it doesn't have anything to do with the cute girl behind the wheel of that car does it?" William merely responded with a laugh. Seriously, who is this child?
Finally, math. So, having conquered reading, I've started working on math with William. He's often been doing some simple arithmetic at the table, using his fingers, M&M's, whatever he can find. So I asked him if he wanted to start learning some math and he replied, "Yeah!" with his usual enthusiasm. So I set out finding some good pre-K books on basic addition and math skills. We started on the book a few weeks ago and at first he was enjoying it, but then he realized that a lot of it was memorization (this happened with reading at first too) and told me he was bored. So, I figure, no worries... why push it? I'm learning right? If I push, they'll resist. So I start packing up the crayons, pencils, etc. and begin to close the book when apparently he catches a glimpse of something and goes, "wait! wait! Mom!! What was that page?" He starts flipping madly through the book and stops on a page. So I look over his shoulder and it's all about counting money. "Money." I laugh. "So math was boring until you realized we could count money?!" He looks perplexed by my laughing and says, "what? I'm earning money for chores now... wouldn't it be nice if I could count it?" I see a future in sales, or stock trading, or maybe gambling (?) for him. Uh huh. I see. Just like his sister... he'll learn what he wants to learn, when he wants to learn it, and for his reasons. Not mine. He's just waiting for me to catch up...