When your older sister was an infant and toddler in California, we participated in what I can only assume is a uniquely awesome program through our local community college: a parent education class. It is free (FREE) and meets in a local park or school for 2 hours, every week. There is time for free play with tons of toys and crafts as well as a parenting presentation/discussion. Each week, parents are encouraged to fill out child observation sheets, noting new and interesting things about their children. At first I thought of these child observation sheets as an afterthought, and used them mainly as a crutch, something to do whenever I felt shy around the other moms.
Now I realize these observation sheets did more than give me something to do when I felt too gawky to chat up the other moms. Since some weeks I had to stop and watch her and think what's she doing that's new or noteworthy?, they taught me to pay attention. They taught me to just sit and watch and notice and they made me write down what I saw.
One day, I imagine you might find a folder jammed with these sheets, a thick roster listing specific, weekly touchstones of your sister's early life. I noted everything, sometimes with pride (usually followed by an exclamation point), sometimes with concern (always followed by a question mark). As a result, there is a precise written record of her first two years: which hand she preferred at 4 months old, the date she began scooting around on her behind and the first time she snatched some other kid's toy.
Now, of course, I never filled out any of these sheets for you. For one thing, we moved to Virginia when you were 3 months old and there is no free Parent Education class here. And, well, you are, after all, my second child. Your life, and our life together, is just different.
I felt bad about this for awhile. Shouldn't I make an effort to give you all the same experiences as Z? Will you look back on these lopsided recorded memories and see favoritism or unfairness?
It would be impossible for me to mother you girls in exactly the same way. I am a different person- I am a wholly different mother- than I was when Z was a baby/toddler. I'd say you're both lucky, in your own way. My mothering of Z was exacting, thorough and exhausting, for us both. My mothering of you may be more scattered and less precise, but it is also more open and easy-going. Gone may be the exactitude in record keeping and specific written observations. But also gone is the hyper-vigilance, the anxious milestone checking, the first-time-mother intensity.
Luckily, not gone is the lesson behind those child observation sheets. Pay attention. Sit back, watch and be curious. What are you interested in? What catches your eye? How do you chose to interact with blocks, the play telephone, other children?
I learned so much from those classes, everything from how shaving cream makes a fun, messy activity (for someone else to set up and clean up) to why community support is paramount to surviving stay-at-home motherdom.
But mostly I learned to notice you, my girls. And to write it down, when I can. But I want you to know that even though I didn't write it all down for you, the noticing is still there.
I've noticed you, E. I'm curious; I pay attention; I see you. I'm sorry there isn't the thick folder with written records to show it. But it's here, in me, in us. And, sometimes, in this blog.
Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama