I Gave Birth To A Feral Child

by Elise Free
Originally Published: 
A child in an olive T-shirt and olive-pink camo trousers hanging on a tree branch
firina / iStock

My daughter is feral. Not in the way that she walks on all fours and hissed through infancy, or scratched up her doctor’s arms and refused motherly affection, but in the way that she is not like other children. There is something about her, something wild. She was born this way, and no one could have prepared me for the daunting task of domesticating my own child.

Addie was the toddler we have all witnessed at the playground, who teetered to the top of the monkey bars, pausing for a brief moment before hurling her body into the air like a preschool base jumper. She swung so high on the swings, I imagined, much like a cartoon, one day she would circle all the way around, shooting out into the stars with a joyful “Weeeee!”

The instant she learned to crawl, she began climbing—book shelves, dressers, sinks, counters, desks, any place that was at least a hundred times higher than she was. After baby-proofing our apartment, our dwelling resembled a prison more than a home. We’d earthquake-tethered every heavy item to the wall so she could not pull down the house while repelling off of it.

Before she was age-appropriately ready for a big girl bed, we ditched the crib. Even when she was an infant, I’d walk into the bedroom to find her straddling the bars like Edmund Hillary climbing over the the top of Mount Crib. At 8 months, she stood in her high chair with a look on her face that I swear meant, “I will not be restrained for strained peas!” Straps were no match for my little Houdini, and the first time I placed her in the seat on my bike, she said in total deadpan, “Just go fast.”

She was the kid who immediately upon walking into a house would zero in on all electrical outlets and locate something (preferably metal) to stick inside them. I called Poison Control at least 15 times in her first two years. And it was not (I swear) out of negligence. All poisons, cleaners and medications were locked up. But on walks, she would reach her little baby hand out of the stroller, grab a flower or plant and shove it into her mouth. My calls were so frequent, I knew the operators by their first names. After a few calls to Theresa at Poison Control, I got smart and printed out a list with matching photos of all poisonous California plants for our walks, so I would know when her appetite for indigenous foliage warranted an ER visit. When that got old, she ate the little packets from shoe boxes that say, “Do not eat.” These are surprisingly non-toxic, or so Theresa from Poison Control assured me. They are just not to be confused with food, ya know, for those people who get incredibly hungry while shoe shopping.

She shoved Mexican sage up her nose. She ate a Sharpie. She broke her ulna and radius on the monkey bars. She had stitches in her forehead from a flying wooden tool box (don’t ask). On walks with our dog, I had a leash for her and a leash for our Pomeranian. And yes, I saw the judgment from other parents as I walked my dog and kid in unison. But those judgmental parents didn’t know that just like a puppy, my kiddo, if allowed to roam free, would beeline for the house across the street to shove a marigold or bird-of-paradise up her nose.

She is the female version of Mowgli from The Jungle Book, more attracted to nature and danger than order and safety. She came out of my body fast and loud and that has never changed.

It doesn’t stop at thrill-seeking. She comes up with ideas most children would never even conjure up. At her 3rd birthday party, she received a baby doll. Where most girls would cuddle and feed the new babe, my kiddo absconded to the bathroom, with a few accomplices, where they dipped the doll in the toilet (to get her nice and wet) and then rolled her in cat litter. When I walked in, I didn’t have to ask whose idea it was to make a cat-litter-turd doll. I knew. She is almost always behind the “big idea.” She was the kid who cut all of her playmate’s hair, played doctor, and encouraged the neighborhood children to embrace their wild sides too. It may come as no surprise that we’ve lost a few friends along the way. You know who you are. I hope you liked the fruit basket we sent.

And like Mowgli, my daughter prefers to pee outside and run naked through the yard. In the middle of winter, she refuses to wear anything but underwear. If I had a nickel for every time I yelled, “Addie, put some clothes on, the UPS guy is at the door,” I would be a rich, rich mama.

Despite her wild ways, she is also a very affectionate little beast who is kind, funny and sweet, and she has outgrown some of her jungle ways. Fortunately, at 10, she has developed a sense of fear, or caution, or possibly common sense. As much as I admire her ability to take life by the horns (and the bull too, if she had the chance), she has scared the holy crap out of me more times than I can count. People without feral children do not understand. They assume it must be lack of parenting or discipline and that I am terrible parent. Feel free to discuss this amongst yourselves. I’m sure the judgy-wudgies with tame kiddos will attribute their child’s disposition to proper parenting. And maybe they’re right. I’m sure they think they are.

But I have had plenty of friends whose firstborn was a little angel, but whose second child came out with a forked tongue and talons. These are my favorite friends.

One of my girlfriends recently confessed, “I thought I was such a fabulous mom after having my son. He was polite and obedient, and I credited myself for his good behavior. And then I had my daughter.”

She said the word “daughter” through clenched teeth like the mere mention of her existence could invoke a plague of locusts or the apocalypse.

“She is difficult and stubborn, unafraid of any consequence or punishment! It doesn’t matter what I do,” my friend confided.

I know it’s awful, but I took great joy in that statement—not because I was happy she had a difficult kid, but because she of all people gets it. She had the little kitten that would let you hold it and dress it in baby doll clothes and put in the buggy, and then she had the feral cat, who hissed and bit and peed outside the litter box. And she loved them both.

She also mentioned something that I think only a parent who has experienced the whole spectrum has the grace to admit, “Sometimes my son is so boring, I can hardly stand it. At least my daughter makes life interesting.”

It’s not easy, but I’m glad I was blessed with my feral girl. She may challenge me on a daily basis and moon the UPS guy, but she’s also taught me that when standing on the jungle gym of life, rather than thinking, “I could die,” she thinks instead, “I could fly.” I can’t imagine a world without the spitfires, the feral kiddos, the piss and vinegars, the hellcats and the Mowglies. They not only make life more interesting, but they make life wild.

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