I am an only child with five children. Basically I came into parenthood with NO.FREAKING.IDEA what I was doing, and just kept starting over until I felt like I had a handle on it. For the record, this is not necessarily an approach that I would recommend. It is possible to end up with a slew of children that will all require extensive therapy and still be as clueless as you were at the beginning. Just saying.
I thought my first child was going to be the end of me. She didn’t follow directions, even though she was two whole years old. She complained about her socks and itchy tags even though she was in kindergarten. Essentially, she was a kid who acted like a kid and not like the thirty-year-old I expected her to be. Sweet starter child, she schooled me, fast.
Fast forward thirteen years, and I’ve seen most of what there is to see in the riotous garden of childhood behavior. I’ve had head-slammers, guilt-trippers, confessors, biters, tattlers, peace-makers, the whole rainbow. And sitting right on top of it is my middle child, Juliette. Everything about that girl is technicolor.
Juliette has never, not even once, had an “okay” day. She’s had lots of the bestest-day-ever-ever-ever and plenty of the worst-day-in-the-whole-universe, but mostly, she has both. In the same twenty-four hours. I think Mary Sheedy Kurcinka was staring at a picture of Juliette when she penned Raising Your Spirited Child. (A book I’d like to say I’ve read, but alas, it’s sitting 3% complete on my Kindle.)
When Juliette’s happy, she’s really, really happy, and when she’s not, well, she’s like the love-child of Sylvia Plath and a werewolf. She’s super sensitive to everything: putting on socks in the morning is a thirty-minute sob fest, a smell can cause her to pilfer half-burned candles and hide them under her pillow while she sleeps, or conversely, sit for an hour with her hand over her nose, looking like she’s being gassed with something the rest of us aren’t even aware of. We have to hide bars of soap in any hotel room, or they’ll end up unwrapped in her pocket where she can rub the fragrance on her fingers all day long, leaving the rest of us wondering how to wash our hands.
She can be extremely kind. She’ll sit for an hour scratching my back, or create and deliver gifts to all her siblings, because, Monday. But she can also be a spoiled sport, snatching toys right out of her sisters’ hands, or dissolving into a puddle if she loses a game. She’s obsessed with fairness and it seems nothing is ever fair. In a lot of ways, she’s just like every other five year old. Except MORE. More creative, more determined, more frustrated, more sensitive, more delighted, more loving, more vengeful.
As exhausting as all that moreness must be for her, it’s nearly as exhausting for me. It’s easy to forget about her triumphant bursts of giddiness and awe. It’s hard not to see all that whining and crying and shouting as simply bad behavior that we should discipline out of her. It’s difficult to assume good intentions, and oh so much easier to see it all as middle-child attention seeking. Cue the mama guilt.
At least once a week I think back to the doctor who, when she heard that I had a ten-month-old infant and was pregnant with twins said, “Oh that poor, poor baby. Her whole world is about to be turned upside down!” And, as much as I hate to admit it (I could still slap the lipstick right off that doc’s face) her world WAS turned upside down. She was only 17 months old when suddenly she was replaced in her role as baby, by not one, but two others. It’s no wonder that she’s been demanding her rightful place ever since.
I worry about how little J will deal with adolescence. All those big, big feels magnified by hormones and self-doubt. I worry that I won’t have taught her the coping skills she’ll need to deal with a world just chock full of beauty and devastation. I imagine her as a raw nerve that I’m sending off into the world.
Then I remember that Zoë, my eldest, eventually stopped throwing fits about clothing, though she’s still not one to go in for any uncomfortable or binding nonsense. I remember that Grey no longer slams his head against the floor when he gets upset, though he’ll still retreat to his room to go face down in a pillow. And so I start thinking maybe, just maybe, Juliette will grow into her feelings like a puppy grows into it’s feet. Perhaps that enthusiasm will serve her well, keep her open to amazement. Perhaps her intimate experience with disappointment will lead her to be much less afraid of it than I’ve ever been. After all, she goes through nearly a dozen world-enders every day and still manages to shake it off and go on.
Maybe I’m raising a riser. Someone who can’t be kept down.
One thing is for sure. She can’t be ignored.