A free spirit. A wonderer and wanderer. Quirky. Day-dreamy.
These are words I often use to describe my 5 year-old, and now that I think about it, they are words that are sometimes used to describe me.
She is often the easiest of company. If she can take the world on her own terms, all is well.
But I noticed, early on, that she struggles with anticipation. She gets nervous if there’s a build up, if there’s fuss about something. Half-way through an expression of excitement she has changed her mind and doesn’t want to do it. She feels under pressure sometimes, when there really isn’t any… a kind of performance anxiety even when nobody’s watching.
September was tricky. P1. She developed a clingyness she hadn’t had before. She was one of those children who needed prised off their mum, finger by finger. But still, September of P1, that’s understandable, right?
It’s June now and since the middle of May she has, once again, needed peeled off me every morning.
This morning her Principal bent down and carried her in to school in her arms. They are so gentle with her. So positive and kind. Yet here she is on 1st June freaking out about going through that door.
The school office phoned on my way home. She’s ok. She’s settled. The Principal’s wearing her sun hat. She’s laughing.
Of course she is. I know she is. She enjoys school. But, yet.
Her little sister got baptised on Sunday and when I get in from the school run there’s a text from my mum. She has sent a few since Sunday – texts that are careful not to make a fuss of me but that are checking in if I’m ok – if I have ‘recovered’. She knows me. The baptism was good, important. Among people who are gentle and positive and kind. But my mum knows me. I freak out, sometimes, even in safe places, even in the midst of things that I want.
We joke, now and again, about the little triangles of pancake my mum produced a steady supply of in the run-up to my wedding. She was well practised by then in the low-key art of caring for a daughter who feels sick when she’s nervous. She just plated them up and left them quietly at my elbow, bite-size pieces of sustenance that would get me through.
Last night at bedtime Livi said it out loud: “I’m nervous about P2”. It’s what I suspected. It seems so early, so pointless, to start worrying about it now. And yet, I get it.
I have described to friends how I feel like my intuition is broken these days, like I used to “KNOW” how to work with Liv, and now I don’t. But I read this recently:
Intuition is not independent of any reasoning process. In fact, psychologists believe that intuition is a rapid-fire, unconscious associating process- like a mental puzzle. The brain makes an observation, scans its files, and matches the observation with existing memories, knowledge, and experiences. Once it puts together a series of matches, we get a “gut” on what we’ve observed.
Sometimes our intuition or our gut tells us what we need to know; other times it actually steers us toward fact-finding and reasoning. As it turns out, intuition may be the quiet voice within, but that voice is not limited to one message. Sometimes our intuition whispers, “Follow your instincts.” Other times it shouts, “You need to check this out, we don’t have enough information!”
In my research, I found that what silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing. We like sure things and guarantees so much that we don’t pay attention to the outcomes of our brain’s matching process.
[Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection]
It’s a lovely idea that we might be wonderfully, naturally intuitive parents. But it’s much more comforting to me that intuition is something I can go looking for, and remind myself of.
I have been doing that this week. I remind myself of my own nervous nature and how it hasn’t ruined my life. I remember what it feels like to be cared for by an empathetic mother. I read old favourite articles and books. I take wise counsel. I reawaken my instincts.
I started this blog post one evening and when I read it the following day the old gremlins were whispering – people will read it and think ‘Well of course Olivia has issues, her mother is a clearly a crackpot!’. I told a few friends. They said: Me too. Welcome to the Sisterhood.
My friend Tory told me a story this week about her son Noah at his nursery sports day. 60 kids walked out all completely fine, and in the middle of them, Noah, “walking along crying his little head off, upset and miserable.” Everything in her story reminded me of Liv – how she could tell how difficult his first race was by the way he was running and the weird way he held his mouth. Tory said so many wise things but among them this : “I hate that he cried at his sports day but I totally understand why he did.”
It’s not just going in to school that’s hard for Livi at the moment. It’s been the Mayfair and her cousin’s play and swimming and church and choosing an ice-lolly. I hate that she cries at these things she should love, but I understand why she does.
In my favourite parenting book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne calls it a “soul fever” when a child is being rushed along by too much stuff, speed or stress. “Something is not right; they’re upset, overwhelmed, at odds with the world. And most of all, at odds with their truest selves.” He advocates simplification – stripping away the distractions and clutter that monopolise our attention and threaten our connection. “It’s about giving kids the ease to become themselves, and giving us the ease to pay attention. To more fully develop, and to trust, our instincts.”
In an article I love about slowing down kids’ schedules, especially introverts, the author writes about how his 6-year-old son Felix “isn’t always cognizant of his needs”. I have to deliberately remind myself of this. Olivia isn’t cognizant of her needs. She wants to do All The Things. But all the things exhaust her, especially at the minute.
June is full of events and outings and changes in routine. Each one seems like a good thing, but when Olivia anticipates what’s ahead, combined with finishing P1, it sends her running to the toilet. So we have cancelled some outings, replaced them with things like ‘Chicken drumsticks for dinner’ and ‘Walking to the café for a bun’, and truthfully, even CBeebies on the sofa instead of ALL the time in the sun. And she hasn’t complained like we thought she would, in fact she seems at peace with the schedule. There is a certain kind of anticipation, is there not, in chicken drumsticks and a wee bun, that couldn’t make anyone nervous?
I have thought all week about Liv, about my mum, about my own anxious self. Liv has wobbled and I have wobbled. It’s Friday now and I feel like the quiet voice in my gut has got a bit clearer, and calmer. She’s out of sorts. That’s ok. I can care for that. And also, it isn’t everything she is.
We walk home from school on Friday afternoon and she sidesteps into the doorway of the old music shop to do this geeky dance to the music.
She always does that.
It’s one of my favourite things.