Thursday - Knocked Off Balance: Nature or Nurture?
I’m absolutely falling in love with my daughter these days. As she nears her fifth birthday she is becoming more and more charming, which is a real revelation in many ways. The stress and general busyness of raising three kids under five has been so demanding that I often lose sight of those powerful moments when you realize what having kids is all about. Eliza has been reminding me of what an incredible view parents have of human development.
Watching her learn to identify and write letters and words is mind blowing. It started so slowly, with her chicken-scratching out her name. But over the last two months her writing, and her desire to write, have exploded, and she’s always writing these lengthy notes to people about things she thinks are important. This morning she asked me, “Mama, how do you write ‘Max, I miss you I haven’t seen you in a long time?’” I had to spell the whole thing out letter-by-letter, which probably took a good 15 minutes. But she painstakingly wrote out each letter and folded up the note to deliver to her friend Max. Then the other day I came home from work and found a post-it stuck to the kitchen cabinet. It read, shakily, but clearly: “If you spill something, clean it up.”
Part of what I find so enchanting is that she’s showing signs of loving the same things I love—reading and writing. Obviously looking for signs of yourself in your children is the height of egotism, but it truly is gratifying to think about passing something that you care about deeply to your children. But obviously, you don’t just pass on positive traits. My husband is an engineer who is great with numbers and spatial relationships and the like, and I’m a writer and talker who still counts on her fingers. We nervously joke that our kids will be in serious trouble if any of them inherit my math skills and his verbal skills.
Since having kids I’ve come to believe that a great deal of what makes us who we are is there from that start. We have turned out three kids who are incredibly different in all ways, from their looks to their aptitude to their interests, and they’ve been that way from day one. I have seen how at least a few seeds of my children’s character that I noticed early on grow stronger and become key pieces of who they are. With Eliza, it’s a love for reading and words that I desperately hope she carries into adulthood. Finn has been a physical being from the start. Big, strong, and unbelievably coordinated, he’s close to riding a bike without training wheels and he’s still in diapers.
But Silas, he has been something of a mystery man from day one. He was one of those easy babies, the kind you can feed, burp, and then sit in a chair for a while and be happy. He was a good sleeper, he wasn’t fussy, he always had a smile. But around age two-and-a-half, all that changed. He is undoubtedly the most stubborn individual I have ever met, and that’s saying a lot because I’m pretty sure I was the former champ in stubborn. I’ve seen my share of the Terrible Twos, but Silas takes it to a whole new level. When he doesn’t get what he wants, which is approximately 300 times a day, he does the full body melt onto the floor complete with tears and kicking feet, and it’s almost impossible to turn that ship around.
He can easily keep it up for 30 minutes or more, lying in the middle of the floor sobbing something ridiculous like, “I want my truck,” over and over again while we step over his body and get on with our business. When I’m feeling particularly Zen, I can totally ignore it. The other night I actually used my foot to push his blubbering mess of a self out of the way so I could access the kitchen he was blocking during his tantrum. But when we need to get out the door or someone else needs something, his endless tantrums push me close to the stroke zone, they are so frustrating. I’m sure it’s some kind of phase, but I’m also sure that there is a seed of what Silas is going to be like in the future, and I’d bet money on that stubbornness sticking around.
One of the best things about being a parent is watching your kids’ personalities gel and imagining what they will be like as older children, and one day, adults. It all seems so abstract and impossible. But when you really think about it, it gets heavy on the responsibility front. After all, they may be born with their basic personalities intact, but we’re the ones who have to teach them how to fit into the world.