Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Momentous Day - Five Years Ago...

... I was about to give birth to my oldest daughter. In a way, it seems impossible that she could be five, that I could have a five-year-old, that my husband and I could have somehow navigated through five years of parenthood without imposing serious damage on any of the involved parties. In another way, it seems like that day five years ago is so incredibly long ago. I am certainly not the person I was when I gave birth to her (thank God).

If I had known as much about babies then as I know now (which is not to say that I know all there is to know, by any means) I would have known we were in trouble when my oldest started crying (and wouldn't stop) while we were still in the hospital. She cried almost the entire night after we brought her home, and the next night was not much better. From the previous childcare experience that I had, I knew that my favorite age was from 1 to 2 years old, and, when I was pregnant, I'd looked ahead at the birth of the baby with the fear that I'd have no idea what to do with a baby smaller than that age range. I was totally dismayed to find that my fears had been founded, after all. I remember crying and crying and asking myself and my husband, "Who thought it was a good idea to give me this baby to take care of by myself?" "What if I can't do this?"

I know this sounds like it's starting to be more a post about myself as a parent than my daughter, whose birthday it is, but I'm getting there. :) Fortunately, the answer to my first question was that it was God who had thought it was a good idea to give me this difficult baby. He knew that only she could give the the kind of formation I needed. She was a colicky baby, who turned into a happy, engaging older infant and early walker, who then metamorphosed into a toddler whose intelligence, sensitivity, and propensity towards high emotions often made her hard to predict and even harder to control or even to help her control herself. The older she got, the more it became clear to me that she didn't want to be crying herself into hysterics, but she just didn't know how to stop.

Her little sister, K., was a welcome addition to her world. H. doted on her and wanted to hold her and kiss her, but I found myself constantly feeling torn between my extremely high-needs toddler and my newborn infant. I guess this is the same feeling any parent with more than one child feels, but I don't think I handled it very well. Somehow we all survived that period of time, and now the two of them are the best of friends. I think K. will turn out to have been one of God's greatest blessings to H. as she looks back on her life. Because of having to interact with someone similar in age and interests to her own, H. has to learn skills to help her get along. She's learned how to do things like distract K. with something else (when that was age-appropriate), how to wait until K. got tired of things, and as they get older, she's learning to negotiate for a turn at activities she wants that K. is doing (and vice versa). In her sister, H. has a playmate who doesn't just go along with all of her authoritatively-expressed schemes for play like so many of her friends do (yes, I'm saying she's bossy, very bossy). She has to figure out how to win K. over, and I think that's good for her.

Since my husband and I hope to homeschool our children for as long as we can, another of the aspects of my daughter that I get to be privy to is her academic life. In keeping with my expectations that the child of two academically-minded parents would be that way herself, I started trying to teach H. to read once she turned three. I spent the school year that year introducing her to one letter sound per week through a variety of means. We learned target words that started with that sound, memorized a poem each week that had one of the target words in it, read at least 15 books that had the sound or the target words in them (including nonfiction science and history books), we did outdoor observations, arts and crafts, and even mathematics lessons to reinforce the letter and its sound. We sang song after song, like "Eddie Elephant Eats Everything." You can see the photo album I made for her of our lessons that year on Snapfish. She had most of the puzzle pieces to begin linking sounds and reading simple words, but she just wasn't interested in doing it. That was okay. She was clearly a smart kid, but reading just didn't appeal to her yet.

Even while she was three, there were times that her emotions would get out of control, especially when she was overtired or hungry, and she would scream and scream and be unable to be reasoned with. I remember my husband taking her into a closet and holding her while she screamed her head off when we stayed the night at a friend's house to try to keep her from waking the entire household at 5 a.m. But these times when she "lost it" got less and less frequent. She was an incredibly fast runner (which I never had any inclination towards), always thinking of big ideas and figuring things out that didn't seem like they were on the normal 3-year-old level, and she was fiercely independent, learning to do so many things on her own (which you can imagine was helpful to me in many ways) but also challenging me on almost every point when asked to do or stop doing something. She was wonderful. She was still exhausting, too!

At age four, I began using a "real" curriculum with workbook lessons and handwriting work. This was where I saw her really take off. She loved getting the answers "right." I enjoyed seeing her learn pre-reading skills that were really going to help her. She had little patience for writing her letters, but we were using a curriculum that forced her to slow down. There were lots of read-aloud stories that even K. enjoyed. "School," quickly became our favorite time of day together. I wasn't even working on math with her, but it's already clear that that will be one of her strengths. She comes up with word problems on her own and solves them!

Between four and five, the major change I see in H. is that she is becoming more and more as a separate person from me. This is a painful (for me) process, yet I know that it is necessary. When I see her with her friends, she says things to them that reveal a thought-life that she doesn't share with us at home. It reminds me that she's her own person and that this process of individuation has only just begun. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide that process and help me teach her what she needs to know to do it wisely.

She is still a rule-nick, quick to point out any violation of rules to anyone who even suggests offending them. She often tries to negotiate her way out of whatever I ask her to do, but if it becomes clear that I'm not budging, then she does it. It's not as much of a struggle as it once was to get her to comply. She has the most beautiful smile and laugh. She is amazingly quick-witted, handling even my dad's jokester ways with a quick retort. She's so excited to learn to read that she's ready to start kindergarten as soon as we get back to New York. Before we left for vacation, she'd ask for her phonics textbook so she could just look at it (it has no pictures in it). She loves to climb on things and jump from high places and still loves to run. She loves going to church school, especially when she already knows the answers! I hope that her birthday tomorrow and the whole experience of being five are just as exciting for her as she seems convinced they will be. God bless my precious H. on her 5th birthday!


Juliana said...

Thanks for sharing this great story! As the mother of a high-needs toddler (who was a high-needs baby--we should talk!) and a newborn, I completely empathize with your story! Every day I hope I will navigate the rocky terrain better, and every day is a struggle. It is nice to hear your take on the reasons "why" (do we ever really know why?) and to hear someone talk about it from the other side of toddlerhood. :)

elizabeth said...

Many years to you, your family and your newly 5 year old!

Audra said...


Father Gerasim has confidence that you are up to the challenge of both Harry and Maximos, so I'm sure you are. Thanks for reading the post. Hopefully we can get together soon.

David B said...

You, my dear, are a most amazing mother. I have cherished watching you grow with our first-born wonder into a woman I respect, admire, and love so much more than I did before I got to see you shine in motherhood.

You are, outside of our Lord and His Church, the greatest blessing of my life, and it is my great joy to see how our girls are growing into strong, caring, loving little girls under the example of their godly mother. I love you.