What I Want My Low-Maintenance Child To Know

by Jennifer Douglas
Originally Published: 
Little girl with red glasses sitting at a table, playing with coloring

There you sit, happily entertaining yourself while quietly coloring at the dining room table. The pride you are taking in your work is striking. As you choose every new color with precision from your elaborate case of markers, I see the intent you have on creating work that’s as beautiful and unique as you are.

I know you don’t think I’m watching, but I am.

As you occasionally look up, you probably see your brother with his arms wrapped around my legs. He is demanding “Up….up mommy,” repeatedly. I try to ignore him so I can come to compliment what you are doing. But his demands are rising. In a stronger, bolder voice, he screams “UP! UP MOMMY!!!” Your brother is stuck to me like Krazy Glue, and no matter how much I encourage him to entertain himself, it’s just not very often that he does.

I lift him up, and try to make my way over to look at your beautiful work of art. I notice that you’re occasionally glancing at the cartoons on TV. Once in a while, your entire face lights up when something funny happens on the cartoon. You laugh, loudly. The dimples on your face let me know that you are are basking in happiness. Your independence has always been such a treasure to observe.

But before I can make my way over to you, your brother tries to demand a snack. I gently tell him “No, dinner is on the way,” but your brother doesn’t like the word “no” yet. He starts throwing a tantrum. He is persistent on getting his way, but I want him to eat his dinner, so I tell him “no” again. His tantrum escalates. I’ve all of a sudden got my hands full with a screaming toddler, and my well-intended plans to come over and pay attention to you are derailed.

I know you don’t think I’m trying, but I am.

I’m now in the middle of trying to prepare dinner with a screaming toddler who wants enough snacks to choke a horse. I am not an octopus, and I don’t have enough hands to deal with the chaos unravelling before me. You are well into your coloring project now, and I faintly see the mosaic of colors you’ve chosen for your picture as your brother continues to make demands. He wants up. He wants snacks. He wants hugs. He needs me to help him pee. He is tantruming. My patience is running thin. Your brother is consuming 95% of my time and energy, and maybe at this point you might ask me for one small thing. My response is probably short and my tone frustrated, and that’s not your fault.

I know you don’t think I’m listening, but I am.

You start to sense my frustration, and you stop what you are doing. You try to help me, and you start speaking to your brother. You hold his hand. You try to be the mommy. He doesn’t want to listen, to either of us, but you are trying. It’s astonishing to me that rather than compete for my time and energy, which you rightfully should as a sibling, you will often stop what you are doing to help me.

I know you don’t think I appreciate that, but I do.

Dinnertime starts. Although dinnertime is never easy in this house, it is almost always a bigger battle to get your brother to eat than anyone. You might take some coaxing, some convincing, and some bribing, but you almost always make the effort to eat your dinner. Again, your brother takes the greater amount of effort. He finally takes a bite and we almost always give him a far bigger round of applause than we should. And rather than ask for applause for yourself, you clap for him as well. You are the best big sister any brother could ask for. You’ve finished your dinner, and he’s barely just begun, but you wait for him to finish his dinner anyway. Even if he leaves the table twenty times, you stay seated.

I know you don’t think I notice these things, but I do.

When dinnertime is finished, I am usually frazzled. I don’t have a nerve left in my body that isn’t shot. I start to clean up. You go back to coloring your beautiful picture. Your brother has left behind a half-eaten plate of cold carrots and chicken, and he’s trying to negotiate for more snacks. You wait patiently for snacks, rather than making any demands. You continue to color your picture, while your brother again asks “MOMMY, UP.” I try to walk away, but he’s still all over me like the Stage-Five Clinger that he is.

It’s almost bedtime, and I’m wrestling and bribing your brother into his pajamas. You don’t argue at all when I ask you to put on yours. It’s time to go upstairs, but you just finished your coloring. The picture is gorgeous, and your ear-to-ear smile beams with pride. You ask me if I like it. I tell you “I love it.” You cut it out of your coloring book, and you give it to me. This is the essence of who you are. Kind. Happy. Loving. Giving. Independent.

I know you don’t think I see you, but I do.

I want you to know, my low-maintenance child, that even though in this moment, your brother demands my time, energy, and effort so much more than you do, I see everything you do. I watch every move you make. I smile at you taking joy in the simplest of activities. I may not always occupy the physical space right next to you. I might not always have an extra hand to carry you when your brother wants to be carried. I might not always speak as many words to you as I do to him. But, you are seen. You are heard. You are noticed. You are loved, just as much as your brother is.

As you and your brother grow older, the dynamic may change in our house, and it may not. My only hope is to always convey these thoughts to you, in a way that lets you know how much you are loved, heard, seen, and valued.

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