One time, four long/short years ago, I had this baby boy. He was really chubby. And really happy. One day in the spring, I took him out in the freshly-revealed grass while his big sister was napping, and I plopped him down on it, and he was so very happy. I was very much in love with this chunky man. I truly remember this day like it was yesterday. He looked something like this.
Sometime after this picture was taken, sometime after his first birthday, I don't really remember exactly when...maybe when he was around 18 months old but I'm not really sure...some of his sunny baby personality faded away. A darker temperament began to emerge, very different from his big sister (and his little sister who would follow). I don't want to convey that there was anything wrong or bad about this, for it is who he is, but I will say that adapting to the way this kiddo rolls has not been particularly easy.
He is just more prone to being emotionally vulnerable, wounded, and, as a result, a little bit surly sometimes. In a childish way, of course. Crossed arms, pouty face, stomping away, angry words.
And then sometimes he's not like that at all. He's hilarious. He's a genius. He's quirky. He's athletic. He's snuggly. He's sweet. He's the best kid in the world.
But he hasn't been easy. And he never will be. He is temperamentally very much like his father. Hard on himself. Resistant to letting joy come, even when it should, because he's just wound too tight to let go most of the time. Intensity. And, ultimately, some fragility. When Big K was in grade school--I can't remember if it was 1st or 2nd grade--he couldn't find the word "grape" in a word find. He was so frustrated with himself that he began to bash his head against his desk in frustration. It didn't take long for him to end up in the school psychologist's office. Her strategy was to tell him to "stop trying," which was a great way to turn a kid with a 150+ I.Q. into a below-average student. But Bigs won't have that experience. We absolutely will not let him. We will always be a puffy cloud for him to land in, doing everything we can to make him feel safe and okay and at ease with himself. Needless to say, Big K didn't have a puffy cloud.
I am feeling so awesome about Bigs lately. Over the past few months, I have seen a maturity starting to develop in him that is such a welcome sight. Oh how we both needed it. He is developing the ability to handle his emotions. He has a lot of successes that used to be very, very rare. I see evidence of growing impulse control. The other day he was playing with Parkie and they were going to do something and I overheard him saying, "I'm going to go check with Mama first and see if that's okay." I nearly fell to the floor from shock. Those of you who have a wild little man-child I'm sure can appreciate what a huge victory this is. There is an ease developing in his personality, where most of the time he's really okay. Feeling okay with himself, okay in the world. And good behavior is stemming from that.
Temperament is temperament and I am sure he will always be less sunny than his sisters. And that is just fine. But I'm seeing him grow now, as he nears age 5, into someone who, while not bursting with glee at every moment, is just a dude doing his thing and being a charming, loving, little man in his own way. To be book-ended by these sisters who spend every minute bouncing, skipping, and bubbling over with excitement about everything from seeing a cat napping in the sun to having turkey dogs for lunch, well, it's probably a hard row to hoe. It is my job to not prefer the perpetual rockfist personalities of his sisters and to meet him on his terms, and embrace him always.
This hasn't been easy. I can't blog about it because I might die. But it hasn't been easy.
But I want to say that right now, I'm succeeding. I'm loving this little man right. It occurred to me this spring, when I took this picture while his little sister was napping and his big sister was at school, and this man was sitting in a tree, that I was falling in love with him again. Something in me has felt a sense of failure because I couldn't just snap my fingers and make him instantly happy, calm, and compliant. But it's fading. Because both this little dude and I are finally starting to figure out that everything is okay. Better than okay.
When you have more than one child, there is something about being alone with one of them, and really, really looking at them, just them, that has a unique ability to make you fall in love with each child all over again. Not for their place in the family. Or under the umbrella of love you obviously always have for all your children. But for who they are. Who they really are.