Wednesday, May 19, 2010

family: ... when i find myself in times of trouble...

K's been something of a bear lately, mean at times and refusing to behave at others, and I haven't been able to figure out what's going on, except that she's 4yo and that probably says most of what I need to say. She's also been sick in the last couple of weeks as well.

And then there's this:

Still life, with Pacifier
(I found this one at the bottom of K's
bed some days after she'd given them
up. Obviously we haven't found all of them

She's given them up. After virtually 4 straight years, she no longer is using her pacifiers.

The 4yo trip to the dentist spurred this step. Apparently up to 4, any damage done is relatively easy to correct (and the correction happens more or less naturally as the teeth shift). But if you wait much past 4, things get quite a bit more complicated (and more expensive).

Luckily K and M had gone on a shoe-shopping expedition to Nordstrom the day before K's birthday, and there K had to choose between 2 pairs of shoes she really loved: a shiny black pair of slip-ons (ballet/mary jane-ish), and a pair of white and pink Pumas that light up when you walk. As you can imagine, the choice was difficult, but K came home with the black pair, very excited and proud. M told her that maybe when she was ready to give up her pacifiers she could get the other pair.

The dentist appointment was just a week later, and with our encouragement, K decided she was ready to give up her pacifiers.

We collected them. All that we could find -- here's the thing about pacifiers in our house: as a baby, K regularly woke in the middle of the night because her pacifier had dropped out of her crib, so we started putting in several. She got used to having several, needing one in her mouth and at least one in her hand (preferably 2). So there were upwards of 5 or more pacifiers, some of which were left in forgotten places. The best we could do was gather up those we could find. These went into an envelope to be "sent" to Sammy, the son of some friends. For some reason K has chosen Sam as the recipient of her castoff pacifiers. If he only knew!

That same afternoon, M took K back to Nordstrom where they bought those beautiful Puma shoes.

I was nervous about how things would go, but K did fine that first night, falling asleep without much trouble. Subsequent nights went with varying degrees of success, but she never really had any of the complete breakdowns I half-expected. K started on the couch in the living room once or twice, to be moved up to her bed after she fell asleep. Over all though, things were surprisingly calm for a girl who'd absolutely insisted on pacifiers to this point.

Lately, she's been acting up a bit. And when I think about it I think that there's a reasonable chance she's missing those pacifiers, or missing some way to pacify herself. For example:

Last Thursday afternoon I took K to her swim lesson and it didn't go well.

She refused to do what the instructor wanted, and the poor teacher worked for 20 minutes trying to get K to do things she's been doing for weeks, like lying on her back and kicking, like taking 3 strokes and turning over onto her back, like jumping in from sitting on the edge.... nothing would get her to do any of this, and I finally took her out of the pool and dressed her and told her that she wasn't going to get to play with Ella (a little girl who's also in lessons at the same time, and with whom K has bonded a bit through playing after lessons). Further, she would lose a privilege, though I was going to talk with her mom to figure out what, exactly, that would be.

I drove her home quietly. She cried because the snacks we'd brought weren't what she wanted. I ignored her. She stopped crying and decided she wanted to eat what we'd brought. All the while I tried to figure out how to make a point of this. The cost isn't really a factor, not for her, so bringing up wasted money didn't seem like a good approach. I told her that when we are in Florida with her cousins this summer they're going to be able to swim but she'll need to be with M or me in order to go into the pool. We drove further in silence. Finally, close to home, I told her I was sad.

K: Why you sad?
me: Because I love to swim and your mom loves to swim, and it makes me sad to think you won't be able to swim.
K: (silence)
me: You know how your mom and me learned to swim?
K: How?
me: We had lessons.

And she got quiet, and I could tell that this had somehow struck a chord.

As we pulled into our driveway, I saw M working in the front yard, L swinging in her swing, everyone clueless to our disappointing afternoon. K nestled down into her car seat and closed her eyes as though asleep. I think she was tired, but I think too she was processing our conversation and didn't want to be available for another one with her mom.

M asked how it went, smiling, assuming the best. I just shook my head and carried a sagging K inside and said we'd have to talk about it. Inside, I asked K if she wanted to tell her mom or if I should. She said I should.

And here's the thing about swimming. We really do love to do it, M and I. We were both on swim team, and we both feel strongly that it's not an optional skill to have.

My first memories of swimming are in the HC&S pool not far from our house in Puunene. I remember learning to float on my back while the steam from the sugar mill drifts overhead in the blue sky and the water over my ears muffles the noises of the world and I can forget about everything else except that feeling of floating free.....

There were other memories as well: the needing to fish drowned rats out of the pool before practice (I think the coaches and/or the bigger kids did that. I never had to), learning to swim breast stroke well enough to beat a bigger kid (I was probably 6 or 7, and the other kid was 7 or 8).

Later, after we moved to Honolulu, we used to swim at Queen's Surf and sometimes at the Elks Club when the Furrs across the street invited us -- that's where I learned to do front and backflips off the diving board. I remember too swimming at Spreckelsville all through high school, loving the freedom of the water as I became a moody teen that no one understood....

What struck me later, after I'd told M that I didn't feel like K was acting herself and that if it continued for much longer I wanted to have her checked by the doctor, is this: she's 4 years old. 4. Years. Old. A lot of this behavior is likely simply working through growing up stuff, and doing so without her traditional way of comforting herself. (When I think of how moody I was as a teenager, I find myself wanting to cut K all kinds of slack. And I had more than twice the life experiences that she's got right now.)

I need to remember this and do what I can to help her out. I need to be understanding and reassuring. It's hard work being 4, and sometimes parents forget that.

Sorry K. You're doing a great job as a 4 year old!

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