Oh, my wild child, or I think they’re calling them “spirited” now-a-days. The ones that challenge your every decision and make you question who is actually running the show (spoiler alert: it isn’t you).
I had another mom once ask me “Is your daughter a handful?”
And I said, “yeah, she’s a wild one why do you ask?” I thought it was an interesting question since she wasn’t doing anything particularly crazy at the moment.
“Her calves,” the woman answered.
I laughed. “Her calves?”
”Yes, I have a theory that all kids that have defined calf muscles are a handful. They’re always running and climbing, being daredevils,” she laughed.
How funny I thought, nothing could be more true of this kid. This woman is onto something!
Sometimes I can’t help but think of these moments when my kid is so visibly different. Whether it’s her defined calf muscles that stand out to the other moms or the way she cannot stay in one place. The way she runs out of storytime or wants to play in another room when a whole group of kids are sitting together for music class. The way she fearlessly climbs things or runs like the wind until she falls hard on the ground and gets back up and keeps going.
With her second birthday quickly approaching I can’t help but reflect on my spunky little girl and the woman she will one day become. My husband and I were talking about the many different temperaments of children, and how no matter what they’re all a two-sided coin. The toddler who scares easy and cries over everything is also often well-behaved in public or at restaurants and can be patient when held for long periods of time. The shy and careful child who takes a long time to warm up may not run off full-force with the other kids or may cling-on for dear life in new situations, but they’re also less likely to get into dangerous situations and tend to have longer attention spans when they do find something they like.
Sometimes I think the downsides of the “spirited” toddler stand out more than the rest, but maybe every parent thinks that about their own kid’s temperament. The running off, the climbing and jumping, the full-on no fear personality is exhausting. The huge emotions, stubbornness, and won’t-take-no-for-an-answer determination is exhausting. There have never been long periods of quiet snuggling or even sitting in one place for that matter. There is no carrying her or holding her. She just wants to be free, always has. The strong sense of independence and desire to lead instead of follow can make me feel isolated when she just simply doesn’t have interest in doing what all the other kids are doing.
“Why is she so different?” I find myself wondering when I see all the other kids her age happily sitting on laps or playing quietly next to their parents while she is running off looking for something to climb or explore or trying to coax another kid to chase her instead of paying attention to the teacher. This I have learned is just one side of her coin.
However, on the other side is what I want for all my kids, and what I strive for in raising a girl especially. A strong sense of self, confidence, resilience, independence, and the determination to accomplish anything she sets her mind to. Even though these traits in toddlerhood have me wanting to run for the hills some days, I also can’t help but secretly hope they carry through to womanhood.
My friend was telling me it is funny when you think about it, that you just can’t have it both ways. We want them to be independent, explore, and do things on their own. We want them to be these strong and capabale children, then when they are we get frustrated with their new found independence and turn right around and want them to just sit quietly and do what we tell them.
When I’m feeling frustrated about her phases, I try to remind myself of all of this. Especially, when her new phases include screaming “no no no” when anyone starts singing happy birthday and stomping her feet and shouting when someone tries to take her picture…. less than a week before her second birthday. Perfect. Things like this have me begging can’t my child just be normal. I don’t get embarrassed easily, but sometimes it’s borderline embarrassing trying to explain to other moms, “Yeah, we’re not going to sing happy birthday to her because she’s weird and hates everything.” Sigh. Okay, I know she’s not weird. And I know she doesn’t hate everything, but it feels like it sometimes. Like I said it can be exhausting.
I think one of the most eye-opening things about parenting is accepting that even though you’ve created this child out of absolutely nothing, you don’t get much of a say in who they are or who they become. Even at two, let alone twenty. I mean sure their experiences or “nurture” definitely shapes them, but their personality and temperament just simply are what they are. Ask any mom with more than one child, and I’m sure they can point out immediate differences in their babies from birth.
I think so many new parents believe that “raising” children means making them a certain way. Part of me thought that anyway. But the more I struggle with this wild child’s personality the more I realize what a disservice it is to try to change or question anything that is so inherently who they are.
“Are you sure you don’t want to play with the other kids?” “Don’t you want to go dance with your friends in class?” “Look everyone is over there playing in the splash pad, don’t you want to join them?”
When she is clearly perfectly happy running around (perhaps a little too far away), barefoot, hair a mess, digging up rocks in the dirt. Maybe even tasting one for good measure.
Now I don’t mean to say I have any problem with her running around and getting dirty and just being a kid. Obviously I think those things are great and have always encouraged them. But there are moments I can’t help but just wish she was a tame child that just played quietly with the other kids so I could relax for five minutes. But alas, as other moms of wild children know, that will just never be.
So all of this is just to say if you struggle with a spirited child, if you have a child that will not be tamed, one that has no desire to follow the crowd, I feel you tired mamas. I feel you so hard.
But instead of feeling despair that in a week my two year old will not wear that pretty party crown, will not want to be the center of her friends as we sing happy birthday, and will definitely not want her picture taken in front of a cake, I am going to try to let go of my expectations of perfection and how things “should” be. I’m going to let her run barefoot with dirty feet, in a most likely dirty dress, I’m going to let her stray as far as she wants from her own party. I’m not going to force her to play games or indulge in my idea of “fun.” I am simply going to let this wild child just be.
I know her days of finding her place in a society where wildness and freedom are exchanged for obedience and conformity will be long and fast approaching. So for now, I’m going to try to hold onto that strong-willed spark in her eye and her carefree smile as she does something perhaps a little too dangerous or wanders off a little too far. I’m going to let this spirited one just be free for as long as I possibly can.