Before I had the girls and Buddy was my only responsibility I had a major case of “firstborn syndrome”.
What’s firstborn syndrome (FBS), you ask? It’s an overbearing, overprotective, suspicious-of-the-world mother of a very spoiled but sheltered child.
Some first-time Moms never even get close to this, while others redefine the words spoiled or sheltered. I was somewhere in the middle. I was a worrier. I remember always worrying. I worried about his health. I worried about his weight. I worried about his verbal development. I worried that he would fall and hit his head. I worried that he was going to be too shy and quiet, therefore never making any friends. I worried that he was going to have gums forever because teething was virtually non-existent when all of the kids I knew his age had three or four teeth already. I worried that he was going to stab his eye out with all of his toys.
I moaned these worries to anyone within earshot and everyone always patiently responded that he was perfectly fine and every kid developed differently. I knew they were right in the back of my mind, but my FBS always overpowered my common sense and I would find little insecurities that would throw me into another worrying fit over Buddy.
The hardest thing for me to let go was the verbal development. Buddy was significantly farther behind his peers and was showing no signs of improvement. He just had no interest in talking whatsoever. I taught him a handful of signs and he picked up on them and communicated with me that way. He used many basic words like Mama, Daddy, night-night, bye-bye and so on. He would sit there and watch me with interest as I talked to him about the green trees and the brown dogs and the red cars and the big airplanes in the sky and the cows that said “moo moo”. I read him stories and we laughed together when I made loud and obnoxious animal sounds when reading Brown Bear.
He just never talked back.
That’s what bothered me. He never even tried to talk more than the very basic things. He was over 2 years old and he was talking at a 1 year old’s level. The only thing that kept me from going over the edge with worry was that he clearly understood everything that was communicated to him. He followed multi-step directions like, “Pick up your shoes, put them at the back door and then come back here.”
Imagine my surprise when I didn’t die from heart failure when I began slowly, very slowly (FBS isn’t something you can just quit cold-turkey), letting go of these concerns and letting Buddy show me what he was capable of on his own terms.
Sure enough. Over the last two-ish months, Buddy has progressed by leaps and bounds. I finally figured out what was holding him back. He didn’t like saying words if he couldn’t say it right the first time.
I began to encourage him to just spit out the words as best as he could. I celebrated every time he said new words, even when I had no idea what he was saying. I helped him to understand that it was okay to make mistakes and I was proud of him for just trying. I made practicing new words fun and exciting when we sing about the birds and the bees and the trees and giggle when he yells the mangled words out at the top of his lungs.
Soon he was absolutely shocking me with his development. One day I was pulling out some giant foam letters that had been an absolute fail the previous year. As I threw the letters in a pile, Buddy came up and dug around in them for a moment. He pulled out the letter “E” and smiled widely and said “Eeeeeee!” I raised an eyebrow and asked him, “Do you know more?” He proceeded to dig through the letter pile and identify a little over half of the letters. I went through some other toys and got out numbers next. Once again, he identified a little over half of them. We did colors next and it was much of the same.
I was floored and slightly ashamed at the same time. All this time I was so worried about everything that he couldn’t do that I never considered the possibility that he could do it, but just lacked the right kind of encouragement. I was trying to make him take a giant leap when he was more confident with baby steps.
Lesson learned. I had to worry less about him “catching up”, and more about him building the confidence to start in the first place. Baby steps. Don’t worry about the mistakes. Have fun! These were things that I knew and preached, but practiced the wrong way.
And as far as FBS is concerned, I’m doing just fine. I have loosened up quite a bit where the twins are concerned and Buddy isn’t on a tight leash anymore. He has all of the teeth he should have. He hasn’t managed to stab his eye out yet. He has lived through multiple colds, flus and rashes. He has survived countless scrapes, scratches, bruises, bumps and fat lips. He has numerous friends despite his initially shy personality. And, as I sit here and write this, Buddy is dancing around me and laughing with me as he proudly counts to ten, all out of order and everything mispronounced, in his sing-song voice over and over.
“Wooon. Twooo. Freee. Fooour. Sits. Seee-when. Eeeeet. Niiiiiiiy. *pause* Freeee. Foooour. Fiiiife. Sits. DEEEEENNNNNNN!!!”