Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Falling down two

We weren't really ready for this new Emily, the one who collapses to the floor at the slightest provocation, twisting, churning and writhing as if possessed by some demon its our job to exorcise. It was always Chloe who was the unpredictable one, the sensitive one, the one that couldn't cope with stimuli.

It's such a struggle being two. So many connections are being made - so many synapses being formed in various parts of the brain, allowing for new connections, new understanding. It's all a bit overwhelming. The world is a complex place for a two-year old, and her emotional development is just trying to keep up.

Recently I came home from work to find Emily doing the strangest thing. She'd be walking along and then suddenly drop to her bum, her legs splayed out like a gymnast. She'd then start to cry - or sort of cry. The first time she did it, I wondered whether she had some sort of neurological problem. But then she did it again and employed that same forced cry. I looked at her quizzically for a moment and then turned to Julie: "Is she fake falling?" I asked. "Yes, she's been doing it all day, Julie responded, "and for a couple of days now."

The fake falling didn't last long. Emily was looking for attention - fawning, and the only attention she was getting from us was a mixture of mild amusement and scientific inquisitiveness - like watching the behaviour of the chimpanzees on the Discovery Channel. But the thinking process that must have led her to intentionally fake falling for attention amazed us. She was putting a lot of effort into being noticed - more than Chloe did at that age. Then again, Chloe was impossible not to notice. She was the first child and couldn't sit still or play by herself for most of he first three years of life. She was always there, in the middle, not to be missed.

Emily's different, not only because her Mom and Dad don't have the same time to devote to her, but also because Emily is often happy to play on her own. She's gone off to play on her own for as long as 40 minutes or more. Besides checking from time-to-time to make sure she's safe and breathing, if she's happy to play on her own, we're happy to leave her to her own devices. It encourages independence, and besides, it's a break.When she's not playing by herself, she's often playing with Chloe. They love to role-play together.

So Emily doesn't get the level of attention or exclusive focus that Chloe used to get. And she sometimes craves it.When she feels she needs some special Mom and Dad time just for her, she gets clingy. She whines, asks to be held constantly,wants to sit on our laps and be spoon-fed her lunch, or throws a full-fledged tantrum on the floor. We try to indulge a little (except with the tantrums), but not a lot. We also try to make time just for her when Chloe's busy with something else.

The rest of the time Emily's fiercely independent. She knows she's number two and she's continually trying to catch up. She wants to do everything Chloe does and feels inadequate when she can't. If we were to say we're taking Chloe to the doctor for lots of needles, she'd say "me too," as she does with everything. She's potty training earlier because she wants to catch up with Chloe. She's proud as anything that she now goes to her own program, just like Chloe. When Chloe tells her she's not old enough for something, she's genuinely crushed. The seeds of second child syndrome are sewn young. All we can do is try to mitigate.

We try to focus on Emily's differences, on her unique interests and talents. We try to to take her attention away from doing the next thing Chloe can already do and focus it on things she particularly likes to do. It's no social engineering project. We know we can't eliminate the impact the pecking order has Emily any more than we can eliminate the effect it has on Chloe. It's the way things go, and they'll survive it and thrive (hopefully), like all the siblings before them. But maybe we can encourage their own inner-resources so they can better deal with their issues when the time comes.

No, it's not easy being two or 2nd. But Emily's very luck to have Chloe as her fearless leader. They look out for one another and maybe someday they'll set the world on fire together. For now, they'll have to settle for raising the temperature in our home.