Sometimes Isabella is four-and-a-half going on fourteen and sometimes she acts exactly her age. Tonight we had a little of both. Isabella is my oldest child, my daughter, and probably the one I worry about the least. We had a rough start with a difficult delivery, lots of trouble nursing, and three to four months of colic, but after that it was pretty smooth sailing. She is sweet, smart, generous, imaginative, playful, and sometimes sassy. She hit all of her developmental milestones early or right on schedule and has blossomed over the past two years in Montessori school. She is starting to read already and has wonderful critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Isabella is polite and a fairly good listener. Although she looks just like my husband, she inherited quite a few of my personality traits including being a good negotiator and debater. She can be very convincing in arguing her side and trying to get what she wants. Les is in trouble when the two of us team up and try to get what we want (new shoes, a vacation, a pool or new car one day????). She can also be sensitive and emotional. This could be inherited, since I can be emotional and overly sensitive at times, or it could just be a girl thing.
With two mischievous, and very needy, young boys constantly demanding my attention, Isabella, unfortunately. is the one that often has to fend for herself. I count on her, as the oldest and as my most responsible child, to make safe and smart choices. I rely on her to speak up if something is amiss or if she needs something. Isabella is very good about playing on her own or with friends, requiring the least amount of my hands-on time between my three children. She is so outgoing and eager to make a friend wherever we go. We were at the park the other day and she did not hesitate to run over to a young girl that was swinging on the swing set and ask her to play. She is young and innocent enough to not know the sting of rejection or the arbitrary social constraints that prevent so many older kids and adults from going up to a stranger and inviting them to join us in play or engage in conversation. We are lucky to have some great kids in the neighborhood with whom Isabella loves to play, especially two of her best friends that live next door. The three of them enjoy playing outside, dressing up, doing arts and crafts, and playing with Barbies and American Girl dolls. They get along very well, with only the occasional hurt feeling or disagreement thrown in for good measure.
After a busy four-day family trip to Philadelphia, Isabella could not wait to play with her friends. She got to go to Gymnastics camp with a school friend this morning and got to play with her neighbor friends all afternoon. By the time I got home from work today, dinner needed to be made and I had to go next door to pick her up from her playdate fun. After little sleep the night before (due to our long drive home from Philly) and a very busy day of activity, Isabella was tearful and exhausted. She started crying about a seemingly trivial issue of whether she had missed her American Girl doll’s birthday. I am not sure if she thought of this or if the birthday question came up while she was playing dolls with her friends, but she was inconsolable.
I tried the rational approach, telling her that she could choose any date for her American Girl doll’s birthday. I tried to reassure her that we had not missed her doll’s birthday. I even got out the computer and tried to look up the actual birthday of her doll. I tried to ask questions to see if she had been in a disagreement with her friends and attempted to coach her on standing up for herself if she did not like what her friends were telling her. The more I talked and tried to reason with her, the more she cried. I did not know what else to say. Frankly, I could not believe I was even going to these lengths over such a silly issue. As I tried another approach of reasoning with my very unreasonable and overtired 4-year-old, Isabella threw her hands up and said, “Mommy, I just want you to comfort me. You keep talking and making me more sad.” Wow! She was right. I was so busy trying to make dinner and give advice and offer solutions, I had not stopped to simply wrap my little girl in my arms and smother her with hugs and kisses. I stopped what I was doing and sat her on my lap and just held her. I rubbed her head, held her like the child that she still is, and just let her cry for a few minutes. I waited until the tears stopped and she was feeling better – maybe five or ten minutes. Bedtime followed shortly thereafter.
Tonight reminded me of a couple of important lessons. Four-year-old girls are not that different from thirty-four year-old women. I know when I am tired, sad, and frustrated and just need a good cry, I don’t want my husband to offer advice or solutions. I usually am just looking for an understanding shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear to listen to my woes. Once I finish my good cry, I am usually fine. Although I have never said the words “I just want you to comfort me”, that is exactly what I have thought on numerous occasions. Isabella is growing up, sometimes faster than I would like. As she gets older, the problems and disagreements she will encounter will only multiply and become more complex. I have so many things I want to teach her, and my initial instinct is always going to be to try to help her navigate the world and find solutions to the challenges she faces. I need to remember that she is still my little girl, and I always need to give hugs and just listen before I start doling out advice. Parental guidance and problem-solving usually goes down better with a healthy dose of comfort and empathy mixed in.