Spirited Child of Mine
“You think as deeply as you feel, and that, my child, is a depth unexplored.”~Jen Luckhardt
Your reputation precedes you. Or, rather, your reputation precedes me. You were born with a bang, hot as fire, but not nearly as quick, and it has been a rather slow burn.
That bang came after one long day, which turned into one month, which turned into one year, and now, it feels like I blinked and, suddenly, you’re 15 months old. But we both know it wasn’t as quick as that, don’t we?
I wish I could say it’s been an easy 15 months, but I value honesty, as I’m sure you will one day. In the last 15 months, the best of times have also often been the worst of times. It has been a constant challenge for me to eat properly, sleep properly, take care of myself, figure out how to get you to sleep… at all, and it has been rather difficult to keep my cool.
Unlike what I had been expecting from the day you were born, it was quite difficult to build a bond with you; something I was embarrassed to admit for a long time. Chronic sleep deprivation and no me-time for months at a time isn’t exactly an ideal breeding ground for warm, fuzzy feelings. I am happy to say that the bond did come. It just took a lot of months.
You are not a ‘bad’ child,
as one might expect me to say next, though you do regularly make me feel like a bad parent. You simply need much more from me than I expected you would. Contrary to what others may think, I didn’t come into parenthood with my eyes closed, expecting candy and rainbows. And it is not for lack of preparedness that I am unable to get you “under control”. What people don’t realize is that you are, and require, more than the average child.
What do I mean when I say that? I mean that, since birth, the care, attention, and patience you demand of me exceeds – sometimes substantially – that of what most babies and toddlers demand of their mothers – or at least 95% of what I see and encounter. You have the kind of temperament that was originally deemed “difficult” or “demanding”. Nowadays, there are new words for you – kinder, gentler, more understanding words: High-Need, High-Demand, or Spirited.
I call you my Fire Child.
Unlike some opinions I’ve received, I don’t believe you simply need “tough love” to make you more compliant under the rule of my hand. No, you are not bad and in need of fuller authoritarianism. Guidance, perhaps, but you are quite the opposite of bad: You’re alert, you’re driven, you’re curious, you’re aware, you’re demanding, you’re bright, you’re assertive. But you also feel deeply and intensely, both the good and the bad. These are great qualities, but extremely difficult qualities to contend with when your body is so little and your mind is so very big.
And when I am so very, very tired.
You have great qualities that will serve you well in the future, and I remember hoping to have a child who possessed your qualities. I just had no idea how hard it would be to parent such a child.
You’re everything I asked for.
But you’re nothing I was ready for.
I don’t think even a veteran mother would have been ready for you. I mean, is anyone ever really well-prepared for a typhoon when the forecast simply called for rain?
You see, my daughter, I myself am not a particularly easy person. I am alert, driven, ambitious, curious, I have a thirst for knowledge and for rapid forward movement in my goals; I am strong (though you make me question my strength), and I feel deeply and intensely.
Very much like you.
Sometimes, that makes for a beautiful, fiery combination, but a lot of times, it makes for an inferno of too-intense feelings that are sometimes difficult for me to cope with. This is exasperated by the fact that I don’t normally have the opportunity to take a break away from you. You simply won’t stand for it. When I am finally alone, it is normally around times like now, at 1:00 am – though I’m sure you’ll be calling for me soon – and I use these precious few moments, glancing constantly at the baby monitor, to work towards my goals; goals that are laughing at my meager efforts.
The drastic slowdown of my forward momentum (a near-full stop, really) fully trumps the difficulty of clashing emotions. The acquisition of new knowledge and skills, and any forward movement in my goals, takes time – time alone, time to think, quiet time; time to myself.
Time that you don’t give me.
I get lots of advice from well-meaning friends and family (those with and without children); advice that comes from a place of concern from the ones who would like to see me happier, better-rested, and more effective as a parent. Some of this advice I have tried (most of the advice), and the vast majority of it has failed, if not immediately, then quickly and assuredly. And sometimes rapidly and terribly.
It is in the terrible failures that I wish I had listened to my own gut and not fallen to the demeaning pressure of advice from those who haven’t spent more than an hour alone with my child. But we live and we learn, and we admit that most of the people around me will not believe and will not understand what it is to raise a fireball.
So, my dear girl, let me list the ways that you drive me to madness.
You won’t sleep.
I get it, girl. If I never had to sleep again, I’d be thrilled. There are those who love their sleep and can’t wait until their head hits their pillow, and there are those who see sleep for what it is:
A huge waste of time.
At least, that’s how I see it. And it’s clear that’s how you see it, too. But that’s a problem, because my life only begins when you succumb to fatigue, and you fight your fatigue as if it’s the devil’s snare.
Whether it’s because you’re a toddler and the world just seems too thrilling to leave so soon, or whether it’s due to personality, or a bit of both, the only time you’re thrilled to go to bed is when you’re nearly falling down, drunk with weariness. But only if mama’s beside you, of course, otherwise we can kiss your blessed surrender goodbye.
Essentially, you only welcome sleep when you have to beg for it.
And that’s not cool. Getting you to bed, whether it’s for a nap or for the night, is like negotiating with a demon. And your demands are always the same: You want me to stay with you, or you want me to get up and out of bed with you and stay with you. Either way, I am with you. That, or you release the demon.
I always find myself on the losing end.
You’re never satisfied.
I understand this, too. Acquiring new knowledge or skills is deeply satisfying – but enough is never enough, and there isn’t enough time in the day to learn all the things you want to. Literally ever. In my 30th year of life, my mind is still running as quickly as it has my whole life, and that hasn’t stopped just because you came along – although sometimes I wish it had. Things would be easier if that were the case.
It is not that I don’t understand you and your endless need for mental stimulation. No, it is that I do understand you, and, because I have had to bury my own mental drive under six feet of quivering frustration for 15 months, I have had to store my life and my sanity in a jar. It currently sits on the top shelf collecting dust.
You’re bafflingly unpredictable.
One minute, you could be happily collecting blocks in a bucket, the next second, you need me to come and help you reach the pen you just dropped under the table, “NOW! What?! You want to dry your soaking-wet hands before you help me!?”
Unleash the demon.
If I say no, or make you wait, the world ends.
When it comes to a schedule, there are the blessed nights where you fall asleep quickly and I can sneak away unnoticed. It is these nights that I mistakenly feel that my parenting skills must be improving.
What a naive dope I am to think such a thing. Parenting skills have nothing to do with you, because the next night – and for the next three weeks – you lay in bed, following the bedtime routine that worked just yesterday, for only five minutes before insisting that bedtime just isn’t for you. And you do insist it, loudly and perpetually until your point is made… until 2:00 in the morning.
Unleash the demon.
You need to be close to me, constantly.
I was deliberate in my choice of words there. It was on purpose that I did not use the word “want”, but instead “need”, because want implies you can live without it, and you make it crystal clear that you would not, in fact, survive if I were not to hold you whenever you needed, for however long you needed to be held. I have tried, on a few occasions, to question your logic, and have lived to regret my lapse in judgement. But just barely.
You always need more of everything. Except sleep, of course.
More closeness, more energy, more attention, more novelty, more practice, more movement, more entertainment, more me. Quite honestly, tiny human, your demands are exhausting, especially because I would like to exist independent of you, if only for an hour a day.
We are not conjoined twins, so I’m not sure where you may have gotten that idea. You’re much too short and our eyes aren’t the same colour. Hence, not conjoined twins. I am flattered that you think so, though.
Amongst all that additional need, apparently, the one thing you don’t need more of is sleep, because, if you did, this post would have been written
one two three four weeks ago. That’s right, four.weeks.ago. Maybe Definitely earlier than that, even.
As a baby, you demanded more from me than I have seen demanded from other mothers. It was confusing and, at times, disheartening. It made me feel like I was doing something – everything – wrong. I have been around friends whose babies sat fairly quietly, calmly, contentedly, playing with their toys for as long as they must, or until they need a change, a meal, a nap, or just a little attention. It has never seemed quite normal; at least, not quite like our normal. I look at those mothers sometimes, still, and envy their freedom and their full nights of sleep.
never have I been so forced to develop that which I am the worst at: patience. Patience is not a virtue I was born with, and it has been a slow and agonizing process to develop the one skill I was hoping never to have to. I hate patience. Patience is boring. Hey, look, another thing we have in common!
And despite all of this,
I love you.
Not only do I love you, but I like you. That’s an important distinction. I think you’re hilarious and sassy, and I would give up countless more nights of sleep and months of sanity to keep the intelligent and driven little girl that you are. You are mine and I am yours – sleeplessness, perpetual dissatisfaction, emotional firestorm and all.
We have similar minds, you and I – that much is already clear. And that is why the last 15 months have been so challenging for me. Your father and I mesh well together because his calm is the antithesis to my turbulence. Your unrest, on the other hand, combined with mine, has been a delicate and perilous balance that, once toppled, is a disaster waiting to happen.
Or perhaps it would be a beautiful chaos.
My girl, our life together is hard – and fun, hilarious, intriguing, exhausting, and sometimes never-ending. While I am inclined to write a beautiful ending for the readers expecting me to say, with a smile, that it’s all worth it – and, indeed, I did try to write something abnormally positive, as any mother would be expected to, I value honesty, as I’m sure you will, too, one day.
I am an individual, as well as a mother, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it. Often, I am so tired that I can’t step back far enough to see the brilliant beauty of the illuminated forest through the burning trees.
Sometimes, all the struggle really doesn’t seem worth it; it just seems unreasonably difficult and painfully long.
But then, nothing worthwhile in life comes easily, does it? No, the best things come most difficultly, in my experience. If that’s the case, I’m sure you will be magnificent.
You are, without a doubt, beautiful and intelligent and difficult and maddening, all neatly packaged in an adorable little body. Above all, you are worth it. You will always be worth it.
You, my greatest challenge.