Friday, May 15, 2009

Raising my spirited child

The title for this blog, you see, despite my years of education in art history, this is anything but a still life. This is a non-stop frenzy of a life. A Not-Ever-Still ooh-I’m-out-of-breath what-need-of-yours-do-I-have-to-figure-out-now? kind of life.

And I titled this blog before L could crawl, so you know it’s not her that I’m referencing.*

It’s the other one, E. The first one. The one who came out screaming and hasn’t stopped vocalizing since. The one who tires my brain as much as my body. And let me tell you, that combination is depleting.

E is the loose air on the outer orbit of a tornado. She accelerates and decelerates without warning. She comes near you and it’s just as likely that she’ll tickle you with butterfly kisses as that she’ll pin you to the ground. Sometimes it’s through cooperation, sometimes it’s through imagination, sometimes it’s by turning herself into a human cannonball and launching. She can be neither guided nor followed with straight lines. Her actions are dramatic and difficult to forecast and often leave temperaments and property changed in their wake.

*Don’t get me wrong, L is active. And persistent. And strong-willed and opinionated and bright and all the forceful qualities you’d like to see in a toddler. Yes, caring for her is tiring, in the way that caring for any dependent creature with many needs and few resources is tiring. But she is like a sleeping puppy napping in the sun compared to her sister.

Sometimes L throws a tantrum on the floor and with a smile and one raised eyebrow I look at her and say, “you can’t scare me, love.”


This is how E’s bedtime goes. She talks and she talks and she talks and then, suddenly, there’s silence. We snuggle each night for an allotted amount of minutes predetermined daily according to a complicated system that factors in day of the week, behavior, how long it took to get her upstairs, and a few other things. The snuggling, allegedly, is not just because I like it, but to help the child wind down, right? She doesn’t wind, though. That little metallic key that is supposed to stick out of her back – it doesn’t exist. Instead she has a tiny red button under her tongue. And only when her speech stops does the button light up, and then she sleeps. So I announce the Countdown Snuggle: “five minutes, love.” And she keeps talking about
Carler or school or whathaveyou and interrupts herself to say Chick! We did five minutes and continues on with her monologue. (Yes, chick. Not ‘check.’ Don’t ask me, she’s not my kid. Oh, wait.) And I interrupt her monologue a little later to say, “four more minutes, love.” And she continues chatting for a moment, and pauses to say Chick! We did five minutes. Chick! We did four minutes. Okay. and continues wherever she had left off until that time when my interruption to announce the time short circuits her tongue, and it turns off, and the little red button engages for ten sensory-replenishing hours.

She’s a tough nut, I sometimes tell myself, reminding myself that it’s not that I’m incompetent, it’s just that she really isn’t your average bear. Her teachers tell me she can be the most challenging kid in the whole daycare center and when they, graciously, follow that phrase they seem to relish repeating to me with the grace that she can also be the most rewarding – for that happy smile she shines on them will have been so truly earned, on their parts – I can only nod wearily, and smile myself, because otherwise I might acknowledge how tired she makes me, and how unequipped I sometimes feel to steer her trajectories.

This is, I swear, not to complain. For her, I will navigate as best I can, however fumbling I feel. I will
ask her teachers not to look at her. I will ask her friends and family not to hug her and I will distribute my own kisses on her affection surrogates, her stuffed animals. I will carry noise-reducing ear plugs wherever we go. Her rewards do make the challenges worthwhile. But they can be mighty. We had a Moment on Tuesday.

Tuesday was the day that I took E back to the ENT after school for another inspection of her (still!-) blocked ear tube. We were shown into the patient room and E sat on my lap happily calling Bangladesh playing with my cell phone. The nurse walked in to verify that the patient in the room matched the chart hanging on the door. She smiled and started to say hello to us. E angrily jumped off my lap to the ground, spread her feet to shoulder-width and held her hand out, palm open, like a crossing guard.


Luckily, the nurse thought that was funny, and she giggled as she walked out. Luckily, I mean, in the sense that she wasn’t affronted or offended. Not luckily, however, in the sense that her giggles enraged E, for clearly a no smiling edict always contains a no giggles clause.

It is hard to laugh without smiling.

The rest of the visit was not better. Luckily, again, Dr. Earl was willing to work with a tough patient was admiring of her feistiness in the same way her teachers smile when they tell me she’s a tough cookie. No kidding, I always think. And when Dr. Earl said, “Oh, it’s fine, we love her. We know when she’s coming – eeeveryone [insert grand sweeping hand motion to indicate entire office suite] remembers your daughter!” I thought again, No Kidding. Dr. Earl smiled broadly, and genuinely. I think. But I asked, and she doesn’t have kids. Which meant that she got to go home to a no-yelling evening. I…I just got to go home.


There is a book out there called Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic.

(That title? Um, Yes.)

This article about the book summarizes the traits of “spirited” children – and could have been written just about my elder daughter. I bought this book eight months ago. I haven’t read it yet. I think I should read this while alert. I keep picking up fiction (or my laptop) in the evenings when my small parcels of free time open in front of me; I never feel alert enough to address this. And, I’m a little nervous.

Which is why I typed all this out, to tell you and demand of myself: I’m reading that book this weekend.
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1 comment:

MommyWizdom said...

Hmn... Amazing. I have a list a mile long of books to get - but right now, it's time for bed.

Have a great week and thanks for a great post! I loved it!