Years back as I zigzagged my way through my daughter’s toddler years, I did it by buying the requisite bags of books and listening to mother’s and ideas. I cried in private, sometimes even heaving with panic, residue from when post-partum depression muddled my thinking. I absorbed whatever maternal advice gave me a sense of control for the seemingly uncontrollable — a sensitive child. “Sensitive” I learned is just a euphemism for “emotionally challenging.”
It wasn’t that my daughter was visibly the hardest one in the circles of children we encountered, but somewhere around 18 months I moved out of denial and mourned the loss of her ever being the easiest.
She’s a dichotomy; not to be typecast, not that any child should be stuck with a one-sided label. No one believes this blond haired, blue eyed quiet child holds Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, without the homicidal acts. No one believes me because she is mostly very calm, observant and slightly shy. Her explosive side is hidden from most of the world, the teachers, friends, strangers, hidden since age four when she apparently realized (or cared) that the world is in fact, watching.
She’s a ying-yang spirit, a “shy extrovert” perhaps. She’s not “an old soul”, “4 going on 10”, “my little lady” or “Daddy’s little girl.” She’s sensitive in ways kids can be. She’s shy without being painfully so and outgoing when she’s decided she can be.
A tom girl, boy or something, with a feather touch for animals. She leads herself when friends or parents try to lead her too firmly, then suddenly lowers her eyes when an adult speaks directly to her. She watches. She waits. She never plunges in. When she is ready, she goes forward with trepidation and velocity. She hugs only her mother on a whim. She prefers sports at home with her parents, but will play individual ones and games with a competitive thrust. She leaves quietly placed piles of notes on top of my bedstead at night, confessing her love with flowerly superlatives and a long heart-felt apology for the fight that led us to both lock horns.
She’s quiet and full of strong things that come out of her when she’s very hungry, tired, frustrated or confused. Her strong things intermingle with mine. I am sensitive, only loudly so, assertive, more confident after 43 years of working out the kinks. When she was under five and I was under the influence of exhaustion, dissatisfaction at home, and PMS our eruptions, although not every day, were cataclysmic. Now for the most part at nearly 11, these episodes are just annoying.
Strong feelings between kids and their parents emerge louder and stronger during toddler and teen years. A re-birth of loud voices, tantrums and a pull for independence. These boiling points emerge from transitions, stress, our biology, and temperment. This volatility can move parents into a place of despair or improvement. Raising children presents numerous cross roads complete with a permanent mirror ready to show you your best and worst sides.
We all have time to self-actualize while we’re still alive rather than at our death bed scene as if the epiphany for what we should have done can only come before our last gasp. Parents can do this while our kids are at their messiest, hours after the toddler, tween or teen shows their most un-likeable, most impossible moments. We won’t get the reward of self-improvement until after the parental chaos is over. And even then we have to look back and try to see it. But if we’re more aware we can stop to notice that all these strong things can propel us towards becoming our best self and teaching kids how to find theirs.
Being in the eye of the storm with children usually means we lose our ability to see outside the chaos. I never saw the gradual improvements in my character during toddler years, I’m hell bent to find them when she slams her tween door at me, despite the constant physical, emotional and psychological hard work I do on myself. I’m a bit harder on myself than some people, but easier on myself than most mothers. I’m this way because I’m not a new parent anymore, because I write about motherhood and think about all these conflicted feelings and paradoxes. They make sense to me.
I’m this way because over the years I’ve noticed the absurdity behind the notion that if mothers give all they have the prize of “molding” “perfect kids” will more than make up for losing their identity, their way. I give myself and mothers a break because I believe we deserve it. This sense of deserving as, I believe a strong thing, and an important gift to show our children.
Feeling you deserve includes a sense of worth, self-respect, and a growing confidence. Unlike passion, frustration, fluctuating hormones and sensitivity, deserving is quietly strong, it’s not the star of the show. It does not demand, it merely exists by nature of the expectations we imbed very, very early in all our relationships and by the regular compromises we make as parents and spouses.
The origins of my strong feelings are stereotypical. I had a rocky childhood, not horrific but pretty broken in some parts. I had so many paradoxes that I can now sense how chaos can erupt while the calm remains at the outer edge. I had loving and divorced parents, well-meaning and yelling ones. I had hugging and mixed signals, esteem building and esteem shattering expectations. I was scared and comforted. I had new siblings and painfully twisted, angry old ones.
I had parents who embraced diversity, great worlds and cultures, while their own microcosm was fractured. I had shoes, nice clothes, toys, Easter baskets, and whatever I needed. I did not lack but for continuity, balance and a sense that calm is the natural state of things, not chaos.
When you live dichotomies you grow strong things in yourself and become more tuned in to nuances. You watch people’s faces and sense when their ugly side is coming, even before they sense it. As an adult, these dualities allowed me to see the underbellies of life. I was at one time, prone to bouts of boorish self-pity. Motherhood’s made me less pitiful, made the strong things destroy the victim.
The force of the strong things reeling around inside our hearts and heads are a gift. These cells of passion are what we as parents, as individuals, can use for good or for evil, for taking advantage of the weaker and younger or giving them some. Strong things between parents and children are not to be feared, they are to be tamed, softened, finessed and revered. They are to be honored as the source of propulsion behind a mother who will instinctively kill for her child yet during the hardest parenting moments feel like her child has momentarily killed her. These are the energies that put a mother and a daughter into a tailspin, into a dance of unity and explosion, with a finished product that is so often better than what began. Strong things are good, when strong things are understood.