Monster, by Ellie (age 4)

Monster, by Ellie (age 4)

We enrolled Ellie in soccer this summer, figuring it would be cute and she would get some exercise and have the opportunity to run around with her friends. It has turned out to be not so great. Every week except one, she has had a meltdown on or off the field about something. This week she participated happily in the warmup, and then burst into devastated sobs when the team sat down to have a drink of water and she discovered she didn’t have her water bottle (it was still with me, on the sidelines). Nothing I could do or say managed to convince her to rejoin her team, so eventually we left, all of us varying levels of frustrated and upset. A similar scenario had played out on the weekend, when Ellie was inconsolable after spending most of the day with her best friend. So bereft! It is hard to have someone you love so much you don’t want to say goodbye to them, even only for a few days.

Everyone has Stuff, right, but there is something sort of … disconcerting about watching your kid struggle with the same Stuff that you struggle with. Ellie and I are both sensitive, overly empathetic, easily overwhelmed and overstimulated people, and I think many of those are really great qualities — I’ve read that increased sensitivity is a positive evolutionary trait, because someone needed to be on alert at all times against sabertooth tigers, while people like Mike sit around the fire and say, “Well, it is very UNLIKELY that we would be eaten by a tiger!”, and I think the extra empathy is generally an incredible thing, especially since I understand empathy to be one of those character traits that is difficult to teach — but it also means that sometimes we cry when we’re hot and sweaty and thirsty and we think our parents forgot our water. I struggle a little bit with maintaining realistic, age-appropriate expectations for her, because a) she is so articulate and intuitive I think I sometimes forget she’s only four, and b) I want her to have an easier time with certain things than I do, so I push her more than maybe I should. That means that sometimes I try to force her to play soccer, when there would have been nothing wrong with watching the game from the sidelines. She’s only four! Who cares about soccer?

Parenting seems (at least for me) to involve a lot of “oh man, I really should have handled that differently!” but my mom reminded me of something my grandmother used to say, that all we can do is the best we can with the information we have at that moment. After we got home, Ellie apologized for her behaviour at soccer, and I told her that it was okay, that we all get overwhelmed sometimes, and she said, “Even you?” Oh yes, definitely me. Especially me. (My life is basically Rachel at 1:30 in this clip from Friends.) And yet I feel ill-equipped to deal with it in this tiny sweet little person. I went to the bookstore yesterday to stock up on some books for our upcoming cottage vacation, and I picked up a copy of The Highly Sensitive Child, in the hopes that it will give me some strategies to help her cope with these difficult moments, or at least help Mike and I anticipate them.

She did demonstrate some unexpected bravery recently while getting an ultrasound of her kidneys at the hospital (just a precaution, and the results were normal). I told her we were going to go to the hospital and they were going to use a special camera to take a picture of her insides. A few minutes later, she asked me, “Will they have to break it?” I asked her what she meant, and she responded, “Break my tummy so they can see inside it!” After we cleared that confusion up, she was good to go. She spent most of the procedure chatting happily with the technician about what she had eaten for breakfast.

I took her to Walmart to pick out a toy as a reward, where she spent a long time weighing the pros and cons of the various Barbies, before deciding on one wearing a kind of sparkly cocktail dress that velcros up in the back. She keeps coming to ask me to do her dress up, and it is remarkably difficult to get the dress done up over her curves! If even Barbie needs Spanx, there’s really no hope for the rest of us.