Sometimes I am not certain I have the fortitude of heart — the courage — to be a parent. It’s too late, of course, because I am one. Yet as Claire grows up and into her personality and the world at large, there are times when I am uncertain who she is. The little darling I adored, and who was so much more manageable, has disappeared into a volatile, mercurial, brilliant, curious, glorious, and intense girl. Like me, only much smarter. She is so very quick to anger, and she turns that anger on herself.
I have what is called a “spirited child” — a child who is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and energetic. Certain behaviors emerged in 2012 and 2013 that made us curious, and then concerned me. Particular social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and hyper-sensory issues made me wonder if she had Asperberger’s. So with a referral from her pediatrician, we saw a specialist in February. (It took eight months to get that appointment.) I was permitted to be in the room during the entire evaluation of her behavior and intelligence. It was fascinating. In the end, the experts declared that she does indeed have some traits, but that she is “too social” to be classified on the spectrum. High sensitivity is not considered a diagnosable or real condition of its own, though as a Highly Sensitive Person myself I believe it’s real. And the last test result is that Claire is really, really smart. Gifted smart. As some people (a family of teachers) we met while camping said, “Sick smart.”
Now, I’m bright. My husband is smarter. Our daughter is a combination of highly intelligent and acutely sensitive to not only the physical world, but emotions.
Yesterday she was home with a fever. We had two conflicts that resulted in meltdown. Now, I know young kids have meltdowns. However, I’m not sure how many of them say they want to hurt themselves because they are so angry, or try to scratch or bite themselves in an effort not to physically destroy things. And I’m not sure how many first graders sob and cry about how afraid they are of growing up and say, “I feel like no one understands me! I feel like you liked me better when I was younger. I wish I wasn’t so science-y and had so many big words, because everyone expects me to behave older than I am! I feel different from everyone. I don’t want to be so smart. I wish I didn’t exist.”
She cried because she wants to control her world, but at the same time, she doesn’t want the responsibilities and high expectations she feels are placed on her. She used words like “always” and “never,” and places the responsibility for her feelings externally. “You made me mad! It’s your fault!”
So what did I do during all this sturm und drang? I opened my heart. I breathed through my own exasperation, fear, and anger, my wish to grab her and lash out. I told myself, “This isn’t an emergency. It just feels that way, emotions are high.” I asked her to identify where in her body she felt the anger, and what it felt like. She said her chest felt like it had flames inside. She wanted me nearby but not to touch her. And I told her how my body felt listening to her. “My chest feels heavy, listening to you say you want to scratch yourself,” I said. “My story is that the anger you feel is very huge and scary and feels like a monster inside you.” She relaxed a bit. She agreed.
I talked to Claire a bit about the pain-body, a term Eckhart Tolle uses for the ego as an entity of negative energy. I described that we all have a pain-body, and that we have a choice whether to feed it our energy and attention and make it grow, or not. Negative self-talk, angry thoughts, judgements — all this fuels the pain-body. She said the pain-body is bad. And I replied, “It just IS. Whether or not you judge it good or bad, it exists. If you judge and resist it, you push away that part of yourself, and that feeds it too.” I told her that’s why I’m always suggesting she breathe and connect with the stillness inside.
As for the other part, about being different, I simply acknowledged all these feelings and contradictions. I held her as she sobbed. And within me, my heart quaked with this realization: I cannot protect her — from the world, or from herself. I parent diligently, I try to let go and give her independence, I teach her to understand and don’t parent autocratically or through intimidation. In other words, I’m trying to give her a loving, supportive home, and yet she has such anger and feels disconnected from others. I once said to another parent who was coping with a challenging child, “The trick is to accept the child you have, not the one you imagined you’d have.” Well, those words are coming back to me.
She is her own person, on her own journey. She is my heart, walking out in the world. My heart, completely bare and vulnerable. How will I survive this?
What else did I do when she was storming and I felt overwhelmed with this seeming stranger? I prayed, “Help me. Help me trust you, Life. I’m in over my head.” And I keep breathing and being still.