Parenting is a continual lesson in humility. Just when I think I know something about one of my daughters, I'll observe her in a new situation and have to recalibrate my opinion of who this girl is. Last Saturday, K had her first birthday sleepover at the young age of seven. (I would never have let either of her sisters have a group sleepover at age seven, but that's one of the perks of being the youngest.) After hosting, I decided there are advantages and disadvantages to sleepovers with younger girls - more energy, less drama. I also learned a great many things about my daughter by watching her interact with five other six to eight year olds.
I've found over the years that the key to a successful girl's birthday party is to keep the kids busy. If that means a water balloon fight for B's August celebration, I'm ok with that. If it means a full night of ice skating in January for A, we'll do it. For K's sleepover, I had planned to serve pizza, have the girls decorate bags to hold pinata candy and then each complete a Book of Seven (in honor of K's 7th birthday) before cupcakes and a movie. What I learned: attention spans vary greatly at this age. K contentedly sat and decorated her pinata bag with a drawing of herself as the Birthday Princess, complete with crown. Another friend quickly sketched out two or three bags and asked for more to decorate. Others completed a bag and wanted something else to do.
These were small variations compared to what I found when we started the books. Some girls wanted to diligently complete each of the seven lists of seven things, others struggled to get through one list before losing interest. As J whispered to me, "It never quite goes according to plan." While that was true, I looked at K and said, "Yes, but I based it on our daughter. And she's doing exactly what I anticipated." Which was sort of true. She was completely content to do each of the activities and would have kept working on her book even longer had there not been a general consensus that it was time to move on. She loved making her book. What I didn't anticipate was that K would help others, have a great deal of focus and even spell words for her friends as they completed their lists. In short, she's capable of more than I realized.
I try very hard to not compare my daughters to each other. A learned to read very early, in an abnormally accelerated manner. B was a bit slower to decide she wanted to read and K took her time even learning the alphabet. I knew, because K is a third child and I've now witnessed this two times, that K would eventually decide to read. It was just a matter of waiting for the right time. None of my girls learned to read in a regular progression - it was far more like a series of sprints than a steady marathon. K hit her stride earlier this year and while she still struggles a bit with new words, she reads quite well.
I didn't judge K for the fact that she learned to read a bit later and differently than her sisters. They are all so very different that it seemed silly to think that K wouldn't approach reading differently. After all, she approaches life differently.
But this is a bigger issue than reading. What I realized Saturday night is that K has a pretty good attention span for a seven year old. To be brutally honest, it was shocking to see that she could sustain an activity longer than any of the other girls in her grade. Prior to witnessing it myself, I would have guessed that her attention span was shorter than average. As J and I talked about the party, we realized that we have based our opinion of K's focus on that of her sisters. Worse, I have underestimated my daughter.
It pains me to realize this, much less admit it publicly. I want to encourage my daughters, breathe life into their gifts, hold their hands and let them go. I don't want to hold them back by not seeing them for who they really are.
The things I said of K in my last post are still true. She was a fabulous hostess, she was kind to each and every friend and she adored being the center of attention. But she's more than just those things. Much more. I'm thankful to have been given a glimpse of the K I saw on Saturday and I want to keep my eyes open to see each of my daughters as they grow, change and evolve into more than I can hope or imagine. I want to be a student of who they are and who they are becoming.