mentioned not being able to believe Elise is already 8, and I realized I want to say all kinds of things about her. I talk about my older kids less and less, based on what I see as their increasing desire for/right to privacy*, but she's still younger, and homeschooled, and I know there are people out there who have been rooting for her over the years.
The thing I think most often is that she's just SO HAPPY. That's what I worried about the most, when her prognosis was most bleak. I was afraid she might be isolated in her own mind due to sensory problems (blindness, lack of real sleep/wake differentiation...so many things were on the table). I wanted more than anything for her to know that we loved her. Grant gutted me, crying in a parking lot at one point about how much he wanted her to be ticklish.
This is what I remind myself, when I worry about her seeming working memory hurdles, or how behind she is with reading skills. Those are both SO MILD in context anyway - it might
seem, during a deep conversation, that she's a little scatterbrained. She seems to have a memory lapse that really makes someone stop and notice only once every few months. Going into 3rd grade, she's reading at about a "middle of first grade" level. Her speech is on point for her age, with a better vocabulary than average. Her imagination and reasoning are advanced. She can easily sit down and play UNO with her brothers, or color pictures, or participate in all the different things that happen at camp without anyone thinking there's anything differently-abled about her.
She came home from the first day of camp THRILLED, this summer. "I'm so glad there are no tests at Girl Scout camp! Except the swim test, but I did great at the swim test. You jump in the ool, swim across to the other side, and climb out - easy peasy lemon squeezy." She still has nightmares occasionally about tests in school. She has no trouble at all with musical chairs, being on the chore rotation they use for clean-up, telling me all about the silly "scary" stories they share and why she doesn't really believe any of them. She did need someone to tell her what her single line in their skit was, right before she went on, even though she'd been saying it to herself all week. But, there was pressure, and she executed it well once she was up there.
She's ridden a bike
with no training wheels for about 6 months now. Since summer started, she's mastered hula hooping and cartwheels. She can easily get herself a bowl of cereal with milk and a spoon, or make herself a pbj, though she asks for help whenever she wants "tomatoes with salt and mrs dash," which is her favorite food (sharp knife). Her second favorite food, incidentally, is a steak salad from Chipotle. Her drawings are still stick figures and her writing is transitioning from almost unintelligible to what I call "phonetic if you squint," unless we're working specifically on handwriting and she's tracing and copying on manuscript paper. Then, she does great.
We recently bought her a subscription to JungleMemory.com and she's mastering those games pretty quickly. The other site we pay for is Reading Rainbow's new "Skybrary," which she loves and will spend as long on as I'll let her. She sometimes wants to play Minecraft, but hasn't managed to actually figure it out well enough to do it without a brother sitting and guiding her step by step. I have an app on my phone, "Endless Reader," that she's starting to grow out of but I really recommend to anyone with kids who are just starting to read.
It's much harder for her to follow along as I read chapter books than it was for any of the other kids at her age, except maaaaybe Aaron. She's still not really there yet, though we've tried a few times. She can pay attention and is very interested, but has to stop me on almost every page for some kind of clarification, and has a really hard time making sense of the plot as nuanced stories progress. I'm currently reading her a Junie B Jones book and that's working out well, as did "The Hundred Dresses" - but Harry Potter or other "real" chapter books are still a couple of years away, I think. She loves being read picture books.
In many ways we've let go of the idea of her being brain injured. I worry when she sometimes gets headaches - even though that may just be hereditary, as Grant and Isaac also get lots of headaches (and Grant's started in childhood). We still don't have scooters or other "one sided" things, since her preschool teacher spotted her favoring one side of her body when she was 4 and an occupational therapist recommended lots of (and only) "bipedal" activites (the bike, her flying turtle
, skates, etc). It's in the back of my mind that she could have seizures when she hits puberty, and I still have a knee jerk reaction to her seeming too hot or cold (not regulating her temperature with sudden changes like going in or outside, or getting in water, was one of the most lingering issues she had - probably until almost 3 years old).
But the (non-specified) learning disability she exhibits is similar to what tons of kids without brain injuries deal with. It's not more severe than Ananda's dyslexia, and I don't really see Ananda as anything but brilliant (Annie was speech delayed, and then stuttered, and she didn't read picture books until she was 8.5 - her handwriting and spelling are still ATROCIOUS even though she can type up an A paper, and she's generally needed math tutoring). Elise asks complex questions about everything from whether it's possible for homeless people to be happy to how our bodies manage to turn EVERYTHING we drink into urine, which basically always looks and smells the same. We talk in depth about all kinds of things regularly. She's a sponge, and in addition to being so hungry for online research and explanations of everything, she's the one kid in the house that never
shies away from written school work.
I worry that she's too praise-dependent, and that she seems really sensitive to even minor criticism (from siblings, or peers), but those are pretty benign "worries" to have.
It's hard to over-emphasize how happy, enthusiastic, cuddly and all around wonderful she is. My friend Kathy comes over every Monday with her kids, one of whom is a super chill chubby baby - Hector. Elise will hold, carry, and play with Hector the whole 4-6 hour visit, with a nursing break or diaper change as the only interruptions. She wears him in Kathy's tula (sling type carrier). She loves having cleaning jobs, and took a magic eraser to half a dozen walls before our 4th of July party. She'll RUN to the kitchen if I ask if she wants to help me cook, or RACE to put on her skates, if Annie or Aaron is willing to take her around the block. There is no occasion so small as to not merit a homemade card. She asks for a Beasty Sandwich a lot, which means Grant and I squeezing in on either side of her. This can be standing up or lying down, as long as she is the Roast Beast.
There are little things she takes a lot of pride in, like that she now has autonomous showers instead of baths, and flossing, and keeping her closet organized. I'm consistently amazed at how she proactively brushes her own hair and is grateful for trips to the dentist and just, in general - what a great kid, man!
Sometimes I think she makes it glaring, by comparison, that the rest of us are all low-key mentally ill. Grant and Aaron outright struggle with depression, off and on. Annie, Jake, and I are just sort of depressive, understated personalities, and Annie's had struggles with separation and selective mutism, and I've had struggles with PTSD. Isaac has mild to moderate anxiety even with medication (it was moderate to severe, before). We're all pretty functional and I like our life and our family, but sometimes I wait for the day Elise asks me what the hell is wrong with the rest of us, and don't we want to DO more and why is the air so heavy around us? I can tell we already exasperate her at times, though she doesn't have words for it at this point. She's just...chipper and extroverted
. She's a perky morning person. She desires organization and schedules, like Isaac does, except without the stress it brings Isaac. She makes me think of Debbie marrying into the Addams Family, except without the murder plans.
She's obsessed with My Little Pony, and plays with her pony toys every single day.
She still sleeps with the doll I made her, every night, and sometimes asks me to recharge her with love (big, long hug).
She's incredibly lean - lanky, even. I think she's going to have a totally different body type than me, or Ananda.
It's really precious that she's still as childish as she is, but she's also changing fast. She's VERY HARD to capture on camera - even less photogenic than me... I can be entranced with the ribbon of freckles on her nose and cheeks, and her kaleidescope hazel eyes, and just baffled by the terrible pictures I get over and over.
She is most definitely a youngest child, eager for attention and quick to stalk and bother her older sibling's friends when they're around. She thinks every teenager should be giving her a piggy back ride and that all adults want to hear her stories. It's normal to her to skate and talk with adult roller derby coaches and players, and other parents, and neighbors. She escalates to violence with her older siblings over the slightest things, partially because they generally ignore her little fists hitting their hips or chests so I don't even hear about it unless I witness it firsthand. Toddler cousins and friends' babies inspire her to act like she's an adult and they need her "help" with all sorts of things they absolutely do not. With kids her own age, she becomes waaaay more self conscious and hesitant, and is a bit of a follower. Peers have always made her unsure. At camp, it seems like she benefits from the Girl Scout buddy system and the groups they're separated into, and like she has talks and laughs with other individual girls spontaneously sometimes, but she never has particular recurring names, or a phone number, or someone that runs up to her when she arrives. I sometimes wonder if she's approaching an age when socializing is going to get a lot more complicated and she'll suddenly be very aware that she's not anyone's friend
. It's been the same in her troop throughout the year, and in her class before we pulled her - she likes existing in a group of kids her age very much, but doesn't get close to anyone. There's a girl down the street who's come over and spent the night a few times, but she often ends up spending most of her time here with Jake, and then Elise gets REALLY huffy about that.
She has an imaginary friend named Felicia, which was Grant's old nickname for her. I only know about this because Jake sometimes talks about it with her in front of me, which makes Elise shush him a lot and get really irritated with him.
She's itching to be boy crazy, and gets gushy and embarrassed over random boys so easily that it's silly.
I get scared sometimes that she might be too vulnerable as an adult, too easily taken advantage of, too immature but still able to go off on her own. Other times I think I'm being paranoid, so mostly I just try to take it one day at a time. There's so much to be grateful for.
*this is a weird gray area where I try to err on whichever side is greater. For instance, Ananda constantly tells me she's fine with me sharing any and everything about her. She seems to love it that there are people out there who know about her. She's actually said we should get a reality show, although I think that's easy to think of as fun when it's just a hilarious hypothetical situation. But what if she doesn't always feel that way? What will it be like if/when the trolls and haters she finds so entertaining in theory
or when directed at me, come for her? Conversely, I almost never talk about or share pictures of Jake even though the info/images are objectively harmless, because Jake is in a self conscious, preteen phase of never wanting me to. Aaron and Isaac approve images and video case by case and think most talk is ok, but I still feel like I should go easy because they've got so many RL peers online, now.