Thursday, June 13, 2013

Raising Up The Youngest

Since preschool let out, I've been spending time as a real, true stay-at-home mommy for Olivia, the 4 year old. She doesn't have preschool. She doesn't have ballet. She doesn't have her big sister, who's away at school during the day (1 half day left). She doesn't have any planned activity. She has time, and she has me.

And there have been moments we are driving each other crazy.  She wants attention and I want to get dishes done. I want her to help me carry on the workings of the house, she wants me to make two buttons talk to each other. She tries to build a tower with blocks, it falls over, and she screams as if she's being maimed by a rabid cat. These moments sometimes work together to give me a headache by about 2pm. Sometimes she misses preschool and I miss work, if we're being honest.

And there have been other moments, when it's just me and her and a stack of books, and she points to the page just one more time and says, "Mommy, I noticed something that we never noticed before on this page. Look!" When she's helping me fold socks and figuring out for the first time how to fold them over (so proud!). When she's putting away silverware with crazy enthusiasm I could never muster, or playing tic-tac-toe with me on the easel chalkboard and drawing X's inside O's to contrive a win...There are a thousand of those moments, and we've been home together (full-time) for maybe 2 weeks. I am realizing she's a totally different child when it's just the two of us for an extended period of time.

Here's the child she is when she's the little sister. She gets frustrated really quickly. She screams. She kicks her feet and squeezes her eyes shut and throws whatever is in her hands. She reaches down and grabs her shirt and bites it. Sometimes she misses and bites her own arm. 

"I can't believe they're going to the ball without me."
When she's the little sister, she waits for someone to tell her what to do...what to play, how to play it. She watches somebody else draw pictures because she can't draw them well enough herself. She plays games that are her big sister's idea almost all the time. She tries to pick up chapter books and pretends to read them, but gets quickly frustrated and bored. She gets into trouble while her sister is reading something that's beyond her, or if someone chooses to watch a show that's "over her head". She is forced to endure what's "over her head" so much more than Rosemary ever had to. 

These are moments she seeks attention. They're moments she begins to pester whoever happens to be nearest. She steals her daddy's hat and runs off with it. She finds something glass and breakable and waves it over her head. She sneaks into her sister's room and hides all her treasures in the bottom of her own closet. Or...she just leans over and whacks somebody, just because. No reason.

At the beach. Monkey see, monkey do.
But the Olivia who's no longer the youngest is a different person altogether, when she's able to take on a different role. Perhaps my views of her are too much affected by The Birth Order Book, although so much has been written about birth order and how it affects our personalities as they develop. An excerpt from this article by Frank K. Sulloway, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sums up my experience with my youngest completely, though. There seems to be something to the birth order research. Here's what speaks to me: 

The experience of the youngest
Youngest children are supposedly more able to successfully pace themselves against older siblings without experiencing psychological exhaustion as the middle child(ren) may encounter (Buckley, 1998). They are thought to develop good social skills fostered by constant peer interaction. Individuals occupying this position in family dynamics have been found to be secure, yet dependent, which has been attributed to having many caretakers throughout childhood. Difficulty in establishing autonomy has been observed in adulthood, with accompanying feelings of inferiority and concerns that they are not regarded seriously (Richardson & Richardson, 1990). This is compounded by the realisation that throughout childhood everyone else was stronger, older and more competent, and the worry that they can never compete on equal footing (Ernst & Angst, 1983).

I believe that it's important for me to create opportunities that allow my "littlest" to develop some autonomy. She does this in preschool, I guess, but I want her to develop it when she's with members of our family, too. 

The big kids are out of school after tomorrow, so I'm a little anxious about the "big kid/little kid" dynamic around here. 

Am I over-thinking again? What can I do to help my youngest realize that she can be her own kid, even when her sister is busy being her big sister?