We have a two year old who recently began using the toilet on her own. As I celebrated little victories – Miss Alyss told me she had to use the potty BEFORE she was wet – I realized that it would probably be a year or so after the last potty accident before it would dawn on me that I could say, “Miss Alyss is potty trained! YAY!”
Watching her make progress and regress, make progress and regress reminded me that unlike mile markers on a highway, the milestones of child development are usually only seen in the rear view mirror. In everyday life, it can be difficult to remember that development with children is not a simple march forward. It is more of a wandering.
This progress is never smooth or uniform. It is messy and organic. Growth is often accompanied by stress, frustration and mischief. A developmental milestone in the physical arena seems paired with emotional regression. Similarly, a verbal development will trigger a regression in Potty training. Since the birth of my first child, this phenomenon has been a struggle for me. I tend to feel a sense of intense frustration and failure. “Have I not been consistent enough? Why are we having to fight the same battle again?!”
In the superhero movies, there is always the scene where the protagonist realizes his/her new-found powers, comes to terms with them and starts to explore the world in light these new abilities. In doing so the character challenges previous boundaries and norms. (Que musical montage.)
It helps me to visualize young child development as analogous to the superhero scenario. The change from laying on the back to sitting, sitting to crawling, crawling to walking must feel similar. The whole world as the child has known it has changed. It is then not surprising that they would challenge previously defined boundaries. Also, there is a certain amount of insecurity accompanying these new found abilities. Clinging and irritability at these “touchpoints”(1) is understandable for me when the child’s perspective is remembered.
It is reasonable to expect a similar scenario in the older child. The development may have become primarily emotional and psychological rather than physical, but this development is still a leap in understanding that changes their world.
Despite my intellectual understanding of this, touchpoints with my older children are still a struggle for me.
This has been the summer of touchpoints for me with all my kids but primarily with Daniel. He had a wonderful year at school and made huge strides. He is progressing in Tae Kwon Do. He has made a friend in our neighborhood that he plays with on a regular basis. They regularly have sleep overs. The other child has some developmental issues of his own. They seem to fit well with each other. Their unique idiosyncrasies matched to create harmonious play that Daniel has not found before.
There have been other changes as well. Daniel’s father is now stationed in the states for the first time in 4 and a half years. This year he remarried and is now living in Texas. Despite his relative geographic closeness, a planned summer visit fell through.
Daniel is also showing the first hints of puberty. He has to use deodorant now on a daily basis. I am having to accept that his physical body will march on regardless of his emotional and social development. I get a tight feeling sometimes when I think about the next stage.
For me, there has been transition and change too. This summer my husband lost his job. We have the added strain of financial leanness and uncertainty about the future as he looks for work in several locations both local and around the country. I have taken on full time child care for a friend’s baby to earn some extra money. All of this added to the daily chaos of a large family makes a rather full and busy summer.
As a result of all the changes both inside and out, Daniel has been ignoring or challenging “Rules” that we have made to help us through our days. Also, confrontations have been much more frequent and have escalated much higher and faster this summer than I have experienced in a long time. My own struggles with transition have not helped. In the trenches of everyday interaction, I have had to look carefully to find those magical moments that keep a parent going. I have often missed them and lost my bearings completely in the exhaustion. My responses are often less than stellar and I watch myself snapping back instead of calmly and consistently maintaining the boundaries. Frustration overwhelms me. I begin to feel desperate.
More than once, I have broken and found myself sitting on the floor of my bathroom (the only place for minimal privacy), crying. My life lines in all of this have been my husband and my mother. Friday and Saturday nights spent sitting on the porch with a drink and my husband has given us time to talk. In spite of all the other pressures of this summer, my husband always listens. He calmly reminds me to remember the big picture. He reminds me of when I first moved to Florida and couldn’t get through a shopping trip or movie without a meltdown from Daniel. He reminds me of when homework was a 4 hour battle. My mom is my cheerleader. She is constantly brainstorming and giving me new ideas. She often reminds me to, “be kind to my daughter, Rachel, today.”
School starts tomorrow. Another transition. I am cautiously optimistic. Friday, we met Daniel’s teacher. She has been teaching a self contained ESE (exceptional student education) class for the last 5 years. This is her first year with a mainstream class. A favorite reading teacher that Daniel had great success with in 2nd grade is returning after being gone for 2 years. Most of all, we will all get a little space from each other, which I think could be a good thing. This summer has been three steps forward… two steps back. After the second step backwards, it might feel hopeless but there is still a net gain of 1 step.
(1) Brazelton, MD., T. Berry. Touchpoints, Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development. Readings, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993