I would never claim to be the super-mom type. I have never made my own baby food, or fretted much about the material of my children’s play-things. Probably more fundamental: I have no illusions that the children are extensions of me. From the beginning, I have assumed that they are their own little people, and my parenting, such as it is, can get them to brush their teeth and use their manners, but ultimately they are who they are. Who they are is not who other people are. My first, for instance, has never needed much sleep. I would hear, with great interest, of babies who went to sleep by 7 p.m. after taking long naps during the day. My kid did not need this. I could put him to bed at 8 p.m. and he would play in his crib until 10 p.m. He would sleep and wake up at a normal baby time and be none the worse for the wear. He stopped taking a nap before the other children in daycare did. Last night he was up until close to 11 and was up shortly after 7, on his own. My 2nd and 3rd kids, on the other hand, have always been much bigger fans of sleep. If the 7-year-old winds up staying up with the 10-year-old, he will sleep very late in the morning. The 5-year-old likewise is a big fan of sleep, and as a baby would go down pretty easily in the evening. By 7:30 p.m.!
Kids are different. Same family, same general environment, different people.
Anyway, this brings me to my fourth kid, who has a mind of his own. He has taken a long time to settle into a sleep routine, and still wakes up in the middle of the night more frequently than I’d like. He also tends to wake up early — this morning at 5:15 after fussing until 9:15 last night. He will not eat what he doesn’t want to eat, and it’s not just a “no.” There’s a lot of throwing food. He seems to make a point of getting into trouble. The other day, I was in the basement with him. I was reading something, and noticed it was quiet. I went and found him, and saw that he had pulled a chair over to the high cupboard where we’d hidden the paint, had pulled it out, and spilled it all over the counter and the sink. He hits, and bites. This can be quite frustrating as, say, the adult who is changing his diaper. If he becomes mad about it, he will (and has) reached out and punched me in the face.
So, sometimes, the days with him feel like just hanging on. We let him watch a lot of TV, because it’s time when he’s not throwing paint on the counters. We have let him eat Cheez-its for breakfast after he’s thrown every other option on the floor.
I realized the other day that if he had been my first child, I might have found all of this depressing. Was I doing something wrong? If you read parenting books, you come across a lot of suggestions like “create a sticker chart!” What do you do if your kid doesn’t care if he gets or doesn’t get stickers? Other parents talk of their children eating spinach frittatas for breakfast. Their kids don’t bite. They don’t fall asleep on the floor in front of the door every night after howling to be let out of their bedrooms. The good thing about him being my fourth is that I am pretty sure I didn’t do anything differently, or “wrong.” He is who he is. He will grow out of some of it, and he will likely always be a stubborn person. He may never want to go to bed, but as an adult he will learn to deal with the consequences of staying up until 2 a.m. watching a movie, and then having your boss expect you at an 8 a.m. meeting. Maybe he will continue to eat Cheez-its for breakfast, or he will discover that the digestive consequences are so not worth it. He can also be tremendously sweet sometimes, and his ability to express himself is incredible. So, he’s smart and determined — I suppose there could be worse combinations in life.
Photo: Little guy against the world