Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lessons (sort of) Learned

When I was a young mother I was sure I would make mistakes - mostly because one or two other more "experienced" mothers were so forthcoming with their advice, critiquing how long I breast fed, and then what my child ate, did and said, that I knew I had it all wrong.

My first-born did not say words as early as a couple of other toddlers in her play group did, so their moms naturally sent me over the edge by repeating every word their little angels would say (just in case I didn't hear it the first time), then tilt their heads slightly (for effect) while OK followed quietly along. For a short time I wondered... was I not communicating with her enough? Were we reading the wrong books to  her or speaking for her when we should have been encouraging her to get the words out? Having already scheduled a regular appointment, I decided to ask her pediatrician.

After spending a few minutes just talking to her and observing her reactions his very wise, very seasoned reply was, “She’s observing." He put me at ease by saying there was nothing to worry about. This kid was just going to take her time talking until she had something to say, and that rather than one or two words she would probably start out with phrases or sentences. That is exactly what happened, and I was extremely thankful while the thought may have crossed my mind to be concerned, I had not bought into the advice from other 'experts' (as lovingly as I’m sure it was given).

When her sister came along six years later words were not an issue. That child came out jabbering from the womb. Eating, however, not so much. After age three YK decided variety was overrated, and she became extremely finicky during mealtime, rarely eating what we were having. I tried disguising her food, pleading with her, and yes, threatening her with losing a privilege or a prized possession. Nothing got beyond that stubborn stance. During one trip when I felt particularly pressured by others around me, I refused to let her have anything other than what we had been served. She did not eat for a whole day. That evening we were in the car on the way home when her sister announced that YK was crying in the back seat because she was hungry. At that moment I admit I was angry that she had been so dang stubborn, but I was also a little worried. Out of desperation we stopped at a MacDonalds (new parents: you can get grilled cheese anywhere) and I brought her in with me to order. As we stood in line I glanced (I'm sure not too kindly) at her by my side - just as she was starting to sway. I grabbed her and got her to a seat, stayed by her until I was sure she was all right, retrieved the grilled cheese and hightailed it out of there with trembling child in tow.

That was when it hit me. What was I doing? Yes, my kid was incredibly stubborn at times but she was not being bad. All the way home I was inwardly slapping myself for putting her in the way of possible physical harm because I let someone else tell me how to take care of my child.

Again, I consulted a pediatrician. This child only eats four things. What do I do? Her questions to me were as follows:

Is she talkative?

Seriously? She should have her own show on cable.

Is she lethargic?

Are you kidding me?? Even her preschool teacher said she has two speeds – fast and faster.

Other than her eating habits, is she an active, normal child?”

Well…. Yes.

She pronounced YK healthy, suggested a multi-vitamin and sent us on our way.

My girls have grown up to be intelligent, healthy, and beautiful young women inside and out. I know we taught them a few things but I know they also taught us a few things along the way. They showed us how to be parents... not perfect parents (thank goodness that isn't a prerequisite), not all-knowing parents who had the right solution to every problem – just their parents. There were days when parenting felt more like a science experiment or a never-ending essay question - or worse yet, a multiple choice quiz where every choice may be the wrong one. We also learned that listening to advice is not a terrible thing. Much of what other parents offer can be helpful, and usually they are simply trying to help you. Usually (my mind drifts back to the days of Little Stevie’s ultra-annoying parents on I Love Lucy). Still, every mom and dad has to make the tough calls sometimes. We slowly learned to trust our gut, even if that meant getting the right kind of advice because our gut was clueless.

There were definitely some slip-ups along the way that still make me chuckle. When OK was not quite four years old I took her to an open house at a new gymnastics studio. She fell in love with the mats and bars and she jumped and tumbled nonstop for probably an hour, a huge smile on her face the whole time. When it was time to leave she was less than cooperative, and it took a small reprimand to get her to finally sit on a bench so I could help her with her shoes. As I was slipping a sneaker on her foot I heard a very soft “Dammit” just above my head. I stopped, looked up into that sweet face, and asked, “What did you just say??” She wouldn’t look me in the eye but she replied, “Darnit.” Yeah… that’s what I thought.

At that moment I was thrown off kilter because I thought we had been so careful about not using bad language in front of her (granted, I was definitely better at it than her dad but that term probably came from me). I was also a little bit in awe of the fact that she knew the appropriate context in which to utter said expletive. Obviously, pointing this out to her would have been the wrong thing to do at the time.

We also took great care in teaching both girls courtesy. Always say please and thank you, we would tell them. They got that. More or less. For a while when YK was around four (seems to be the prime age for these eye openers) her favorite phrase became “Please and thank you!” As in: “May I have a cookie? Please and thank you!” I can see where it was confusing and yet useful at the same time.

Both girls had one – count ‘em – one severe temper tantrum at the age of three (again, a magical number that you are not prepared for after you’ve breezed through what the rest of the world insists are the Terrible Twos without a scratch). Both girls enjoy hearing those stories. Both girls will have those moments if they become parents. I only hope they share every exasperating detail with me.

Whether you are the parent of an infant, toddler, or teen, or even in the planning stages of parenthood, just accept the fact now that your children are going to learn the wrong things once in a while – and they might learn it from you. Accept the additional fact that someone else will "know" better than you what your child should be doing/ saying/ eating/ thinking at various stages. Ask the real experts about it if you are concerned. Maybe even ask your child what he or she is feeling at that moment. Ask yourself... what am I teaching my child here?

And then ask - which would I prefer to have them appear on - Dr. Phil or Jerry Springer? 

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