Gregarious to a fault, loved and supported constantly and unconditionally by family and peers, smart, funny, outgoing. Graced with an extra chromosome, something that fills my head with images of people who are easily found on the dance floor, as a member of a cheerleading squad, an active participant in Special Olympics, loving baseball, soccer, ballet, swimming, face time in the spotlight of all things fun.
The formula would suggest self-confidence, a willingness to learn and grow through the trial and acquisition of new skills, carefree and flirtatious towards the lure of the unknown. The formula would suggest a lack of inhibition, an ability to enjoy FUN things, to want...no...to need constant stimulation and activity.
The only child of an only child.
Now the formula changes, begins to take on a new form, morphing into something completely different.
I have long believed in Only Child Syndrome, and thought I'd made up the term until just now when I thought to Google it. It turns out that there are many others like me, who can easily acknowledge and name the vast array of benefits and challenges unique to those of us raised on our own.
One site outlined the following characteristics:
Conversation skills develop early - only children learn to converse with adults better than their same-age peers. This is true for Samantha.
She has strong opinions, and a sense of entitlement. What's mine is mine...
She enjoys her down time, her alone time, her comfort zone of being at home.
And a tendency to be *extra* cautious. This one was not listed on the site, but I'm curious about its causes.
I was the same way, to a point. I remember being terrified of learning to swim, of diving at summer camp for the first time, of strapping wooden sticks to my feet and sliding down a snow-covered mountain (teaching me to ski was likely torture for my parents and my ski-school instructor, although thankfully I'm a proficient skier today), and I even remember being terrified as a toddler being strapped into the child seat on the back of my parents' bikes.
There's fear in not being in complete control of your environment. I have learned that as an adult.
Samantha is terrified of swim lessons, will scream bloody murder and hold onto your neck in a death grip of fear.
She is hesitant and resistant to trying new things, experiencing new experiences, going new places, participating in a group. Ballet classes are out of the question. So are sports.
I feel like her resistance, her caution, comes from a need to be in control. I feel like the need to feel in control can come from having been an only child, from not having a readily-handy peer model to back you up in new endeavors. I'm not saying that's always the case, but I find so many little similarities in Samantha and myself.
But she takes it all to a whole new level.
I actually started this post a few months ago, but put it on ice while I took my little blogging break. But something happened on Saturday that really brought it all back to light. Something that really shook me up, caught me off guard, and concerned me. Something that takes the term "cautious" and gives it a whole new meaning.
She asked to go to the playground. There's one in the school yard directly behind our house, and we started out there. But she wanted swings, and the swings are in another playground a short distance from there, nestled between two rows of townhomes. After pulling herself up onto the swing seat, she decided it was too hot, so she wanted to play on the climber to the slides and tunnels, etc.
We've been going to that playground regularly for years now, since she was 3. She'd always been hesitant ascending to the platform in any way other than the regular stairs, but gradually became confident with the "foot hold" ladder thingy. I can't really describe it, and can't find a picture that accurately depicts this, but here's something similar. The main difference is that instead of the snaking pole that is stepped on in the illustration below, it actually has small steps coming out of the sides at intervals, to climb up, so it's even safer than this.
And once she was able to climb it, she would occasionally play-act that she was scared of heights, pretending to whine about it, then step forward onto the platform and that was that.
On Saturday, now years after her proficiency on the equipment, she climbed the 4-5 feet up to the top step, then began to whine that she was scared, that she was stuck "forever," etc., etc.
I've heard it all before.
I continued to sit where I was, just watching, knowing that in time, she'd continue her journey and take that tiny step forward, or descend back down the way she had come.
But she didn't.
And she wouldn't.
And she was honestly, seriously, no-kidding, in distress.
Thinking she was just being silly, I walked over and asked her to step down. She wouldn't. I asked her to step forward. She wouldn't. I put my hands under her armpits and told her to let go so I could lift her down. She wouldn't.
And then the tears started.
And she began to shake in terror.
And she began to wail.
And I'm pretty sure all the neighbors in the surrounding townhouses were wondering just what the hell was going on.
I tried everything. I climbed up to the platform and tried to bring her across to me.
I climbed up and sat on the top step next to her, my arms around her, my knee bridging the small gap between the step and the platform, begging her to just step on my leg like a bridge and walk onto the platform.
I tried reasoning with her, adding a little guilt of age and ability to the mix.
And she cried harder, and I had to repeatedly wipe her nose with her t-shirt, in the absence of anything else useful.
And the tears began to roll down her arms.
And, 20 minutes later, I knew I needed help.
Thankful that there were no other children on the playground during all of this, I called Steve, who was home napping, and asked him to come help. He was irritated at first, wondering why on earth he'd have to come over there because his 8 year old wouldn't get down off the climber, but when he got close, when he saw how truly distressed she was, he knew.
Calmly, he tried everything that I had already tried, and I was hopeful that she'd be more responsive to Daddy.
But she wasn't.
He eventually went up to the platform and, through a tiny bit of trickery and manipulation, managed to pry her hand off the pole and guide her to him.
It was truly heart-wrenching.
And even more-so, truly baffling.
But we had to be careful how we addressed it with her. We couldn't be angry. We could only just tell her it's okay to be scared sometimes.
And it hurts me to even think that she'd been that upset over something that simple, that ordinary, that familiar, that irrational.
What went wrong?
Could this be a manifestation of her overly-cautious nature, or something else? An extreme example of my definition of Only Child Syndrome? An over-expression of a gene (possibly the one for being annoying, but more likely the one for self-preservation) on the extra 21st chromosome?
My child is a cautious child. I, before her, was also a cautious child. Perhaps it's just a simple case of personality driven through a maternal genetic link.
I'm interested in your stories, here, about similar instances with your children with or without Down syndrome, only-children or children with siblings. Maybe there's a link somewhere, maybe there isn't. Maybe I'm just hoping there is, so I can rationally explain her behavior. Maybe she'll grow out of it. Maybe this was a one-off.