Today is Sammy's fifth birthday. It is her first as a big sister and, at least right now, she definitely sees that as the best birthday present ever. But there are so many other milestones at five years old.
Besides Zoe and Leo, the biggest thing going on for Sam now is school. She is starting her third year of Montessori next week, which is the equivalent of kindergarten. She will be in school from 9am-3pm this year. They call it "extended day" at her school. When she started there two years ago, she couldn't even pronounce "extended day." Now, she is a true little-kid: looking forward to showing off her new lunch box, eating lunch with her friends, and bossing - I mean, showing the little kids how to do the work properly. She reads and writes, does addition and subtraction, and can take care of a lot of her own needs without adult help. She is even old enough to truly miss her teachers. She keeps talking about them and I can tell that she is not just mimicking the feeling, but truly longs to see them again and get back to school.
This summer has shown us another great leap in Sammy's development. She seems to have learned how to practice and to accept help. She spent a lot of time this summer writing her letters and numbers - she has most of them down now, which is a great improvement. The motivation is her own. She sits down to work on it without prompting. But even better, she will sometimes ask me for help. If I give too much, she gets angry, but she will take minimal help if I get it just right. This has been a challenge for her (and me!) in the past. She is so fiercely independent that she would say, "Mommy, can you help me?" but then rebel as soon as I gave her the tiniest bit of instruction. (Then she would give up.) Now, she will allow me to write a letter on her paper so that she can have a model to copy. If I tell her a letter is backwards she doesn't yell at me and tell me I'm wrong or that she wants to do it "her own way." If I do it properly - not too often, and offered as a choice to her such as, "do you want to see the right way?" - she actually wants to know the right way! (Of course, I've also explained to her why there is a right way.) I'm learning a lot about how I'm going to have to work with her once I become her teacher. And I can finally see that it might indeed be possible for us to homeschool without destroying our relationship. I'm going to have to work extra, extra hard at providing the most minimal "instruction" possible, and I'm going to have to tune in to what motivates her. It would be so much easier if she'd just swallow what I want her to learn. Damn those independent minds and wills that children have!
We eliminated Sam's afternoon nap as a part of our regular routine after she was having some trouble sleeping. Now, she takes a nap if she feels tired. She'll just disappear and go upstairs and nap. I can't tell you how rewarding it is to see my child knowing herself and her needs, and taking care of it all on her own. I definitely got the timing right on this one.
Bedtime is still a parent-directed activity, partially because I believe she still needs guidance to get the amount of sleep she requires, but also because we all enjoy bedtime so much. When I've talked to her about how things will change with two new babies in the house, I've asked her what special times she most wants us to keep untouched. The first thing she said was reading books at bed time. Adam and I have been taking turns putting her to bed since she was about a year old (we did it together before that). It's a long routine that can take close to an hour. We might have to shorten it somewhat, but we'll never take it away from her, as long as she wants it.
Also at bedtime, we've tried to allow Sammy more freedom in coming out of her room. She still wears pull-ups (and there's no end in sight to that) so she doesn't need to come out to use the bathroom, but sometimes she wants to get water or a snack. We've gone through periods where we allow this, and periods where we don't, because she'll abuse the privilege and start coming into our bedroom to chat, or sitting in the hall to play with the cat. The night before I went into labor, she was in one of her "wandering around the house" phases and just wouldn't get to bed. I called her into my room where I was lying in bed like a beached whale and I cried in frustration, telling her that I needed rest too, and would she please just go into her own room out of respect for me. She got it, and went right to bed. But it doesn't always work that way. There are still nights when we struggle to get her to bed and there is a lot of yelling and crying. I know she does not want to be controlled, but I don't know how else to ensure she gets her sleep, and also to make sure Adam and I have our own time together. I'd let her have the run of the house if she could restrain herself from knocking on our door or making a lot of noise, but she's not there yet. And most nights, she does go to sleep right away, so overall, the situation is tolerable. But I know we'll all be happy when she is just a bit more mature and we can let go of this control.
Something that is shocking to me is that Sammy has recently developed the high-energy that I expect to see out of a two- or three-year-old. She's always been so calm (compared to most kids) that I thought we were in the clear. But I guess I forgot that when it comes to anything physical, Sammy is way behind her peers. Now she's bouncing off the walls and having trouble focusing and listening. She needs a lot of physical activity to get through a day without going stir crazy. It's strange that I finally have one of "those" kids, but at least I'll be a little bit more prepared if Leo and/or Zoe are the hyper type.
Sometime just in the past few weeks, Sammy developed a new laugh. Her toddler giggle still comes out, but sometimes this completely different laugh escapes her. It's loud and, well, I guess I'd describe it as jolly. It's her little-girl laugh. It could come from a ten-year-old. It's funny how it just came out of nowhere like that, instead of morphing, as I would have expected. For now, we get both laughs, but I know it won't last long. I'm going to have to be sure to take a lot of video before the toddler laugh disappears altogether.
Even with all of these changes, Sammy would tell you that the most important thing about turning five is that now she can have two gummy vitamins instead of just one!
We've had a couple of days with Leo at home now, and we're learning what Sammy is like as a big sister. So far, so good. It's going to be interesting to watch her as the novelty wears off. If I can keep my cool, I might learn a lot about "my oldest daughter" in the next few months.