My boys are different. They are, pretty much, polar opposites. Lucas knew how to read basic 3 letter words, by sounding them out, by the age of 2 1/2. He was obsessed with the alphabet and books from infancy. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I cracked the code! “How do you do it?” everyone asked. I always beamed in humble appreciation and gave a simply “it’s all about exposure,” type of explanation. You see, we exposed Lucas to it. All the time! I was a stay-at-home mom, previously a preschool teacher, holding my Early Childhood Education certification since the age of 18, graduate of Florida State University with a degree that taught me much about child development, cognition, and early literacy. I had this! I knew what I was doing. And I did it! My son was reading by the age of 3 by exposure. The alphabet ran across the walls of his bedroom, and not just any alphabet, no. It was a large classroom set that you’d see in a preschool or primary classroom. It was at eye level. Eye level is very important for younger babies and kids. We practiced often. We only watched PBS kids, Super Why, of course. He had access to his iPad, with nothing but alphabet and literacy games. We practice looking for letters while we ran errands. We did it through exposure! This is easy! Any parent can do this! All kids can learn to read by 2, I thought. Oh, to be a mother of one.
Sure, exposure helps. Sure, the framework I laid down on a day to day basis for Lucas set him up for success, with him reading on a second grade level in early Kindergarten. But it wasn’t as simple as I thought it was. Louie came along when Lucas was 2 months into 2 years old. I remember my aunt telling me, “Louie is going to be different”! I remember asking her what she meant but I don’t remember a response to that question. She, too, is an early childhood educator as she has been her whole life, so maybe she saw something I didn’t. And she was right. From infancy, everything I did for Lucas, I did for Louie. But… Louie didn’t like it. From his first few days of life, Louie hated being swaddled. What do you mean, Louie? This is what babies like! I have a ton of swaddles ready to go for bedtime. I’ve read the books! I’ve done the research. The 5 S’s is all you should need! But it never worked.
For starters, Louie developed colic. My depression kicked in soon after. Nothing that I studied in the past prepared me for this unpredictability. Nothing had prepared me for not being able to soothe my own child every night for 4 weeks every time the sun went down. Oh, how I hated sunset for a while! Louie cried every night from 5pm to 11pm and there was nothing we could do. No swaddle, no books, no research could help him. But I was doing everything right!
Infancy came and left. Lucas continued to love Super Why and the alphabet and books… but Louie was uninterested. From an early age, Louie was more concerned with balls… and cars… and dirt. “Come on, Louie. What letter is this?” No, Louie wanted to taste the letter. Louie was every other child that I knew from teaching preschool. Louie was my baby boy. Louie was different. My aunt was right.
Don’t get me wrong! Different is not equivalent to bad or wrong or underdeveloped. Louie was Louie and Lucas was Lucas. I had to teach myself, a young mom who knows everything there is to do with early childhood education, that even though I had it all figured out, even though I had won awards in Early Childhood Education, even though I “knew” all the facts, I failed to remember that the same environment and household exposures can produce different children. That didn’t stop me from exposing Louie to fundamental literacy skills, but it did teach me to stop trying to reach a perfection that didn’t exist. It taught me to tell moms, “Don’t worry! Every child learns at their own pace,” instead of “Just do this…”
The point of it all is to remember to allow your child to guide you a little. Allow them to show you their interests and go from there. Meet them half way with all the right intentions, and teach them from there. Not every child is a Lucas. Not every child is a Louie. Every child is unique in their interests, abilities, capabilities, and that is OK. Refrain from the urge of comparing your child to another person’s child. And refrain from comparing your children to each other (that’s something we’re still working on). Allow your kids to be kids. They’ve only got so long to be children.