We got another note home from our daughter’s kindergarten teacher the other day. It read, “Aspen is doing much better, but we still need to work on her blurting out random comments in class and not following directions.”
This was part of a long dialogue we’ve been having with her ever since she started kindergarten. Before that, it was a long dialogue between her preschool teacher and us. We used to have to talk quite a bit with her Sunday school teacher, too.
Her whole life has been like this.
I can still remember getting a note home from preschool last year informing me that Aspen had been sent to the principal’s office for not following directions and calling the teacher a “loser.” First off, this wasn’t even elementary school, but preschool. Who gets sent to the principal’s office during preschool? Second, where did she pick up “loser?” We don’t use that word around the house. It felt like I was raising a little Donald Trump.
Ultimately, this is what it’s been like raising my youngest. The joke around the house is that if she were our first, she’d have been our last.
The best moment of our time raising her was when she could sit, but couldn’t yet walk or talk. I’d give her something she could safely put in her mouth, and she’d just sit there for hours. But Aspen ended up being that child who went from crawling to running and screaming and disobeying. She was the kid who ran to the front of the chapel and slammed her hands down on the organ keys, and then laughing in everyone’s face about it, even God’s. She’s the kid who has to be carried out of the library screaming under one arm, resulting in lots of side-eye glances at her mother and me.
She’s the one who doesn’t care about the rules or the consequences. She is going to do whatever it is she wants to do, impulsive or not. She has a sly smile, and a loud laugh, and it doesn’t matter what you want. It doesn’t matter how hard you assert your will. It doesn’t matter how many time outs, or how many privileges are removed, she’s going to climb on the kitchen table and dance.
The thing is, when you are raising an intense child, there is part of you that assumes they are going to rule the world someday — or at least that’s what you tell yourself. In many ways, you want that. I mean, I know if anyone is going to look their boss in the face and ask for a raise, it’s Aspen. She’s not going to put up with crap from any man, father, husband, boss, or US president. But the reality is, I have to live with her until she gets to that point, and frankly I’m exhausted.
This weekend I helped her clean her room, and by the time all the stuffed animals were in her net, and all the dolls were in the cubbies, and all the dirty clothing was in the hamper, I was sweating profusely from redirecting that little diva. Everything with her is like that, and she’s only five. I can only imagine what her teen years are going to do me. That is, if I live long enough to see her teen years.
But what I think might actually be the hardest is how I feel like every single parent is judging my parenting as I redirect her. There’s something about having an intense, wild, exhausting child that causes parents to either give you the side eye, or give you unsolicited advice as if they understand what you are up against. But unless you’ve lived in the madhouse, you don’t understand. I’m sorry, you don’t. I can’t even compare my older two children with raising my youngest, because in comparison it’s been like raising two nuns and a werewolf. The moon hits Aspen, and all bets are off. I’m a good father, but there are not enough silver bullets to subdue this child. Trust me, I know, so please keep your judgment and accusations to yourself.
What I can say is that when you do have an intense child, not everyone is against you, and those allies make all the difference. For example, remember above when I said that Aspen was sent to the principal’s office in preschool? Well, we met with her teacher shortly after that.
Naturally, we were a little worried about it. My wife and I sat at this small table, with small chairs, across from Ms. Frank: a short and slender woman in her fifties with curly hair and a warm smile. We talked about Aspen’s development. We talked about her coloring and number recognition, and how all of it was good. There were a few pauses, and then I finally asked, “How’s her behavior?”
Ms. Frank took a breath and rubbed her forehead. As she thought, my wife, Mel, tried to fill the void, telling her that we know she can be a lot, and we’re sorry, and we struggle with it at home, and we are working on it. Ms. Frank put up her hands, smiled, and said, “Yes, she can be a lot sometimes.” She told us a few stories of redirecting Aspen. She laughed at almost all of them. Then she said something that really put things in perspective.
“I want that little girl to be who she is no matter what, because she is pretty wonderful, and I have no doubt she’s going to rule the world someday. Don’t ever squash out her spirit.”
It was quiet again after that. Mel and I smiled at each other. I can’t speak for Mel, but I can say confidently that I’d never felt more optimistic about my daughter.