Some posts are harder to write because they bring up a lot of emotion. Some are harder because you know they will be read by the people in your life who may judge you or react poorly. I guess this one is both.
When you become a parent, you hear all kinds of advice and horror stories. Sleepless nights, poopy diapers, temper tantrums. But those are the normal things. Those are the EASY things. What people don’t mention is what happens if the normal things aren’t the hard part. What happens when you have to deal with things outside of the norm with no help or guidance or parenting books to see you through. We’ve got two kids who have their own special challenges in life and we’re just muddling through, hoping we’re making the right choices. It’s the same as anyone else, only different. And it’s different enough that friends, family, teachers, and caretakers don’t know what to do either.
LadyBug is five. It’s hard to believe, really, but not just in the way that most people say that their kids have grown up so fast. It has taken me most of these five years to get to know her. Where Bug was easy to get to know and even to understand, LadyBug has always been a challenge. She’s pricklier and less in touch with her emotions. Her behavior is often confusing and erratic. She’s an enigma, quite honestly. And after she was born, I struggled with post-partum depression. Even if she had been easy for me to bond with, I would have struggled. It was a difficult situation compounded by difficult circumstance.
So here I am today with a daughter that I am just starting to understand. She’s a little girl who is painfully shy in groups, but will talk your ear off if you get her alone. She’s anxious in new situations, but thinks nothing of doing a zipline or swinging on the trapeze. She’s slow to give you a hug, but snuggles better than anyone I know. She lashes out when uncomfortable in any way, but otherwise is the just the sweetest and most polite little girl around. There are things we have learned over time, such as the importance of her schedule, especially when it comes to meals/snacks and bedtime. Hunger and being over-tired are sure to make her act out.
And then there’s the social stuff. LadyBug just doesn’t do well if she’s competing for attention. As an example, she’s got two female cousins close in age and that brings some challenges. She adores them and would probably spend every moment with them if she could, but it doesn’t always allow her to shine as well as she otherwise might. Her cousins are cute and charming and quick with hugs and jokes. LadyBug is often reserved in their presence, holding back and observing. She is less likely to climb into a lap first, meaning that she is often left without a lap to climb into. Her shyness means that you are less likely to hear someone telling funny stories about the things she says and does. And I’m pretty sure she’s an introvert, which means that having so many people around (as is often the case at family gatherings) wears her out. By the end of a visit, she is often moody and sullen. Now, this is no reflection on our families, who are incredibly loving and caring (and patient!), but it makes me sad that they don’t all have the chance to really get to know her full personality. More importantly, these are the people she knows best of all. This situation is played out beyond our families and into other areas of her life. LadyBug spent over two years in the same pre-school and it was only at the very end that she started to come out of her shell. Her afterschool teacher tells me that she rarely talks when she’s there, but answers every question with a giggle.
There’s a lot about my daughter that most people do not know or understand. She’s got sensory issues, as well as some challenges with anxiety and insecurity. She craves physical input, whether it’s jumping off the couch (sigh), flying through the air (double sigh) or just a good, strong hug. She does not know how to verbalize or handle strong emotions or uncomfortable situations. When she’s hurt or embarrassed or scared, she lashes out (think injured animal) and will not be comforted until she’s able to calm down. She tends to seek attention in inappropriate ways, especially when she’s overtired. She can be mean to other kids, especially her brother. The things you might normally do to discipline a child often don’t work because her feelings are easily hurt and the lesson is lost in the process. She needs plenty of down time (she’s a big fan of “stay at home” days), firm/consistent expectations, and lots of one-on-one attention. And while she is reasonably flexible, she does best with a schedule. We don’t have any shiny label for what’s going on with her, but she’s not a spoiled or bratty kid even when it looks that way.
LadyBug is quick to share her snack or a treat with Big Guy and I. She is witty and clever and often has us laughing at her jokes. She says please and thank you. She walks around puddles on the street. She loves singing and dancing. She’s passionate about gymnastics. LadyBug works very hard, often practicing for hours on her own to perfect something. She adores her older brother and wants to do everything he does. She’s independent and rarely whines. She’s artistic and enjoys painting and drawing. She is creative in her play and never needs to be “entertained.” She keeps her bedroom clean.
My daughter can be an absolute delight, but sometimes it takes a bit more work to get to the gem inside. We’re working to help her understand what she’s feeling and learn how to express it more productively. We’re learning how to emphasize the things she does well to take some pressure off her with the things she doesn’t. I personally am drawing on every ounce of patience I have to be consistent and balanced with her, as well as learn to wait until she’s ready to deal with her feelings. She has taught me a lot about myself and I’m pretty sure I’m a better human being because she’s in my life.
I have a few people in my life with extra special kids… the kids who behave in mysterious ways and who, despite some of the best parenting I’ve ever seen, can’t quite seem to get it “right.” This post is for them and for anyone else who wasn’t at all prepared for what parenting can throw your way. It’s hard to have a child who behaves in a way that doesn’t at all reflect your expectations as a parent. And it’s even harder to see how people treat your child, who you know deep down has a heart of gold and is trying their very best to be “good.” You aren’t alone. Your kids aren’t alone. Somehow, I hope we’ll all figure it out…