Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Big Personality

{so, i wrote a lot of this post over a month ago, then let it sit, unfinished.  i just wasn't sure where i was going with it... then some things have happened since that i wanted to write about, so here you have it, a frankenstein mashed up post that hopefully makes some semblance of sense...}

Our Harper has a BIG personality.  (I know you could state that fact about most 2 year olds, and it would be true.  Yet, while I've only raised one 2 year old so far, I've seen some others, and I think her's is definitely 'bigger' than many).

She is extremely joyful.  She loves deeply, gets super excited about almost anything, and is so quick to give a hug or a "hi" and has never met a stranger.  She is LOUD!  Seriously, loudest kid on the playground.  When I pick her up from school and the kids are all out playing, many kids are crying or screaming but hers can be heard above all others.  Her whisper is hilariously loud; she practically has one volume.  She's crazy and will dance in the middle of a restaurant or babble nonstop to herself in the car.  She seems to have friends wherever she goes - at school or at church, adults who don't even work directly with her seem to constantly be saying hi to her by name in the hallway.  She oh so very loudly screams "byyyyyyyeeeeee" to anyone we meet - grocery store clerk, people walking past in a parking lot, anyone.  This used to bring a meltdown (every.time.) but now it's more so desperate, excited hollering.

Everyone knows Harper.  I think this is a good thing...

Yet by the same token, this BIG personality (that's the best way to describe it, I think...) brings big lows too.  Her terrible twos have been happening since she was about one and a half.  I hate to use that phrase, since it just brings so much negativity, but I just have to tell myself it's a normal, developmental phase and she will grow out of it... someday, or I might not make it through.  She is opinionated, like most toddlers, and will screech and throw a fit the moment she doesn't get her way.  She cries, oh so very loudly, about anything, saving her best performance for when we're in public.  She can get so sad too.  It's a rollercoaster.

Again, I know this is typical 2 behavior.  It's funny, my two sisters and I pretty much fit the stereotypical birth order personalities perfectly.  I'm the oldest, and very much introverted, shy, rule-follower, quiet time kind of person.  I don't think I'm quite prepared for my rambunctious firstborn who completely bucks all of the trends.  We laugh that we are going to be perfectly perfect parents to Quinn when she's older, since we will have learned so much with Harper.

I like to think we don't baby her or give in to her demands when they are unreasonable. I know as parents it's very important that we help her work through this phase and overcome it, as opposed to just saying "oh, that's just a two year old for you" and ignoring it all.  We've run the gamut of trying different 'discipline' approaches.  I won't get into that here - it's not really the point of this.

The point is, I don't want to wish this time away.  I don't want my personality, my tendency towards shyness, to ever lead me to stifle her.  I LOVE her big personality.  It's trying sometimes, but I love it for her.  I want her to be loud and fun and crazy and happy and never doubt for a second that she's anything but exactly who she's meant to be.  I want her to have all of the things in life that I was too shy or scared to reach for.  I want her to be bold in herself, overflowing with confidence.  I don't want to mess that up.

Right before Christmas, we went to Walmart (don't ask me why) and it was packed.  We were pushing two carts, since Quinn's carrier takes up almost the whole thing.  Harper was probably overwhelmed by all of the noise and stuff and Tony and I were overwhelmed ourselves.  She was done being strapped in and was making her case to get out, quite loudly of course.  This isn't unusual, but this time it was super loud and I was pretty much at my breaking point.  I was parked with the two carts in the middle of the aisle trying to stay out of the way while Tony grabbed something and Harper was screaming as loud as she could.  Quinn was probably crying, I don't remember, I might have blacked out a little bit.  But this very kind older woman went out of her way to walk over to us.  She had on a festive Christmas sweater.  She lightly touched Harper's crazy curls and smiled at me and said "I have a granddaughter who looks just like this, with beautiful curls.  And I'll tell you, she acts this very same way.  Don't let it get you down." (I'm paraphrasing, but that's what I remember).  It was just what I needed to hear in a moment like that.

So much over the past 6 months or so, Tony and I both, but especially me, have felt like parental failures.  I feel like I'm not doing enough, perhaps I should be doing those activities I see on Pinterest or making her more active or not feeding her gluten or etc.  Especially with the first child, it's so challenging to know what to do, what's right...  You can't really tell what's normal and what's not.  You can read all of the books and ask for all kinds of advice, but ultimately, each kid is their own unique little ball of crazy, and there's just not a right answer.  Sometimes I would wonder if we were just underestimating the fortitude it takes to raise a toddler and just weren't measuring up.

I try to trust my mom instincts, but more often than not, I'm doubting.  I'm notorious for falling into the parenting comparison trap.  I will see what other kids are doing and compare and I absolutely hate it.  For what it's worth, never once do I compare in a way like "oh my kid isn't doing that so she's not good and I wish she would keep up so she (and I) can look better" but instead more of a "oh my gosh I am failing as a mom because I'm clearly not doing something right or she would be able to do that by now."  Either type is damaging.  How am I going to encourage Harper to be confident and bold if I myself can't even show her my confidence in myself at this point in life as a mom?  How can I be a strong mama if I've got a constant loop of criticism and self-doubt playing through my head?

Interestingly enough, a few weeks ago, the wonderful director of Harper's school (a children's morning out deal) asked to speak to me after dropoff.  She let me know about some things they had noticed about Harper in class.  She was so very kind about it all, and just said that they like to point these things out to parents sometimes since they have the unique perspective of seeing her interact with peers in a controlled setting, something I never see.  In no way was her information judgmental or "you need to fix this" but was more so just letting me know some things so I could talk with her pediatrician about it.

Basically, Harper isn't keeping up developmentally in many areas in the way her classmates are, when she's actually one of the older kids in her class.  She is very distracted and can't stay focused on any task, has major mood swings from joy to rage, and is unable to express herself verbally or control her body physically (she does what we've always called "The Hulk" where she clenches her fists and shakes when she's really excited and she's pretty clumsy).  The director said they love her so much and just wanted me to know they can help in any way if needed.

Ugh.  I totally cried in the car on the way home.  None of this was news to me.  We had seen all of these things at home.  We knew it was a nightmare to go anywhere with her because she doesn't listen or throws fits or screams.  We knew she wasn't talking much (ok, she talks constantly, but not in a very complex way).  We knew she was a ball of crazy physical energy.  We just didn't know the biggest part - that no, this wasn't typical 2 year old behavior, at least not to the degree she does it.

But I was so sad.  Again, not because I have some lofty standards that I'm pushing her to keep up with, but because no parent wants their kid to have a hard time with anything.  I know she's only 2 and she doesn't know the difference at all now, but one day she will know, and I can't imagine the heartbreak in a classmate looking at her funny because she's different or something like that.  I don't want her to have to work harder than most to just sit still in class.  One day this kind of stuff will matter.  I just keep going back to my hope for her to have the confidence I never had, and I don't want anything to stand in the way.  I thought back to how I felt after the clubfoot diagnosis had set it.  I knew it was treatable and ultimately, she would be completely fine.  And she is!  But your heart still breaks for any challenge like that for your child.  I know that with whatever is going on with her right now, 5 years from now, she will be fine.  She's going to be a happy, thriving kid no matter what.  But still... that parental heartache that just can't be reasoned with...

And if I'm being honest, part of me was relieved.  I was glad to hear that we weren't just wimps or something in what we could "handle" from our kids.  Turns out, most kids aren't like this.  It's not just us not being strong enough to cope with it or something.  That sounds wrong, but I felt it. 

Sure enough, her pediatrician this week confirmed that she is indeed pretty behind in verbal development.  She thinks that perhaps this is a key to all of the other behavioral stuff.  Harper struggles to communicate her needs and wants, and since she's a toddler, her next logical step is a tantrum or disinterest or distraction.  It's funny, I think she understands so much.  We can tell her to do things or explain things and she gets it, so easily.  This is the kid whose favorite toys are BOOKS.  All books all the time.  All I do all day is read aloud to her.  She will sit for 30 minutes straight "reading" books by herself in her room. She knows the titles of all of them on her bookshelf.  So to me, I think of it as a scale that's totally out of balance.  She can understand and receive very much, but when it's her turn to get it out, she's unable, making her extremely frustrated.  I would be too.

The pediatrician didn't want to make any sort of judgement as to whether all of the things we are seeing are "something" or not.  She said it could just be a lack of maturity.  However, she did take the concerns seriously (which I was so grateful for) and recommended we see a speech therapist first, to help work on that component, and see a developmental pediatrician, who could determine if it was "something."  I'm still working on researching all that, but at least we have next steps.

Anyway, part of me wants to believe that it's just simply a maturity thing.  Some kids just take longer to develop.  Harper was always very much behind on all of the baby milestones, so who's to say it won't be the same here.  I thought she would never walk, but look at her now! I hope I will be saying that about all of this in the near future.

But, nonetheless, if it is something, I want to take it seriously.  The great part about it is that she's been going to school from such a young age, so they can make these observations now and correct anything that needs to be corrected now while she's young and it's easy and neither she nor her classmates know the difference.  I'm immensely grateful we have insurance and financial resources and time to be able to cover all of our bases.  Maybe it's nothing.  Maybe it's something.  Either way, we can rest assured we've looked into it and can proceed with confidence.

All of this has been heavy on my mind.  Again, my rational brain knows she will be ok.  Perhaps she will have to do xyz to be ok, but that's fine!  We will do it and she will be absolutely, totally fine.  I get that.  But I still have that crazy, irrational part of my brain that develops after a woman births a child.  You worry and doubt and feel like a failure.  You're unsure of what the right path is.  You question your choices and worry about the future.  I am trying very hard to push my mom guilt down and focus on what matters.  She will get any help she needs.  She is so full of joy and love and has the chance to do or be anything she wants to be.  My goal is to keep focusing on the extreme positives of her big personality - her love, her spirit, her confidence.  We will all be ok - more than ok.
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