When you have been parenting for a long time, it’s easy to think, “I’ve got this down”. Then, God gives you a child or a circumstance that throws you for a loop. For us, it’s a little girl who keeps us on our toes. Though she is our fourth daughter (and 7th child in the overall lineup) she is teaching us about parenting all over again. Maybe God knew we needed a few to practice on before we got her!
It’s funny that even when she was little, I just knew she was different though I can’t think of specific examples how. I do remember that I was frustrated a lot. Besides her impish grin and potentially creepy laugh, she was the most sensory motivated child that I had. My mom whispered to me and said that we should have called her “Calamity” because she left a tornado in her wake. Maybe the reason I don’t even remember specific examples of her youngest years is because I was simply worn out!
Then, there was the day that it all changed and I recognized that her difference was by design. We had a marathon day at the dentist with new patient exams for at least 5 of the children. After the appointments and an errand, we stopped for slushies on the way home. We had been gone so long and I needed to get dinner started. I sent everyone outside to release some energy after being so constrained for the morning. We were only home for about three minutes when I passed the cat’s dish outside filled with bright red slushie!
I remained calm but inside I was frustrated that again, I had uncovered a blessed little mess that did not make sense and in my mind revealed a spiteful child. “Clarity!” I called. She came right away. “Why did you dump your slushie into the cat’s bowl?” I asked. Her eyes were big and her cheeks blushed. Her grimaced smile asked, “How did you know it was me?” I asked her again, trying not to sound angry. “Why did you put your slushie in the cat’s bowl? I want to understand what you were thinking.” Her reply melted my heart. “Well…..you know how if you put water and food coloring in a glass with celery in it, the celery drinks up the water and it’s leaves turn red?” She said with a shrug. “Yeeeeeeeeeees.” I replied, seeing where this was going. Her response: “I just wanted to see if the cat drinks the slushie if his fur will turn red.” It was at that very moment I knew that she had an investigative mind!
For so many years I had been exclaiming with frustration, “What were you thinking!!!” This time, I had calmly asked, “What were you thinking?” Whereas before I had assumed she hadn’t been thinking at all, I now knew that she was! She simply processed things differently than I did and learned in a way unlike her older siblings.
Once I was aware of the interests and motivations of my daughter, I was able to cultivate them. What’s more, she no longer frustrated me in the way that she had previously. The summer of the slushie was the summer that I made myself a student of my daughter. I studied her to understand her and to see what made her tick. In past years I had growled and complained that she was breaking things and making messes. Now I understood that she was investigating her world and interacting with the things she learned.
Though I myself do not have a scientific mind, I recognized that Clarity does. Instead of avoiding all the sensory things because she would undoubtedly make a mess, I encouraged sensory objects and taught her how to clean up the messes that she made. (The cleaning part is still a work in progress). Because these things were essential for her assimilation of information.
I was on a new pursuit, to find a way to direct her play so that it would challenge her mind and not drive me crazy at the same time. Clarity was not at all interested in learning to read. I had seen this as a personal mom fail and a breakdown of our homeschooling methods. One day I got out her older brother’s snap circuits because I needed her to sit in one place for more than 10 minutes. To my amazement, she didn’t just dink around with the kit. She got out the instruction manual and worked through the first 12 experiments in the book! On her own! She read the instruction book!!! The only thing I heard from her for 2 hours was giggles and delight. Now I had a direction to aim.
I have to regularly practice holding my tongue and believing the best. One day I walked into my room to find Clarity sitting with a stuffed animal and scissors. My first thought was that she was being destructive and cutting up the toy. The opposite was true. She had put her favorite stuffed wolf by my sewing machine several weeks earlier to repair. The truth is, I hadn’t worked on it because I wasn’t really sure how to fix it. Our puppy had chewed off the nose and muzzle of the wolf. I had secretly hoped that if it stayed there long enough, she would forget and I could just throw it away. But there was my 9 year old daughter with a needle and thread teaching herself how to sew because she wanted to fix her wolf. Again, I asked, “what are you doing?” She proudly explained, “I’m doing a face transplant”. Sure enough, she had removed the face of a teddy bear from the dollar store and had sewn it onto the face of the wolf. It is this out of the box kind of thinking that God can use in ways we will never at this point know. I hadn’t noticed the gift before but now, I treasure it.
My husband took Clarity with him on a business trip to Alaska for 12 days this past summer. They were able to spend the time with cousins and our oldest daughter and her family. Our home was extremely calm in her absence. By the fourth or fifth day the other children were bored. “When’s Clarity coming back? There’s nothing to do.” They said. Though I was enjoying the quiet, we all noticed that the excitement of our home was missing!
Within a day of being back, there were adventures to be had and those blessed little messes were appearing. The life of the party had arrived. Without Clarity there had been less fort building, less bright red yarn webbed across the room to simulate lasers, less playing with kittens, less roller skating in the house and less creative snack making in the kitchen. No one had thought to create a mudslide under the rope swing until she did. But everyone had fun trying it out. She is a lot of work and we don’t get much quiet.
God has a special plan for children like Clarity. He knows they are unique and valuable. He has a purpose for them that we cannot even imagine!
If you have someone in your life that makes you ask, “What were you thinking!?” You may enjoy the book “Different” by Sally Clarkson or Carol Barnier’s website www.sizzlebop.com. Over a decade ago I attended a workshop by Carol. As she spoke about raising a highly distractible child, one thing she said that has really stuck with me is “Don’t miss the gift in this child”. May your eyes be open to studying your child and embracing the gift God has prepared for you when He created them.