Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 5, 2011 ~ Day 27
Everybody Wants To Dance

Well it's gorgeous outside and a new day brings a new perspective. Just further proof that everything happens for a reason, because I've got a lot of new ideas about the topic I was trying to write about the other night that got erased.

The new thing around here lately is that one of our sons has suddenly shown an unusual talent at dancing. It's more than a typical "Oh, look ~ that cute little guy is dancing" kind of thing. The kid's got rhythm, style and a real love for it. We learned quite unexpectedly that if you turn on loud music, he can't help himself from breaking into spontaneous dance. He dances in restaurants, in grocery stores, in Target. The boy's a teeny Billy Elliot - he's got Happy Feet.

It's gotten to the point that people outside of our family are noticing, and suggesting that we do something about it. As in, "You should give him a class and see what happens, he's really got something there."

And I've got to confide, it isn't really a huge surprise that one of our kids has the dancing bug - because one of my brothers was a professional dancer for years. He danced with ABT and the Pennsylvania Ballet. I grew up literally flying around the country with my parents to watch him perform. So there's something floating around in the ol' gene pool, and my boy seems to have it.

Most crucially, he loves it. When the little guy starts to dance his face lights up like a firework and he glows. His smile could light the world on fire. Which is a beautiful thing, since this is the same shy child that hides behind me when we talk with strangers... and who sulks for hours if he thinks a friend is being mean to him. He's a sensitive little dude, and his teacher has on more than one occasion during the past four months referred to him as a loner.

So clearly we're looking into how to give him dance lessons (turns out, they aren't cheap). We're also trying to support him enthusiastically, because it is really wonderful to see him find something that he genuinely loves and is naturally good at.

Here's where the tricky part starts.

Our son has a brother and a sister. The sister is too little to have discovered passions for much more than eating like a football player and playing with her brothers' toys. She'll take LEGOs and the infamous plastic Buzz Lightyear any day above a stuffed animal or baby doll. Our middle child though already suffers from "younger brother" syndrome and is constantly trying to keep up with his older brother. If Bug is playing soccer, Bean wants to play soccer too. If Bug learns to write his letters, Bean is grabbing the pencil to try for himself. If Bug grows and inch, Bean tries to stretch himself taller.

Bean is three and he doesn't really understand that fact. Since the very day we brought him home from the hospital, his greatest entertainment has been watching his big brother and yearning to be like him. He thinks it is insanely unfair that he is physically smaller than his older brother and thus subjected to chronic teasing and rough-housing. In his heart he feels equal to his brother and it is torturous for him to have to watch his brother do new things and not be able to participate due to his age or height. The local theme park becomes a nightmare for him, as his older brother can go on all kinds of rides with Daddy that Bean is not allowed upon.

What's a mom to do then, with one child suddenly sparkling and thriving in a newfound limelight... with the other child watching from the sidelines in envy? These are the kind of things new parents never anticipate and it's sort of a shock when they arrive. What do you do when the star and the underdog are BOTH in the same family, and they have to live with each other on a daily basis AND you are the parents of both?

Do you

  • ignore the success, because you don't want it to make your child vain or overly proud of himself?

  • encourage the little one by saying, "When you're his age, you can do it too!" all the while understanding that this child doesn't really seem like the type of kid that would enjoy that activity?

How do you keep all of your children from feeling overshadowed by their siblings, especially when there are already intractable differences in age and physique?

I still don't really know how to navigate the obvious and steadily widening height differential between my children. Two of them are above 90th percentile in height for their age, meaning that they are taller than 90 percent of children born at the same time they were born. The third child is in the 7th percentile for height. Meaning that 93% of children his age are taller than he is.

I adore my children for their individuality and think they are all stupendously adorable. I could care less that one of them is a little bit on the short side. It just makes him cuter to me. But he seems to care a lot about it, which breaks my heart. He talks all the time about how he is "getting bigger, mommy!" and I just don't have the heart to break it to him that he seems to have inherited the short genes from both sides of our family. My grandmother AND my mother-in-law... both of very petite build.

So I find myself praying that he will grow. Can you believe that ridiculousness? I actually pray to God that my three year old child will grow to be tall so he won't spend the rest of his life feeling inferior to his siblings. What a silly thing to pray about, with all of the suffering in the world, but I still find myself doing it... and spouting trite cliches at bedtime: "Remember honey, good things come in small packages!"

I'm fairly confident that praying for a child to become more like his or her siblings is NOT the right way to handle the situation. It doesn't seem like a very spiritual thing to do, either.

Getting back to the main point then, I've been agonizing over how to exult in the victories of one child without making the other two feel inferior.

This morning I had an epiphany though, and I think it's bright enough to illuminate the way forward.

I suddenly remembered that the only way to get through any tough interpersonal situation with a group of disparate people is to communicate. To talk WITH THEM about it.

And it makes sense!

Our children are the vested stakeholders in the situation. They are the ones whose feelings will be sheltered or hurt based upon our behavior as parents. They are the ones who feel they must compete with each other. So they are the exact people who need to help me construct guidelines for how to celebrate their unique accomplishments in a way that is least hurtful and most constructive for our family.

What a relief! We're all in it together!!!

So, I brought it up with them before school this morning.

"You know guys, Daddy and I need your help."

Little ears perk up, because small children like to be needed and considered important.

"What do you need help with?"

"Well, Daddy and I have noticed that each of you three children is totally unique ~ which means not the same as each other. You all have special things you are good at. Have you noticed that too?"

Older child - "Um, sort of."
Younger child - "We ARE the same as each other!" (Cackling mischievously.)

"Daddy and I would like to find a way to be proud of you for being who you are, each of you, without any of you feeling bad or left out."

"What do you mean, mommy?"

"Well, for example, if you score a goal at your soccer game... we want to be proud of you! But we don't your brother and sister to feel badly because they are too little to play soccer yet."

Older child - smiles. He likes thinking about the idea of himself scoring a goal in soccer.
Younger child - "I'm going to play soccer too!"

"Of course you are, honey. So anyway, what I'm trying to say is, we need your help. Can you tell us how we can make you each feel special without anyone feeling left out?"

Older child - "How about you give us all hugs?"
Younger child - "I LIKE HUGS!"

"I can definitely do that."

Older child - "And maybe there is something good that each of us do. Like I score goals in soccer but he (pointing to his brother) makes a nice picture with crayons. So, you can say "I'm proud of you" to both of us."
Younger child - "I can do both! I can play soccer AND I can draw with crayons!"

"I am very proud of all three of my children. You are all very precious to Daddy and me."

Older child - "Mommy, can we be done talking now? I'm hungry. I want pancakes."
Younger child - "Pancakes!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yummy!!!!!!!!!!! I want lots and lots and lots of syrup!"

"Hmmmmm.... we'll see about the syrup buddy."

And it was that easy.

I'm sure that as the years pass there will be hundreds more of these conversations. I will need to keep asking them the same question - "How can I love and support you in a way that doesn't make your siblings feel badly?" and "How can I love and support your siblings without accidentally making YOU feel badly?"

The main thing is, we've started the conversation. We're in it together, and while my husband and I will always be the parents - our children can help guide our parenting choices when it comes to dealing with their individual sensitivities and emotions. Hopefully between the five of us we can avoid at least some of the pitfalls that arise so easily in any relationship between multiple people. As long as we all keep talking - asking hard questions and really listening to each other - I think we are going to be okay.

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