I'm kind of a stranger to preschooler tantrums. My son really never threw classic tantrums as a small child (although he has thrown many of a different sort) but T., as an independent and stubborn girl, has thrown her fair share of them. They are often the classic, text-book ones involving a lot of screaming in public places at the most inopportune times and ending with her throwing herself dramatically to the floor, often spread-eagled, sobbing to the world about the injustice of not being allowed to walk across the street by herself, or carry a stack of six library books, or climb up a railing and launch herself to the ground, or sit alone on the curb and contemplate life forever despite the fact that we have to rush off and pick up her brother from school in exactly four minutes.
After a particularly dramatic exit from the library lobby on Monday afternoon a woman who had been in the library check-out line with us came out onto the sidewalk as I was holding a sobbing and writhing T. by one arm, and about twenty books tucked under the other arm. The woman beamed at us and said to me, she's such a cute little girl! to which I replied, curtly and more sarcastically than I should have: IS she?
I felt instantly bad about my comment, but I was too stressed and harried to think about it for long yesterday. Today, though, I still feel badly. Things are very different for a second child--not all in bad ways because I think much of T.'s independence and strong self-esteem and sense of self have to do with her position as a second child. Also, I've been a more relaxed and confident mother with her--not so hung up on the fact that she sleeps with us most nights, or so uptight about whether breastfeeding was working or not (I nursed T. until she was 21 months old), not so anxious about every little thing. But when L. was his sister's age life was very much about him and the moment was often entirely his and not someone else's. If he had wanted to take 1/2 an hour to sit on a curb and contemplate life, then I would have gladly sat on the curb with him to do this, without a care in the world for where we had to be because, often, we just didn't have to be anywhere. Life was simpler back then. But many of the things T. wants to do we just can't do all the time. When she used to nap I would have to pluck her out of bed, often while she was still asleep, and put her in the car so we could get to L.'s school in time to pick him up. I can't focus on her much in the morning because I'm making school lunches, or putting together L.'s homework folder, or trying to drink my coffee and get dressed, and then it's a rush out the door so I can make it to work on time.
When we got home from the library yesterday I couldn't sit with T. and read through all the books she had picked out, the way I used to do with L. I had to help L. with a computer project he wanted to work on and, well, since I hadn't seen him all day he deserved a chunk of my time, too. Then it was time to make dinner, and the stack of books on the floor went unread.
I still feel badly about yesterday, but I'm trying to learn a lesson from my flippant and not-very-nice comment to that kind, but clearly unobservant woman. Sometimes I imagine what L. would be like if he had been a second child, sometimes I imagine what T. would be like if she had been a first and only child for 3 1/2 years, as L. was. But I think none of that wondering matters much, actually. They are who they are--and probably would be despite their birth order. Being a first child has its positives, certainly--being the first child also has its drawbacks. But one thing is clear: I do think I need to make an effort to make more of the moments in our days belong to T., so she can revel a little in the kind of simple spontaneity L. had so much of.
Today, when I get home, I'm going to take T. onto my lap and read to her each and every one of the books she picked out from the library yesterday--and twice through, if she wants it. Then maybe we'll head out to the hammock together if it's warm, and contemplate the clouds rolling past