At times, I regard my children and wonder how on earth they can be mine. Sometimes this is said with a little sigh as I pick up yet another piece of discarded clothing or wipe the counter tops free of crumbs and marmalade stains. Mostly it is said with an element of pride and genuine wonderment – as most mothers, I tend to consider my kids the best thing since sliced bread and then some.
What most fascinates me is how different they are; four kids with the same parents, I would have assumed they’d be more alike. Where I got that notion from is rather unclear, as all I have to do is compare myself with my sister – the similarities are far fewer than the differences. It makes me wonder as to the effect of genes versus nurture; I have tried to raise my children the same way, but as they grow older I’m not sure I have succeeded, probably because different parenting strategies are more or less successful depending on the child.
One of our children was sunshine from the moment he woke until the moment he fell asleep. As long as he was fed huge quantities of food at regular times and was given ample opportunities to work off his enormous energy playing outside, he was in general very easy to get along with. Most days his room would look as if a volcano had erupted Lego and Duplo all over the place, but he was good at picking it up before dinner. Until the day when he sat down, smiled angelically at me and said he didn’t want to.
“You can do it if you want,” he offered generously.
“I don’t. I haven’t spread it all over, have I?” I said.
My son raised blue, blue eyes at me. “Me neither. It just happened.”
“Huh.” I placed my hands on my hips and looked down at him. “Pick it up, son. I’ll be back in some minutes to see how you’re getting on.” A few minutes later, and not one single Lego brick had made it from the floor to the plastic container in which it was kept.
My son did his angel face again. “I don’t want to.”
Now this is where a lot of parenting books will dispense advice along the lines “fool the child by asking if he wants to do X before or after dinner/bath/TV.” Let me tell you that didn’t work, as he simply insisted he didn’t want to do it at all. By now, there was an interested audience consisting of his siblings watching this contest of wills, and I racked my brain for other advice. “If uncooperative, threaten the child with losing his toys.” So I did, receiving a shrug in reply.
Empty threats are dangerous things, so off I went to find a bin liner, and then I started clearing up, throwing piece after piece into the bin liner. The cheeky brat gladly helped throwing the coloured bricks into the bin liner, unfazed by my theatrical monologue as to this being the last time he’d ever see his Lego Star War figures, the Duplo animals, etc. etc. End result was a very heavy garbage bag being dragged down into the cellar.
“I’ve thrown it away now,” I sang out when I came back up from the cellar.
“Okay,” said my son and asked what was for dinner.
The point is, that this method would have worked perfectly with one of his brothers who has a squirrel’s approach to all his possessions. Simply a matter of choosing the wrong strategy for this particular child, right?
Far more worrying than the little incident above is my concern that maybe I’ve treated my children unfairly. Children have different needs, and I am a firm believer of trying to give in accordance with those needs. (And no, I’m not talking about toys or stuff, more about time) Sunshine boy has mostly gone his own way, and while he has enjoyed listening to me read he hasn’t really needed it, being quite capable of inventing his own little stories. Not so his siblings … One of his brothers has needed a lot of alone time as he was reluctant to talk all that much when surrounded by the whole boisterous family, and I had to make sure he could talk. (After days of monosyllabic communication, one begins to wonder) Nowadays, his taciturnity is a thing of the past – he can talk you to death, especially once he gets started on really relevant subjects such as the best way to construct a cider press (?). The youngest has per definition tagged along, his early life shaped as much by his sister and brothers as by his parents, and the eldest has probably taken far too much responsibility for her brothers.
So maybe it’s no wonder they’re all so different. Yes, they share the same gene pool and general looks, but each and every one of their childhoods has been unique – somehow. One is a fantastic cook, but leaves a wake of messiness behind from the moment he enters our home, the other is a broody adolescent, mainly communicating through brief texts. Sunshine boy is now sunshine man (a young man, but definitely a man, who easily could wind his mother round his little finger, but usually desists) and their sister is a capable young professional, making her way in the world. When they descend on our home – like they did for the recent Christmas holidays – it’s like drowning in a sea of noise. Gigantic shoes litter the hallway, bags, computers, cellphones are everywhere, but it doesn’t really matter. I look at the young adults that are my children and my heart expands with pride. They’re nowhere close to perfect – who is – but they are all a miracle. At least to me.