Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Four and seven-eighths...

“Empathy takes time, and efficiency is for things, not people” – Steven Covey.

Anabel is four, soon to be five. To be perfectly honest, the normal behavior at this age in child development pushes my buttons. Children this age are very unpredictable. A unique and ever changing blend of curiosity, “I can do it”, “Let me help” and sweetness punctuated with intense fury, drama, and a calculated inability to follow simple instructions “my legs will not work”, “I can’t reach my toothbrush”, “YOU do it!”, “Carry me!”

As an organizer and a planner, I’m a little type A (okay more than a little) and not knowing if it’s going to take ten minutes or thirty to get her up and dressed is a little nerve wracking. Will she happily don her Tom’s this morning or shriek in horror that she ABSOLUTELY hates those shoes and WHY did I buy them and then dissolve into tears? (nevermind that she picked them out, nevermind that she liked them yesterday and the day before that, past preferences are not predictors of future behaviors at this age!)

She likes to see how much power she can yield among the grown-ups – one way she does this is with her cereal. Sometimes she wants milk, sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she wants to say she doesn’t want milk, get halfway through and then asks for milk. Sometimes Cheerios are the most delightful food known to pre-schooldom, other times they are the devil’s scourge. It’s an exploration of her influence on the world around her. If you couldn’t even reach light switches; things like cereal and shoes matter. The logical part of my brain “gets” this – the impatient I have four thousand other things to get done this morning part of my brain is standing there with my hands clenched slowly breathing and counting to ten. Jacob asked me one day “When you get real quiet and breath like that, you’re praying right Mom?” Right.

Because more than anything else I think she is watching me for cues on how to act when you don’t get your way. And a lot of times, with her especially, I’m NOT getting my way. And she’s watching, and so it’s a circle, a game of emotional chicken, only I’m the grown up and don’t get to be the one that breaks down. Mostly.

I’m an introvert; that means that although I function and am happy around people, I also need a certain amount of private down time; I crave a little bit of time each day when I’m not on and can relax and get quiet. By around 9 PM, I’m desperate “like a deer panteth for running water” sprinting toward the sanctity of the garden tub and a good book. About this same time, Anabel is tired, she’s clingy, she’s been brave and exploratory and away from home all day and she wants and needs … ME. There is always a push/pull between us at bedtime; she has a seemingly never ending gauntlet of snack, potty, drink, back rub, two books, and three songs. We finally get to lights out and then it starts… “I’m scared of the dark!” “I don’t want to sleep by myself!” “Please stay with me!” and I usually do, but I’m also usually sort of mentally checked out, I’m next to her, patting her wiggly back, or stroking her strawberry smelling hair but inside I’m thinking about the bathtub, the candles, a book, maybe a bowl of ice cream… for any Mom that has ever sat in the dark and silently willed your child to sleep, I know you know what I mean.

Last night, I tried something different. I wrenched myself back mentally and emotionally and gave her what she always asks for, I stayed with her – only I gave her all of me. I snuggled in and when she said “I’m scared of the dark”. I said “Why? Tell me what you are afraid of.” And she did. She lay there and poured her heart out to me... it turned out to be some pretty heavy stuff - Alligators, zombies, werewolves, and hurricanes. I didn’t interrupt, I didn’t dismiss her, I didn’t rush her, I just listened and asked questions. When she ran out of steam we talked about the windows and doors, the alarm system, the dog, her Daddy and God. We talked about feeling safe and what to do when you don’t. Then she snuggled down and I left the room without the usual pleading and crying. It was too late for a long bath, but I felt pretty good anyway.

This morning was a thirty minute getting dressed day. She hated Tom’s, again. And Cheerios. And for an added twist, whole wheat toast. When I went to snuggle her and tell her goodbye she was still upset about the cereal and she turned her head and said “Just go Mom” so I settled for a kiss on the top of her head. It still smells like strawberries.

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