Pacing Is Everything: The Parenting Version

Alphabet Soup & Wordsearch

Alphabet Soup & Wordsearch (Photo credit: dmelchordiaz)

I never understood what people meant when they talked about the “terrible twos.” My first child, Peter, has never had that kind of behavior problem. My second one? Well, Ian is a different story. When people ask if he’s a terrible two, I’ll usually come back with, “He has been since birth.”

Peter and Ian couldn’t be any more different. From the womb until the present, Ian has made sure everyone knows he’s his own person.

Still, I couldn’t help but compare my kids. And to aid me, I keep “baby’s first” books, where I record when they cut their teeth and ate solid food and took their first steps. Both of my boys walked and said their first words about the same time, so I made the bad assumption that their development would be pretty similar.

With such opposing personalities, I should have known better. For instance, Ian is a screamer. Granted, he had a rough start with colic and reflux – but so did Peter. Yet Peter got over his colic and was a happy baby. For Ian, however, the screams never stopped. He screams in his sleep, screams when he’s happy, screams when he’s upset, screams when he meets someone new. After witnessing one of these episodes, a woman told me, “That’s because he doesn’t know how to communicate yet. When he learns how to talk, he’ll stop.”

What I wanted to tell her was that I had a whole list of words that he’d said, but as soon as Ian learned a new one, he seemed to forget it. I made an effort to teach him baby sign language (after all, it worked with Peter), but Ian only ever picked up two or three signs. For the longest time, I would talk to him and get a blank look – or he would avoid looking at me altogether.

When Ian was about eighteen months old, we pulled out an old video of eighteen-month-old Peter. The difference was striking. Peter talked in complete sentences, told us his eyes were blue, and re-enacted scenes from his favorite book. We weren’t sure Ian even knew he had eyes, much less their color, and forget trying to read him a book. Thomas and I felt we had failed him at some point.

We knew we had to make an effort. We struggled to hold Ian in one spot to read a book. I took him for walks and pointed out lizards and flowers and told him the colors of things. For the longest time, it didn’t seem like he understood that a yellow house was, in fact, a house that was yellow. He said it like a compound word: “yellow-house.” He was months and months behind Peter.

But slowly, so slowly, he started using more words. Communications improved: I could say, “It’s time to clean up,” and he would clean up. There was one-way understanding, at least, even if he sounded like the Muppets’ Swedish Chef when he talked.

After Peter was diagnosed with several learning disabilities, we expected the same for Ian. In fact, when I researched the cues for reading disabilities (slow speech, late speech, trouble speaking complete and complex sentences), Ian fit them all. If our well-adjusted child had dyslexia and a practically non-existent working memory, what other surprises were in store with the kid who had behavior and communication problems? Instead of trying to force concepts into Ian’s brain (like we did with Peter), we hoped he would absorb things via osmosis, and we crossed our fingers that something would take.

Something did. A couple months ago, Ian started to recognize shapes. And colors, too. Not all of them but enough to show me that he understood that “yellow” and “house” were two separate things. And he started counting things – usually without skipping numbers. Thomas and I admitted that he was actually ahead of Peter on that score. He was learning, just at his own pace.

Then last week, the biggie:

We have letter and number magnets on our fridge. I have to keep them out of Ian’s reach, otherwise they’ll be all over the house. In fact, I’m not sure why I never got rid of them, but now I’m glad I didn’t. Out of the blue, he pointed up and said, “Bumblebee.” I looked all over the fridge for a bumblebee but only saw the magnet letter B. I pulled it down, and that’s exactly what he wanted.

Later that week, Thomas was wearing a shirt that said “FLORIDA,” and Ian started pointing at the letters and naming them. He got them all right. Shocked, we began writing uppercase letters at random. He knew them all, including Q and Z. Well, X did trip him up a little. He called it K. But as soon as I told him the difference, he got it. Peter, who is four years older, still gets M and W and B and D mixed up. I don’t think it will be long before Ian will be able to read the easy reading books that still challenge his dyslexic big brother.

After so much frustration, we’re watching our child blossom. I don’t know what triggered this change, only that I am grateful for it – that this is the turning point I have prayed for since we came home from the hospital with an inconsolable baby.

Not only does Ian know his letters, but he’s talking more than ever. He cracks us up with “Oh my goodnets” and “heeky-boos” (peek-a-boo). He often offers a spontaneous “thank you” when someone gives him something. He’s even able to entertain himself independently, something that he could only do sporadically a couple weeks ago.

I’m sorry I let mothering Ian be a chore for so long. A lot of it was that we were just out of sync. The greater part, however, was that I wasn’t one hundred percent okay with his pace.

I am well aware that there is plenty of room for all of us to grow. He still screams. And he still has to be potty-trained. But I know he’s not Peter, and I’m done wishing that he would be more like his big brother. I am fully aware of how unfair that is to him – and the frustrations it will cause if I expect him to meet someone else’s milestones. I am ready to parent him along the unexplored and exciting Ian Way.

Pacing Is Everything

Unscheduled meeting

Unscheduled meeting (Photo credit: Roger Smith)

Have you ever read a book that has such a slow pace that it puts you to sleep? You feel like you should get a medal for reading one page. Maybe you save it for nights when you have insomnia. I can certainly appreciate a slow pace if it makes a scene feel just as excruciatingly slow to the reader as the characters involved, but it’s hard to read an entire book like that.

On the other hand, have you ever read a book where you feel like you’re panting with exertion after a few pages? Just like the slow pace, there are places where this is appropriate, but it’s hard to sustain for the duration of a novel. And I have to admit, I often keep myself so busy that I feel like I’m living a fast-paced novel kind of life. There’s a reason my workout program and even the Bible prescribe a day of  rest. You can certainly go too far with this concept, but the original idea is a good one. It helps us recharge and keep from burning out – or running head-long into a brick wall.

Can you tell what I’m working up to? This week, I started getting a cold, something that happens to me when I’m entering burn out-mode. It was my cue that if I didn’t slow down from my break-neck pace, I would crash soon.

I go through cycles of taking on so much that I drive myself and others around me crazy. Then I regroup and work at a slower pace for a while before ramping up again. One time years ago, I had so many things on my plate that I worked my body into stress-induced acid reflux disease. I took a pill for a while, but I didn’t want to live like that. Something had to go.

Usually, I find a rhythm, a happy place. But adding first one and then a second child complicated things. I don’t work full-time outside the home any more, but that doesn’t make me any less busy. In fact, I think that many stay-at-home parents would agree that we tend to get dumped on because full-time workers assume that we have all this unused time on our hands. I wish that were true.

I have gotten better, though. Several times recently, I’ve said “no” when I might have given a “yes” without a second thought – like turning down several volunteer opportunities. It’s a hard thing to do when people who know I’m dependable ask me to do something. The last one I turned down – and it was a biggie – was met with: “I had to give you the chance to say no. But I think you’re making the right decision.” This person knows how busy I am and gave me a gift – the honor of offering a position with lots of responsibility, yet understanding from a fellow parent who also had two young kids once upon a time.

It’s really hard to say no to work, though. My husband and I both have this problem. We’re penny-pinchers, and if we turn down paying work, we feel guilty. That could be an extra car payment, money for a future vacation, or savings for our emergency fund.

I recently received a query regarding proofreading. I can proofread in my sleep; it’s my favorite kind of work. It was a good-size project, too. The only problem was that I was getting ready to launch a client’s website (see last week’s post) and knew that I needed to devote all my work time to that project. I didn’t turn down the potential client, but I was honest about how long it would take me to complete the job – a week longer than usual. My turnaround wasn’t quick enough, and the client took the work elsewhere.

I missed out on a nice paycheck, but if I’d taken on that project, I would have missed out on more time with my family. My elder son is already used to me taking a couple good chunks of time out for work every day, and I didn’t want to sacrifice any more of my time with him just to get ahead on the budget. If our electricity were at stake, sure, I would have. But it wasn’t. I stuck to my work-at-home covenant as best I could.

But it also sometimes means a sacrifice on my kids’ part. This is where I feel most guilty. Vacation Bible school was coming up, and this is one volunteer job for which I will always rearrange my schedule. It was a full week right on top of two big projects, a weekend full of birthday parties, a grand opening for a bookstore where my children’s book Hero is being sold, and all the usual mom stuff. Then Peter got an invitation for a play date.

“Just email me,” the mom said. I’m glad she gave me that option instead of asking for an answer on the spot. I knew Peter would have fun, but the timing was all wrong. It was a swimming play date, and I would have my toddler with me (always a challenge). It turned out that it was also my ten-year wedding anniversary. Whoops. I sent a quick email turning down the offer, and I’m glad I did. It was a busy day, and even though I know we could have squeezed the play date in, I saved myself a lot of stress. And when Mama’s not stressed, everyone’s a lot happier.

So how do you know when enough is enough? How can you achieve that perfect pace?

Well, if you’re writing, start by avoiding passive voice and past perfect tense.

Unfortunately, real life is not quite as easy. But I will say this: if you say yes because you’re worried that someone will think you’re lazy or a bad parent or will judge you in any way, you’re likely saying yes for the wrong reason.

And if it’s going to cause unwanted stress (like signing your kid up for yet another sport because all his friends are doing it – or taking a job that will make you hell to live with for a week or two), you need to give it some serious thought first.

Now does this mean that my summer is going to be full of relaxation and stress-free days? Not hardly. I’m still plenty busy. And quite honestly, I like it that way. But I’m going to make sure I enjoy my kids and live at a pace that the whole family can manage. I’m picking up two new projects to replace the ones I’ve just wrapped up, but the people I’m working with know that we’re making long-term plans with no firm deadlines. There’s even the chance we’ll still like each other when all is said and done. winky emoticon