In parenting, sometimes I need a little glimmer of hope to keep me going. My six year old, Lily, is what we in our home like to call “feisty”. Or spunky. Or skilled at throwing fits that last longer than an inaugural address. (You wanted to watch the first black president be sworn into office, Mom? To witness an important historical event? Who cares. You didn’t let me eat diaper cream and you will know my wrath.) She is full of passion and drive and will make an awesome adult someday. But right now, there are times she wears me out by 9:00 AM.
She can also be the absolute best: a sweetheart who’s generous and kind and sensitive to others’ needs. That doesn’t happen as much as the grumpiness. But this is where the glimmer comes in. It’s what keeps me going, like a beacon in the dark night of the frontal-lobe-development-years, promising we’ll find land at some point. It’s there, waiting. And when her limbic system isn’t the one in total control, things will be much better. At least that’s what National Geographic says.
Here are a few glimmers I’ve seen of late:
1. We are at the grocery store. They have matchbox cars on sale for a dollar. “Only a dollar?” thinks limbic-system-controlled Lily. “What is money anyway? And who cares if I spend it all on crap I don’t even want? Not me.” I tell her she should think about it. That she probably won’t miss it tomorrow if she doesn’t buy it today. That she doesn’t play with cars anyway, even if they’re pink. I have little hope this talk will work, since they never ever do, but she stops. Her eyes roll around in thinking mode. “Ummm. I’m gonna go put it back.” And my terrible why-am-I-grocery-shopping-with-three-children mood disappears. She listened! She thought about it! Her frontal lobe had a say this time! Way to go, little girl!
2. We are cleaning her room, attempting to organize her seven (yes seven) treasure boxes full of things like: a tiny rubber pig, an itty-bitty Jayhawk flag, a butterfly decoration from a cupcake she once ate, fun-shaped erasers, shells, rocks, plastic “jewels”, spider rings, a zipper found in a parking lot. The list goes on. And on. I’m trying to teach her how to categorize. This pile for beads, this pile for plastic butterflies, this pile to throw away. I have little hope for the trash pile, knowing her need to keep everything, but she adds a paper frog. Then a broken Chinese handcuff, then a bouncy ball. And I can’t believe the giant step we’ve just taken together. She listened! She thought about it! She got rid of six things and categorized her treasures into manageable piles so she can find them again. My girl is maturing! She’s using concrete thinking, using forethought! Way to go, baby!
3. Mae (3) has run into my bathroom with Lily’s ring. “Whooth ith thith?” She asks with a sly smile and a massively cute lisp. “Ith it mine?” She knows it isn’t. She knows she’s stolen it and is enjoying her power. Lily comes in, upset over the missing ring (which she got at Cici’s pizza in a toy dispenser for a quarter. It is precious.). I expect to see her go-to move of grabbing it away from Mae, causing more crying, more grabbing, escalated drama. But before I preemptively intervene she asks politely. And when that doesn’t work she makes Mae a deal. “Do you want another ring, Mae,” she asks. “Here, you can pick three.” Mae gladly hands back the fake gold band and goes for the silver and pink hearts. Which Lily also loves. All her rings are precious to her. I can’t believe it. I am watching a miracle, and it’s beautiful. Way to go, sweet Lily.
When I see those moments of future Lily shining through the six-year-old veneer, I’m completely encouraged. They can actually buy me a day or two of energy for whatever she throws my way. Because I know there are better days ahead. I might have to wait fifteen years or so, but at least there are signs that she’s capable of awesomeness. And because it’s a beautiful thing to watch. She’s breathtaking when she’s kind, her inner beauty making her glow. I can’t wait until I get to see that all the time. For now I’ll have to take what I can get and keep praying for patience on the dark days. And remember that her little brain is hard at work creating and pruning synaptic connections for her future self. But I’m so thankful for the little glimpses. They give me such hope, which is exactly what I need.