Aspen is 3. We playfully call her the wild raccoon, because the fact is, it’s like we’re living with a wild animal on a pot of coffee. She’s blonde, with pigtails and a sly smile. I can’t get her to sit still. She simply has too much wiggle in her. She runs faster than any Olympian, and she’s incredibly curious.
She’s also, let’s face it, destructive.
A few months ago, I caught her with a permanent marker. She’d started to color the wall. I took it away, which was no easy task considering she has the grip of Thor. In the short moment it took for me to walk across the kitchen and put the marker away, she’d picked up a toy baby stroller and started to charge our flat screen. I stopped that, and she moved on to something else.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love the kid. She’s cute and funny. She’s probably the most exciting thing in my mid-30s-father-of-three life right now. But at the same time, I’m exhausted. She’s up at the crack of dawn, she fights going to sleep, and during the hours in between, I feel like I’m putting out one fire after another. It’s been this way since she started walking.
My wife and I have to manage the child in shifts, so one of us doesn’t completely burn down.
After two years of this, I’m tired. I need a break, but when you are in the throes of caring for a very curious and very active 3-year-old who is no longer taking naps, it feels like relief will never come. I have to assume there are many parents out there feeling this same exhausting, stressful fear that they will be chasing their wild child for eternity.
I know your hell, and I’m here to give you hope.
It’s starting to happen.
Or at least, I think it is.
In the past month, Aspen has started to hold still. Just a little. Just here or there.
For example, a few weeks ago, I was home with her in the evening. My wife was out shopping with the two older kids. More or less, she was taking her “Aspen break.” For Aspen’s 3rd birthday she’d gotten a Peppa Pig Lego set. She’d never given it much attention outside of throwing the blocks at her siblings. However, just after my wife left, Aspen pulled it out on her own and started putting blocks together. She perched next to the toy, her butt dangling half an inch from the ground. She put blocks together, calmly, coolly, for almost 20 minutes.
Twenty whole minutes.
I sat on the floor and just watched her soft small hands connect the blocks, then take them apart, and connect them again. There was concentration in her eyes, something I’d never actually seen until that moment. In the past, it had always been curiosity, eagerness, and something I can’t exactly name, but it always made me fearful that she was going to break something.
After chasing that kid for what seems like forever, to see her calm down and focus on one thing for 20 minutes felt as refreshing as a two-hour nap. It felt like a cool drink of water. It felt like hope that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to sit on the sofa once again without having to spring up and keep Aspen from throwing her tablet in the toilet.
Those of you with calm, easygoing kids will probably never understand why this moment was so remarkable. But those of you with little wild children like mine, who despite your every effort still manage to get into trouble, will completely understand.
In the weeks that followed the Lego incident, Aspen began to watch entire episodes of cartoons without loosing interest and getting into trouble. She began to sit at the table to eat meals without fighting to run off.
We are not out of the woods yet, trust me. Last Sunday, Aspen broke free and ran all the way to the church organ. I stopped her moments before she slammed her little hands down on the keys disrupting the sermon.
But what I want to say is that I’m feeling more and more hopeful.
So if you are a parent out there with a wild, restless, constantly moving, always-seeking-out-the-next thing child. If you are exhausted and can’t think straight because you’ve get a kid who requires not just one eye on them, but two at all times, realize that there is hope. They will gradually calm down.
You have probably heard this a million times, same as I have. But in the moment, it feels like it will never happen. You think, “Yeah right, pal. You don’t know this kid.” But then it does, little by little, and it’s the most wonderful thing to happen to you as a parent.
Sure, there are many things to love about having a wild, free-spirited kid like Aspen. There’s so much about her I wouldn’t change. But I would also like to sit down again at some point and know what it feels like to have a resting heart rate.
So keep watching that kid. Keep redirecting. Keep loving them. It will work out even if it feels like it never will. Someday, we will be sitting on the sofa again. We will be able to focus, just a bit, on the things we need to do. It’ll happen. Trust me.