Monday, August 14, 2017

What's Normal?

One of the challenges of having two completely different kids is not knowing what is "normal".  Sometimes I think it would have been interesting to have a third, if only to "break the tie" and see which characteristics win out, at least in our gene pool.  Blond or brunette?  Tall or short?  Sports obsessed or well-rounded?  Of course, with our luck we'd end up with door #3 and a whole new set of different characteristics, leaving us completely confused.  I think the differences would be less pronounced if we had a girl, as we'd simply expect that to be the case.  But with two boys you tend to assume things will be at least slightly similar...but no, we've ended up with two totally different little people in our house, which is why having them together is a recipe for disaster.

Add in the fact that Jacob is probably farther up the unique scale than most, and it really leaves you wondering what's normal and what's not, and what we should be expecting from Carter as he grows up.  I know there are certain things that Jacob was really good at when he was younger, and in many cases I'm guessing he was probably a bit ahead of the curve for his age.  I mean, at age 4, he was asking us to spell words so he could write them out.  At the same age, Carter can barely recognize some letters, let alone write them.  He's having a hard time gripping writing utensils properly, and even tracing is a challenge for him at the moment.  But I honestly don't know if he's behind or just average, as Jacob was certainly not a good measure of "average".  He definitely has a long way to go before Kindergarten a year from now, but I'm hoping one day it will just click with him.  But then I worry, what if it doesn't?  We've never really had to think in those terms with Jacob, at least not academically, so it's hard to know at what point we need to take action.  His stuttering has improved-- though he does still have a tendency to repeat phrases sometimes--but I'm still thinking that some speech therapy might be in his future as he's not as clear as I think he probably should be at this age.

Then there's sports.  Jacob had a near-perfect t-ball stance at age two, and Carter still needs a lot of coaching.  In fact, he actually reminds me of most of the kids Jacob played with during his first couple years of Little League, which makes me think he's totally normal in this realm.  But when you're used to a kid where things came naturally, it's just different.  We also try to keep in mind that Jacob had Craig all to himself back then and they spent a ton of time out in the yard one-on-one.  Carter definitely hasn't had that same experience, partly because Craig is split between them, and partly because he's just not as into it.  He's happier running around the yard with his bubble gun!  But lest you think he's not athletic, he's definitely a runner.  His stride seems more natural than Jacob's ever did, and he also mastered pedals far earlier than Jacob did.  He's a speed demon on his big wheel and tricycle, whereas Jacob only really got used to pedals a couple years ago and still can't ride a two-wheeler.  Again, it's all about focus and priorities, and that has never been one for him.  We keep talking about just taking off the training wheels and going over to the school parking lot until he figures it out, but he's nervous and we just haven't pushed it.  One day, I hope.

Carter definitely has more of a tendency to want to sit and watch something on TV than Jacob ever did.  Jacob liked having shows on but tended to play while it was on and only pay half attention to the show.  When it comes to actual playing, though, both kids have been pretty good about picking an activity and spending a decent amount of time playing independently.  That's a newer skill for Carter.  Jacob did it with a few specific activities--Lego, Playmobil, setting up elaborate games on his little hockey rink, or playing real sports--and Carter is actually better at random imaginative play.  The other day he was playing with some stacking cups and a few other things for a half hour, with some sort of actual storyline in his head.  He did it again the other day with some other random toys while I half-napped.  Sometimes he can do it with his superheroes or his cars, but I won't lie--electronics are probably still his favorite.  Hmmm.  Oh, and despite the fact that Jacob can kill an impressive amount of time on a phone or his Xbox, Carter's preference for screens makes him nuts, apparently because he thinks Carter should be playing other stuff with him.

I keep hoping that Carter will be my reader, because Jacob definitely is not.  Carter loves books, and everyone at daycare remarks to me what a bookworm he is.  He loves bedtime books, too.  Strangely, though, it's less likely that you'll see him reading books on his own, so it may just be that he likes spending time with whoever is reading to him.  Or maybe it's that it's hard to get him to remember that his books and toys are there when he's in a screen-time mood, but I'm hopeful that he will take to reading much more than Jacob did.  Jacob liked books when he was younger, but I swear that the nightly reading homework he had for his first three years of school wore on him.  It stopped being fun and turned into a chore.  It's been a bit of a challenge to rectify that, but he did discover his love for writing this spring thanks to a school project.  That seems to be more of a computer-based thing than sitting down with pen and paper, however, so it's not like I'm seeing him sitting at his desk writing his next novel, but someday I'm sure he'll get his own Chromebook or something and maybe then he will learn that reading can only make his writing better.  In the meantime, hopefully we'll get back on track this fall with me reading to him at night, as I think it helps him see that there are cool books out there to read.  And like I said, getting Carter into letter recognition and writing is our next priority--starting tomorrow when I give him a half-birthday present (4-1/2!  What?!) of a dry-erase Paw Patrol-themed writing book. 

One of the last big differences between the kids is that Carter tends to be Mr. Helpful whereas not.  I think it's definitely more in Carter's nature to be thoughtful and helpful, as Jacob's personality has always been a bit more "me-focused".  All kids are self-centered, but I feel like Jacob takes that to new heights most of the time.  But again, who am I to say what's normal?  Still, he pretty much acts like the world does or should revolve around him, and it's exhausting.  It took me years to get him to clean up his breakfast dishes, and sometimes we still have to remind him to put his clothes in the hamper or to even pick up his stuff from right in front of the front door.  Carter, on the other hand, is happy to comply when asked to clean up his dishes and is already pretty good about putting away dirty clothes.  Granted, Jacob's disdain for the whole process probably made me start it earlier and be more intentional about it with Carter, but I think Carter's personality has definitely made him more accepting of it overall.  He wants to be a helper, he wants to do things himself, and he says "I love you" and willingly gives hugs and kisses all the time.  We didn't see a lot of that with Jacob, ever, despite showering him with affection constantly.  However, he was always the snuggler and loved to take naps on us or with us, so perhaps he just showed affection differently.  Carter doesn't mind snuggling while watching a show and sometimes doesn't mind having company at bedtime, but he doesn't usually want to have your arm around him or have you at all in his space.  Sometimes he'll even tell you when he wants you to leave.  I guess he just likes physical contact on his own terms!  Jacob, on the other hand, may not love hugs and kisses anymore, but he still sometimes ignores personal space norms and will be all up in your space in a restaurant booth or on the couch, or even sitting at the kitchen table.  I guess my kids are just weird walking contradictions in the personal space/snuggling realm. 

But suffice it to say that having two very different kids makes it hard to know what's normal.  There are so few areas in which they were similar, and without a ton of mom friends or close kid buddies, we don't have a whole lot of other insight into other people's experiences.  Blogs, articles, and Facebook posts might give a little more insight and help me feel a little less alone with some issues, but it's just amazed me to see that nature has won out so many times over nurture in our house, when I would have assumed pre-parenthood that it would be the opposite.  I know that a lot of parenthood is just figuring it out as you go along, but I sort of assumed I could figure it out once and be prepared for round two, but with so many things that has not been the case.  Even though I feel like I have evolved significantly since I became a parent nine years and two months ago, I still feel like I'm fumbling through most of the time--and not all of that is when it comes to Jacob.  Some of it is refining techniques and some is catering to a different personality type this time around, but more of it than expected is new territory.  "Normal" apparently just isn't a thing with us, and I guess I should just embrace it and be grateful for the broad array of life experiences my two very different children have each provided.  And I'm sure someday I'll be able to feel that way.  Right now in the trenches it's not easy, though, so I guess I'll just keep trudging forward and keep looking ahead knowing there will be a light at the end of the tunnel...someday.

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