Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Six Year Change

Twila, Age 18 Months
The coolness and change of autumn used to represent the change from busy to calm, the cooling of energy and schedules. In the cooler, darker days we stayed indoors more, slept later, played on the floor in the mornings, steaming coffee by my side, stacking blocks, or playing with Twila’s doll house. But this fall, Twila is in school full time; Jada in her first year of preschool. When I imagined this fall I pictured more free time. I imagined myself sitting with my steaming coffee with a notebook open in front of me, giving my writing the attention it deserves, finally.

The surprise has been that with more school comes more responsibility to get us places on time, more transportation of the family, the children we carpool with. There are more meetings and field trips and deadlines. Picture days and festivals and bake sales, Parent Council meetings. And of course, piano class to get to; piano practicing to enforce. Mothering has gotten busier than it’s ever been.

But perhaps the biggest challenge this seasonal change has brought has been the change in my six year old, Twila. I didn’t know how easy I had it when Twila was a baby, then a toddler. Sure she tested the limits, gave me some push back, practiced her ‘no’ around two and got down-right sassy at three. But being my first child, I had no idea how mild these changes and challenges really were. Then Jada came along. Jada with her hot temper and hair-pulling, skin-clawing, ear-piercing shrieks and waling tantrums. And then I realized how mellow and mild Twila had been. 

When Jada was born, I came to see how helpful, responsible and sensitive Twila really was. Of course I’d known this already on some level but the contrast of their personalities brought into even sharper relief Twila’s mild demeanor. 

And then, something happened. Around five and a half, she started experimenting with being sneaky. She often whispered into Jada’s ear some trouble-making directive. I was puzzled by this new behavior and set to work reminding her who she really is, what behavior I expect from my five year old and what behavior is expected in our family. This worked to some degree. Then, this fall, along came six.

Six caught me completely by surprise. I had not heard of the concept of ‘The Six Year Change.’ Having a birthday near the beginning of the school year, all I could think was that school was ruining her. When she started hitting her sister, stomping around the house with her fist on her hip, glowering at me and shouting that she was not amused with me (for saying she couldn’t have a snack as I was putting dinner on the table) and knocking furniture over when she was asked to “take a break” I thought that perhaps aliens had taken my daughter and replaced her with a tiny angry teenager, or, more likely, she was observing nasty behavior from those other kids at school. Never did it cross my mind that this behavior originated with Twila herself.

After several weeks of trying to manage this storm at home, I finally asked her teacher what on earth could be going on.

Twila’s wonderful kindergarten teacher gave me an article called, Observing The Six Year Change by Ruth Ker. I almost cried with relief as I read about the psychological changes that accompany the baby teeth coming out and youthful bodies stretching into the long, lean bodies of girls, losing the last bits of baby chub and youthful roundness. 

This article described exactly what we were going through. From whispering in other children’s ears for them to break rules, to wanting to be the boss, to experimenting with defiance, to rough housing and vacillating between hyper-maturity to regression (wanting to use a bottle and be carried around in the Ergo). This was precisely what we were going through in Technicolor detail. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that this was a thing, not just our poor parenting or something wrong with our child. This was something other parents had gone through and was a part of growing up that Twila had to go through. The article included tips for how to meet children at this stage with loving firmness. 

As I listened outside the bathroom to the girls splashing in the tub, keeping a surreptitious eye on them without interfering in their negotiations, I heard Twila ring-leading, bossing, telling Jada what they were going to do next. I bit my tongue, trying to allow them to work through this on their own. Jada finally gave her some push back. Twila got angry, Jada screamed, my blood pressure rose.

What is it about hearing our children fight that is so stressful? I remember how frustrated my Dad would get with me and my siblings for not “getting along” whatever that actually means. I remember wishing he would back off and just let us have it out, stop protecting my little sister from me. But now I see from the other side of the mirror how hard it is to watch one child be steam rolled, and manipulated. 

At Waldorf Schools children are encouraged or rather, allowed, to work out their struggles without interference from adults. Adults are present to ensure that no one gets hurt or bullied. But they won’t tell a child that she has to share or take turns. They believe, and I think rightly so, that if a child stands up for himself, finally saying, “I don’t want to be the horse anymore” that that is a skill (negotiating, saying no) that he will have for life, instead of growing up to be a person who waits for someone else to take action. 

With this in mind I stood, biting my lip as the girls fought, yelled, screamed and splashed angrily around. I had just about reached my limit; was just about to barrel in and shout that I had had enough of the screaming, that they could work it out quietly or get out! When all of a sudden, the most amazing thing happened. Twila said, “Hey I know,” 

Jada stopped screaming to entertain her offer.

“How about you play with the bowl first and then I get it!”

“Okay!” Jada shouted with equal enthusiasm.

Without warning, the storm had passed and they were quietly and happily playing, pouring water, enjoying their turns without the bowl as much as they were with the bowl.

I sighed. The kind if sigh of relief that can only come from things working themselves out. Maybe I could actually let go and let them have some of the responsibility for their happiness and fun. Maybe they could actually see on their own that harmony was more fun than discord. 

And with this relinquishment of control over their interactions, I find a new level of peace. When I let go of owning their struggle, I become less emotionally attached to it and therefore am less affected by it. I can observe as a neutral guarder of safety and household rules without judgment.

What do I do with all the energy I’m saving? Aside from getting the house and yard ready for winter, applying to graduate school, getting ready for the start of advent and planning our holiday gift crafts, and attending parent meetings, church membership classes and taking Django to obedience class, I’m writing more! I’ve started a new novel; partly out of raw inspiration and maybe a touch out of avoidance of the final five percent of editing in my nearly-finished novel. But it’s fun and exciting and I feel grateful for it. 


So with the changing leaves, the changing temperatures, the changing time, our family culture changes too. Twila grows more mature and independent, I grow calmer and Jada grows more feisty by the day, which I can handle (most days) because of the truth Twila exemplifies in her own transition that this too shall pass.

Twila, Age 6 Years