"We make ourselves."
from the novel Hold Still by Lynn Steger Strong
Lately I've been trying to get my six-year-old to take a shower. It'd obviously be much faster, and would thus speed up the bedtime process and give me a break. Also, I know some other kids her age who are taking showers. Plus, I thought it would be a good opportunity for her to have some independence.
Well, she doesn't want to. First she protests, then, if I keep insisting, she starts to shriek, and I give up. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Violet is all about play. So Violet wants a decent chunk of time to play in the tub while I wash her. I was a little annoyed, but I get it. And I remind myself not to rush it, that one day I will miss the kind of dependency that she has on me now.
She's resisted other things, too, as of late: She loves to sing, but she doesn't want to take singing lessons. Ditto for ice-skating and dance. And she asked to take Tae Kwon Do, but after just a few lessons, she stopped listening to the instructor, would run around the room and play with equipment, and then begged to quit. My husband and I debated whether or not we should make her see it through, but in the end decided against it since she wasn't going to participate and because she's young enough where, we feel, she should be able to explore different interests (or, in this case not).
She's also not really reading yet. She can read some things and some very simple books. Her writing is a mix of correctly spelled sight words and then phonetically spelled words. She loves books and writing and is very motivated to do it (and beyond proud when she does), but it just hasn't all clicked yet.
Intellectually I know the dangers of overscheduling kids with extracurricular activities. I know how important play and outdoors time is to kids my daughter's age. I know that if a child is asking or needing physical caretaking, you shouldn't deny that. And I know that it is imperative that I work hard to ensure I am not projecting any anxiety onto her.
But I still have my moments of weakness. I worry that she might never find the one activity--be it dancing or playing a musical instrument or a sport--that she falls in love with. And I worry that if she doesn't have that, she'll regret it when she's older and she'll be at risk for getting into trouble as a teenager. I briefly worry that by continuing to wash her and brush her hair and teeth (and, until not that long ago, get her dressed), she's going to lack self-confidence. (I mostly worry about this when I hear that other kids her age are more independent, and I'm not positive what is age-appropriate.)
So I occasionally give into my anxiety and contact her teacher to make sure she is on track with reading (she is, and, according to her teacher, even a little ahead). I show her the websites of different classes around town to see if she's interested in just sitting in and observing, and then making a decision after that. Sometimes I grab a few early-reader books on our way out of our biweekly library trip, but then when she doesn't want to read them (preferring instead to lie back on her pillows and be read to), I just throw them into the passenger seat of my car, ready for return.
The other day I was twenty cars deep into the car line at her school, and I was thinking about how, as she's gotten older, our relationship has become more nuanced and complicated. As a baby, it was so one-sided. Aside from the brief period of time when I worried that she wouldn't reach her milestones because she was dealing with a medical issue (which I wrote about here), her needs and desires were so basic, so like every other baby. And everything she did was so exciting for me, like when she first smiled or rolled over or crawled, or grew a tooth. It would have been more difficult if she had been colicky or hadn't been a good sleeper or if I'd had no support, but since none of those were factors, everything just felt so easy. I was never angry with her.
It's only as she's gotten older that all of this expectation has begun to set in for me. And how she responds to those expectations can make me feel disappointed or annoyed. I believe there is no such thing as a bad kid. So I always have to ask myself where those feelings of anger and disappointment are coming from. What is her rejection of my expectation triggering in me? I don't mean to suggest that there aren't any healthy expectations, like being a good person and performing to the best of your ability academically, but for me, by and large, the expectations that I have of her are something that I need to let go of. They have more to do with me than they do with her. And I can see how this will continue to be a challenge for me as she gets older, and that our relationship will struggle at times because of those expectations, not just of her, but those that she will have of me as well.
Someone once told me that the most important relationships you have will be with those people who hold a mirror up to you and force you to deal with all of your pain and fears and dare yourself to offer up all of the love that you have. That's one of Violet's greatest gifts to me. My hope is that if I continue to be introspective, to continue to see her for who she is and not who I want her to be, to embrace our struggles, for they will bring us growth, and that by offering her the purest form of love that I can, she will be the force that drives that Violet flower.