My doctor told me that she was worried that my baby had stopped growing in utero at 37 weeks. She told me she wanted to do a C-section ASAP. She was due on May 15th. but on April 29th, my forth child, my second baby girl came into this world at 5 pounds 4 ounces, just 9 ounces lighter than her big sister weighed at full term almost 10 years years prior. Had she stopped growing or was she right on course to be the exact same size as her sister and me (I was another heavyweight at 5 pounds 14 ounces, full term)? We will never know but the fear that something was wrong with her made the 48 hours we waited before she was born almost unbearable. Thankfully, she was born healthy, and without any complications for her or for me. I only tell this story of her beginnings because I have found myself going back there over the years and wondering if her being brought into this world before she was “ready” has to do with a decision we made for her 8 years later.
My baby girl was and is very much the baby—the baby of our family of six, the baby of my parents’ six grandchildren and the baby in a long, long line of sibling-like first cousins’ children on my husband’s side. My daughter would be the baby of 20 cousins in that lineage. Needless to say, her feet hardly touched the ground for the first several years of her life, long after she was able to walk on her own. She didn’t have to speak a whole lot because everyone around her loved to cater to her every potential need before she needed to express one. And the fact that she literally was the size of an American Girl doll for a very long time (and is still not a whole lot bigger), and her voice was so high and squeaky that it made you smile no matter what she said, did not make it easy for people around her to transition to treating her like a “big girl.”
When it was time for her to go to preschool, she went somewhat willingly but often cried that she wanted to stay home with me. She was sick a lot; colds, fevers, ear infections, influenza, and countless unexplained tummy aches. But she learned and thrived in school; she made friends and she seemed happy and well adjusted.
When we considered moving her from the Montessori school she attended to the private school where my older three children attended, I remember feeling somewhat nervous. I knew she was bright, but she was often shy, reserved and somewhat “young” for her age. The first time through the admissions process, the school told us that she was not ready for the academic, social or emotional rigors of first grade at this college preparatory school. They did, however, offer her a spot in the Kindergarten class. We declined and decided to send her to the Montessori school that she loved for another year and re-assess the following year. She had a great year socially and academically and her teachers thought she would do fine in the grade she was “supposed” to be in. So, back to the private school we went to test her for admittance to second grade for the following school year.
Academically, she did just fine, and her classroom visit went relatively smoothly. We would have to wait to hear from the school about their final recommendations. The following day, after dropping my son off at school, I ran into the teacher whose classroom my daughter had visited. I asked her to tell me honesty how she saw my daughter fitting into this grade. She explained, “Your daughter was fine in my class, but I have to tell you that I had to take several of the kids out in the hall because I heard them whispering behind her back saying, ‘Why is a preschooler visiting our class?’ They couldn’t believe that she was 7, the same age as they were.” The teacher explained that the kids perceived her as much younger and treated her as less of a peer and more as someone who needed caretaking.
After much agonizing and deliberation on my part (my husband had much more clarity about the benefits of holding her back and the school had no question that giving her extra time would be hugely beneficial to her in every way), we all came to the consensus that it would serve her best to start as a first grader the following year instead of as a second grader, which is where her birthday says she “should” be.
But I worried. I worried that she would be teased for being older than most kids in her grade (in some cases more than a year older). That kids will ask her if she was held back, and will ask her why. I worried that it would seem strange that she will be 19 when she graduates high school and I even worried that her fellow college freshmen would give her a hard time for starting college at 19 and ask her if she flunked a grade. I worried about how she will navigate all of this, if it would bother her and how she will normalize her situation. I also had to look at how I felt about it all and find a way to reconcile all of this within myself. I also dabbled with some self doubt: Was it my fault that she needed extra time? Did I coddle her too much? Was I so overwhelmed with four kids that I neglected to help foster some of the developmental tools she needed early on?
But I realized that I had to let most of the above-mentioned insecure babble go so I could fully support her and empower her. I needed to find acceptance with the decision to give my daughter an extra year and look at all the benefits of this decision. “You are giving her the gift of time,” is what many trusted friends who work in academia labeled it for me. One extra year to be a kid! (And as I am preparing to send my oldest to college in a week, I certainly have a much better understanding of this!)
Fast forward two years to this week as my daughter is getting ready to start 3rd grade. “Mom, I know I am not the oldest kid in my grade because there is a boy who is older than me, right,” my daughter asks. “Right,” I say not quite sure where she is going with this. “Do you think there will be any other kids starting in my grade that will be older than me,” she continues her line of questioning. “I don’t know for sure but probably not,” I answer her carefully. “O.k. good. Because I love being the oldest. I also love being the smallest, which I will be this year because my friend Susie, who is a little bit smaller than me is not coming back this year.” “So you like being the oldest?” I ask. “I love it!” she says with a smile.
I can say now that I do feel that my daughter is in a good place and that giving her extra time is really what she needed and needs. Whether this has to do with how she came into this world, a bit premature, or how she was a bit coddled when she was young, we will never know. She is not in a hurry to grow up and that is okay. She sees her older siblings and how much more challenging and complicated life becomes. She is good with being a kid. And for me, I will get to have an extra year with her before my nest will be completely empty…but by then, I may be making room for grandchildren (if I am lucky)!