It has to be one of the most time honored traditions of parenthood – The advice to “Pick
Your Battles.” This phrase was just words for me – with little background
meaning or context – until the red ruby slippers. Caitlin got a pair of red
ruby slippers for Christmas when she was two and a half. She then insisted on
wearing them every day. All day, every day. She wanted to wear them to
pre-school. She insisted on wearing them to go to the store, or to play
outside. I finally put my foot down when she insisted on wearing them to the
park, where I knew we would be playing in the sand. And then we argued. I found
myself trying to have a rational argument with a toddler. And then I found
myself – just saying “NO!” and defiantly reminding myself that I am the parent
– and thus, whatever I say goes!
Later, as I pondered the red shoes…. I remembered that little parenting advice
nugget – Pick Your Battles. Did the shoes really matter that much? She had
almost outgrown them already. The rubies were rubbed off, the glitter worn to
reveal just plain canvas shoe underneath. And couldn’t it be a lesson if
Caitlin learned that wearing nice things in the sand could make them not so
nice anymore? A toddler wanting to make decisions is totally normal, after all.
Was it really worth it to spend energy arguing over shoes – when it seemed
there were so many more important things to think about? I flipped – and the
flipping became the foundation for truly understanding how to pick your battles
as a parent. Wear the red shoes….but when it comes to drinking your milk, we’re
not going to negotiate. Mom is saving her energy for the big stuff.
When Caitlin was diagnosed with arthritis, the number and magnitude of our
battles increased exponentially. It was no longer red shoes – but wearing
orthotics in those shoes (and by the way, orthotics don’t fit so well in ruby
slippers….), taking medicine, doing physical therapy, dealing with pain. Things
that would have been on my parenting radar with a healthy child fell much lower
on the priority scale. The thumb, for instance….
I never gave Caitlin a pacifier when she was a baby- because at the time, I
thought it would interfere with breastfeeding. She naturally started self
soothing by sucking her thumb. When she got to three years old and was still
tight with her thumb, we started considering ways of helping her break that
habit. However, then arthritis entered her life. I don’t think I gave the thumb
another thought for two years – because it didn’t make the cut against all of
the other worries and battles we had. It was a comfort that she had her thumb
after shots, after blood tests, on bad, stiff mornings. I sort of wished I had
a built in comfort device that I could have carried with me everywhere. Let her
have the thumb – we thought. Who cares about the thumb, when her knees are the
size of grapefruits!
When Caitlin was five and getting ready to enter kindergarten – we started
thinking more about the thumb again. There would be new concerns of peer
mocking, and of course, ongoing concern for her teeth. Her dentist and
pediatrician said she would stop when she was ready, and she’d probably stop by
the end of kindergarten.
It was second grade by the time this battle made it to the agenda. Her baby
teeth were gone and the “real” teeth were in. But the thumb was still in too.
We consulted an orthodontist, who constructed a retainer specifically for this
problem – It had little metal bumps built in to the roof of the retainer – so
her thumb would not be comfortable or make contact with the roof of her mouth.
It seemed cruel to me – but Caitlin was all for it – because the thumb sucking
was becoming a BIG peer problem. She never had issues at school – but she was
just starting to do a sleepover here and there… and she didn’t want to risk it.
So even though Arthritis was bad at the time – and the treatments that year
were particularly harsh… we tackled the Battle of the Thumb. And it was only a
few weeks until she won – well, we all won.
Even though I try to always treat Caitlin like I would any other child of mine,
when it comes to picking battles, there are just more to pick from because of
the arthritis. I don’t let all of the other battles slide – but sometimes, I
compromise in order to get the important stuff done first. We’ll get to it all
on better days…
Believe me, if it were as easy as letting her wear ruby slippers to school, I’d
let her in a heartbeat!