Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Getting to Know Him

Every Wednesday, my middle child and I venture out to the library for a program called Toddler Tales. We leave the littlest one home, sleeping, while my husband gets some work done. This is just time for us. Time to get out of the house. Time he desperately needs.

When I signed up just 5 weeks ago, it was with great trepidation. Could he handle this? How much sitting still was involved? I knew that if it was more than 3 seconds, we were likely in trouble. The librarian kindly assured me that he wouldn't be the first toddler who couldn't sit still and that if we needed to leave and come back some days, that was ok. Still, though, I bravely signed up assuming that we might be THAT family. Every week, leaving the room, kicking and screaming.

Only my stubbornness enabled me to fill out that form. I will NOT be trapped here all winter. We will DO things.

The thing is...neither will he. He needs to get the heck out of here more than I do.

For four weeks we have been faithfully going. Have we had to leave a time or two? Sure. Has he loved every minute of it? No. But he's loved a lot of it. Loudly and happily.

And today, as we were leaving the program, that sweet librarian came up to us and said "Nate, I LOVE your enthusiasm!"

And she was serious. She wasn't looking for a more generous name to equate with energetic and intense. She wasn't, like so many people, trying to tell me that I have my hands full or giving me that look that says "good luck with that, lady, " or, worse, judging me because my 23 month-old never stops moving and it must be some flaw in my own parenting playbook.

She genuinely saw my sweet boy for what he is - enthusiastic! And after she said that to him, he clapped his hands, gave her his million-dollar grin, walked over to her and gave her a big hug.

Because if there is one thing this kid slows down for, it's a deep, long hug.

You see, she already knows what I'm still learning. He is kind and sweet and the traits that make him an incredibly challenging toddler, his energy, intensity and persistence, are also the traits make him fun and strong and will, someday, make him into a good leader, hard worker and wonderful friend, in my humble opinion.

Friends, it has been a long year around here. We have been dealing with something resembling the "terrible twos" since he was 11 months old and he is only one month short of 2 now. The thing that makes it so hard has been our inability to know what makes him tick. He is SO different from us, his parents, so different from his older brother. What sets him off makes no sense to me. And the more I try to parent him out of how I understand life and logic, the more we have our catastrophic days.

But the more I am seeing him for who he is - trying to understand what it feels like to be an off-the-charts extrovert, recognizing that when he's restless and tired that he actually WANTS and NEEDS to be around other kids rather than retreating for time to himself, parenting in a way that tells him I hear him, I'm listening and want to understand his persistence, teaching him words to name his emotions (and, yes, I realize the great irony of trying to teach my child the words when just a few years ago I still needed a chart with little faces and emotions written under them to name my own feelings). Seeing him for who he is and meeting him there.

Well, it's making all the difference around here.

Did I learn this on my own? Heck no. I learned it from a book.

And I'll be honest - besides sleep books, I usually hate parenting books. I read them and I come away feeling burdened and shamed and guilty. Or angry, depending on what was written.

I have only been reading "Parenting Your Spirited Child" for a few weeks really consistently now, but it has already changed our household. I come away not ashamed or helpless, but hopeful, armed with new strategies and gratefulness for who God made this little boy to be.

Does the book say that the most challenging kind of toddler to parent is an intense and persistent one? Yep.

Does he have both those traits off the chart? Yep.

But that honestly makes me feel better- it's NORMAL that this should be such a challenge. What can I learn from it? How can I love him better? Knowing this isn't some failing on my part or some character flaw on his has set us both free to be ourselves.

So, yes, at the library today, I was thrilled. Did most of the other kids sit happily in their parents' laps, listening to stories, singing the songs? Sure. Did mine stand up in front of me, clapping his hands, dancing and then offering up hugs to whoever was around him? Definitely. 6 weeks ago I might have felt frustrated and embarrassed that he couldn't behave like the others.

But today? Today, I saw him for who he is. Enthusiastic, fun-loving, sweet and kind.

And the fact that the librarian did, too, went a long way.

Wouldn't it be amazing if, as adults, we could see a child in public who might be having a rough time, who might be a little more energetic than the kids around him or speak with a little more volume to his voice and try to see the God-given beauty in his personality, rather than jumping to judgmental conclusions about his behavior or the parenting involved?

I am hoping that as he continues to grow, as we continue to venture out and try new things, fewer people will tell me I have my hands full and more will see what we are seeing in him.

His great love of life and the people in it.

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