Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Keep Tally: Be it Now Known that I Do

It's all about being fair, or trying to be, as a parent of more than one child. You count out the M&M's, you covertly use the length of your thumb knuckle to tip for measuring the width of cake you cut for each of them, you semi-consciously eye the amount of toothpaste on each brush... It doesn't feel critical to make things even all the time, you don't always have to hear the slow, indignant "Heeey! That's not FAAAAIR!" But a habit forms and becomes the default mode, ingrained.

I did not realize I was doing it, but apparently this is how I have tried to treat summer activities - one for one. Mind you, Cate is an extremely gregarious 9 year old, smiling, talking, emoting most waking hours. And Addie is loving, non-verbal almost 5 year old with a very strong personal agenda regarding freedom and movement. Every summer camp in the world is expecting a child like Cate. None are expecting Addie and few can do more than merely accommodate her (tolerance does not equal inclusion).

So maternal-types just have to get crafty. Cate has her activities and Addie has a few structured and a few made up ones. We go to the pool at the same times each time we go, hoping we'll see the same kids and that this will lead Addie to be comfortable enough to interact a bit with some. This routine has inspired a feeling of ownership in Addie, but has not really fostered interaction. Because she believes she is the boss of the pool (really a tiny water park) and all surrounding waters and including the sand pit, she moves through the pool trusting that all 'her guests' will get out of her way and bear with her splashes. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Either way, it's not so much of a warm introduction. Still working on this and her awareness of others. It's the water she's come to be with, not so much the people anyway.

But in addition to activities, there are the summer extras. The invitations from friends and family to sleepovers, to festivals in other suburbs, to baseball games, to cook outs, to the zoo, to ride bike, to get ice cream, etc. Sure, we do these things as a family, sometimes asking others to join. But to be invited outside your own family is another thing altogether, much more exciting. Over these spontaneous surprises, I have no control. 100% of such invites are targeted at Cate, leaving Addie with 0%. As a result, Addie spends a substantial amount of time in her push chair or in her car seat, completing the entire round trip without getting out, for no other purpose than delivering or retrieving her sister to/from something thrilling.

It has always been like this, but I must have chalked it up to the age difference in the past, still seeing Addie as a baby myself in some ways. But she will be 5 in a matter of weeks, certainly not a baby, not even a toddler, but a school aged kid, with a little thing called Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome thrown in the bucket along with everything else that makes her Addie. Cate was on her second summer of her own invitations and events by Addie's age.

So I find myself wrongly holding those that extend welcome to Cate and not to Addie in contempt. Not Cate's classmates and neighborhood friends because those truly belong to her exclusively, but more family friends and family itself, people whose relationship to Addie is the same as theirs to Cate, whether bound by blood or not.

I say wrongly because I understand it to an extent: Cate is older, she is more rewarding to be around - she'll tell you in no uncertain terms when she's having a blast and when she's blasted out. Cate has no health concerns, there is no confusion about what level of communication she can cognitively deal with. Cate doesn't run away in public places, she doesn't wear a diaper or dig in said diaper, she is aware of her own coordination and balance and so does not require vigilance when she moves about and climbs. Cate doesn't have pica, so there is no need to scrutinize what is in her hands at all times or watch her mouth for chewing motions when she has not been given any food. And she just so happens, according to her mother, to be a brilliant, beautiful, witty, kind and confident young lady. So I see why folks want to celebrate summer with her. And they do not see inviting Cate with no mention of Addie as exclusion at all. It's just a specifically addressed invitation, after all. I get that.

And yet maybe I thought these were offered with the intention of spreading the cheer with Addie the next time. Next time hasn't come in 5 years yet. I'm now willing to see that where I've turned a blind eye in the past.

Addie, like Cate, happens to be brilliant, beautiful, witty, kind and confident - to those that know her well, anyway: Mom, Dad, Cate and Mrs. Bautista. I am certainly not saying that others don't love Addie. They clearly do. But there is a difference between loving someone passively and loving them actively through high expectations and leaps of faith. There are also a few people paid to be in her life or people who see their time with her as charitable work, that see her beauty and potential. For obvious reasons I do not refer to these service oriented, obliged people in this rant. I also see graciously accepting requests to babysit my children, or even generously offering it out of the blue, as falling outside of this realm, though I am eternally grateful for these gifts. But they are gifts to me and my husband, not to Addie. I'm talking about the old "We're gonna do something fun and we just KNOW it will be even more fun with you there," kind of affirming proofs of genuine fondness. Things that go right to your 'I-know-my-value-meter' and boost it up a few units.

The gap is no bigger than it's ever been, it's just the looking at it straight on that becomes a call to action. What is the action? Part of it is teaching Addie how to demonstrate her independence and power, but more of it is teaching others how to see these things in Addie, how to relish them for their originality. Here's hoping 10 years in marketing will be of some assistance in this.

Just as there is a counter at the top of this page, I will need to tally Addie's "hits" going forward and adjust my PR and marketing efforts accordingly through analysis and education. Cate will continue her own successful campaign for herself and hopefully Addie and I will learn a thing or two from this apparent social champion.

4 comments:

Jessica mommy to Alex/ RTS said...

I keep tally too.

You are a fantasitic mom, and you have always inspired me to do better with Alex.

Cindy said...

I can see that this could be an issue in our family soon. Thanks for making me aware before we go down the path too far!

Tena said...

Completely understand. If we don't champion our kids, others won't either. Godspeed.

Myssie said...

I completely understand what you are saying. I am sure that this is something that I will deal with too.