Friday, September 20, 2013

Raising Our Spirited Story

Loki - Age 9 and Story - Age 4

Story screamed, she cried, she fussed, she threw red faced tantrums.  From the time she was born, my husband and I came up with unsavory names for our second daughter: The Fusser, The White Tornado, The Widow Maker, and The Iron Fisted Dictator (my husband, by the way, came up with that one). In all of Story’s baby pictures, her mouth is wide open and she is screaming in my face, my husband’s face or her big sister, Raina’s face.  I remember one evening after bath time when Raina held Story who, of course, was screaming and crying.  Raina’s tears plopped on Story’s Boppy.  When I asked her “What’s wrong, Rain?” She looked at me and said, “I think Story hates me.  She always cries when I hold her.”  I looked at Raina and said, “Honey, she doesn’t hate you, she cries for all of us.  This is the only way she has to communicate with us.”  Raina looked at Story and said, “Well, Mommy, she’s communicating that she’s mad at something all the time.  What can we do to make her stop?”

I wished in that moment that I could make Story less angry, and more of the happy baby I wanted her to be.  I didn’t want my house to be filled with crying.  We were joyful people who loved being together as a family, and I felt like we were letting both Raina and Story down. 

Our big blue eyed, alabaster skinned, white haired daughter who started talking at 6 months did more than break us, Story made us question ourselves as parents. We never questioned our parenting prowess with our first daughter, Raina.  As a baby, Raina only cried for specific reasons - she was tired, hungry, overstimulated, or scared.  Story cried all the time and only nursing would calm her rage.  People stopped me when I took Story on walks because of her anxious screams telling me, “It sounds like her finger’s pinched somewhere” or “The sun is really bothering her eyes” or “She just wants you to hold her.”  In the grocery store as I wrestled with Story, often times giving in and trying to hold her while I put my groceries on the conveyor belt and tried to bag them, people would say, “It sure looks like you have your hands full with that one.” I internally cringed at their judgement or need to give advice on how to parent my daughter, but somedays I felt like screaming louder than Story from my frustration. How could my funny, linguistically gifted baby be such a handful of emotional unease?   

As she grew into a toddler, Story’s frustrations didn’t subside as much as shift.  We found out that she is lactose intolerant, so removing dairy from her diet helped her explosive tummy, but didn’t quite quell her explosive personality.  My husband, who did the morning girl routine, often complained about Story’s inability to get dressed.  “She can’t even put her socks on without crying and fussing.  Putting her in pants is a nightmare,” he would tell me with a weary look on his face.  When I picked her up from preschool every afternoon, I could tell when my husband didn’t want to fight the Story dressing battle - allowing her to wear whatever she wanted as long as she was properly covered for school.  These outfits ranged from cowboy boots and pajamas to striped pants and brightly flowered shirts.  We shrugged our shoulders and hugged our beautiful little daughter and loved her through every quick shifting mood.  Every day, we made sure she had plenty of fresh air and a nice long bath - both of these things seemed to help, but we still struggled. 

Everything became a battle.  After school time meant red faced screaming bouts until after dinner.  At dinner, we battled Story to eat anything other than noodles and strawberries.  Any transition into a new activity could lead to ferocious yelling and crying.  I finally knew I had to change something after telling yet another person who asked “How are your girls?” my broken record response, “Story is wild.” I knew I reached a breaking point while I told my friend, Cari that I didn’t always enjoy being Story’s mom.  “I love her, but it is so hard with her,” I said as my chin got wobbly and I willed myself not to cry.  

After that conversation I remembered an article that I had read when Story was only 18 months old from a free doctor’s office magazine.  The article described life with “a spirited child.”  I remembered feeling relief that I wasn’t alone after reading that article, and this summer I decided to research more about “spirited children.”  I found Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book “Raising Your Spirited Child” and read the entire book and annotated it in just one day.  I felt that finally I had tools to deal with Story - that she was normal, just MORE normal than other kids.  Story is always the loudest in a room, she always takes the longest when we need to leave the house, she gets fixated on one thing and trying to unlock her from that activity feels like trying to pry open a stuck lid, and she is so sensitive to noises, smells, sounds and textures like scratchy clothing that getting dressed can take 45 minutes in the morning.  Intense and persistent are two words we use to describe her now (which are way better than fussy and The Iron Fisted Dictator). 

Kurcinka’s book helped me to understand that 10% of children can be labeled “Spirited” and Story scores off the chart in every category associated with spiritedness.  The biggest part of Kurcinka’s book that helped me was her advice that we did not make our child spirited, but we need to help Story learn how to cope with her temperament without fighting who she is.  Why would I want to take away her intensity for life, her ability to fill up a room with her presence, her creative way of seeing her world, her ability to fixate on a task until she believes it is finished, or her keen sense of fashion.  At 4 years old, I recognize that Story is as unique and amazing as her name.  

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