Julianna and the Ticking Clock of Approaching Adolescence

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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.

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Just Write: A Letter To Age Twelve

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Love yourself

Love yourself (Photo credit: QuinnDombrowski)

This weekend, my family hosted a baby shower for my youngest sister, who is expecting a baby girl in November. One of the activities, which we found here, was for each guest to make a card for one of the baby’s childhood birthdays, up through age 21. We asked our grandmothers to make cards for Baby’s 21st birthday, and our mother chose 16. The rest of us picked a number. I drew 12. Since I think better at the keyboard, I decided today’s blog would be all about what I would want my twelve-year-old daughter to know.

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Dear Twelve,

When I started thinking about what I want to say to you, I tried to remember what my life was like at age twelve. It didn’t take long, because that was when I started Journaling. My body was changing, and I didn’t like it. I wasn’t ready to stop being a child. I wanted to keep jumping off hay bales and climbing trees, playing Nazi resistance on tractors and grain trucks.

But most of my classmates seemed eager to be grown up, and I didn’t feel like I fit in. I thought everyone else “got” something I just didn’t “get.” Do you feel that way, too?  I promise you, all your classmates and friends feel the same way, even if it doesn’t look like it. Everyone’s body and mind are changing, and everyone has to figure out how to adjust. And everybody does that a little differently.

It’s okay not to have a ton of friends. Your mom had a gift for making lots of friends from different social circles. I never did, and I used to think there was something wrong with me. But some of us are made to only have room for one or two really close friends at a time. And that’s okay.

You are beautiful. You may roll your eyes at me, sitting at a computer a thousand miles away before you’re even born–how can I know whether you’re beautiful or not at age twelve? I know because beauty is something inside. There are Beautiful People out there, people who get on magazine covers for being beautiful, and we may recognize their beauty right away. But most of the rest of us are pretty ordinary-looking, and we learn to recognize the beauty in each other as we get to know them. The crazy but wonderful thing is that I don’t just mean inner beauty. I mean that a person will become more attractive physically as you get to know them. And the same happens with you.

So love yourself, respect yourself–your body and also the beautiful soul inside it. That is where God lives, and where God made you in His image. Take care of yourself. Eat well, stay active, and take time just to sit still and rest. The world is opening up in front of you, and it’s going to be an exhilerating and terrifying ride. Stay close to your parents, even when they drive you nuts. You need deep roots to help you fly. The rest of us can’t wait to see where you go.

Love,

Aunt Kate

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Now it’s your turn. What would you tell age twelve? Am I missing anything critical?

(Linked to Just Write at The Extraordinary Ordinary)