Thursday, January 31, 2008

My daughter, The Thinker

I've been thinking a lot lately about my childrens' different personalities, and wondering how many of the characteristics they possess now will be carried into their adulthood. I think about the influence we as parents may have on that - and wonder how to strike the balance between shaping and molding the people we would like our children to be and nurturing and incubating the people they already are and are destined to be.

When my oldest son was born, I would look into his eyes and say, "it just seems like he's been here before." He was so observant and quiet, always happy to sit and watch - constantly taking it all in. I was surprised to learn I wasn't just a crazy mother, but there is actually a phrase for this - "old soul." Now he's 7 years old and in many ways, he still has a very "old soul." Incidentally, it looks as if my 5-month old goddaughter does as well. If you've ever made eye contact with one of these children, you know exactly what I mean.

My youngest son is the comedian. Only 3 years old, he loves to make people laugh and loves to perform.  He loves to sing. He is a ball of energy that can barely contain itself. He is more follower than leader, but the "leaders" always gravitate to him. Everyone loves him. If he were 16 we'd be having talks about living up to his potential in school and "applying" himself. He would be the kid with the high ACT scores and low grades, and I think he'd be very popular as the entertainer.

But this post is titled "my daughter, the thinker" because I had another conversation with her yesterday that blew my mind. This is the 4-year old who wants to be a doctor one day "so I can help people." This is the girl who once asked me to please stop talking to her because, "I am trying to think about how I'm going to help the world."

My daughter leans toward the dramatic. No, really. She often becomes so animated when she talks that she extends her arms out, palms up, and moves them up and down to help accentuate her point. Things most people would consider minor can quickly escalate to major in her world. She's not the kind of dramatic that drains you of energy, but it's easy to see the toll she takes on herself. 

I love this about her. I love this passion and if nurture has any clout at all in the nature vs. nurture argument, I hope I can help her keep this fire.

Yesterday she got into a fight with our youngest, the 3-year old. This is not that unusual, but sometimes these fights heat up - both sides too stubborn to back down - and the results are sometimes bad. So I intervened quickly and called them down to me. She was the only one who came, but I quickly got so caught up in our conversation I forgot to insist that the younger one come down too.

She started off explaining to me that she and Aidan were playing, but he decided to go into his room to play alone and he did not want her to follow him. Ever determined, she tested him and did it anyway and that was where the screaming match started.

But before I could really get into the, "he needs a little space sometimes, you wouldn't like it if you wanted to be alone in your room and he came in... blah blah blah" speech, she launched into this:

"Mommy, it's just that I'm not even 5 years old yet and I still have so many things to learn. I just am not learning very much. There are so many things I need to know."

(This is the preschooler who brought home a colored and hand-labeled map of the continents, plus an addition math worksheet this week. But she isn't learning very much!)

She continued, "For example, I just don't know how in the world all people have parents. And I don't understand how in the world people do the things they do. There are so many things I don't know the answers to."

Already, I was blown away. I was getting so caught up listening to her that I wasn't finding the words to try to help her. I pulled her close to me and tried to go over the list of things she is learning - not just at school, but the little things every day here at home. Trying new foods, picking out clothes, brushing her own hair... 

I also tried to explain that some questions just do not have answers, and even when she grows up and has had more time to learn more things, she may still not have all the answers she wants. It's part of life.

And then, she went on:
"I have already used up my three wishes." (Tears welling up for the loss of future opportunity...)

I tried to interject that in life, she will get more than three wishes, but she went on:

"For my first wish, I wished to be a Princess. And for my second wish, I wished to travel around the world so I could see lots of new things. I guess I do still have my third wish."

Briefly, I thought about telling her that she will likely never be a "real" princess, but of course she'll always be a princess to me. But then I thought again - how do I know that? How do I even know what the probability is? This is a child who, at just shy of 5 years old, talks eagerly about her heart's desire to travel the world and help people. For all I know, she's going to strike out when she's older and find for herself a bona fide Prince. 

In fact, I think the odds are increasingly in her favor.

As I was sharing this conversation with my husband later, I came to the conclusion that my daughter must just have thoughts and feelings that are beyond her physical development. I just don't think she yet has the skills to verbalize all the things she is thinking. Another restless brain in the making? Maybe. 

I just hope and pray the fires stay lit long enough for her words to catch up - I can't wait to hear what she's going to have to say.

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