Saturday, January 14, 2012

You Can't Hurry Love.

One of my 70 year old grandma's favorite sayings is "Chop-chop!!". She says this half-teasingly as she stands at the door, waiting for someone to come inside from the cold. She says it when she's ready to go out to her church and is worried about us all being late and not making it to her favorite pew. She says it outside the bathroom door, when everyone else is gathered in the living room (over-stuffed with roasted chicken and green beans and mystery jello salad. I've stopped asking or even wanting to know what the mysterious crunchy things in it are), waiting to open gifts, and some poor soul on the other side of Mrs Jones' door, trying to pee. "Chop-chop!! Time's a-wastin'!" (for the record, in my humble opinion, any time spent trying to urinate is not wasted time. Who can feign appreciation for neon green mittens with Christmas trees on them when their bladder is wailing in protest? Not I. Bathroom time is time well. spent. Take that, grandma.) 

Chop-chop!! Hurry it up! I don't want to wait any more! Let's move it!!

I've got more than a little of grandma in me. Most of us do, I think. (Now, it just sounds like we all ate my grandma. Ah, well. No time to edit.) Especially people with fast-paced bodies and wit, who can't sit still to save their lives, or when they DO sit still, their brains are buzzing with ideas of what they'll do when they get up and move around again. We want results, dammit. We like waffles and freezer jam and time-travel and Netflix and and formulas and quick-dry nail polish and magic bullets and high-speed DSL and miracle cures and wrinkle-free pants! We like to move it, move it, yo.

Unfortunately, human development didn't get the memo that our society is now instant-results oriented. There are no magic bullets when it comes to raising a person from the ground up. It's more like making Ethiopian Injera (or, for you American food lovers, Amish friendship know, the yeasty stuff your aunt gives you in a ziplock baggies with an instruction sheet, which you politely stuff into your purse where it bubbles and broods for a week until it explodes on your receipts and car keys?) I digress. My point is, strong relationship takes time.

You have to go slowly with children. You can't make them be more than where they are at that moment. You can't force logic before it's time. Pine all you want, but developing impulse control can't be hurried. You can't "chop-chop" kids. Wish all you want,  pretend all you want, cry, and you may be able to construct a well-orchestrated fantasy world for your family, if you get lucky. Some kids may even learn to jump through your hoops like trained ponies for all the reasons that won't last, just to make you happy with them. But telling yourself that you "really got through to your four year old" with that scary, long-winded, heavy-handed approach to personal responsibility is magical, wishful thinking.

Case in point: my oldest daughter, 7,  is a particularly quick-minded little girl, and likes more than anything to feel included and competent. She reads (no bragging here, I had literally nothing to do with it) at a 6th grade level. And so, because I was so excited to have someone to dish with about literature beyond Winnie the Pooh, and because she understood what the words meant, and because it was novel and fun, I let her tackle a LOT of books geared to older kids with some complex and intense emotional themes. In fairness to myself, I was interested in fostering her spunk and love for adventure, which seemed like a good idea,  but, let's be honest: this is my first child. I'm kind of winging it here.

It seemed to work out for about a year, until she finally admitted and demonstrated that, while she basically understood the plot, she couldn't process it in a healthy way yet.

I'd "chop-chop"ped her, and let her learn to chop-chop herself, and the fallout included confusion, bad dreams, fears she couldn't admit out loud, unrealistic expectations of herself and breakdown of relationship between she and I. She was pretending to be big, without really understanding what "big" means, because she skipped important, messy steps to getting there the slow way. Because she's observant, she learned to do a good imitation, but that's all it was. An imitation, with a worried little girl hiding behind it.

Sheepishly, I put the "big books" away, and replaced them with some challenging ones about people her age, with more realistic plots. I started making proverbial Amish Friendship Bread, and, slowly, she's started tentatively admitting some fears and insecurities and normal 7yo worries that were covered over before by the pretense of "I'm a big girl who doesn't NEED help." Conversation is slowly trickling back into a freer flow, because she's no longer afraid to be seen as small and needy and unskilled. Because she knows I *value* her, just where she is, as small and needy and unskilled. Where she is in her development is just fine, and I don't need or want her to be anything other than who she is in this moment. This is my humble gift to her. <3

Real development, it seems, takes TIME. Repetition, waiting, more repetition, love wrapped in goodly blanket of acceptance, tongue-biting, repetition, adjustment of parental expectation, humor, repetition and, sometimes, a very large glass of wine at the end of the day. Children naturally grow out of most annoying, awkward phases. The core child is still there, ordering their brain over and over as it learns new skills, moving from a predictable place of chaos to order to chaos cyclically as they do so...and asking, "Do you still see ME? Can you look beyond the confusing changes going on in my brain and still like me? Can you wait this out with me? Is this going to be OK?"

With my second daughter, answering that question became easier. "Yes, babe. This isn't always going to be so tricky for you, and I like you. Everything is OK." I'd seen this stage before, and watched it come and go, and, annoying as it may be, I can see that her brain is simply doing what a five year old's brain does, with all it's quirks and delightfully wild glory. With my third daughter, I just pick her up and tickle her and sigh over how quickly this little phase is passing, and blow raspberries on her belly for good measure. (Toddler bellies are delicious.)

My poor firstborn, though...she's getting the "Being a Mom for Dummies" version of each new year. She gets floundering like a guppy on land mom, take a giant centering breath before every sentence Mom, cry into your pillow every night and wonder if you're vaguely headed on the right trajectory Mom, and apologize every 10 minutes or so because you totaly blew it Mom. And, sometimes, sadly for her (and lucky for some therapist's wallet someday), she gets "Chop Chop Mom".

My understanding of (and faith in!)  human development is improving, however, as my own firstborn control freak tenancies loosen, and I'm increasingly able to close my eyes and take flying leaps of hope, trusting that if I'll just chill out and focus on enjoying our relationship in the moment, most things will, in the end, work themselves out. If I can give her anything, even if I lack skill/knowledge/wisdom/experience, I can give her time. That's a gift we all have to offer.