Our friend Jackson spent this past weekend with us. He’s the (now 7-year-old) boy who helped inspire us to have a child ourselves. This time he’s helping us understand what it will be like with two children in the house.
We’ve never had another kid in the house for so long, and especially without his parents around. So this was our very first experience “parenting” two at once. It was awesome! Not only did we get to put our skills to work on a much older child who could understand so much more, but we got to try our hand at some sibling skills like teaching problem solving.
We did a lot of, “If you want Sam to do X, then you might try asking her,” and “Sam, when you want something Jackson is holding, you can ask him for it and he can say yes or no.” We never got comfortable enough to say things like, “That sounds like something you need to work out yourselves.” I think if the two of them had a whole week together we might have gotten there. But Jackson obviously already has some problem solving skills. I had made a rule that each kid could only have one balloon at a time because I knew that otherwise the bag of balloons would be gone by the end of the day. Jackson wanted his tied up, and Sam wanted hers untied so that I could blow it up over and over and she could make it squeak or send it flying for the cat to chase. Jackson saw how much fun Sam was having and tried to grab Sam’s balloon. She whined, NOOOOO, and turned around, protecting her property. I suggested to Jackson that he ask her if he could use it. He didn’t right away, but about a minute later, he said to Sam, “Here, you can play with mine while I play with yours.” Sam agreed, they traded, and they played nicely together for quite some time.
With Jackson alone, I really enjoyed using some of the skills I’ve been working on with Sam, like acknowledging his emotions. It was hard because I don’t know Jackson as well as I know my own daughter so I couldn’t always tell when he was truly upset, when he was being dramatic, and when he was just goofing around. The best example happened when we had a little party on Sunday. A couple with three daughters came over for a barbecue. (Holy cow, five kids at once!) All the kids were playing on their own and the adults were talking in the kitchen. At one point, Jackson came in and said, “I want to play with the girls but all they want to do is sleep.” Apparently, the two older girls were pretending to sleep on Jackson’s air mattress in the basement. I asked him if it bothered him that they were using his bed but he said no, that he just wanted them to play and they wouldn’t. We told him that he couldn’t make them play and neither could we, but that he could suggest a different game or play by himself. He went off and I thought it was over, but about five minutes later I noticed the girls had come upstairs and I thought I heard, over the din, a wailing coming from the basement. I ran down and Jackson was by himself, crying. He said the same thing, that he was upset that the girls didn’t want to play with him. I almost went into problem-solving mode again, but then I realized that this was more than frustration. I went over and hugged him and said, “We’ll talk about what to do in a minute, but for now let’s just have a hug.” He leaned right into it and it obviously comforted him. We took some deep breaths. When he was feeling better, I asked him a couple of questions about how he felt (it was mostly disappointment) and then I repeated some of the suggestions for what he could do next. This time, he went upstairs and everything was fine. It might have helped that the girls were done “sleeping” but I also know that, besides suggestions for actions, Jackson needed someone to acknowledge his hurt. Wow, that felt good.
Another skill I used, straight out of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, was acknowledging Jackson’s feelings by fantasy wish-granting. We have this snake, a stuffed animal we got at the zoo. We named it Severus, for reasons obvious to any Harry Potter fan. Jackson loved Severus, and at one point he said, “I wish I could take Severus home with me.” I think I said something like, “Oh, that’s too bad.” Jackson didn’t complain, but afterwards I realized that I could have done better. Later, I was given a second chance when Jackson was packing up his things to leave while carrying Severus around on his shoulders. I said, “I wish I could wave a wand like Harry Potter and make a duplicate Severus for you to take home.” Jackson looked at me and I swear, I saw him pause to digest what I had said and then he gave me the best, most appreciative smile I’ve ever seen. All he said was, “Thanks,” with delighted surprise in his voice. It’s hard to convey in words what I saw in the smile and heard in that voice. All I can say is, “It works!”
Another thing that really struck me was how much Jackson really listened. The first morning, he woke up early and stomped around the house and eventually woke up Samantha. Adam explained to him that he needed to be extra quiet in the morning so as not to wake her up, and left it at that. The next morning, I awoke to the sound of my name, opened my eyes, and saw a sweet face in front of me. Jackson whispered, “Can I watch TV?” I said “Sure, I’ll help you get set up,” and got up. We were halfway downstairs when I realized that Jackson was walking quietly and whispering. I said, “Thank you for being so quiet, Jackson.” Later in the day, I made sure to tell Adam, with Jackson within earshot, how quiet Jackson had been that morning. It was actually quite difficult not to overdo the praise. I didn’t want him to think that we were surprised that he was so good, but, in fact, I was a bit surprised. I’m still rooting out that bad premise that kids are little heathens who will be naughty by default.
Some other random observations:
- All the kids got along very well together with very little supervision. I know that having a baby will be very different, but ages seven and (almost) three for one weekend was pretty easy. If things go as I hope they will, Sam will be the seven-year-old in a pair in about four years.
- I didn’t like the chaos of five kids in the house, but really, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
- Boys are messy bathroom-goers. If I ever have one, I’m keeping a mop in the bathroom.
- I don’t know if it’s a boy thing or an age thing or a Jackson thing, but Jackson is totally ballistic compared to Samantha. He can tear through a room and pull out dozens of toys in one minute flat. Thankfully, he was very willing to clean up when he was done. He doesn’t seem to be careless, but he still breaks things easily. He always apologized and even told me that he tried to fix things. I think he’s still learning his own strength. I had to work hard to let go and just let whatever happened, happen. Luckily, no major damage was done.
- Jackson sleeps so soundly I had to check his breathing. It took me about ten minutes to get him up for a bathroom run in the middle of the night. Toby barked right next to his ear and he didn’t even stir. I sure hope that is a typical kid thing and not just Jackson. As of now, Sam wakes up when Toby barks on the far side of the house.
- The noise level goes up exponentially with the number of children in the house.
- The mess level goes up exponentially with the number of children in the house.
- Five kids can go through a bottle of apple juice in a matter of hours.
- There’s no such thing as a kid who laughs too loud.