Julianna and the Ticking Clock of Approaching Adolescence

Photo by Frankieleon, via Flickr

I have this parenting theory: It’s not that a child is too young to learn a particular lesson (like, say, toileting). It’s really a matter of when the parent decides he or she is ready to take on the task of teaching it. When the parent makes it a priority, the child learns.*


I know this isn’t a terribly popular view, but I have four kids, so I kind of think I have the right to my opinion, at least as far as the young years go. And in fact, I think this theory covers a whole lot of life outside of parenting, too. Like weight loss, for instance. I spent years listing all the reasons I couldn’t lose weight, and then one day I decided it was important and I did it, and that was the end of that. I can think of two people who, facing their own mortality, did the same.

But it’s parenthood I’m thinking about right now. Because last week, Julianna had a zit on her nose.

A zit.

She’s going into the third grade.

I developed early, and it took me until I was nearly thirty to feel at home in my own skin. And in fact, I think I got ogled a few days ago at the grocery store. Which is not as flattering as you might think, a few weeks shy of 42. Truthfully, it was a little creepy.

But I digress. The point is, the day I’ve been dreading since I found out my daughter has an extra chromosome is fast approaching. I know what happens to a girl’s body when puberty hits. And let me just say we’re behind the curve in learning self-care. Way, way behind the curve. In just about every area you can imagine.

The truth is, I’ve let a lot of things slide, where Julianna is concerned, because it’s easier that way. We’ve made halfhearted attempts at modesty (for boys and girls alike), but one of the Things You Hear Around The Basi House is: “There’s a whole lotta nakedness around here!!!” It’s really hard to get everyone ready for school or bed and police whether kids have put away their clothes, put stuff in the laundry that’s dirty, NOT put stuff in the laundry that isn’t, get teeth brushed, and so on. It’s simpler to do things FOR Julianna so we know it got done right. For instance, she has a strong oral defensiveness—it’s her only sensitivity, really. I’ve spent a year working very hard to get her to let me get at the upper front teeth, only to discover that we hadn’t worked hard enough on the lower ones.

But things keep smacking me in the face, reminding me that time is running out. There was the zit, of course. There’s the fact that in the last 6-8 months, she’s finally started putting on bulk. She doesn’t look much bigger, but she’s much more solid than she was a year ago. I can’t pick her up anymore (at least, not without risk of self-injury). Then there was the orthotist, who told me the other day, while prescribing calf-height inserts instead of ankle-height, that we have to deal with her feet before puberty, because once she starts cycling we have 18 months and the bones will solidify, because she’ll be done growing. I had to reboot and play mental catchup, because I heard the word “cycling” in relation to my daughter and my overload switch flipped.

And then, of course, there’s the sudden uptick in stubborn lack of cooperation—a taste of what adolescence might look like for this girl, I’m afraid.

It’s time to prioritize this. Now, while she’s still a giggly, sweet girl who forgives you as soon as the traumatic lesson in taking a shower instead of a bath is over and done. Because soon, she’ll be too big for me to work with physically, and I know, as stubborn as she is now, it’s only going to get worse.

Life with a girl with Down syndrome seems incredibly slow: slow to travel from point A to Point B (“But Mom, I don’t LIKE to walk fast!”); slow to learn; slow to grow. Slow all the way across the board.

But it’s movement all the same.

*Note: this is about typical kids, not kids who have severe disabilities or emotional/mental trauma. I’m talking about your ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill middle class kids with parents who read parenting magazines.