If you are a parent of healthy children you are obligated to be thankful. The few times my kids have been seriously ill has shown me a glimpse into the world of parents with chronically and seriously ill children. I cannot imagine living that nightmare. First and foremost this year I am thankful for healthy, normal children.
I am also thankful for the uniqueness of each of my children. None of them are exactly like me or David but have hints, and traces of each parent mixed with their own magical combination of attributes and character flaws.
I am so thankful that Lucy is a reader. She is a voracious reader, like her mother, and has a beautiful curiosity about the world. She is not a person of blind faith, or fairy tale beliefs. Rather, she is a child of sensible conclusions and reasonable thinking. I am also very thankful that she has a strong sense of right and wrong and quickly defends herself and her friends in the face of elementary school bullies and social meanness which is so often seen on the school yard. I have seen her be a loyal friend and sister again and again.
I am most thankful for Max’s gentle spirit and tender heart. We hear so many stories about boys being mean, aggressive and generally ill-tempered. Although Max won’t hesitate to throw a swing if his sister is bothering him he is also equally quick to offer help, a hand, or a hug. Max is kind to everybody, always uses his manners, and is openly affectionate to friends and family. I’m proud that Max takes after his Daddy with his kindness and generosity. He will be a blessing in the lives of many people.
At Harper’s young age I’m most thankful for her health. Giving birth at 40, and after a miscarriage, makes you more grateful for health than anything else. Even at her young age you can sense her jovial spirit – that same good hearted sense of humor that her daddy possesses. Her hearty laugh and sense of silliness is something I suspect she will always portray.
Finally, I’m thankful that I’ve been given the gift of parenthood. I’m thankful that I have been given front row seats to watch the lives of these three amazing people unfold. And I’m most thankful that I get to watch with my best friend sitting next to me.
Just as your sister is a typical first-born child, with all of her bossiness and in-charge attitude, you are a typical youngest child. You have no problems demanding the attention you feel you deserve. You have mastered the manipulation of cuteness and wisely chosen to learn the word “mommy” before all others. You climb and walk and run and swim because somebody forgot to tell you that you are only 18 months old and have no business acting like a five year old. You have developed a strong sense of fashion and pick your jewelry and outfits with the precision of a runway model. If the clothes selected for the day do not meet your refined eye for fashion (which means they are not pink and include pants) then you simply lay down on the ground and cry until I choose different clothes. You can’t be bothered with wearing shoes unless they are your sister’s dress up princess heels. You talk non-stop and have no patience for the fact that nobody can understand you.
You love Max. He is your anchor, your center, your best friend. His return home from school prompts wild displays of excitement which include jumping up and down, spinning in circles, and screaming for no reason. Once the initial joy has subsided I periodically catch you leaning against him as if you were trying to get as close to him as possible. Fortunately, he loves you too and is equally excited to see you.
You’re my third and I gave birth to you when I was 40 years old. People question that choice. Am I being selfish? Have I not considered your needs? Did I not think about how old I will be when you are getting married? Having kids? Graduating college? The simple answer is yes I did. I never could get past the feeling that somebody was missing from the dinner table and now here you are and I’m glad we waited for you to arrive.
I didn’t even think to explain to him what it was or to warn him to not touch it. Max grabbed the curling iron (hot and not using the handle) and said “what is this?”, which was just long enough for him to register the searing heat piercing his skin. He dropped the curling iron and began screaming. He whaled. He hyper-ventilated. He thrashed and kicked and screamed and begged for Daddy. This display of audible pain, that could only rival that of a woman giving natural childbirth, eventually ebbed and then ceased — AFTER AN HOUR AND A HALF. David had Max’s hand soaking in ice water with Tylenol forced down his throat and the promise of M&Ms. Tiny blisters spotted his finger tips. After twenty minutes of soaking and half a bag of M&Ms Max slipped off the bar stools and into the family room to play video games with his sister but not before he turned to David and I and said, “Thanks for all the help”. As if somehow he was surprised that we took the time out of our busy schedule to help a complete stranger.
Everybody told us she would out grow it. That kids don’t enter college sucking on their fingers. She would start school and that would be the end of it. Well, here we sit with less than two months of the school year to finish and my 7 year old is still sucking on her fingers. Sigh. The fingernails on her index finger and second digit have never grown. She has divots at her first knuckle where her teeth rest. But it was this latest bout of strep throat that finally did it. She needed to stop. It was a source for germ transmission and possible infection.
David: Lucy, it is time for you to stop sucking your fingers
David: Baby, you need to listen to me. You are ready to quit, the time has come. You are too big of a girl, and that is how you get germs and as a result sick. However, I want YOU to make this decision, I don’t want to make it for you. So, take some time to think about it and then come and tell me when you’re ready.
Me: And after a week of not sucking your fingers I’ll take you to Chuck E. Cheese.
Lucy: CHUCK E CHEESE? REALLY? CAN KATIE COME?
And that is how it started – part bribery, part inspiration. As the week progressed there were a couple of emotional outbursts that were marked by Lucy whining at the top of her lungs “I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY LONGER!!!!!” But, even that was easily diverted by discussions of the forbidden Chuck E. Cheese.
It has been two weeks since we started this adventure with Lucy and she is now finger-sucking free. Her fingers are starting to heal and even she doesn’t think much about it any longer. It seems so anti-climactic now. Honestly, if I knew it would be so easy I would have confronted the issue sooner.
And yet we have passed another childhood milestone – one more road marker towards adulthood.
Max bolted out of the car. His mess of brown curls bouncing on his head as his tiny feet propelled him to the glass doorway. I quickly followed, pushing the stroller with Harper’s tiny head bobbing back and forth in the seat. As the glass doors glided open I took a deep breath and reminded Max that he was to be quiet while inside. He nodded trying to look serious but his excitement was barely contained. We had already discussed the importance of visiting the fish tank before we took care of our official business and so we made our way over to the wall where it stood.
Max pointed out the large goldfish to Harper and discussed the merits of the blue stones versus the purple stones that filled the bottom of the tank. We pointed and watched the fish as they silently glided back and forth oblivious to our presence. Max looked up at me and I asked him if he was ready and he nodded.
We walked to the long, tall counter that had a single woman standing behind it. Her quiet face and long brown hair peeking over the top. “May I help you?” Max shimmied up next to me and looked up, unsure of how to answer. “Yes Ma’am, we are here for a library card.” She stared down at Max “Are you five years old sweetie?” Max nodded as a big grin split across his face. The woman quickly brightened up and handed me a small form, “okay Mom, just fill this out, make sure he signs it and when you are ready to check out bring it back with you. He is allowed seven books for his first visit”.
Max and I completed the short form with him purposefully signing his name at the bottom and then we headed for the shelves of books. Oh, the possibilities were endless. Snakes, spaceships, Star Wars, Spiderman, he wanted them all and yet didn’t want to waste a single selection on something he might not like. In the end we settled on two Star Wars books, a Spiderman, a book on snakes and a story book about pandas. We placed our books on the counter with the form and waited as the librarian gently scanned each book and then issued Max his library card.
Max skipped out of the library and as we got back in the car he asked me “can I look at my books RIGHT NOW mama?” I gently handed him his bag of books and climbed into the front seat. As I watched him pour over his selections I realized that the day he gets his driver’s license could not possibly be any better than the day he got his library card.
From the time Lucy was old enough to talk she had no patience for make believe play. She didn’t understand the purpose of dress-up and didn’t know why you would make dolls talk when obviously they cannot. If a vivid imagination is a sign of genius then I’m not quite sure what to say about Lucy’s intellectual abilities.
Max, on the contrary, has always had a robust imaginary world. He can spend hours with a handful of army men and a couch. He has perfected the sound effects, different voices and all the accouterments that come with pretend play. His stuffed friends get sick and need help, his bed is a pirate ship one day and a space ship the next. The conflict emerges when these two worlds collide:
Max: “Freddy bear is sick and so I put a bandage on him”
Lucy: “Does he have bones?”
Lucy: “If he does then why is he filled with fluff?”
Max: (frustrated) “cuz he does!!”
Max feels the need to play in private, away from the judging eyes of his sister who has little understanding or willingness to go along with his imaginary world. And then came Harper.
Harper, at the small age of one, LOVES her baby dolls. She holds her baby and quietly whispers; “baby”. She gives kisses and gentle touches and carries her baby doll around the house. Her imaginary world has already begun and now Lucy – always the dominant player in the house – is on the outside. Her baby brother and sister happily exist in an imaginary world that Lucy doesn’t understand. A place where baby dolls have babies for mothers. In this moment of vulnerability Lucy sweetly asked me; “Mommy, when you were little did you play house?” and I honestly replied, “No”. As relief washed over her a smile spread across her lips and she said “I don’t like to play house either”. In that small moment of confidence Lucy recognized that perhaps I’m the only one who understands.
I’m writing you this letter because at some point you are going to turn to me and say in the bitter voice of a teenager; “I’m NOT responsible for Max”. You’re not responsible for Max. I know this. I’ve always known this. However, I want you to understand what seven year old Lucy is like and why you might feel that way in the future.
You have always taken it upon yourself to take care of and watch after your brother. We’ve NEVER asked you to do this, you have always just done it. You have willingly given up toys, time, food, and favorite things to keep him happy. You share your bed, your treats, your candy, and your time with mommy and daddy without prompting. YOU have chosen to be responsible for your brother. YOU have chosen to correct his wrong behavior, run to his side when he needs help, pour him his milk, help him get dressed and teach him his alphabet.
Your need to care and protect Max hit a fever pitch after he was admitted to the hospital at age 3 due to rotavirus. He went to the doctor and didn’t come back – and neither did Mommy – for three days. Although we have explained to you many, many times that his illness was not serious and that it is unlikely that would happen again you still seem rather concerned for your brother’s overall health, safety and well being.
I want you to know now – right now – that you are free to let go of that responsibility whenever you choose. You are NOT responsible for your brother’s happiness and/or well being. He is his own individual person and is fully capable of achieving his own happiness without you constantly reminding him of his failures to obey the rules or how he should be more safe. He does not need you telling him that fairy tales aren’t real, that sharks don’t live in his bedroom carpet or that he shouldn’t drink his milk too fast.
You cannot keep him safe. It is not your job. Love him. Be his friend, but leave the mothering and worrying to me. I release you.
I never understood peer pressure. David often tells me that my immunity to peer pressure is my “super power” a quality that makes me invincible. I never cared enough what other people thought or frankly felt the need to belong bad enough that peer pressure ever affected me. As a matter of fact the more somebody pushed me to do something the less likely I was to do it — I’m still this way. It infuriates David because I cannot be cajoled or persuaded to do anything that I fundamentally don’t want to do. Our ongoing feud about my refusal to drink coffee with him will be an argument that our children will be talking about years after we both die. David insists and I resist.
I’ve always been rather proud of this characteristic. I suppose I’ve always felt that it was a sign of my personal strength and confidence. David has always thought that it was more a reflection of my pride and stubbornness. Either way, it is a quality that has served me well and I have no intention of shedding it any time soon — that is until today.
Lucy has a lose tooth. When I say “lose” I mean she has a tooth that is defying physics by continuing to be lodged in her mouth. We cannot seem to figure out how this tooth has managed to stay in for as long as it has. She refuses to pull it. She refuses to let us pull it. This morning as the five of us were lazily sprawled on the couch I declared with authority “Lucy, pull that tooth today!!” David, quickly chimed in with his booming Daddy voice, “YES, YES, PULL THE TOOTH!!” We were trying to achieve a sort of festive momentum that would propel her into yanking the tooth out before she swallowed it by accident. Lucy, feeling the pressure of family scurried into a corner and yelled “I CANNOT BE TALKED INTO PULLING MY TOOTH!! AS LONG AS YOU KEEP ASKING ME I WON’T DO IT!!” and then silence.
I threw my head back and roared with laughter. God is funny.