Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two and Three-Quarters

It's funny, when the moons of young childhood align . . . history catches up to itself . . . some other profound way to describe that time when one child hits the same age another one was at some significant point. (That's a thing, right? Anyone know what I'm talking about?) It's been like that for the last six months with Claire.

We moved back to Nashville, into our current house, when Kate was 2 1/4. Six months later, when Kate was 2 3/4, Claire was born. So that period of time when Kate was 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 is easily bookended in my mind. I remember setting up the playroom, playing on the old swingset in the backyard, and pulling the baby clothes out of the attic, all with my firstborn by my side. My firstborn who felt SO BIG!

Compared to her own baby self, two-year-old Kate seemed totally articulate! She can answer questions and string four or five words together to make a coherent thought! Then Claire comes along and I think, "What? At two, most strangers can't understand what my kid is saying. Heck, I can't understand every word she says!" At two, Kate seemed like a "big kid" to me. Not a squishy little baby like my Clairy still is, right?

Nope. Exhibit A. Squishy two-year-old Kate.

It's all a matter of perspective. Of course Kate seemed big, compared to only herself at a younger age! Of course Claire seems baby-like in the shadow of a big sister who seems SO BIG now, until I see her walking down that kindergarten hallway past a line of fourth-graders! Thinking of this in light of that birth order book I wrote about the other day, it's no wonder kids grow up differently. I expect Kate to be more mature and more responsible because she's the oldest. When Claire is five, eight-year-old Kate will still be more mature and responsible, so I'll expect more from her than I do Claire, who will seem so little at only 5 1/2! (What pressure for a firstborn kid! I better watch that!)

So Claire is now the age Kate was when she became a big sister. Claire became a big sister to BGC almost a year ago, so while we hope BGC can return to her parents one day, Claire already fills what (we hope) will be her ultimate middle-child position. And it suits her. She's not the baby of the house, and she's not the biggest, but she's cool with that and pretty much goes with the flow.

I love seeing how different Kate and Claire are—not just because of their ages and the perception warp that inevitably happens—but simply their natures (and maybe some of that birth order stuff as well). Here's my Clairy at two and three quarters:
  • So good-natured. She has typical two-year-old tantrums, of course, when she doesn't get what she wants or we don't understand what she's saying, but her default mood is pretty even-keeled, cheerful, and agreeable. "O-tay!" is a pretty typical response when we ask her to do something.
  • Only wants to wear dresses, wants her hair in "Elsa braid, "Anna braids," or "ponytail like Mommy."
  • Loves to play Memory and do jigsaw puzzles, and she's really good at both! I say she's my "little scientist," being very precise and perceptive. She either doesn't grasp the idea of competition, or doesn't care, because she will happily point out to other players where the matching Memory cards are on their turn. (Kate encourages this when it's her turn, and scolds Claire when it's mine!)
  • Still Kate's little shadow. Those girls are inseparable, and Claire follows Kate's lead to a T. She often repeats Kate's words and actions with barely one second's delay. Can be persuaded to do almost anything if it's "like Kate."
  • That said, she is starting to assert herself a little more against Kate's assumption that she can walk all over her doting sister! She'll tell Kate "Stop that right now!" and is quick to play the innocent-baby-sister card, screaming if Kate offends her in some way that may or may not be justified.
  • Loves peanut butter, baked beans, and (her latest obsession) buttered bread. "I do it!" she says (compare that to Kate and the rice cake), and we just have to make her promise not to eat the margarine right out of the tub as she's spreading it on her bread. "O-tay..." she replies dejectedly.
  • Making good progress on potty training. Won't do #2 on the potty, though. One day I asked her to please put a pull-up on before pooping, if she really couldn't bear to do it on a potty, and she did! 
  • One might use the term "hot mess" for Claire. She's prone to looking a bit disheveled or not-perfectly-polished, but it's part of her charm. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Perfectionist Child

I was busy doing laundry, cleaning up the latest mess (or a much older one), and trying to tune out the screams of a deaf baby who, incidentally, wins the prize for the world's most offensive-to-the-ears cry. Kate wanted a snack. A rice cake with peanut butter. With my free hand, I got the peanut butter jar and bag of rice cakes out of the pantry and set them on the counter in front of her. I handed her a table knife and said, with as much confidence-boosting cheerfulness as I could muster, "Here you go! You can make it yourself!"

"I can't!" she wailed!

"Sure you can," I encouraged, as I went on into the laundry room to start another load.

I reemerged to see her smearing the peanut butter quite satisfactorily on the rice cake, all the while crying over and over, "I can't!"

"Sweetie, you're doing it. Look, you're doing it."

"No, I can't!" she cried, throwing the snack and knife down on the counter and running to bury herself in the couch cushions.

I let her be for a minute, while I fixed myself a rice cake and sat down at the kitchen table, just over a short wall from where Kate sat, barely visible behind the pile of cushions.

"It doesn't have to be perfect, Sweetie."

"Yes it does!"

"My peanut butter isn't perfectly smooth either, but it still tastes good."

"No! Everything you do is perfect, and everything I do is dumb!"

Whoa. How did this happen? I'd seen her get frustrated before, when struggling to hit a badminton birdie or having trouble writing a certain letter or number she has trouble with. I sensed that this was a byproduct of being a very smart, capable child, so easily taking to some things that she doesn't even want to try something she's not immediately good at. She's an emotional kid, struck with melancholy over things we don't even notice, and often can't explain. We've always tried to praise effort, not ability (though, as many proud parents know, that is a tough thing to do sometimes) and let her know we love her unconditionally, but this incident was like a lightning bolt to me as a mom.

A few months later, as I read a book I'd been wanting to check out for a while, it all started to make more sense. The book was The Birth Order Book, by psychologist Kevin Leman. I enjoyed seeing how I was a classic only child (with firstborn characteristics to the extreme), and it was fun seeing how various family members fit their birth order categories (fluid as they are, affected by things like spacing of kids, parenting style, gender of siblings, etc.) but the big payoff was the light this book shed on my family's maternal chain of functional firstborns—my mom (younger than her brother by ten years), me (only child), and Kate (actual firstborn). 

Leman's big emphasis for firstborns and onlies is their perfectionism. Apparently, this is because, while younger siblings have the example of older siblings to follow, firstborns have only their parents and other adults to look up to. So, rather than comparing their three-year-old abilities to six-year-old abilities, for example, they are comparing three-year-old or five-year-old or seven-year-old abilities to those of a twenty- or thirty-something. By comparison, they feel uncoordinated, less intelligent, less capable, and altogether imperfect. The rice cake incident was textbook.

"But my firstborn is so messy! You should see her room!" My mom would say this about me, and I could certainly say it about Kate. Leman makes clear that a child's (or adult's) perfectionism does not always manifest itself in neatness or cleanliness. The "discouraged perfectionist," I think he called it, is what results when the perfection we seek is not attainable (and for whom is it really attainable?).

I've put my priorities in order enough to say that family fun, a career, and time for scrapbooking and party-planning are much more important than housekeeping, but if I feel stressed out in the slightest, the first thing to set me off is the sea of stuff all over the floor! I can't find my keys and suddenly the dishtowel on the floor is symbolic of everything I can't control! I remember having terrible anxiety as a young teenager over not knowing how to pay taxes, buy a car, take out a mortgage, things that my parents obviously knew how to do with no trouble. I can identify with this "discouraged perfectionism," and I can see it in my own mom (who Dad and I used to say was "practically perfect in every way!") and I can see it in Kate. Difficulty with a task makes Kate feel like a total failure, and the slightest correction is a grievous offense.

So what's a parent to do? The key, it seems, is to let things go. For parents with their own perfectionist tendencies to deal with, this can be difficult. When a child dresses himself in red plaid with purple polka dots, the instinct (perhaps even for non-perfectionist parents) is to tell the child how mismatched he is and go redress him. Or maybe to even say "Awesome!" and then switch the little girl's hairbow to one that matches when she's not paying attention (not that I've ever done that). But affirming what the child can do without pointing out what he can't do will give him the confidence to try things he may not be perfect at right away.

And, as Leman instructs, "flaunt your imperfections." Show the child that, even as an adult, you don't do everything perfectly, and that that's okay. Who doesn't occasionally use a tablespoon of something when the recipe calls for just a teaspoon? Who doesn't accidentally stumble over the words in her kids' bedtime story (especially when she's exhausted and just wants to go to bed herself!)? Rather than just moving on, call attention to what you've done. Show them mistakes are just part of life, and nothing to be ashamed of.

So, as Kate prepares to head off to kindergarten next week, with a whole new set of expectations and assignments, here's what I'm doing to help empower my perfectionist child:

1. Not doing (or re-doing) everything myself. When she does her own hair in a ponytail, with visible tangles and bumps, I will not insist on pulling it out and doing it myself. This is hard for me, because I suffer from the constant assumption that people are judging me. (I kid you not.) So, if my child goes off to school looking messy, I fear that her teacher will think I'm a terrible mother. I have to get over that. Kate knows I will do her hair if she asks, but if she doesn't, I will let it be.

2. Setting her up for success. She'll be wearing uniform clothes to school, so I've put all the school-approved clothes in one drawer. She can dress herself in the morning without any input from me. I got her an alarm clock and showed her how to turn the alarm on and off. I wrote (and illustrated, for easy understanding) a list of the things she needs to do to get ready in the morning and for bed. She's already started following it, and feels proud to take care of herself without prodding from Mommy to do each little thing.

3. Affirming questions and "not knowing." As we prepare for kindergarten, Kate is concerned about not doing her schoolwork perfectly. Among the typical "what-ifs" about finding her classroom and getting lost in the school building, I'm seeing an emphasis on academic concerns already. "What if I don't understand the worksheet and everybody else does?" (Nevermind that in pre-K, she's been the worksheet queen. Nevermind, or  because of?) Seeing her fear of embarrassment over asking questions, I vow to affirm her in asking questions and admitting what she doesn't know. I read that Elie Wiesel's mother always asked him after school, "What questions did you ask today?" I'll have to try that. And let her know about my own questions and things I don't understand or need help with.

4. Letting her struggle. Kate was early in learning her letters, loves to write down words she knows (and words she doesn't know, transcribing pages of a book just for fun), and loves to identify words that she knows if she spots them on a sign. But as she gets closer to actual reading, I notice her anxiety about trying to read things she doesn't already know pretty well. She'll decline to read at bedtime, or to attempt the little poems and things in her Highlights "High Five" magazine. When she's reading, I need to wait as long as she needs, wait until she asks me, before jumping in with the correct word. When she's doing her homework, I need to offer only the help she asks for, refusing to do it for her or handhold her on every task.

In all these things, I will affirm her efforts and her enthusiasm. And I will affirm her kindness and compassion even more than I affirm her homework and hairdressing efforts. It's tough to parent a driven, strong-willed, perfectionist firstborn, but by being aware of my own perfectionism, I can empower her to do (and be happy with) her best.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Last Day of Preschool

Today is Kate's last day of preschool. Yes, her "graduation" was back in May, but being a day care, that grand event is a little anticlimactic when the kids are right back there in class Monday morning! The teachers actually said the Pre-K kids seemed to have "senioritis" this summer, acting wild and crazy for the couple of months between their graduation and their departure for the big, bad world of kindergarten.

Kate's classmates have gradually moved on—one spending the whole month of July with grandparents, others going on family vacation, etc.—and now it's Kate's turn. She's spending next week with my parents and going to a daily tennis camp in Louisville that she's very excited about. The following week will be a staycation of sorts, Mommy and Daddy each taking a day off to spend with her, some time with Matt's parents, etc. The week after that, school starts!

It's not goodbye to her teachers forever, since I'm sure she'll drop in fairly often, joining us to pick up the little girls, etc., but we still wanted to mark the occasion and say thanks, especially to the main teachers of the classes Kate has been in since we moved back to Nashville three years ago.
Kate painted little flower pots for some begonias, and I made little cards showing pictures of her throughout her time at the school (ages 2, 3, 4, and 5, from top to bottom) and the message "Thank you for helping me bloom!" If I hadn't had so many things to do this week, I might have designed it with a flower graphic and the photos going upward, like she was blooming from a two-year-old to a five-year-old, but Mommy's busy, so we went the simple route. (In any case, there's an idea, if you want to do this yourself!)
Kate's teachers were so touched. Here she is with her pre-K teacher, Ms. Cynthia. They were out on the playground when I arrived yesterday to deliver the gifts and take some pictures. (We've got four kids in the house this week, at two different day cares, so Daddy didn't need to worry with flower pots at drop-off time!)
 Ms. Marian teared up immediately and said, "I love you, Kate!" Claire is currently in her class (AKA the "3-year-old class," though it's really about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2). The "4-year-old class" (3 1/2 to 4 1/2) teacher was out yesterday, so we just left her flower pot and card in her room.
Ms. Faye wanted a picture with both Kate and Claire. Kate was only in her class briefly, when we first moved here, before Kate moved up to Ms. Marian's class. Claire was with her until a few months ago, when she moved up. (We'll need a lot more gifts when Claire graduates, since she's been at this school since about 10 weeks old!)
I took some pics of Kate in the pre-K classroom, and then back out on the playground with some of her friends.

Can these kids pose or what? It looks like a catalog photo shoot, and I swear I didn't arrange them at all! (Matt pointed out that it's probably because kids are photographed so much more in this digital age; they are naturally more photogenic! Speaking of which, I saw a sign in Walgreen's the other day saying "We still develop film!" It was funny to see, and I noticed that it takes 3-5 days, since I guess they have to send it out now!)
Kate also wanted to take a few pics herself. This is my latest "fun hairdo" below: two french braids tied back into a chignon. We call it "Elsa's coronation hair," since the girls frequently ask for "an Elsa braid" (one french braid) or "Anna braids" (two braids).

I also snapped pics of Claire and BGC's classrooms on my way out, as they were sitting down for lunch. Here's cutie Claire and her friends, but why bother showing you BGC's class, since I'd have to block out her face anyway? (In any case, we're proud that even though she can't walk yet, she's moved up to be in class with her age level, and sits at the table with her peers! She's made such amazing strides in her 11 months with us!)
Matt is much more emotional than I am about Kate's last day, since he is the one who usually takes the kids and picks them up, and since his office is just upstairs, he can come down and visit during the day. So, I naturally took a pic of him and Kate before loading up the car this morning.
On to a new stage of childhood! My firstborn baby is such a big girl now, tall and insightful, creative and strong. I'm so excited for all that kindergarten will bring.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Day in the Life

Link-ups around the blogosphere give me the motivation I need to get a post up! Today it's a "Day in the Life," a special edition of A Blonde Ambition's weekly "Confessional Friday" link-up, to which I have never contributed!

I'm glad for the motivation not just to blog but to document a typical day in the life of our family right now. I haven't done one for the blog or scrapbook in a couple years, so it's about time!

We've got a pretty laid-back morning schedule these days, given that my husband and I both have flexible jobs (I work from home and he's a pastor) and the kids aren't in "real" school yet. Even if they were, it's summer, so there. Unless somebody has an early meeting or doctor appointment, we wake when the kids start invading our bed, generally around 7 am, give or take a half hour.  (That will all be over in a few weeks! Kindergarten will mean we're out the door by 7:30. Yikes!)

Cereal and yogurt for breakfast, and since the girls got dressed quickly and early, they got to watch some Netflix (some Tinkerbell movie, or as Claire calls her, "Teen-ter-bell")
Our foster baby, (blog nicknamed) BGC, is a late sleeper, so we wake and dress her just before it's time to go. I haven't talked much about her lately, so to update: she's been with us almost eleven months now—more than half of her life (21 months today). Parents are still working their plan, it's just taking longer than expected. She does four therapies a week (hoping she'll be able to pull up and stand soon!) and is starting the process to get cochlear implants.
Once Matt and the kids are out the door for church and day care, I refresh my coffee and maybe try to tidy up a little bit. I laughed at myself this morning, pouring coffee with one hand while I had a laundry basket of random things-that-don't-belong-downstairs under my other arm. Unfortunately, I didn't have a third hand to capture that photo, but here's the scene on my kitchen counter. (Sink full of dirty dishes barely visible behind the laundry basket.)

Then it's upstairs to my office, where I'll settle in for the next 7-8 hours (if BGC doesn't have any therapies or other appointments I need to take her to—Matt and I divide and conquer the weekly appointments—none for me today!)

A plumber came to install a new toilet in the girls' bathroom. Such a nice perk of working from home—just let the guy in and go back to work in the next room!
Lunch: toss leftover couscous, pork, and cabbage into a frying pan with some teriyaki sauce. It was edible. I would have rather had a panini and soup from Panera, but alas.
I had a very productive day editing a manuscript that I need to get back to the author next week—a forthcoming book called Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands, by Jennifer Grace Bird. (Not available for preorder yet, but you can check it out on the author's site here!)
Dinner: another night of random let's-use-up-what-we-have-before-shopping-again. So, the rest of that cabbage became cole slaw, alongside some barbecue chicken and mac & cheese. Nothing fancy, but we did all fight over who got thirds of the mac & cheese. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Everybody got home when dinner was almost ready. Claire was in borrowed day care clothes, a sure sign of a potty accident. Oh well. She's making good progress. She then spilled a bowl of dry cereal Kate had abandoned on the counter at breakfast, so I made her (try to) sweep it up. Note Anna and Elsa strewn on the floor in the background.
After dinner, Matt headed back to church for a meeting, and the big girls and I got to work painting pots! Kate and I were preparing gifts for her teachers, since next week will be her last week at day care/preschool. (Two weeks off, then kindergarten starts!) I've got begonias to plant in each pot and we'll stick a card in there saying "Thank you for helping me bloom!"

To keep Claire occupied, I found a bigger pot in the garage and let her paint that "for Mommy" so she wouldn't try to mess with Kate's painting for her teachers. (See the red ribbon at Claire's neck? That's from the red riding hood cape she's wearing underneath her smock. She had a tutu on as well.)
 After putting on jammies and getting BGC to bed, the big girls and I watched "Prince of Egypt" (in a tutu and witch's hat, of course!)
 I painted my fingernails and toenails while we watched, which meant Claire wanted to, too.
When she wanted me to paint other body parts, including her lips, I suggested she find her sparkly princess lip glosses. So she did, and after Daddy came home, she painted his nails with Belle lip gloss. ("It not Teen-ter-bell!" she said, and I had to clarify, "No, it's Beauty and the Beast Belle!")
Superdaddy also put together Kate's new highback booster seat, which arrived today. I was going to wait until the first week of kindergarten, but we're doing respite for another foster family next week and this way, we won't have to move any car seats from the SUV into the minivan to accommodate our new, short-term guest!
After "Prince of Egypt," we put the girls to bed in their own rooms. No surprise, though, they ended up on the floor together in Kate's room, side by side along with several stuffed animals also covered with blankets. And Claire is still wearing the tutu.
That's a day in our life. How about yours?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


This post has sat as a half-finished draft for over a month. I'm just not that into blogging this year. But, given that summer is nearly over (yes, school starts in less than a month!) let me finish telling you about our pseudo-summer vacation. . . . .

We'd thought about going to the beach this year, but after various large expenses this spring, we decided to downsize our plans with a short, close trip strategically timed for max relaxation: the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday following Memorial Day, so we had a three day weekend before going out of town and after we returned. We made sure to fill those six days at home with fun stuff, making those nine days our "vacation-staycation" of 2014!

We spent most of Memorial Day weekend at the pool. Kate is swimming a little more independently, especially if she has a vest on, so she's moved beyond the "catch me!" game that Claire plays over and over, running a constant cycle of jumping in to Mommy (with an adorable "get ready, get set, JUMP" recitation each time), kicking as I escort her to the steps, then running around to jump again). We went over to Matt's parents' house for dinner on Memorial Day. Opa taught the girls to play golf and Granna showed them her new "secret garden."

Tuesday, we took off for Wilderness at the Smokies, a water park resort in the Smoky Mountains, near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. There are indoor and outdoor water parks there, with slides, wave pools, a lazy river, and other water fun. And kids eat free! So, it was a good place for a mini-vacation with kiddos!
It would be most ideal for families with elementary age kids, since most slides required kids to be at least 42-48 inches tall. Kate went on every slide she was tall enough for a million times. Many required a parent to go with her, so Matt and I spent a lot of our time sitting with Claire while the other parent went with Kate on a slide. Then we'd switch off.
She went on these racing slides at least twenty times. You go down them head-first on a little foam mat, but she was fearless. As she told me when I commented on her bravery:
"I'm not scared of anything. . . Except things that I'm scared of."

Claire was not so into it. There were a couple areas designed for small kids, with small slides she could go on, but she wasn't having any of it. She liked a bouncy-swing thing that let them dip in and out of the water, but refused the slides. It didn't really cramp our style, because she didn't throw a fit about it or refuse to go in the water at all. We took her in the wave pool and on the lazy river, and she just sat there on my lap, stone-faced as we floated around. Our serious little girl.

 FYI, if you go: don't bother packing a pool bag with your own towels, floatation vest, etc. They provide towels and vests and all that, included, so you can go to the water parks without carrying anything (except your room key, which of course fell out of Matt's pocket our first time out).
We'll have to come back when the girls are a little older, so Kate can do more things by herself and Claire might be a little braver! (She's always been more cautious. At bouncy places, Kate was climbing up the huge slides and sliding down at 18 months, but even at 2 1/2, Claire just stands in one place and jumps, if she gets in the inflatable apparatus at all.)

The rooms at Wilderness are fun, with the feel of a mountain lodge. We got a room with a bunk bed separated from a queen bed by a partial wall. The queen bed was on the side near the balcony, so Matt and I could have some privacy from the kids after bedtime, without spending more on a suite with multiple bedrooms. 
We took a little afternoon siesta in our room the first day. Claire wanted to read a magazine, just like Mommy. Fitting that she read an old copy of "Working Mother" with the cover story "Take Back Family Time." :0)
Returning from our mini-vacation meant three more days of staycation in Nashville. We went to a baseball game and spent more time at the pool.  There were fireworks after the ball game, and the kids were invited to run the bases, as I recall doing as a child in Louisville. Kate ran faster than Claire, of course, but after turning third base, Kate stopped and went back to meet Claire, so they would cross home plate hand-in-hand. So sweet!

Hopefully next year we'll make it to the beach, but for this year, our "vacay-staycay" was a great kick-off to the summer.


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