Last week I took Annabelle to her first music class while Marshall was at school. As I walked into the class, I felt my throat get tight and my pulse quicken. Why the hell was I nervous walking into a toddler music class? I pulled it together, but just as the teacher sat down, I wondered if I could convincingly say that I forgot to pay the meter and bolt. Hello Everly, Hello Sebastian… started filling the room. I was too late.
So I sat nervously in the circle doing deep breathing to calm my body down from being in full on fight or flight mode.
During the second song, the teacher dumped a bunch of egg shakers on the floor. Here we go. I prepared myself for the chaos where Annabelle would surely want the only red egg shaker that the sweet 3-year-old boy had sitting next to us. But she grabbed the two that were close to her, and even offered one to the girl on our right. What?
When the song was over, I got ready for the big moment when Annabelle would have to put the egg shakers in the basket which would surely cause endless tears. But she said bye-bye to each shaker, gave them a kiss (I mean) and put them in the basket and came and sat on my lap.
I was in shock.
The same thing happened with each song. She easily chose two toys that weren’t being used and put them away with no problem at all.
I left the music class in tears. What an incredible experience!
That evening I was telling Jonathan about how great of time Annabelle and I had in music class, and wondered why I was so shocked. Then it hit me. My experience that day could not have been more different than taking Marshall to a music class.
When I used to take Marshall to a music class, he’d literally elbow kids out of the way and be the first to the basket of egg shakers, and then attempt to grab at least 10. When one would slip away from his pudgy baby arms, he would scream, try to pick it up, and lose 3 more. If we were playing with different instruments he would be happily playing with a xylophone and in a split second get transfixed by the maraca someone across the circle was using. Without a warning he’d sprint across the circle, pummel the poor kids and grab the instrument out of her hands before I could even stand up to grab him.
The whole class contained at these 5 acts of aggression and grabbing and around 10 meltdowns, but of course it was all interspersed with Marshall dancing his face off in the center of the circle full of unimaginable joy while all the kids sat quietly in their mom’s lap.
I started to think about all the things that made me have a panic attack…
Going to the grocery store
Getting in the bath
Going out to lunch
Even going to the playground
Practically doing anything with Marshall felt hard. I’d look at my friend’s kids and all the things that seemed to be simple and fun for them, like running an errand or getting in the car… I’d see how women could spend hours at home and seem to coexist with their kids. I wondered how they went to the bathroom or ate?
As I’ve mentioned in my last few letters to you (http://sarahjenks.wpengine.com/blog/i-give-up/), I’ve been home with my kids more since the beginning of February, and almost everyday starts and ends with me crying in the bathroom. I’m crying from exhaustion, confusion, and judgment of myself and Marshall. It’s been so hard.
I’ve read a lot of parenting books since Marshall was born almost three years ago, and worked with a lot of parenting coaches, many of them have been helpful, but I kept approaching the situation with the attitude of ‘Marshall is a normal kid with behavioral problems that I need to fix.’ Even if they were telling me otherwise, I couldn’t hear them.
And being the good “Conscious Parent” that I am, I, of course, took full and complete ownership of his struggles blaming our hard labor, my postpartum depression, my lack of presence, how annoyed I was by him and most recently, the fact that I worked. So every time he would have a meltdown, I was judging myself. I started to crumble under my own oppression which of course made Marshall more uncomfortable.
Then last week my friend gave me “Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic” By Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.
I could feel the power of this book before I even opened it. The first few pages had me in tears of relief. And each chapter has brought more joy and peace to my life.
I want to share some of the things I’ve learned in this book in case you also have a spirited child and may be feeling the same sense of overwhelm and despair that I have been feeling because I just HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DEALING WITH!!!!
1. Spirited children are extra sensitive, blow up easily, know exactly what they want and are incredibly persistent. They are also very smart, exuberant and meticulous. Very high highs and very low lows.
2. You can usually tell you have a spirited child from the moment they’re born. Marshall would SCREAM from the moment he was born because he wanted something really specific, like his right bootie (only) to be removed. He never slept, and sleep training was impossible. In a moment of desperation, we hired the top sleep trainer in San Francisco when he was 4 months old because he was still waking up every hour and Jonathan was doing surgery for 14 hours a day. We had to at least get a 3-hour stretch. She instructed us to let him cry but check on him every 5, 10, and then 15 minutes until he eventually went to sleep. She said that most kids fall asleep within the hour the first night and within 3 nights they fall asleep on their own. Marshall cried for 4 HOURS for 10 DAYS STRAIGHT. She said she had never ever had this happen to her. We still don’t sleep that much. For a while, I judged myself for not bonding correctly with Marshall when he was a baby. I just felt too on edge to relax enough to sink into a rhythm with him. Of course it was hard!!! Marshall was an insanely difficult baby, but because I was new at this, I had nothing to compare my experience with and thought something was wrong with me.
3. Spirited children are wired this way because of their biological and genetic makeup. Nothing I did or didn’t do made Marshall the way he is. Knowing this I was able to release so much guilt, shame, and judgment that I’ve been carrying around.
4. Now that I’m getting how Marshall is wired, I am seeing how so many of the traits I saw as annoying, are actually great qualities! Marshall isn’t an asshole, he’s opinionated. He isn’t argumentative, he’s persistent. As I’ve been seeing Marshall differently and telling him how persistent he is (in a good way) he is melting down less and able to have a conversation with me about how he’s feeling. Like the other day in the middle of a dinner party, he stood on his chair and announced, “Mama! You are talking too much and not paying enough attention to me!” He was right! I thanked him for being such a great communicator and we went into the other room to play for a little bit.
5. Only about 10% of kids are “spirited” meaning they have a very specific temperament that is different than most kids. Knowing this I really got what my assignment is as his mother. I feel a great opportunity to help this boy channel his passion into positive things so he can be who is truly is. This means that I’m open to his opinions and negotiations, am constantly finding ways to enjoy his loudness and am trying so so hard not to shut him down at every corner. I am feeling honored to be his mother, instead of annoyed.
6. Parents of Spirited children need to take extra care of themselves. The patience and energy it takes to truly meet the needs of a spirited child are enormous and no adult can be expected to be the best guide for children like this all day. Not to mention Marshall is so sensitive that he picks up on my exhaustion and annoyance and that makes him anxious. I need to be at the top of my game when I’m with him so he feels secure and I can enjoy being with him.
I’m sharing this because I’ve spent so long in a state of confusion and overwhelm with Marshall because I wasn’t aware of this type of child, and if there’s just one of you out there who relates to this, then this was a good week.
I am truly on the journey to discovering how I want to Mother and a big part of this is understanding my children and their needs in this phase of their lives. Really getting that both Marshall and I benefit from me having my own time outside of the home everyday is beautiful.
In the comments below, I’d love to know if you have a Spirited Child and what your journey has been. Or any other stories about your journey in discovering how you Mother. We all need examples of radical realness.
Sending so much love,
Simple actions to take your life back, know your worth & feel alive no matter how drained, overwhelmed and far gone you feel.