When Anna was five years old, she came home from her friend Zoe’s house and told me that I needed to take the training wheels off her bicycle, “Today Mommy. You need to take them off today.”
Even as a little girl, Anna would get a look in her big blue eyes and I would know that she meant business, but I was curious about the timing, “Why Anna? Can’t we wait a bit longer? Don’t you like the safety of the extra wheels?”
“Moooommmm. I’m five. Besides, Zoe showed me today that she can ride her bike ALL BY HERSELF!”
That was it. There was no way that my daughter was going to let someone else enjoy even a second of glory without jumping into the game. That’s Anna. She was born determined to prove that she could do anything. It’s who she is to the core. And, it’s never been just to show off. She never really even required a witness. She just needs to prove it to herself.
That afternoon, I dug Anna’s bike out of the garage and took off the training wheels. We strapped on her Dora the Explora helmet and off she went. She started on our front lawn, “This is what Zoe said worked for her.”
There were a few spills on the soft grass before she got the hang of it. Within a half hour she progressed to the sidewalk and she’s been pedaling ever since.
Anna is now in high school, and her determination seems more indestructible than ever. It’s not just in the classroom and on the lacrosse field that she has a need to succeed. She seems equally determined to master everything from a Rubix Cube to memorizing presidents, country capitals and the Periodic Table. To date, she has yet to find something that she cannot master, but Dan and I can’t help but worry.
When is too much — too much?
I was never much of a shining star as a girl. One benefit of being mediocre is that no one expects too much from you. In fact, you get all sorts of encouragement and support and plenty of “clap outs” for every small accomplishment (I do love this). Dan, like Anna, was born determined, and it certainly reflected positively on his school work and career, but it has caused some disappointments and significant stress along the way. And, he did not have the added pressure that we fear Anna carries.
Anna is our only child who gets grades and plays sports. She is our only child who will go to college and have a career. She is our only child who will fall in love and have a family.* Dan and I try our best to alleviate the pressure and not focus too much on “being the best”, but it’s there. It’s been part of who Anna is since she was a little girl. As much as she does it for herself, Anna also loves to see her parents applauding her accomplishments. She knows we have our plates full with Jack, and is determined to make parenting her as easy as possible. This silent pressure must be stressful, but I’m not sure what to do about it.
How do we proceed? Do we stop posting her report cards on the fridge or cheering loudly at her lacrosse games? Do we discourage her from signing up for another AP class or stop her from all of her extracurricular activities?
We have tried praising more of her behavior and less of her accomplishments. We also try to remind her that she is not a grade on a paper or goal on a field. She is Anna, our daughter, Jack’s sister, a wonderful friend and beautiful human.
Special needs siblings are taught early that life is not fair and that their needs aren’t always the priority. They learn that their parents can’t take too much extra nonsense without potentially cracking. I’ve seen it again and again — special needs siblings grow up early, carrying more than their share. So far, this extra weight has added to Anna’s muscles, I just hope it doesn’t some day weigh her down.
For now, Dan and I just keep reminding her, to take it easy. “Work hard, try your best, but remember you’re just a kid.”
We keep talking and talking, but no matter what we say, I’m not sure we will change anything in our girl. Anna is Anna. She just smiles at us and keeps on pedaling.
* In fact, Jack falls in love often and has plenty of girlfriends to prove it. I’m not sure how realistic it is that Jack will have a family of his own, but stranger things have happened – just turn on CNN.