Scarlett is already easier than Matthew or Mary ever have been. If Mary didn’t exist as evidence to the contrary, I’m sure I’d be one of those women who swears by the light of the moon that girls are just by nature, easier than boys.
Scarlett has her moments, but one thing about her that never fails to amuse us is the way that she will just agree to do things because, I don’t know… we told her to?
It’s new, this power that we have. We’re three kids in and this is the first we’ve ever known of a child hopping-to something we actually want them hopping to, when we want them hopping to it. She finds her way into trouble, sure.. coloring on walls, dumping cereal onto the carpet just to play in the mess, believe me – I could keep going.. And if she’s in even the slightest of moods, she’ll utterly refuse to eat anything but a vitamin. But the child doesn’t say no to us. In fact, when we are in a position to redirect her, she’s quick as a bunny to say, “Okay” and get to work helping with the clean-up or to dole out any requisite apology.
Matthew will tell us no all the live-long day. He’ll say it to anybody, too, which has become a concern for us going into kindergarten. He learned it from Mary and Mary probably picked it up from her dad. I wasn’t always the no-sayer I’ve become, but caring for a houseful of people who live by the word like a mantra will do that to you. I try to counter everybody’s impulses by using other words myself – or just being open to things – but needless to say, the baby hears me say it.
Still, she has, by some miracle of God, managed to evade both nature and nurture for at least the first few years of life in regard to that tireless word. And she’s two, so that’s impressive. She’s at an age where saying no is to be more frequently expected than power outages in a hurricane. I don’t know if it’ll last forever, but I do know that even while it lasts, I have a responsibility to her. To not take advantage of the fact that she’s the easy one. To not slight her of attention or praise because there are so many opportunities to give it. To make sure she’s not always playing it safe, the way easy ones often do, because it’s so easy to let them.
I don’t like fitting my kids into a mold, making predictions about how they’ll turn out based on the glimpses I have now. I don’t want to cage them into a box of anybody’s expectations, especially my own. They’ll surprise me if I give them the space to, and I look forward to telling them how proud it makes me when they do. Above so many other priorities, I want each them to be their own person.
That’s what makes disciplining the older two so difficult for me sometimes. They’re so naturally sure of themselves, so full of opinions and ideas that don’t scare them. I want to teach them how to channel those things so that they aren’t a burden to other people, but a gift. I want to teach them self-control and respect without always saying some form of sit down, shut up; don’t speak unless spoken to.
Mary, for example, can be such a pain with the way she is always diving into fixing or making stuff on her own. Stuff that usually isn’t even broken. Spencer and I were talking about it the other day when she wasn’t around. She’ll break something trying to fix it, until it’s either improved upon (in her opinion, mind you, not yours) or irreparably destroyed, and then leave it in a drawer somewhere to be forgotten about before she’ll ever ask for help, much less if it’s okay for her to touch.
She was the kid who had to press every button in the elevator when she was six, turn every knob on somebody else’s new gadget, pull on every cord at the hardware store until something fell down. It used to drive me nuts. It still does drive me nuts! But these are the qualities that have made her enthusiastic in science and good with solving problems and impressive at getting things done faster than anyone else. She figures things out because she isn’t afraid to break them. She isn’t afraid to try a new idea. She’s brave. She’s always looking for a better way to get something done – even if it means that a lot of times she’s wrong, and there’s a terrible mess to clean up because of it.
I know that Matthew will be the same way. He’s already so much like Mary: cocky, stubborn, impulsive. But wildly creative, not easily intimidated, smart.
Mary’s curiosity has gotten her into a lot of trouble over the years. But I can’t tell you how many times she’s actually been the one to fix or figure things out that we thought long ago were hopeless causes. As Spencer and I were having this conversation he said that just the day before, she taught him how to turn the airbag off in his truck so she could ride up front. He always assumed the guy who sold him the truck just forgot to include the key for it, but because she wanted to ride in the front seat badly enough, she figured it out. How? By messing with crap we would have told her not to. Sometimes the good qualities that they have take some digging or polishing to find. But because they do, I’m also more aware of them, more attached to them. It would be easy to write either one of them off as difficult kids in certain ways, but because I love them as much as I do and because I won’t let myself just believe that they’re anything but the best kids ever, I’m always looking for things to praise them for.
I never really felt slighted by my parents, but my mom says that it happened. I think I turned out to be the most awesome person ever, obviously, but I’ve always had a complex about feeling important. I don’t know if the two are related, but I’m not willing to assume that they aren’t at Scarlett’s expense. I’d rather play it safe and do my part to make sure she knows that just because good decisions come to her without so much of our interference, that we still care what she chooses. We still notice her.
Mary and Matthew have been harder to raise than I expected kids to be when I first started being a mom. As a natural consequence, they get more attention. But not just the negative kind. In an effort not to always feel like the enemy, I have to put in extra time with them that’s positive. You know, to balance the good with the bad. Time that shows I admire them as much as I begrudge the annoying shit that they are alwayyyyyys doing. Because I do. When one of them has had a particularly rough day behavior-wise, I make sure to approach them when things are back to neutral, and talk about anything other than that. Monster trucks, YouTube, whatever. Usually it leads to apologies for how the day has gone, but even if it doesn’t, it ensures that the last words spoken between us weren’t aggressive ones. One day, I’ll be more memory to them than presence. It’d be cool if I didn’t sound like Cruella Deville to them in every one.
Right now it’s easy to love on my piece of cake baby 24/7, to appreciate the break that she gives.
Last night, Spencer had had enough of a little habit she was slipping into. She’s in a phase right now where she’ll ask for something, but then fall the to floor crying the moment you hand it to her. Her crying fits are like kittens complaining compared to what her brother could do at that age, but it was the third time in half an hour. He smacked a cup onto the counter with just enough force to grab her attention. Then he knelt down to her level on the floor, pointed a strong Daddy finger at the milk she wanted 15 seconds ago and said, “That’s enough, Scarlett. When someone hands you something, you don’t treat them rudely. You take it and say thank you. Now, up off the floor.”
“Okay, Daddy. Okay.”
And just like that, she was picking herself up off the floor, dusting off her puffy bottom and being unexpectedly scooped up for a flurry of kisses six feet off the ground. In the middle of all the affection, she hugged him back, straightened herself upright in his arms and said, “Thank you a-milk, Daddy.”
See what I mean? Easy. A parent’s dream. Even if only for now.
But if it is not just for now, and she really is preordained to just be our one, easy kid, then I promise to still put in the time. I promise to find her when the house is quiet for a fleeting moment and ask her how things have been, even when I’m sure they’re probably more fine with her than anyone else. I promise to stay on her back about grades, even if it feels like she’s got it under control. I promise to smell her breath for alcohol, even when I trust there’s no reason to, just to be sure. I promise that even if our world is torn apart because her brother knocks up some chick he barely knows at seventeen (Dear God, may that be just a supremely ridiculous exaggeration, thanks), I’ll remember to ask how her totally vanilla, nothing-to-worry-about boyfriend is doing.
I promise to always make it just as apparent to her as to my other kids that she is important, that her decisions matter, and that I am always here – even when she doesn’t need me to be constantly up her butt.