Dear Connor: Year Five

Dear Connor,

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I usually try to post these missives closer to your birthday… but, to be honest, I really haven’t been feeling like writing lately. My prime writing time (not counting breaks at work) is generally after you go to bed, but bedtimes have been so unpleasant lately that I don’t want to do anything after that but curl up in a ball and watch TV or play on my phone.

Sometimes I wonder if your Dad and I have erred somehow in our discipline strategy. Your defiant and willful attitude has escalated over the past few months, and bedtimes especially have become exercises in patience and punishment. 

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It’s a shame that your defiance is the thing that comes to the forefront when I think about you at age five, because there are also so many positive things about you. You can read quite well, both aloud and silently. You’re polite and loving (when you want to be). You clean your room after Quiet Time, putting all your books in (or at least on) the bookshelf and even making your bed (sometimes).

But the bedtimes. Throwing jammies instead of putting them on. Requesting a drink of water three separate times after book and song are over. Peeing in your Pull-Up (or your underwear) on purpose. Kicking off your sheets. Yelling at me to “come back here!” when I try to leave your room for the night. Running after me and yanking the door back open.

I started giving you a Golden Button to trade for one no-questions-asked visit after Lights Out, and that’s actually worked quite well — most of the time, anyway, with the occasional extra request thrown in — especially when Daddy’s home.

Some nights, though… I seriously wonder where we went wrong.

You still need an afternoon nap, although you never actually take one unless you’re sick or exceptionally wiped out. We’ve had to make do with “Quiet Time,” where you read or play quietly in your room for a couple of hours. You’ll frequently use your books and pillows and blankets and pillowcases to make things in your room, like a tent or a restaurant or a birthday party or any number of things.

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You cannot skip Quiet Time completely without severe behavioral implications (and an early bedtime). You’re so close, but we really can’t do anything after lunch (like take you to the fair) without inviting an Epic Meltdown.

Also, when I say you read quietly in your room during Quiet Time, I mean it. You read. And you do it well. You can read silently, without even moving your lips; and when you read aloud, you usually do so with proper inflection, instead of the robotic word-by-word recitation that some kids do.

That also means that it’s difficult to keep things from you: surprises, truths, events. You see Garage Sale signs when we’re driving home from lunch out on a Saturday. You read names of holidays on the calendar. You can also tell us which episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates you want to watch on Netflix.

This literacy thing is pretty cool, huh?

Now that you’re getting older and more devious, your Dad and I have been questioning our initial parenting strategy of giving you options to choose from, rather than dictating to you what is to happen. You’ve turned into quite the negotiator, frequently attempting to skirt unpleasant tasks or bedtimes by starting out with, “Here’s the deal…”

Another favorite phrase of yours — and you absolutely get it from me — is responding to a request you don’t like with, “Seriously?”

We’ve tried to straddle the line of allowing you to feel like you’re in control of something, yet also having you understand that you’re not in control of everything. Not sure that’s working out for us right now, since you seem to think that our home is a democracy (which it isn’t, for you).

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When you’re not overtired, though, your inner kindheartedness really shines through. Recently, when I was feeling depressed for no good reason, I was totally honest with you about it, and you wanted to make me feel better. You told me about your day at school while we drove home, because you know I like hearing about your day.

When we got home, we found two nearly-ripe garden tomatoes half-eaten by animals and discarded on the ground, which didn’t make me any happier. You were extra super nice to me all evening, you listened and followed directions, and you insisted on tucking me into your bed and singing me a song and having me snuggle a couple of your stuffed animals, so I could rest for a few minutes before tucking you in. It was super sweet.

Ever since that day, you check in with me at some point during the evening to ask whether I had a good day at work, and you make sure I know that you think of me while you’re at school, and you miss me.

I guess that’s why it’s so frustrating when you can’t keep it together when you’re tired or angry. I know you have the capacity for so much love and wit and intelligence and perseverance — your Dad and I just have to teach you how to tap into it, harness it, and not let things get the best of you.

(As soon as we figure that out ourselves, we’ll let you know.)

We go to your five-year well-child visit at the pediatrician tomorrow morning, and I’m sure that your doctor will say that you’re a “perfect five-year-old.” Now that I think about it, I guess you really are, in that Zen sort of way.

You’re my zany, emotional, skinny, smarty-pants goofball bookworm of a five-year-old, and I love you just the way you are.

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(Although I wouldn’t complain if bedtimes started going a little smoother on the regular. Just sayin’.)

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