Monday, March 28, 2011

Small Breakthroughs (Babble)

If I had to name the most surprising part of parenting for me, it’s not the amount of work or being responsible for whole other people or the vastness of the love or the endless grind of the noise or any of that.  It’s how completely absorbing the problem of the moment can be and how quickly it can be forgotten.  Whatever the problem of the moment is can feel like everything.  But when it’s done, it’s so rapidly replaced by a new concern that it almost vanishes.  Events that felt traumatic get relegated to quaint nostalgia status.  You can smile at other parents currently going through whatever it was and share a story or two and maybe impart some unsolicited advice, and then forget about it.

If your baby is at the Tummy Time stage, you think about it and figure out what that means for your child and Tummy Time can be a big deal.  It’s hard to imagine life ever existed that didn’t include consideration of Tummy Time.  Until it ends.  And in the new blur of the baby now rolling over on her own there are new considerations.  And Tummy Time has no hold on you anymore and becomes something you hear about other people doing.  I remember feeling panicked when doing Tummy Time with Mona because she nearly always fell asleep as soon as you put her stomach side down.  One, that was not the point of Tummy Time, and two, SIDS SIDS SIDS AAGH!  She learned to roll over freakishly early (hell, she crawled at 6 months and was walking at 8 months, so she’s always kept us busy) and we used to find her face down in her crib all the time.  The whole Mona on her tummy topic had my own stomach in knots for many many weeks.  And then it was over.  And my stomach was in knots about something new.  (Who knows what, I forget.)

When I think hard I can list the things that were of deep concern from years past, but it takes a bit of effort.  Aden and Mona weren’t milk drinkers when they were toddlers, so we bought orange juice with calcium.  We haven’t bought orange juice with calcium in years, but stocking that used to be very important.  Mona used to suck her thumb and Ian and I had many discussions about it.  Sometime before she turned three that just stopped and we didn’t have to think about it anymore.  I was worried that Aden might be a stutterer for awhile because she would repeat the first word in a sentence so many times before the rest of her thought would spill forth that it seemed odd.  But that went away.  Potty training can seem to take over your whole world.  With Quinn we had a lead poisoning scare.  Choosing a school kept me up at night for months.  So much research, so many discussions with other parents, so much time online or talking with our doctor….  All of it rendered irrelevant the moment there is a small breakthrough that changes the direction you feel like you’re facing.

And those small breakthroughs are what I live for in some ways.

I think the best moments in parenting aren’t any grand gestures on Mother’s or Father’s Day, but those small breakthroughs when you get to witness your child making the transition from something of concern to something better.   It’s one of the most satisfying things in the world even though those moments are short lived.

Each of our children has had a small breakthrough recently, and I felt like jotting them down so I can appreciate them a little better before my focus gets trained on some other concern.  (Which will happen about ten seconds after I finish this post.)

Quinn is wearing socks.  It’s been a long wait for that one, but hey.  Socks.

Aden is finally doing better in reading.  That’s been a regular academic concern at school for a long time that she’s been a bit behind for her grade level.  Aden’s always had an excellent vocabulary, but she had an aversion to reading, so in the past few months I decided to try a couple of things.

The first was to pick up some books that I liked at her age and just leave them around where she might find them without my pushing them on her.  And that worked, because she started reading The Boxcar Children one afternoon and got hooked.  Along with that I told her that reading to herself allowed her to bend certain rules.  She can get out of certain responsibilities and even extend her bedtime if she is reading.  So reading now has a ‘getting away with something’ vibe that she finds appealing and that helps.

The second thing was making her read to me every night.  Most of the time I also read to her, but she can’t go to bed without reading something to me.  I should have been doing that with her much earlier, but honestly it would have been nearly impossible to figure out when to do that last year at this time when Ian was still deployed.  It’s hard finding time for it now, truthfully, but we do, and it’s helped.  We recently got Aden’s standardized test results back from her school, and the line on the chart showing her reading below the national level at the first testing then rockets up on a diagonal to above average now.  It almost perfectly matches the time line of when we started buckling down and making her read to us.  Parenting choices almost never yield rewards you get to see displayed for you neatly on a graph, so that was exciting.

Mona has suddenly been doing better on violin.  She started when she was four, and really only played because Aden was doing it.  Mona doesn’t like to be left out.  I figured it couldn’t hurt and their teacher is kind as well as talented, so why not?  Things got a little rough during the last deployment when I did essentially make Mona continue on violin when she didn’t seem to be enjoying it only because she had to go with all of us to Aden’s lesson anyway.  I did not foresee things going well if Mona had to watch her sister get little prizes and stickers each week at violin lessons and not have a chance to earn any herself.  But now that Ian is home we are able to schedule the girls’ lessons on separate days and Mona is much happier.  The two girls are working out of entirely different books so there is no way to gauge who is ahead of whom which cuts down on any sense of competition.  She’s doing it for her own reasons now that have nothing to do with her sister and that makes a huge difference.

Usually when I help her practice we do each little exercise one time every day and that’s enough.  But last week she wanted to do everything five times.  And not five times any old way, they had to be five really good times.  This week she is doing every exercise seven times.  She’s doing the equivalent of a week’s worth of her old practice every day now, and boy does it show.  It’s all really starting to click, and it’s wonderful to see (and hear).  I’ve decided I must be the antithesis of a Tiger Mom, because I find myself saying to Mona as practice time is stretching out longer and longer, “You don’t have to keep going!  You have done enough!” and Mona looks at me and says, “But I like it, and besides, I want to get better!”  Can’t argue with that.  Go Mona!

Soon enough it will fade from my consciousness that Quinn didn’t wear socks for the first four and a half years of his life, that Aden ever had trouble reading, or that Mona was scraping by on the minimum amount of violin required of her.  (If only I could believe the three of them might forget my own imperfections as quickly….)

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