Every counter-top was filled with the detritus of what had been intended as a simple dessert recipe for the kids and me to prepare together. Along the way, flour had been sprinkled over the floor, bowls had tumbled from the cupboards, and eggshells had been crushed down the side of a cabinet.
My older daughter stood diligently before the oven window, charting the slow progress of the goodies. She was the single peaceful inhabitant of the space; my younger daughter was throwing a fit in the middle of the kitchen floor.
It had begun so innocently: fun in the kitchen with mama. Sweets on the horizon. Memories in the making.
But we had veered off-course almost from the beginning. My six-year-old had the process down without needing too much assistance, but her three-year-old sister was a different story. She added ingredients without regard for measurements or timing, and frequently attempted to sneak bites of our raw creation. She leaned her hair into the mixing bowl on more than one occasion and became angry mid-recipe when I suggested a helpful barrette.
Altogether, this hadn’t been our most successful baking foray. I leaned against the refrigerator, taking in the scene before me, wondering why this had been such an unusually frustrating experience. We do things in the kitchen often. Why the sudden difficulty?
It came to me as my preschooler ran off to her bedroom with a burst of renewed anger: she’s a three-year-old. She is brilliant and beautiful and sweet (of course), but the fact remains that she is prone to the same traps as most three-year-olds, while her big sister has (mostly) begun moving past those traps.
Somehow, when I throw both girls into the mix, I suddenly assume that they each know the same things. That the younger child will behave exactly as the older child, simply because they’re so close in age. Twenty-seven months isn’t an insignificant age difference, but when they both spend so much time playing with the same toys and enjoying the same games, I forget. I see them as a matched pair, and I approach them as such.
I give a simply worded instruction that a Kindergartner will easily interpret while a preschooler may either disregard my words or misunderstand them. She might know exactly what I mean, but her ‘what-if’ button becomes impossible to ignore and she charges ahead without thinking through her actions.But just because they are so closely linked in my mind doesn’t mean that they should be treated exactly the same in each situation. The little sister is still trying to learn things that the big sister has long since mastered. They view life differently. My preschooler isn’t as able to reign in her impulses as her big sister is, and she doesn’t see why it’s even important.
Because she still has learning to do. The lessons are only available to her on a daily basis, and I can’t forget that she still needs instruction just because I’ve already finished teaching a particular lesson once before.
It seems like something no parent would ever take for granted. Something that should stare us straight in the face each time we glimpse the darling faces of our children.
But I try to allow myself some leeway around those simple expectations. Because it turns out that I, too, am a work in progress.