On Trying to Embrace Spirited and Creative

M, posing

Strike a pose: Why just stand and smile when you can POSE?

Regular readers know we find our daughter a little, well, um…. challenging. I cringed a teensy bit at our first Pre-K parent/teacher conference when the instructor referred to her as “spirited,” which we all know is code for difficult.

But you get the kid you get, and our little bug is her own person — bright, creative, inquisitive, but also intense, impulsive, high energy, dramatic, and headstrong. We did recently buy, with some hesitation on my part, because I’m leery of labels, a copy of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka‘s Raising Your Spirited Child — and I have to say, in reading what sets those kids somewhat apart, I did feel the book described Magnolia.

But a mom I met at a party and liked — you know how you click with some and don’t with others? — recommended it to me so highly I felt we had to check it out. This mom also feels challenged by her daughter and she said the book was tremendously helpful to her in figuring out how to be a better, more relaxed parent in the face of behavior she sometimes doesn’t understand. (The book is also helpful in explaining the difference between “spirited” and bigger behavioral or emotional issues, which, based on what I read, I don’t think we have going on here.)

So we’re reading. We’re thinking. We’re trying to be more patient. And when Chrissy and I give ourselves a little more time in a situation — stop focusing so much on whatever the task is at hand — and LISTEN to M., and give her a little extra time to express herself and get things done in her own way, we often end up getting a good laugh out of her. She’s funny. Quirky, witty, zany — and sharp as a nail.

She has her own world view, and it’s rarely bland or predictable. Here are a few recent moments that define her:

  • She’s happy to get or give a big high five, as most kids are — but she likes to give hers using her foot instead of her hand. You know, just to mix things up.
  • Not long ago she was playing in the bath with some of those alphabet letters that stick to the side of the tub. She wanted to spell out Magnolia, but there was only one “A.” Oh, she said, I know what we can do — she fished around for the letter “V” and turned it upside down at the end of her name. There — we can pretend that’s an A! (Jesus, I don’t think I ever would have thought of that.)
  • Currently, she’s into wearing a tail. She saw one of the characters on “The Fresh Beat Band” dressed up in a monkey suit and sporting a long tail. She dug the sassy look. So we tied a long shoe string onto the tag in the back of her pajama pants and she’s been wearing it around, swinging it as she walks and reminding us not to step on her tail. She clearly thinks it’s the coolest fashion accessory ever (or at least a close second to things that sparkle.)
  • We’ve been joking that she’s a “hoarder” at bedtime — when we go up to her room to straighten up in the morning, it’s like she’s created her own little eco-system on and around her bed. She’s got her stuffed animals, Barbie, a beloved giant unicorn, an ever-changing array of books, glow-in-the-dark moonstones, tiaras, jewelry, and tiny rhinestones all over the place and all very carefully arranged. It’s pretty entertaining to see how she recreates the artful display nightly.
  • She often enjoys communicating by gesture rather than boring old words — why just speak, when you can create your own language through hand signals and body movements? (As you might imagine, this one gets a little tiresome for the moms — can’t you just TELL me what you want instead of doing an interpretive dance sequence that I have to translate?)
  • She rocked it out at the school dance sharing. The kids in her class were split up into three lines of dancers — she was the leader in the first line, and nervous, I could tell, but also thrilled with the position. She gamely led them all off to move across the stage pretending to be different kinds of animals — she galloped, rolled, crawled, skipped, hopped, and spun with enthusiasm, energy, and happiness to spare. I thought my heart would literally burst out of my chest with pride, and I thought — for a fleeting, insane moment — that I’d happily plan ten Touch-a-Truck school fundraisers if it meant I could see more of what I was watching.

M. — a bit of a mystery in some ways. But our mystery. We love her, and she’s certainly never boring.

Do you have a spirited child? How do you deal with it? Have you read the book?

Related:

Magnolia on Having Two Moms, Shiny Brite, and a Few of Her Favorite Things

Weekend Links for Brooklyn Mamas: the Rainbow Connection Edition

Are Boys Easier Than Girls?

art by M.

"My triangle and rectangle turned into a house!"

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6 Responses to “On Trying to Embrace Spirited and Creative”


  1. 1 Melissa March 24, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Do I feel your pain. Our son has been quirky, wonderful, challenging and all that you mention. Since Day 1. He’s bright, curious and imaginative. Obstinate, volatile and extreme. There are days I am literally pulling my hair out, counting to ten and trying not to lose my noggin. Other days, I am deeply enchanted. I’m finding particularly challenging being home full time. He’s in school till 3, but I question whether I have it in me to be the butt of all his frustrations, and honestly, I find it deeply difficult at times. That said, I have the book you mention and found it useful….though you’re reminding me that I could do with picking it up again and having a reread!

  2. 2 Paula/adhocmom March 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    June is a bedtime hoarder too. . . she totally buries herself. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading books like this and I think you’re absolutely doing the right thing. I have a feeling I’ll be reading this one in the VERY near future!

  3. 3 PAT PARKINSON March 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I REMEMBER ANOTHER CHALLENGING, CREATIVE, HEADSTRONG LITTLE GIRL & TIMES WHEN I THOUGHT MY HEART WOULD QUITE LITERALLY BURST WITH PRIDE. SHE IS NOW A LOVELY, CREATIVE, HEADSTRONG YOUNG WOMAN & WONDERFUL MOTHER.

  4. 4 Maggie March 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I love this post, Melisa. When you wrote about bursting with pride my eyes welled with tears. What a lucky kid to have such thoughtful, reflective moms always willing to try new approaches.

  5. 5 Melisa March 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I hear you, Melissa — it is hard! But I’m sure you’re taking it day by day, as we are, too, and doing your best. And thank goodness for the moments of deep enchantment — they help!

    Paula, interesting to hear that June is a bedtime hoarder, too. I don’t see how they can get comfortable enough to sleep with all of that STUFF! Let me know if you find yourself reaching for a copy of that book, too….

    Mom + Maggie — thanks for the sweet words. They mean a lot! xo


  1. 1 My Personal Blog Tour Trackback on March 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm

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