Wednesday, September 4, 2013

He's a Watcher

I'm a plunger and my kid is a watcher. For better or worse, I'm good at making big decisions. I forge forward, sometimes too fast for my own good. I don't like taking no for an answer, and when I get knocked down, I have a tendency to hop back onto the horse. This last trait—which distills to basic stubbornness—I share with my son. The others, not so much.

I work against the urge to rush him every day, often with a forced smile and gritted teeth.

I was never the last one in, the rotten egg. My kid is, almost always.

All children teach their parents patience. Mine is just extra cautious, and oblivious to my innate need to be on time, to respect schedules. I think it's the Finnish genes; we are a punctual people. I'm hard wired to hurry, so it's not the easiest thing for me to have a pontificating kid.

I'm even like this on vacation. I may love to relax on the beach for hours on end, but I also want to be the first person on the beach, to extract every possible minute of luxurious vacation, even if it means rocketing into motion at an inhuman hour.

True confession: it took me a year to realize that when I was with the infant Grape, what I was "accomplishing" was child care. I started each week with these (mostly secret but highly ambitious) to do lists and ripped my hair out when items lingered day after day.

Four years on, I've learned to adjust my expectations, to slow down, to think of little children like the very elderly: they can only handle so many activities during a day before hitting a wall, and often "so many" equals one.

The Grape, since infancy, has been a careful kid. "He's a watcher," a seasoned music teacher informed me at our first class, as the other babies scrambled for the simple percussion instruments while the Grape sat and stared from the comfort of my lap.

So while other parents jubilantly send their kids back to school, I brace for a rough emotional September.

The Grape likes to think things through before forging ahead. He walked late, at almost sixteen months, but when he finally took those first steps he was off at a trot. None of the stumbling and falling business for the Grape.

My kid doesn't want to do anything until he's decided he can. It was the same way with the toilet. He refused until he was totally ready, and then trained cold turkey in one weekend at the age of two months shy of four. Upsides: Single digit accidents, no disgusting plastic potty, no reward chart, no should-we-put-him-in-pull-ups-today-because-we're-leaving-the-house-for-over-an-hour parental wavering. In retrospect, I highly recommend waiting.

His timid tendencies are maddening when we go to some activity with a limited time frame. As he's warming up to skiing, or swimming, or singing, or whatever, everyone else is winding down. Two years running, he's let a friend blow out his birthday candles because he can't summon the nerve.

(I can see how caution might serve him well, especially if his wariness of new experiences and/or surroundings persists into the teen years. Nothing scares me as a parent more than kids and cars. I think if I had one of those damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead kids, I'd need a sedative to get through the first years of driving. Heck, I might need one anyway. Or maybe we'll move to some huge city where nobody keeps a car and sidestep the issue. But I digress.)

Today the Grape and I went to check out the four-year-old room at his preschool. He knows the other kids. He's met the teachers in passing. He twitched with excitement on the way to the school, marched himself right up to the door, and froze.

He spent a full six minutes skulking in the hallway, mustering the courage to step into a room full of children and parents he already knows.

At this point, I know better than to try to cheer him onward. The Grape meets any attempts at parental encouragement with silent disdain, or worse, with the astonishing directive he favors of late: "Don't worry about me." Yes, I cringe whenever he pulls that out in public.

Of course, once he plunged forward, he had a ball. I had to drag him out of there when the open house ended.

This doesn't mean tomorrow, the first official day, will go smoothly. The Grape, I can assure you, will not have a first day of school photo in which he waves, happy and carefree, at the camera.

He's more likely to channel Woody Allen: stare at his shoes, shuffle forward reluctantly, offer up a litany of silly and neurotic reasons why going to school on that prescribed day isn't the world's greatest idea. And that's the best case scenario.

For now, all we need to do is get through the first day of preschool re-entry on Thursday. He's already worried. He wants to know he won't need to stay for rest time on the first day. (He won't. The preschool does short days for the first week.)

Maybe I should be tougher, but I can't help thinking, he's still so little. If he wants to ease into the pool instead of diving without checking for water first, I guess I can let him have that.

Even if it means he's the last one in.


  1. Ironic as just this morning I was considering my post from yesterday and wondered how many mothers felt that what they did amounted to 'child care' and not in any 'lesser than' or derogatory way.

    I sort of feel like a 'homemaker' in many senses of the word. My job, right now, is to keep our home and family humming along and there is a 'to do' list embedded in that.

    There is no doubt that for the huddled masses, parenting is HARD in the truest sense of the word.

    1. Exactly. While it's not intellectually demanding it's exhausting. I challenge anyone who thinks it's easy to spend at least ten consecutive hours alone with a baby/tot.

      I've pretty much given up on working during school breaks. Someday maybe my books and writing in general will pay enough to compensate part time child care, but for now my work week is the preschool school week.