(Note: the following dis-jointed post is what happens when you get out of the habit of blogging. I would love to claim that my next post will make more sense, but it wouldn't be true, and you probably wouldn't believe it, anyway.)
Isaac has never been an overly cautious or sensitive child. He skipped entirely the "separation anxiety" phase of baby-hood, and even as a barely two-year old, didn't miss a beat when I sent him to pre-school. His personality, up to now, has been characterized with zero impulse control, definite opinions, and high levels of activity. He has always known the rules, but followed them arbitrarily. It's not that he didn't want to be good, or that he disregarded my standards, but more that he couldn't remember the rule at the time, or that he wanted what he wanted so badly, he was willing to take a punishment for it. He rarely sits still, and gets excited easily. But he's always been an exceptionally happy child, looking forward to new experiences, never stopping much to ponder but instead running full tilt into what's next.
Over Christmas, that boy disappeared. Okay, I'm being dramatic. He didn't disappear altogether, and it hasn't happened quite that suddenly. But it is true that my happy little fire-cracker has suddenly become more thoughtful. He seems to understand, now, that other people might not be nice to him. A year ago, if my friend Susanna told him to share a toy, he wouldn't have given it a second thought. This year, he gets embarrassed. He is afraid of the street, afraid of the stove, afraid of many things that didn't mean a thing to him a short while ago. Not terribly afraid, mind you, just afraid enough to stay away.
This is making my job as a parent a lot easier. If I explain to him that when he pushes the alarm button on the elevator, the elevator repairman will come and ask him what happened, he no longer pushes the button. When we get to a parking lot or a street, he automatically reaches for my hand, with no complaint. I no longer worry if I leave him unattended--I know he's not going to drink a foreign substance, or play with matches. If I call his name, he will answer, even if he's busy playing with his sister. When I ask him nicely to share a toy with a new friend, he does this with almost no complaint, and even, on occasion, shares without being prompted. He says please and thank-you without reminding. He will stop whining immediately upon being reminded that I don't respond to it.
I think part of it is age: he actually can understand things better now. He understands that there is danger in the world, that things can hurt him, and that when I tell him to leave the outlets alone, there is a reason. He has been around long enough now to recognize a street, and he knows that he won't get across it without holding a hand. He recognizes that when he shares his toys with his sister, before I have to remind him to, then he gets to pick the toy he wants to give up, instead of me.
How great for me, then, right? I can feel proud of the little boy he is becoming, I can pat myself on the back for good parenting of a toddler. Except I don't really feel that way. Instead I feel this little pit of anxiety in my belly: have I "broken his spirit" already? Have I focused too much on the dangerous parts of life, have I insisted on politeness too much, have I destroyed his full-tilt, no-holds barred personality?
Although I have complained about it enough, I actually really love Isaac's exuberance. I am a pretty restrained, low-risk kind of person, and I appreciate anyone who has the confidence to be more than that. I loved how happy he was in new situations, how nothing seemed to scare him, how thrilled he was to meet new people and try new things. To a large degree, he is still like this, true, but I see it flitting away, and that scares me.
I blame a lot of my reticence on my dad's parenting skills. He was incredibly strict with us, and we were afraid of him until college. Fear of failure is huge for me and my sister, because he always expected so much, and was so disappointed if we didn't deliver. Even if we did deliver, even if we got a bunch of As and one B+, he'd always be quick to say something like "And that B+ in history, I bet you could get an A next semester."
I don't want Isaac to be afraid of life. I don't want him to be afraid to try. I don't want him to worry about what other people think of him.
There is something else, too: his health. He is fine, healthy, thriving little boy, and his prognosis is great. Still, it will be something he needs to deal with-- not right now, but soon, and for the rest of his life. I don't want his health to make him feel different, to make him feel small, or unimportant, or bitter.
My brother-in-law, who, as you all know, is a complete and utter crazy asshole, has health problems. He was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when he was twelve, and it's my belief that said health problem has everything to do with the person he is now. He is bitter and angry that his brothers did not get the disease, and he did. He is selfish and incompetent, because his parents babied him from the day of his diagnosis until today, to the extent that he has never had to do anything for himself. On some level, he doubts that he has that ability.
I don't want that kind of life for Isaac. (Obviously.) I know that I can learn from my in-laws, and I can treat Isaac differently. I can get us family counseling, I can get Isaac whatever help he needs or wants, even if he doesn't want it.
But when I see his personality changing like this, when I see him becoming more cautious, I catch my breath. I don't want to be the reason that life stops being so exciting to him.
Every day at pre-school, right before the kids get out, the teacher gives each one a sticker on their hand. Except that Isaac has always insisted that the teacher puts his sticker on his shirt. Today, when I picked him up, the sticker was on his hand, just like all the other kids.
What do you think? Is this kind of personality change typical for an almost 3 year old? Or have I been too hard on him--and if, so, how do I fix that?