I have four daughters, as most of you know: Anja, Greta, Elka and Ingrid.
Anja and Greta are only sixteen months apart in age, so most of their early first two years are just a blur in my memory, when I was sure I was doing everything exactly wrong, when I felt I'd lost all of who I was to motherhood, and couldn't imagine there would ever BE a light at the end of the tunnel, I was so far away from it. But about the time Greta turned two, we all seemed to turn a corner together and realize that, hey! This was GREAT! The summer that Anja and Greta were a 3 and a 2 year old still lives as one of my absolute favorites. We just had so much fun. I dressed them in matching outfits every chance I got, we sang together, we drew together, we gardened together, and for the most part, they got along beautifully. It was so good, in fact, that I warned Martin that if we didn't have another baby soon, it might not happen, because I was beginning to not be able to imagine life any other way.
Three months after Greta turned 3, Elka was born. She was an answer to many prayers and that summer was another one of absolute perfection. She was an ideal baby that whole first year, my little June Treasure who could do no wrong. She slept well, she ate well, she was hilarious, and even during her 9 month sleep regression I remember being up in the night thinking how wonderful it was to have that one-on-one time with her.
Then Elka turned one. And she was very active and got bored easily and if I didn't give her something to DO, she was making mischief or screaming. She wanted to walk everywhere and climb everything. She was suddenly very difficult! She hit all her gross motor and language milestones super early, and it was as if after having Anja and Greta, who were pretty late bloomers in terms of milestones (especially Anja,) I just didn't know what to do.
That started a pattern with Elka, which is clearly continuing into her sixth year. The pattern is to grow out of her comfort zone, not know how to handle that growth, and be kind of a beast until she figures it out. This is so unlike how Anja and Greta have gone along that it still throws me for a loop ALL THE TIME. Now we're getting into school agedness with her, and I think, "You are clearly old enough to act better than this!" in a lot of situations where she just seems to be throwing fits like a two year old. I guess it's a combination of having big emotions and a very short fuse, along with thriving on responsibility, which can't always be given. I have watched her blossom in situations like being in the dentist chair alone, being the oldest child in a group, being a part of a group of children led by a non-parent adult, even when the activity was insanely long and boring. She has the ABILITY to be a perfect angel, and she will go spans of time exercising that ability with grace, during which time I rejoice and soak it all up. And then something as simple as her *thinking* someone had eaten all of her pretzels will send her into a full-blown, on the ground, kicking screaming fit. And I accept it and try to work through it and I even see progress in that fit, because she's not reacting with violence toward anything else, and that is a step in the right direction!
Of course when progressions are upon us, it's vividly clear and I can see, "oh! That's why she was so frustrated before!" A good example is reading. She went through a terrible behavioral regression right as she was on the verge of reading. Then, once she got it, she was a saint. She could distract herself with a book before she let her emotions get the best of her. And I realized, aha! She had been frustrated in her inability to read. She learned to read very much by herself and very much in private, as a late five year old. She knew she could do it, she devoted herself, and she conquered, but not without making the rest of us suffer.
Today was another good example. She woke up in a great mood, she got ready for church like a champ, and was awesome on the walk there. But once we got there, she was NOT on her best behavior. I was getting frustrated with her because she's gone through a long time of being EXCELLENTLY behaved at church, week after week. But suddenly these past weeks she's being so difficult again! I'm trying to recognize that she must be on the verge of a progressive leap of some sort, even though I don't know what is going on, and even though she's really testing my patience. From Mass, we walked home a new way and found a hidden Sharing Garden (which we'd been told about but hadn't been able to find until today.) We stopped and pulled weeds for awhile, and Elka was absolutely in her element. She pulled weeds and observed all the vegetables, and was a really good little worker the whole time we were there, then she cut two red zinnias for herself. In a garden with work to do, she feels like she has a purpose. Growing and tending are her passions and she blossoms (haha, punny, punny!) when she is put into a situation where she knows what to do and can do it with confidence. She likes to be brave. She likes to be responsible. And as a little sister, I think she struggles with finding opportunities like that.
Today has been mostly a progression day of behavior and attitude for Elka, as she's been awesome the whole rest of the day since stumbling onto that Share Garden. Some days just aren't like that. The good news is that every regression is a little less severe than the last and the progressions do keep happening. I'm predicting that once we start our school year she will have another bump in maturity--she does really well with being given a task to complete. She LOVES workbooks, and even though she writes "I Don't Like Copywork" on all her copy work sheets, I can tell she really does like it. She's also a great reader now, so that will help her keep up with her sisters in a lot of areas, AND she's learned to knit! Another activity she can do alongside her sisters with minimal frustration!
I know we'll hit another bump in a road. We will backtrack and have to deliberately work on keeping tempers in check. We'll have meltdowns over being unable to do something, or unable to do something "perfectly" (because she's a hot-tempered perfectionist, which is about the worst combination I can imagine!) and we'll have boredom-induced fits of nutty, aggressive behavior. But we'll just have to work through it, one regression at a time, and keep our eye on the inevitable progressions that will (please, please, please) follow.