When I was pregnant with my first I felt her kicking before they said it was possible. At five months she made her presence known. She kicked so hard as I was working on the computer one day that she nearly hit a few keys. I was convinced she was a boy until the twenty week ultrasound proved otherwise. We gave her a strong, stately name, Elizabeth.When she was born she had such a powerful sucking reflex that she actually tore open my nipples during our first twenty minute nursing session. My husband had to take over and let her suck on his pinky, which she did for two hours!
The first two weeks of her life were excruciating for us. I remember feeling so down that it was sooo hard, even though I had ten years of infant care under my belt. She was a sensitive baby, yet when she nursed she had no regard for the person on the other side. Every time she latched I winced in pain, for four months. I saw five different lactation consultants and counselors, which barely helped. We were referred to an Ear, Nose Throat specialist who cut her tongue tie. This only helped her latch on even stronger. My husband started describing my nipples as being completely annihilated.
It was only because of my childcare skills that I was able to handle her. For the first five months of life she had to be bounced on an exercise ball every night during the bewitching hours from 6 – 10pm. She didn’t sleep through the night, ever. At twenty-three months we finally broke her of her 2am bottle. Also at two she started refusing to take naps. The only way I could get her to go to sleep was to drive her around in the car for 45 minutes. As a professional nanny it was part of my job to sleep train infants, and she was untrainable.
I read all five of the popular infant sleep books at the time, and tried each of their theories. She defied them all. Even the examples in the books of other babies who wouldn’t sleep all had logical explanations. No sleep routine, not enough exercise, too much sugar. Check, check, and check. She had all of the conditions conducive to sleep in place. Yet she thrashed around and woke up crying several times each night. Once when she was three she had a night terror so bad we had to drive her in the car to calm her down, at 2am. She is five now and gets up at least once still, usually because of a “bad dream.”
When her brother was born her whole world changed. She was deeply aware even at two-years-old that she was no longer the center of our lives. Her brother now took center stage. To make things even worse – he was easy. So easy. I remember nursing him sweetly to sleep and lying him in his crib. I would stare at his sleeping face in awe of how sweet and how easy he was. He learned to fall asleep on his own as an infant, napped easily right on schedule and rarely got overstimulated. A dream baby. Thus began her sibling rivalry.
Just like with the sleep issues we had major jealously issues and sibling issues. Again I read every good book on siblings and siblings getting along. Again my daughter defied them all. Just the other day she told me, again, she wished Nolan wasn’t in our family and that it was only her. “Why did daddy have to plant two seeds!!!” She says crap like this all the time. Also, she wishes we didn’t have a daycare and that I didn’t have to work.
Now onto the tantrums, crying spells and bouts of anger. She has had meltdowns and explosions so intense I have found myself actually laughing a few times. Weird right? It is just so shocking how amazingly intense she can feel things that I can’t help but laugh sometimes. She gets physical, slams doors, tells me she hates me, hates her brother. Sound normal? Sure, all kids can get like this at times. But for us it is all the time. We will have a few weeks here and there of a good spell, but it never lasts long. When she was two and three and four people rarely judged us. She was a toddler after all. But recently things have changed… because now she is five. Now she is required to do things like clean her room and get dressed and go to school. All of these things are a battle. Especially school.
This year’s Thanksgiving was kind of a sad day in our house. Depressing actually. Not because of the turkey – which was our best ever. Not because of the decor – which was awesome. And not even because of our out of town family, one of them my estranged brother who made it to his first holiday since our daughter was born. No, that all went down without a hitch. It went so smoothly actually I even got to take a two hour nap before our guests arrived and dinner began. That would have been impossible in previous years. Thanksgiving was a disaster because our five year old daughter was a disaster.
She started melting down about half way through dinner when she knocked over her water goblet and it fell to the floor and shattered. I know she was embarrassed because I could feel her embarrassment and I even get a tear in my eye when I think about it for some reason. Five-year-olds love to do what grown-ups do. In fact the biggest compliment you can give a five-year-old is to say “You did that just like a grown up.” So when she started crying and getting upset because she knocked over her glass like a baby, I felt her pain. For the rest of the ten people at the table there was less understanding and more “can we just move on from this now so I can finish my meal in peace?”
Sure everyone said things to her like “it’s ok, no big deal.” After all no one had any reason to think that this would turn out to be such a big deal to my daughter. Only it was. It’s like a downward spiral of darkness when she gets like this. I barely had time to finish cleaning up the glass pieces all over the floor before I found myself swooping her up and bringing her to her room. I can’t even remember what I said but I know I acknowledged her feelings of embarrassment, because that’s how I roll. We went back to the table and she wanted to sit in my lap. The meltdowns continued throughout the night until people started to get over it. By desert she was fighting with her brother so bad I had to lock her in the bathroom with me until she calmed down. No, I don’t spank and i don’t do time-outs.
By the end of the night I was washing my third dish when I heard her hysterically crying in the other room. No one had any capacity or desire to deal with her. After all when a toddler has a meltdown it’s cute. A five year old, not so much. I tried bringing her outside but when we came back in she announced to everyone, “THIS THANKSGIVING IS THE WORST DAY OF MY WHOLE LIFE!!!” The next day I got an enlightening rundown from my mom just exactly what the in-laws, and herself, think of our situation. Our daughter needs more discipline and punishment, they said. In other words, we are pushover parents. I believe that one of my strongest qualities is being able to hear and take criticism well. But in this situation my husband and I felt totally unsupported by our families. I am not angry at their criticism of our parenting style, but rather that no one felt for the pain our daughter was in, or tried to understand it.
Now let me just take a minute to explain the days leading up to the downward spiral of darkness. First, grandpa had been sleeping on the floor in my daughters room for the past week, sawing logs at night. My daughter is an extremely light sleeper and I know her sleep was affected simply by the presence of another person in her room. Second, we came home the day before Thanksgiving from a two day Disneyland trip. Need I say more? Third, since we were traveling our diet consisted entirely of white sugar and white four. It has been proven that children need amble amounts of nourishing foods to sustain their rapidly growing frontal lobes. If they eat too many sugars they revert to their reptilian brains and become super cranky animals.
I offer the above explanation as simply a back story to our week, not as an excuse for our daughter’s behavior. There has been a clear line in the sand drawn between who I can trust in our family to honor our struggles and be supportive to us in our huge endeavor of raising two children – one very difficult and one pretty easy. My sadness about this day comes not from the separation that has inevitably occurred between me and my family. Rather, it comes from my own personal realization that our daughter is a force to be dealt with. At five she has a strong voice and her opinions and meltdowns can no longer be contributed to terrible twos, or awful threes or wild fours…
I used to think that sleep, diet and over-stimulation were the key factors that contributed to our daughters meltdowns. I relied on those factors heavily actually. Now I am seeing that while they do play a big part, they are not the entire reason. Some kids are just difficult, strong willed, stubborn and unmanageable. They are natural born leaders and when not given choices or when things are not going their way you are sure to hear about it. They defy classic parenting books and theories because they are here for our future, and our future had some pretty big problems to solve. They are bright, creative and extremely talented. If someone tells them to paint the pumpkin orange, they will certainly make it a rainbow colored pumpkin. They defy authority. Some day a book will be written explaining how to deal with them but for now no such book exists. (Except if I write it, some day.)
Thank god our daughter has us, and we love her more than anything. Only time will tell what she will become one day, and it certainly will be something exciting.
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