W is the kid that doesn’t want to miss out on anything. She’s a feisty, spunky, little fighter. She’s competitive, she hates losing or getting bad marks in school. She’s an equal opportunist–that goes from anything like women’s right to making sure everyone in the has the exact same amount cinnamon rolls, slice of cake, etc. (Those cinnamon rolls or slices of cake also have to be exactly equal in size, because if someone gets a slightly bigger share, W’s quick to point it out.)
I really can’t tell if she’s naturally inclined to be that way, or it’s her birth circumstances–being the second child (and being the second child to a sibling with disabilities) or both. My money’s on a little of both.
I think W’s mentality of her right to “be right there with everyone else” first came when she was just a few months old and accompanying J to his early intervention preschool therapy. Even though she didn’t have special needs, she gravitated to (and was encouraged by the preschool teachers) move to that song, and crawl through that tunnel, and chase after those bubbles just like everyone else in the room. That 10 month old little girl worked herself into that group so much that the preschool teachers even made W her own, personalized snack mat for snack time.
W doesn’t see any barriers when it comes to age or gender. Just because she’s almost a full year younger than everyone else in her grade doesn’t mean that she can’t be in the advanced math class. Just because she’s the only girl on a team of boys on the parks and recreation baseball team doesn’t mean that she’s can’t try as hard as the boys to hit that ball.
W’s also a really independent girl out of necessity. I can’t spend as much time teaching her, hanging out with her, or “life coaching” her as I’d like. And so far W’s tenacity and independence have served her well.
Or so I thought.
Something happened in the last few months, and I’m not exactly sure on how we got here. W has always been a busy kid. But she’s never been this busy.
W came home a few weeks ago and told me and Steve that she really wanted to sign up for debate. We asked her why she was suddenly interested in debate, and she told us that some girls on the XC team were talking about how fun it was and that W should sign up to do it. Debate seems like the nerdiest and most perfect extracurricular activity for college applications, we said yes. How could this not be a good idea?
Except that I’m not sure that it’s a good idea. Debate is one of those few extra curricular that is a middle school/high school mentor blend (like swimming and XC) and in theory, I love the idea of her being mentored by mature, smart, put-together high school students (as far as high school students get). But here’s the kicker. It’s different than our XC experience. Unlike XC, you don’t show up to practice and then go home and do your homework for the rest of the night. You show up to debate practice and then go home and do your homework and research for your debate tournament for the rest of the night. And then there’s the debate tournaments.
I thought the 3-4 hour track meets were long. Try debate meets. W is up and and gone by 6:30 am Saturday morning and doesn’t get home until 6:30 pm. Then there was the Grand Forks tournament where W was up at 4:45 to get ready. And then there was last weekend’s debate tournament where she got out of school at 2:00 pm for the Friday afternoon tournament (didn’t get home until 6:00) and then the all day Saturday tournament from 7:30-3:30 pm.
She says she’ll ride out the rest of debate season–she’s not going to quit, because, in her words, “I know you guys already paid the activity fee and I’d feel really bad if I quit.”
This is, of course, on top of homework, piano, and violin, the last two having extra rehearsals and concert nights because it’s December. It makes my head spin. I don’t know how she keeps hers straight. Let’s just say she’s been in a really grouchy mood.
Are we the only family that goes through this? I’ve got lots of questions about this since my “typical” parenting skills are spotty, at best, and my daughter is a really good, self-motivated survivor. This kid is up until 10pm almost every single night doing homework, then getting up at 6:30 am (completely on her own) to finish up that homework. She’s an A student but stressed out as heck. She’s tired, and therefore a little testy, and the past couple of months I feel like we’ve been riding the crazy train. (Luckily J has been WAY less high-maintenance behaviourally so far this school year). Are we subconsciously making up for “successes” that aren’t happening with J? Is anyone else going through this kind of crazy? It really feels like it might be just us, because everyone else I know has kids that are this busy too. I see kids who are doing basketball practice, and musical practices hanging out at the high school at the same hours we’re there. And they seem like they’re handling life just fine. When I ask other parents if their kids love these extracurriculars, there’s always a quick, “Yeah, they totally do!” and when I ask “how’s homework?” it’s always, “great!” Are we the only strugglers because of W’s age difference and our atypical family composition, or is everyone living the unintentionally projected real-life Instagram life, where all I see is this happy, busy activity and none of the at-home angst afterwards. If this is what “normal” looks like for the regular parenting world, I’m not sure if our “normal” is good enough to be “normal.”
Let’s just say we’ll be really glad for the holidays in 2 weeks. Not that we’re counting down or anything. The debate thing is still up for debate. Steve and I aren’t sure how to approach it. Do we ask her to quit? Does she stick with it until the end of February? I know she’ll be able to handle it, because she’s the kind of kid that just does. But do I want to be teaching her that life lesson? That you need to be stressed out and busy because everyone else is and that’s what success looks like? Not really. Where’s the line of letting her find her own limits, or intervening and setting them for her?
I’m not sure if she’s trying to be an overachiever to “make up” for J, or if she sees it as her right to have every access to every opportunity because she’s seen us fight that battle for J and she’s been along for the ride. Probably a little of both. To be fair, she really didn’t know what signing up for debate even looked like, and even if she did, I don’t think she could really realize what it was until she was in it. I love that she wants to try everything and thinks it’s her right too, but when and how do you tell her too much is too much? There’s that slight paranoia in my brain too of “what if she misses out on debate and she wants to become a politician someday and that dream is ruined because we pulled her out of debate?” I know that’s ridiculous. But those thoughts still pop in my head. And there’s that mom guilt of “you have an autistic brother and autism hinders our family experience in ways other families don’t experience. I want you to have every opportunity you want.”
I’m starting to realize parenting a “typical” child can be just as stressful as parenting an “atypical child.”