Stunned, I sat in silence behind the closed bedroom door. My youngest girl, a kindergartener, picked up every last Barbie shoe, scarf, perfume bottle, fork (Do you know how small they are? About the size of your pinkie fingernail.) from my office carpet and put them in the designated storage box.
I asked her to do it and she did it. Just like that.
It actually works sometimes, doesn’t it?
Had I stopped at one child, I would not have experienced the sweet beauty of this moment.
How did this happen? I’ve not deviated too much from the parenting manual I used for the first child.
It just worked this time.
Or maybe it’s just that each child is wired differently.
Or maybe it’s because I stayed home with her. (And, no, this isn’t a post taking a position on stay-at-home motherhood over working mothers. I’ve been both.)
When I was a working parent, my only child knew how to manipulate me. She knew how and exercised the option often. Inadvertently, I gave her loopholes. I was also much younger, a fist-time parent, and very worried about anything threatening my job.
I had a flashback moment today at the bus stop, as I watched a young mother dressed for an office job frantically wheeling her baby’s stroller along the slippery sidewalk. The tot inside gurgled and kicked his feet, while his big sister grimaced and dragged at least five steps behind. The mom barked some threats at her, coaxed, and finally pleaded with her to step forward and get on line for the bus. Each day this scene plays out in some fashion.
How many times in my young motherhood was I that woman, one eye on my wristwatch and the other on my girl, who either cried and clawed at me to stay or arrived at day care in her nightgown because she refused to dress for the day?
Child No. 1 never did what I asked on the first, second, even third request. Always there were threats and consequences and then the dreaded follow-through. She always pushed it to the edge with me. Then, we had the ‘tween years. I was all out of ideas and so full of frustration I decided to resign my position to attend at least in part to her needs. Now, that firstborn is almost an adult; the game is a bit different.
Having two children or more gives you a chance to get some perspective on human nature and chance. If you have an obedient, people-pleasing first child, you may think that’s how all children are and arrange for more. If you have a difficult, defiant, march-to-the-beat-of- a-different-drummer first child, you might hold out hope that statistically you’ll draw the obedient card the second time around. Maybe you’ll get yourself fixed.
Every parent, if they are going to have more than one child, is bound to get at least one “challenging” child. To have a brood of challenges is unfair. To have an army of Stepford children is also, well, freakishly unnatural and only occurs on TV.
Right? Tell me this is right.