Sofia is my angel child. She exudes sweetness. Nothing at all seemed to change that bubbling demeanor or phase her in the slightest, that is until her little sister came along.
It was obvious -- my older child needed me, but I was often too preoccupied: feeding the baby, changing the baby, holding the baby, rocking the baby... not to mention the crying or the disruption to her every day.
Things changed so quickly, but eventually we fell into a new rhythm as a family of four. There were many nights where I threw my arms in the air; exasperated, exhausted, confused.
And then the girls got older. My attention was more evenly spread between the two of them, but we encountered new challenges, namely those toys of Sofia's that were once left unused by baby were now fair game to her growing, toddling sister.
Teaching a child to share is difficult.
Teaching two sensitive, highly emotional children to share is even more so.
Even this early on, by studying my eldest I know that her DNA makeup is akin to mine. She experiences her emotions not merely as happy or sad, black or white, but in the most intense burning reds and deep indigos. They can be consuming, like a volcano bubbling inside leaving no where to go but upwards and outwards, effecting everyone within reach.
There have been many dark times where I look to Erick wondering where I went wrong. Days filled with pointing and yelling and time-outs and feet stomping. Days that turned to nights, ending usually with quiet sobbing on the couch. Those kind of nights where you just sit there and stare blankly at your own walls while your mind flashes through the day like a movie being fast-forwarded.
Was I not being the kind of mom my girls needed?
It took me years to understand I needed to let all of my frustrations, my emotions, wash through and out of me. Knowing their intensity, I often sat suffering in silence, doing my best to contain whatever I could to protect those I loved.
I try and remember to let myself feel. And the challenge I face as a mother now lies in teaching this valuable lesson to my children.
How do you teach a spirited child to feel, deeply, and in a healthy way?
I researched and buried my nose in books, read on the internet, asked friends for advice. It's a never ending classroom here at home, and slowly, I'm beginning to see progress.
- - -
This morning, I awoke in the way I normally do-- to crying. The girls were fighting over some cookie cutter toy in full tug-of-war, screaming match fashion.
Alba is my quiet tinkerer. She will find a toy and sit and play peacefully by herself (so long as she's not interrupted!) Unfortunately, the interruptions are abrupt and often, courtesy of big sis. Sofia has the habit of literally yanking whatever Alba is happily playing with right out of her hands. She will menacingly smile while her sister wails in agony. Now, imagine this happening 1000x's a day.
But today, I paused.
I thought for a moment.
Kneeling on the floor, I sat my eldest on my lab and held her until she calmed down. Between sobs, I asked her, "Honey, are you sad right now?" She nodded. "Does it make you frustrated when you and Alba want to play with same toy?" More sniffles and nods of agreement. To me, so much of parenting feels like gentle coaching, teaching, guiding. Endless guiding. So much guiding.
I took my daughter's hands and explained, "Sofia, no matter how frustrated you get with your sister, in our home we do not rip toys out of other people's hands. I know that sometimes you get angry, and that's okay, but let's try and think of something you CAN do when you're frustrated. How about next time, you tell your sister in a nice voice that you're not ready to share. Do you think you can do that?"
She replies, "mmm-hmm!"
We practiced and practiced and you know what?
While I was making the girls lunch I heard from the other room, "Alba, I'm not ready to share right now". And that was it. No crying, no tears. Whatever was happening resumed in normal fashion, grilled cheeses were made and I've lived another day to tell all about it.
It's not always perfect, but I'll take these magic moments and you better believe it I'm going to celebrate the shit out of them.