Dear Parents of Spirited Toddlers: It Gets Better

pexels-photo-116151-largeMy oldest son Carter is a Spirited Child. As a toddler he would melt into the hardwood at the sight of pants. He’d foam at the mouth if I suggested he wear a color other than blue. He was constantly talking, moving, taking things so thoroughly apart that even Einstein wouldn’t have been able to put them back together. One day after preschool he locked me out of my car and sat happily in the driver’s seat honking the horn for ten minutes while the other mothers shook their heads in disgust.

What is wrong with that child? No one ever came out and said it, but it was written all over their well-rested faces. But on that day, I was too exhausted to care.

Because one of the hallmarks of the Spirited Child is his inability to sleep. I’m not sure exactly when it started since my limbic system was way too sleep-deprived to create concrete memories, but I think it was around two-and-a-half, right after we moved him into a big-boy-bed in anticipation of his mildly-spirited little brother’s birth. Carter had never been a fantastic sleeper, but this was the dawn of The Dark Ages, the age of waking up at 3 a.m. and trying to warm pizza in the clothes dryer, the age of sneaking out into garage at midnight and pretending to be Mario Andretti Junior with Mommy’s car. (Honk, honk.)

We’d be at the park, and well-meaning strangers with children content to sit on the swing for hours would watch in amazement as Carter did 986 frantic laps around the perimeter.

“He’ll sleep good tonight,” they’d remark with a smile, as I fought the urge to slap them across the face.

I didn’t sleep for two years, and I thought I was going to die.

Then he started kindergarten, and he was that kid. Always talking, always moving, always running into the girl’s bathroom to growl like a monster and make his friends laugh and squeal. I asked his teachers, his pediatrician…Is it ADHD? Too many processed foods? Not enough exercise? Why did he have so much goddamn energy? Why couldn’t he just sit on the couch and play video games like a normal kid? What the hell was I doing wrong?

That’s the thing when you have a Spirited Child – you constantly blame yourself, and you’re constantly looking for a way to “fix” your kid. For a very long time I was sure it was my crappy parenting that made Carter the way he was. I didn’t eat enough Omega-3 fatty acids when he was in utero. Once he was out I didn’t read enough/craft enough/hug enough/yell enough/play enough/do anything remotely good enough. If only I were a better parent, he’d be a better child.

And then, in the blink of an eye, Carter changed. He was no longer the untamed maniac that couldn’t sit still for more than 30 seconds. He learned to read and write and choose his own clothes and not care if they weren’t blue or had an evil tag that was plotting to kill him. He started building Lego cities without overdramatic tears of frustration. He even used the microwave instead of the dryer. He began telling other people “to be quiet, please, I’m trying to concentrate.” Something in his brain clicked and he did the impossible, practicing self-control and recognizing the triggers that pushed him over the edge before he spiraled over to The Dark Side. The child I was so sure would end up in prison has become a joy to be around, not to mention one of the smartest kids in the first grade.

And that’s something that we tend to forget about Spirited Children – they’re freakin’ smart. Once their constantly spinning brains stop long enough to focus, they have a sixth sense that sets out to unlock the mysteries of the world. Carter spends so much time learning, packing every ounce of knowledge he can into his ever-growing beautiful mind. And, for me, now, that’s so much better than having a kid that sits on the couch playing video games all day.

So if you’re averaging three hours of sleep and using coffee with 5-Hour Energy creamer to hang onto your last thread of sanity, or if you’re currently standing next to your locked car in tears as your toddler honks and waves, hang in there. It gets better. So, so, so, so, so much better. I promise.