Sunday, March 8, 2009


The three-year-old, the walking test of parenting skills, she truly is a tempest in a purple teapot. She is oppositional. And opinionated. And easily slighted. And quicksilver of emotion. And impulsive. And very, very headstrong.

On Monday she and her sister had their shared pre-op appointment at the pediatrician. After her physical examination was concluded he said something to her and she, 100% naked, ran behind him, yelled at her maximum volume NO! and poked him in the butt. That’s not indicative of anything, it’s indicative of everything.

The revelation (and, I admit, relief) to me of the second child was that not all children are So Hard. Her comparative sunny disposition is a joy to me. That is of course, not to say that L doesn’t have her awe-inspiring, floor-embracing tantrums, nor of course that E is never happy. But every time I realize I’m bracing for E’s potential wildcard reaction, I also realize what pleasure I derive from L’s forecastable one.

I can anticipate for L. E, though-- she is the hinges on the lid of Pandora’s box. I don’t know where she’ll catch, how creakily she’ll stick, or how much she’ll let out or if I will be somehow possibly ready for what she sends forth.

I want you to understand: I say these things by way of observation, of description. I want you to understand I say these things not at all by way of complaint. Two roads diverged in a yellow house. They’re just different. But E, that girl. Sigh.

She challenges me to be more inventive, more creative, more transparent. I explain my actions and my expectations for her actions fully, so she understands the why of each what. I plan and I scheme and I research and I invent silly voices and I loan out my body for balance-beaming and horse-riding and I spend so much more time working for her happiness and so much less time confident that I’m achieving it than I ever do for her sister. And I worry, too, that L’s temperament, while unquestionably heaven-sent, also penalizes her: that E gets her share plus too much of her sister’s of me.

There are Terms and Conditions to be laid out for every human interaction. E needs to be forewarned that nice people might drop treats in her Halloween bag unsolicited. She should be snuggled at night, but on certain unannounced nights, only with no-touching snuggles. She would demand, if she could, prior consent for medical professionals to attempt to exchange any pleasantries.

This child: there are so many unprevented disappointments, so many battles. I help her out of her carseat and down to the curb and she remembers too late that she wanted to climb out by herself so she screams and wails and before I can stop her, climbs back in, just so that she can climb out by herself. And to think I only helped her because she is wearing the boots that she told me just yesterday make it so hard to climb in and out of the carseat unassisted. She, she and not ever her sister, she is why I’m always on the cusp of late to work.

This one: she of the Heartbreak On Her Sleeve. She of the Squeal Out Loud. She is all peaks and valleys. There is no prairie land. There is no parenting on auto-pilot.

But her happinesses are so rewarding for me, as if I climbed that mountaintop myself. Odds are good I’ve worked for them. I have earned a piece of those happinesses. And her sadnesses—they’re like the rains. You can feel despondent over them, you can feel wounded, you can feel gray and sloppy and insufficiently sheltered, but you also must acknowledge that they will come again and again and again.

Tomorrow E gets her ear tubes, those little silicone medical wonders that will drain the permafluid from her swollen inner parts. I have been told, more than once, by more than one parent who has traveled down this silicone path, that “she’ll be a new kid when she wakes up.” So I’m told, because she’ll feel better, and because she’ll hear better, and because her balance will be better and therefore she’ll be instantly more coordinated, I can expect better behavior. Better responsiveness. More happi(er)ness. And I’m nervous.

I’m not nervous about the procedure itself. (Although I am very extremely lots of nervous about that part where she wakes up from the anesthesia alone in a room we’re not immediately allowed to enter.) I’m nervous because what if she is different? What will that mean? Should we have pursued this treatment we for so long viewed as unnecessarily aggressive a long time ago? Should my tactics have been different? Should I have had more patience in moments where I lost patience? Should I have viewed shortcomings as (hers): medically-based, rather than behaviorally-? or should I view them as having been (mine): of inflexibility? of wrong priorities?

I explore the thought of a “different” E. Is it wrong if part of me trembles with relief? Is it awful that I fear I’ll feel disappointment for the disappearance of any of her quirks, her tantrums, her needs for whole bagel circles in the bagel store and bagel half circles in the car? Of course, in the end, I want nothing more for her but health and happiness, and those, thankfully, are the outcomes I’m surest of for tomorrow. But how will I know the new girl? Will she seem foreign, a doppelganger from a different land? And could our bond be as magically strong as it is right now, when I fill the powerful/fearsome unrelenting role of One And Only Who Knows Her Best?

Or: what if she’s no different? Will I feel crushed that there will be no reprieve from her stormy behavior? Will I feel enervated, knowing she’s This Girl, my lifelong challenge? Perhaps these friends have no idea what they’re talking about—E is a force all unto her own, unswayed by medical convention, unfelled by that which takes down lesser mortals. Will I feel relieved? or resigned?, for this is the girl I know and love and wouldn’t want any other way?

And for either outcome, where will I find the necessary confidence to take every next step?

From what is personality made?

Please: think strong thoughts that we all have a good tomorrow.
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