Living With Spirit

"When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am grown up, they call me a writer." 
-- Isaac Bashevis Singer

I have a child who some might call stubborn.  I call him tenacious.  I have a child who some might call loud.  I call him zestful.  I have a child who some might call unpredictable.  I call him intense.  I have a child who some might call over-sensitive.  I call him tender-hearted.  I have a child who some might call demanding.  I say he has high standards.

I have a child who some might call difficult.  I call him spirited.

At least, I call him all these things on the days when I have the good sense to remind myself that all of the traits I find so challenging in this child will, when properly channeled by an adult brain, make him unstoppable.  On the not so good days, when I am exhausted by the effort of raising a child who is more intense, sensitive, persistent, and energetic, I forget to use the optimistic labels and I, too, think he's downright difficult.  I've been having some days like this lately.

I am told by people who have devoted their lives to children (pediatricians, temperament researchers, early childhood educators) that about 10% of the population is spirited.  Or, as a child development specialist we've worked with said, "90% of us are Fords, 10% of us are Lamborghinis.  You got a Lamborghini."

I know many people who say things like, "there is no such thing as an easy child," and, "you reap what you sow," and, "the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree."  I'm pretty sure the people who say such things have (or had) Fords, not Lamborghinis.  I know there are, in fact, easy children because I have two of them.  I know the fact that they are mild-mannered, and generally sweet, courteous, and cooperative is mostly just good luck that Husband and I have capitalized on and cultivated.  I hope all the incredibly hard sowing we've done with our spirited child pays off in the long run, but if he turns out to be a jerk I won't take 100% of the credit; I have never worked so hard at anything in my life.  I think sometimes the apple actually does fall far from the tree, borne on the winds of temperament, or the downhill slope of of tough luck, the wrong group of friends, addiction, untreated mental illness, or other sad happenings.

I also believe that my spirited child is a gift from the universe.  He keeps me humble, for without him, I would think I was a Good Mother.  He is also incredibly kind, compassionate, and enthusiastic about life (enthusiasm: from the Greek for "divine inspiration"), independent, creative, and determined.  When he is happy, he's Over The Moon.  When he's unhappy..... well, that's the hard part.

So, instead of thinking I'm a Good Mother, I am just going along the best that I can, trying to teach my children what they need to know to function as kind, compassionate, and responsible adults who leave the nest one day.  And trying to build a long-lasting relationship with them, too, so that they will want to come back to visit the nest from time to time.

In the midst of this effort with my spirited child, which this week feels colossal, I have relied on the compassion of strangers (thank you, older woman at the doctor's office who said, "I had one like him.  He just put out his first album.  Don't worry, he'll get there."); the support of family and friends (thank you, mom, for taking turns rubbing his back and watching over him while he cried for hours, so that I could have a break); and on the expertise of professionals (thank you Mary Sheedy Kurcinka for researching temperament and writing Raising Your Spirited Child, whose dog-eared and tear-stained pages have given us hope and strategies; thank you, especially for the sentence, "Some children really do require more effort, skill, and patience than others.").

The word spirit is from the Latin, meaning "soul, courage, vigor, breath."  This comforts me on the days when living with spirit feels difficult.  Soul: essence.  Courage: the quality of mind or spirit that allows a person to face danger or difficulty without fear.  Vigor: healthy physical or mental energy or power.  Breath: respiration, especially as necessary to live.

And I think of Isaac Bashevis Singer -- once a liar, ever after a great story teller -- and I put my faith in the long run.

[Dictionary definitions from dictionary.com; etymology definitions from etymonline.com (too tired to get up off my sorry be-hind to look at my OED!).  To learn more about temperament traits and research click here.

Oh, and just realized I should've linked to some info on Isaac Bashevis Singer: here it is.]


Gerry said...

And here's the thing. I'm reading this and I'm nodding my head--and I'm smiling. Because the spirited child who caused me so many pillow-pounding nights has turned into a man with character and purpose and a joyful capacity for love, in spite of all the ways I screwed up. The one thing I did right was to hold fast to a Churchillian stubbornness. I never gave up. Never, never, never . . . and he knew that for all my flaws, he could count on me.

Molly said...

Gerry, for some reason I'm not surprised at all that you have experience Living With Spirit :). I love to hear stories of spirited children all grown up - thanks.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, sending strength your way. As a non-parent, all my parent friends amaze me. Looking back at my childhood, I'm pretty sure I was a spirited child, and while I'm quite different from the rest of my family, I'm so thankful that they stuck with me through it all.

Molly said...

Sandy, thanks for your support. I thought I might have seen a contour of spiritedness in your poem "May." :)

Sandy Longhorn said...

Oh, now that you point it out, "May" is definitely a spirited child poem!

minga said...

Your boy is a blessing for us all. He teaches us patience, joy, humility and love. Thank you for this gift.

Molly said...

Thanks, Ming.