By Stephanie Olson
Parenting, like so many other things in life, is often a matter of having the flexibility to meet new challenges as they arise. You have a new baby? You’ve got to figure out if t colic or something else, get them on a sleep schedule, get them to take a bottle or a breast. Have a toddler on your hands? Have you tackled potty training? Do you have a way to handle tantrums? Dealing with separation anxiety? Can they share? And so on.
I am in a position where most of those issues are behind me. We’ve pretty much moved out of the tantrum phase. They share pretty well. Potty training is complete and the boys sleep soundly at night. But life is a moving stream and I am beginning to realize that a new set of challenges lie just around the corner.
Last night at my book club, one of my friends was describing an article that she had read. She summed it up by saying the article claimed that the age of 8 is when you begin to lose control of your child. Evidently, the author’s point was that your child’s personality is pretty well set by then and he is, for the most part, who he is going to be. She said that 8 is the age when children start to have their own thoughts, plans and begin the process of challenging your authority.
Well, my older son is celebrating his eighth birthday next week. Up until that conversation, I wasn’t worrying about it. To be honest, I hadn’t really given it too much thought. But last night, I had a dream. One of those dreams that are so vivid you can remember every detail when you wake the next morning.
In the dream, I was picking him up from school during a bad snowstorm. I had to drive to get him. Things seemed pretty normal at first. His teacher handed him off to me and we shared a little smile. But things got scary on the drive home. That’s when he took the wheel, pushed me out of my seat and started driving. He was driving like a demon. He was slipping and sliding through intersections and whipping around corners. I was sitting next to him in the passenger seat begging, crying and screaming at him to stop! I was trying every threat I could but he wouldn’t budge.
What was most frightening, however, was his face. He was still 8 in my dream but he had that smirk. You know which one I’m talking about? That smirk that they seem to distribute to every kid with his locker combination on the first day of junior high. He was cold and he was smiling as he ignored every word I said, with no concern about parental retribution. It was the glow of defiance and it was terrifying!
You don’t need to be an expert to realize that the article and following discussion has pushed my buttons a bit. I absolutely adore the boy that he is right now. He is fun, rational, interested in things and able to have real and thoughtful discussions. He is also still very sweet. He loves to play with younger kids, he still has a ton of stuffed animals on his bed and he will still cuddle with me every night. We have been having a wonderful summer together. We haven’t begun to deal with defiance, bullies, friend problems, peer pressure or homework battles. But I can feel them coming like a freight train vibrates the rails before arrival. I know they’re around another corner.
Until then, we will celebrate this age and this time together. I am able to be his parent and his friend. I will savor these moments when he asks me my opinion, shares a secret or asks for permission to do most things. I will treasure the little boy sweetness that is still there. I’ll bask in those cuddles and try to enjoy moving that big pile of stuffed animals on and off the top bunk every time I change his sheets. I will cherish the moments when I see him being silly and stupid without a care about who is watching or what others might think of him.
I am going to enjoy this time while I steel myself for the days ahead. There will probably be a time when we’re not great friends. Whether he knows it yet or not, he will not always want his mom’s opinion, permission or even presence. He will become more defiant, secretive, self-conscious or angry. I will be ready and I hope that I will be strong enough to give him the guidance and discipline he needs. I hope that I will be ready when I need to take the wheel.
Stephanie Olson is a mother of two boys who lives and writes in Seattle. She believes her golden rule in parenting “Just wipe it off on your pants!” will be her epitaph someday. It has gotten us through pretty well thus far! Read more of Stephanie's work on her blog, Ma Swell Vie.