Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Ava is a force of nature. She may be the most unique, dynamic, self-assured, adorable, intense, headstrong and heartfelt person I’ve encountered yet on this planet, and she’s all of three. There’s a lot of Madison in this blog because she’s older, she’s extremely verbal, she’s curious, she’s literal and I drive her to school every morning so we get more one-on-one time together to produce blog-worthy moments.

Ava is all heart, which is probably another reason she fights for space on here sometimes, because it’s hard to put down in words the way she makes you feel, the amazing things she does and her indescribable spirit. I wrote several posts ago about The Shriek. Ava shrieks loudest, and longest. She says things like, “you’re awesome Dad, you’re super cool,” unprompted and out of nowhere. When she gets upset or frustrated with someone she’ll tell them, “I’m angry about you!”

You can turn Ava loose at any neighborhood party, any group event, big kids, small kids, it doesn’t matter – within 30 seconds she’s in the center of the crowd, commanding attention and holding her own. It’s astounding. I would never have believed, bumping up against 40, that a three-year-old could offer life lessons in confidence and how to take control of a group, but I’ve learned more from watching Ava than I care to admit.

They’re so very different, the two of them, and from our conversations with other parents I think the first child/second child dynamic we’ve experienced with Madison and Ava is fairly typical. Madison is careful, cautious, verbal, curious, a little cunning. She follows rules, looks for affirmation and when placed in a group situation hangs back a little bit until she can assess the players, find her entry point, and feel like she’s going to be “right” before she jumps in. She’s like me in that regard.

Ava just jumps. She is physical, as noted above she thrives in any group setting, with kids who are 3 or 13, it makes no difference, she doesn’t care. She knows what she wants, won’t compromise, is not willing to debate or be persuaded. There is no blackmail fodder with Ava, because she's not concerned with anything other than what she wants in the moment. I've experienced nothing in my life that made me feel more like Tony Montana attempting to sell Frank Lopez on the merits of the Sosa deal than trying to convince Ava to do something she didn't want to do.

But while very tough (she’s experienced more than her fair share of skinned knees without missing a beat) she’s not entirely bullet proof. If pushed too far, or disciplined sternly, she will cry, tell the offending party “You’re hurting my feelings!” and retreat.

We just had an interesting experience with the girls last weekend that underscored some of these differences. We had the rehearsal for their dance recital on Saturday morning. Ava was scheduled to go on at 9 a.m. and Madison an hour later. About 8 a.m. we were getting ready to leave the house and Ava refused to put on her costume and started to cry. Her group was dancing to Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and, early on a Saturday morning, Ava wanted nothing to do with her itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini. We tried a couple of times to get her into the costume but she was having none of it… tears, shaking her head, running around, finally we decided to bag it and figured we’d just get to this middle school auditorium and see if being at the actual scene would prompt her to think different.

We got there and, well, it didn’t. Even with her instructors hovering around offering encouragement, it wasn’t happening. Both at home and at the school I'd picked her up in my arms, gently encouraged her to give it a try, told her I wanted to see her dance, even offered pizza for dinner. She wasn't having it.

At one point Gwen got the top of the costume on but Ava was screaming and crying - Madison standing right there - and we faced one of those defining parenting decisions. Do you have a gruesome family moment, the kind that can live on for decades, by forcing and berating the kid into the costume, against her will, and hoping she calms down enough, and isn’t scarred enough, to actually take her place with the group when it’s time to hit the stage? We didn’t think so. We took the top off, put her back in her street clothes and accepted the fact that this was what she wanted. Nothing moved her – she regarded other members of her class showing up in costume with the curious indifference of a motorist flying down a highway noticing another driver pulled over on the shoulder getting a ticket.

Madison was in her glory. In her red velvet costume, red beret pinned to her head, tilted to the side, it was one of the happiest days of her life. She lives for this. Relishes the weekly class, the performances, putting on costumes, getting up on stage, can’t get enough of it. It’s one of the ways they are different. Put Ava in an undefined group setting away from an obvious spotlight and she takes control. Make her the center of attention and she can become uncomfortable and self conscious. Put Madison in an undefined group with no clear rules and she’s unsure how to proceed. Make her the center of attention in a structured setting and she shines.

Unfortunately, the date of the actual performance in about two weeks conflicts with a family wedding, so we’d invited my parents to the rehearsal so they could see the girls dance. They got up early, got in the car and drove 45 minutes so they could show up at the school just in time to catch Ava mid-breakdown. This gave my father the opportunity to offer up one of his trademark instant-and-absolute assessments. I can’t remember what he actually said, it was something along the lines of Ava really wanting to participate but for some reason not being able to participate. Then we moved to a general discussion of what’s right and appropriate and positive as a parent in such a situation, a critique that was really not necessary because I was fine with our approach and not very phased by the fact that Ava didn’t want to put on the bikini and dance.

We put her in ballet this winter for the first time, and Gwen said she loved it. Did great in the classes, enjoyed her fellow students and it was a positive experience we were happy to be able to provide. We paid about $60 for the recital costume, planned to spend a little more on the official photo and video and got ready for the big day. And she didn’t want to do it. And, to me, that was OK. Putting on a costume and dancing in front of a room full of a strangers wasn't an explicit part of the deal this three-year-old agreed to when she was enrolled, unbeknownst to her, in ballet.

During the approximately one hour wait between when Ava was supposed to go on and when Madison was going on, my Dad decided to soothe our frayed nerves by verbally attempting to locate the fine line between supporting your child in a decision and letting them make the rules, call the shots and basically walk all over the hapless parents trying to keep up.

My Dad loves our girls, never fails to tell us how amazing they are, how special, etc. This is real and heartfelt. Some of the most touching observations and characterizations directed at our kids have come from my father, as well as some of the most meaningful praise of our abilities as parents.

But the sudden and unexpected dismantling of Saturday's established and agreed upon events (we drive to the school... we sit in the auditorium... we see Ava and Madison dance... we go back to the house for coffee... we need to get some gas on the way home... there's a bush out back I want to trim this afternoon...) was too much. It required additional examination, an explanation, some form of ruling or verdict. Dad's verdict on this particular Saturday was that Gwen and I were too indulgent, that we let Ava and Madison basically do whatever they wanted, as long as their personal safety wasn't at risk, at which point we were prone to jumping in and asserting our parental privilege. I don't agree. And, now that I have my own family, I get to not agree.

That night I had a quiet moment alone with Ava. I went back and forth on even raising the rehearsal again but I had the opportunity so I took it.

“Ava, earlier today, at the rehearsal, why didn’t you want to put your costume on and dance?”

“I was scared.”

“Why? Why were you scared?”

“I didn’t want to. I was just scared. I wanted to watch Madison.”

That was about as much as I could get out of her, enough to validate the fact that my father wasn't entirely off base in his original snap assessment - (she wants to participate, just isn't able to participate) - not nearly enough to shine a light on a clear path over which we might have guided Ava through the trauma, into her costume and onto the stage.

I reminded myself that this is the girl who has been fighting to get out on the soccer field for the last year and a half while Madison runs around out there chasing the pack and fully content to never touch the ball. The girl the coaches have noticed… “How old is she? Can she play?” I am confident in my assessment that Ava, ballet rehearsal notwithstanding, will be just fine.


Blogger ShelbyAnne said...

What you have just described is exactly, exactly the pattern of my little sister and I. As the oldest, I have always been tentative in groups, needing to survey the scene before making an entrance. My little sister is magnetic; much it seems, like Ava. She has played organized soccer for 14 years, and still plays club soccer in college. I danced, and overachieved in school. I resented her ability to make friends, her my diligence with school work.

My point is, different as they may be, I'm glad you recognize these differences and are willing to let each girl shine in her own favorite spotlight...something my parents clued into about 15 years too late. Bravo, you seem to be doing a wonderful job. =D

1:11 AM  

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