Friday, July 6, 2007

The Suckiness of Comparing Children

It was a sweet surprise that the July 4th outing went so smoothly because Big A has been staging her own sort of independence celebration recently, but they have not been pretty. She is as explosive as fireworks, when even the slightest thing doesn't go her way. Or when things do go her way, but she changes her mind. I never know from one moment to the next if I will be graced with sweet bubbly Big A or her doppelganger BA.

While BA's antics sometimes strike me as worthy of a Stanford study, the stories I hear from other parents indicate that whining, screaming, toilet-training regression, and a batshit defiance are fairly common with the three-and-a-half-year-old set. Good news ... I guess? Nevertheless, I am struggling, both from the new uptick in surliness of the moment, and with a broader realization about Big A.

Ever since she was born, Big A has been extra-large in the personality department. On good days I revel in her sense of humor, her gregariousness, her ability to effortlessly make friends. But her bad days, filled with moody tantrums and bossy fits, also leave me utterly exhausted and shaken.

The thing is, until Little A came into my life, I attributed everything frustrating that BA did to her being in an annoying developmental stage. Stages are inherently impermanent, so that kept me pretty upbeat. Even in the face of some fussy, fussy days, I mostly kept my sense of humor about the level of noise and drama that Big A graced us with.

Then I came home with a second child. One who wasn't colicky, one who didn't need to be constantly jiggled and walked around the house in order to be content, one who glides into new stages like eating solid foods or beginning to take a bottle in addition to the breast with no histrionics whatsoever. In short, one whose temperament is easy.

Lots of people around us joked about our predicament. "Little A is your reprieve," they said. Another person called her our "reward." "You must be so relieved," so many others said.

And the truth is, I was relieved. But also embarrassed at others for noticing that BA was a handful. And suddenly aware that if Big A was as temperamentally "difficult"as her sister was "easy," then this wasn't a stage she'd get over. It was my lot in life to have every limit I set tested, and to deal with constant demands and complaints. The thought of that overwhelmed me. I lost my sense of humor. Why did Big A have to melt down so much? Why does she have to cry more than her infant sister does? Why couldn't she be more like her sister?

When I caught myself thinking the last one, I realized I'd gone to the parent badlands. Because even though Big A is difficult, she isn't the bad seed. Likewise, just because Little A is a sweet baby really doesn't mean I will never have to worry about how she'll be as an adult. Big A is just opinionated, contrary, and loud. In an adult, I wouldn't necessarily think that was bad. Most likely, I'd consider that a friend. It was so unfair to want her to change her very nature just because it would be convenient to have an easier kid.

So. I am taking a deep breath and trying to start over with Big A, holding my tongue more again like I used to, and trying to only blow my top when she is being truly disobedient or rude, rather than just slightly naughty or annoying. I am also trying very hard to not to compare the kids anymore, because it leads nowhere nice.

The last few days I have been gritting my teeth and pulling extra patience out from somewhere. It's difficult, but Big A is responding to it by being a trifle less likely to fly off the handle. I think that's a good first step. But step two involves getting a better handle on disciplining her and (if possible) curbing the frequency of her melt downs. Up to this point we'd been doing warnings and time outs, but given the recent frequency of her landing in the dog house, our methods are obviously no longer any sort of deterrent to her acting poorly. It might work for some, but not Big A. Therefore I'm off to the bookstore to seek aid and comfort in the parenting section.

Here's hoping I can get some help from books, and can continue to be more patient with Big A. Someday she'll be a fabulous adult, if only I can manage the balancing act of not being so lenient so that she becomes an egotistical tyrant, or so strict that I extinguish her spark.

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