How a difficult child changes you — for the better
To say I was unprepared for a difficult child like you is an understatement. The moment your sweet face hit oxygen for the first time, your little body still wriggling to be free of mine, you were screaming.
What a set of lungs, I heard a few of the medical personnel in the room mutter. In those first few moments of my recovery, I craned my neck to better see the body connected to those powerhouse lungs — the body with legs locked in a standing position, angrily squirming to be free of the delivery nurses trying to weigh and clean you before you returned to me.
You nursed with the intensity of a baby much more mature than a few minutes old, as if trying to tell me you waited nine months for this meal and you weren’t going anywhere until you decided you were done. In my post-epidural haze, I kept feeling like I was about to drop you, like you were strong enough already to overtake me and slither to the floor. I squeezed you tightly as you simultaneously clung to me and pushed me away.
Your dad followed the nurses as they pushed your plastic bin to the nursery to join the other babies for a post-delivery bath. A few minutes later when I rolled past in a wheelchair on my way to our room for the night, I could hear you screaming. I saw several babies, clean and swaddled and sleeping nearby, as a nurse held your bright red body and tried to clean you as you complained. Loudly. Your dad watched, seemingly unable to know what to do next. There was no comforting you. You were pissed.
From those first memorable moments of your life to today, your 4th birthday, you have pushed back against, screamed at, complained at, challenged, and changed me every day. Eventually those early high-needs baby days of needing to be worn and walked constantly gave way to months of trying to keep you away from power cords and catch you as you ran the opposite direction of EVERY PLACE we wanted you to go.
You didn’t sleep for more than 4 hours at a time until you were 11 months old. Some days it still takes us longer to get you down for a much-needed nap than the actual nap lasts. You are exhausting, mentally and physically.
Aside from a bout with hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and an unfortunate household round of lice, you’ve always been healthy. For this, I am eternally grateful as I know the difficulties associated with childhood illness and disability are ones I can’t even fathom as I live in constant motion with you, always trying to anticipate your next need and rarely getting it right. You are healthy and strong and there is not a darn thing physically wrong with you (even your hair falls easily into place). But from my limited parenting perspective, you have been difficult from day one — pushing, prodding, poking me to do more, and be more, as a mother.
Here’s the thing about you though, my most difficult child: You. are. wonderful. (!!)
Being around you brings such a heightened sense of LIVING and so many surprises. When you laugh, we all laugh. When you sing, we dance along. When you tell us to hold a doll at a certain angle, and call her a certain name, wearing a specific outfit, and have her say exactly what you tell us to have her say … well, we do it. All of it. You believe in what you are doing so strongly — whether happy, sad, angry or excited — that we believe, too.
As you draw closer to exiting these early childhood years, I see you emerging from your naturally selfish shell and connecting with the world around you in new ways. You are the first to rush a blankie to your baby sister when it’s nap time. You apologize when you know you were wrong. You say hello to strangers as I pull you in our red wagon past their driveways. You introduce yourself to new kids on the playground. You are confident, and fearless, and (dare I say it) friendly. Some mornings when I wake up, you are already awake — your favorite show cued up on Netflix, a bowl of dry cereal on your lap — and you greet me with a warm smile.
For all of those dependent tendencies in the months following your birth, you are fiercely independent today. You aren’t a people-pleaser and never will be; I learned to embrace that part of your character long ago. You don’t do anything – ANYTHING — without first making the decision that you want to do it. Some days, in a house that includes four other kids, this is frustrating for me. In those moments, I remind myself that you aren’t a follower and that trait is a gift.
You have taught me so much about parenting, and living, and myself. I judge less, forgive more, and take the time to enjoy life more often than I did four years ago. It turns out that having a difficult child was exactly what I always needed.
So thank you, Erinn, for all you bring to my life. The difficult days make me stronger, and draw us all closer as a family. Your intensity will change the world one day — it has already changed so much for the better in mine.
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