Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years. – Al Bernstein
My second-born, the spirited one, the kid who enjoys cooking (he makes a mean wing sauce), enjoys trying new cuisines, speaks with 13 different accents, has surpassed my 5’ 10” height (and enjoys pointing it out), loves a good prank, and works every one of my nerves – turned 14 yesterday.
It always amazes me how fast the time goes. When I became pregnant with our second son, things were chaotic in our lives: my husband and I had just torn down most of our house and started a big remodeling and expansion project and I was having a challenging time at work, being in an assignment I didn’t love or enjoy.
I had wanted two years between the kids, but things never go as planned: C arrived three years, seven months after our firstborn, and, at the time of C’s arrival, we had just moved into our still-under-construction home.
I hate to compare my kids but when I shake my head and think “same parents, totally different kids” – it’s hard not to.
My older son, K was a terrible sleeper, he had teeth at three months and wanted to eat every 90 minutes. He didn’t like a schedule, but he had a happy disposition: always smiling, happy, giggly and loving. My mom used to tell me he was an old soul.
C on the other hand, was a great sleeper, had teeth at six months, liked a routine and a schedule; he had a happy disposition, but his impish grin and his devil-may-care attitude had “spirited child” written all over it. A spirited child is often called “difficult” or “strong-willed”, and that was definitely C – even as a baby.
I witnessed this the first time he clamped down on my nipple when I was nursing him. My older son had bitten me once, my loud “ouch!” followed by removing him from my breast, taught him biting was not okay. It wasn’t the same with C; when C first bit me, he was not phased by my loud “ouch!” – instead, he merely gave me a playful smile and a look that clearly said, “That was fun! I am going to do it again!” – and over his first year of life, he did, numerous times.
As a toddler, I remember him standing in the backyard, on the other side of a large window; he picked up a rock and aimed it toward the window. My husband, who was standing next to him, and me, standing inside the house both yelled “No!” as C launched it into the window, causing it to shatter.
Over the years, his mischievous behavior has gotten him into trouble at home and at school. The term “sucker baby” – became a joke between my husband and me: our older son had been so easy going that we were suckered into having a second; there was no discussion about having a third.
My mom used to say, “Go easy on him, Karen,” or “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree,” my mom implying I had behaved in a similar manner when I was his age.
Over the last fourteen years, I felt like I have been judged unfairly: by other parents, by teachers, and most of all, by myself. The amount of patience and understanding that goes into managing a spirited child is exhausting to get even the simplest tasks done; there’s never a dull moment.
There were many days I questioned my ability to parent. My confidence dropped. I often wondered how such an easy baby resulted in such a difficult child. Gray hair continued to sprout on the top of my head as C continued to push my buttons and work my last nerve.
As he moved into middle school I learned to take deep breaths and one moment at a time with him. The day I sunk down into the sofa, my arms crossed over my chest, near tears because I had to remind him a dozen times “It’s time to work on homework,” I closed my eyes and heard the question: Is he really giving me a hard time or is he having a hard time? That was when I realized we both needed help, C was more than just a spirited child.
C’s testing and diagnosis of ADHD-Combined a few months ago was a relief; my kid wasn’t the bad kid that I had come to believe, he was a kid who had been unable to self-regulate.
We’ve come a long way since his diagnosis in October. Patience, understanding, and reminding myself that he’s having a hard time is how I cope. It’s not easy for either of us, especially when we want the same thing: to be loved and accepted for who we are.
As I watched C blowing out the candles on his birthday cake last night, I couldn’t be more proud of the progress he’s made and the young man he is becoming.