Monday, January 14, 2013

Wanna dance?

My daughter is the type of child described as "high-spirited" by kind people. I thought all toddlers were as energetic as she is until her daycare providers began commenting on her busy nature. One day when my husband went to pick her up, he heard one of her teachers say, "Oh, Sass' dad is here," with a distinct sigh of relief. From grandparents to teachers, everyone loves her joie de vivre, as long as they can have a nap after watching her for any length of time.

When I gave birth to her little brother last year, I was entertained by casual friends warning me about the rambunctiousness of boys. "Brace yourself," said one well-meaning acquaintance. "Girls are more dramatic, but boys just go, go, go." I thanked her and kept my eye-rolling to myself. I couldn't imagine any boy being wilder than my warrior princess of a daughter. I was right: her brother is a mellow little guy who laughs at her antics but shows no signs of wanting to participate.

With Sass' passion for life comes an unholy temper, which she inherited from me. Every time my mother witnesses one of Sass' meltdowns, I can sense her restrained glee at how the circle has turned. You may think I'm exaggerating. Sass has a mild expressive speech delay, and recently I had to take her and her brother to a follow-up assessment at a centre that also treats autistic children. The assessment went well, but when it was time to leave, Sass had the worst temper tantrum yet in her 30 months of life.

Ten minutes into her fit, Sass kicked the double stroller so hard it fell over with her brother in it. He was strapped in and cried for a few minutes before going to sleep; Sass continued her rampage through the first floor of the building. I finally had to hold her in a straitjacket position in the lobby as people came out of their offices to see if I needed help. After carrying Sass to the car under one arm while pushing the double stroller with the other, and sitting on her to get her strapped into her car seat, I sat in the driver's seat and cried along with her before starting the 30-minute drive home. I wasn't surprised when Sass' speech therapist called this week to gently probe whether I wanted to book an assessment for the other types of services the centre provides. "She just has a bad temper," I said quietly, choking the words past the lump of shame in my throat. I was afraid I was wrong.

Depression and anxiety have stalked me for as long as I can remember, and one of my deepest fears is that my children have inherited these unwelcome companions along with my weak eyes and crooked teeth. Braces and LASIK eye surgery cleared those right up; my personality problems have proved more difficult to correct. My social awkwardness and inability to focus at school resulted in me being home-schooled for the third grade. I returned in the fourth grade to severe physical and emotional bullying, which pushed me at ten years old to ask my mother if it would be a sin to kill myself. I'm terrified that Sass is taking the first steps toward a path that will lead to me hiding the knives and talking to her about suicide along with the birds and bees.

It's too early to put labels on Sass' behaviour and I can still hope she's only an especially lively toddler. If time shows an ugly side to her moods, I'll take a moment to mourn the difficult journey ahead of her; then I'll settle in to teach her ways to find the light in her darkness. For now, I'll stop worrying and simply enjoy my baby's bright smile as she puts her small hand in mine. "Come on, mama," she says, bouncing in circles around me. "Wanna dance?"



54 comments:

  1. Hang in there! My 14 year old daughter used to have real issues with temper. We got it under control by making sure she knew that behavior was not acceptable. No matter what. Good luck.

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    1. Thanks! I keep telling my husband we have to get a grip on it now, because we'll be sorry in 10 years if we don't.

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  2. My goodness, you sound like me. I never escaped into homeschooling, but I was a severely depressed child (with glasses and braces and SUCH bad acne) and I'm terrified that I may pass those mood genes on to children of my own. People will tell you to relax and not overreact, and that she's just a nutty toddler and it will all pass, and they are probably right. But I completely understand your fear, and I can relate. I'm sure you're a wonderful mother who will be there for her if the darkness grows with her, but meanwhile, don't stop dancing.

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    1. Thanks so much Jen! It's a hard thing to see your own struggles repeat with your children. I hope it's just the terrible twos.

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  3. Sometimes the traits which make a toddler difficult become their greatest attributes when they mature. Her temper may simply be the result of a brain that is smarter than her toddler ability to communicate. That can turn into frustration which turns into temper.

    Of course you will monitor her temper, but it is too early to stress over it.

    When I run into a parent who brags about how great her child is...sleeps, never argues, is calm...yada yada yada (Seinfeld fan)I think to myself..."It is easy raising a turnip, but all you end up with is a turnip."

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    1. Haha! That last line was very encouraging. I have thought that if we can harness her powers for good, she will likely be very successful in whatever she chooses to do. I recall my dad sitting down with me when I was 13 and telling me that if I didn't get control of my temper I would end up in jail. And I've avoided it so far (fingers crossed).

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  4. If you are looking out for it, all will be fine. Never fear. If you are aware, it probably won't happen at all or you'll be on the ball to help immediately.

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    1. That's my hope - that awareness is half the battle.

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  5. I had three siblings and we were all born during a four year span. We fought all the time. But we all turned out and are very close. But we sure did give our parents fits along the way.

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    1. Whoa! That is a lot of kids close together! I hope my kids grow up to be close friends too.

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  6. Whatever she is or she is not, she is yours and she is perfect. You sound like an awesome mama x

    #teamIBOT

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  7. Depression and anxiety aren't personality problems, Asara -- they're chemical. Remember that -- there is nothing wrong with your personality. These aren't flaws that you can control. Now, I'm no mother, but I do know that kids have tantrums. I hate to say it, but there may be more to come, because that's kids for you. Just wait 'til she's 16. ;) *hugs*

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    1. Thanks so much Bee. It's sad how childhood attitudes leak through - my mom used to tell me growing up that I had the most unpleasant of all the personality types. It took me a long time (like until university) to realize there was actually something wrong with me rather than just having a defective personality I should try to fix.

      It's thinking of her at 16 that really scares me!

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  8. I have 2 kids on the autism spectrum so I understand the fear and the trepidation when testing and assessments are first mentioned. For me, I needed to know one way or the other so we could move on and give the kids whatever they needed to thrive and progress. Whatever you decide to do, continue to love and support both your kids and you can't go too far wrong. Feel free to check out some of my posts if you want to know any more: http://www.myhometruths.com. I wish you well Azara and may you all keep on dancing!

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    1. Thanks Kirsty. I didn't pursue the assessment because it really was just a temper tantrum...she has no other autism symptoms. But it alarmed me that she would take such a fit that the question would even come up. Thanks for your perspective - I appreciate it.

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  9. I too have great fears of passing on my depression and anxiety issues to my son. I guess all we can do is to use our own experience in the hope that we can pass on some coping mechanisms and make it an easier path for them to travel. We can also hope and pray that they do not walk that line.
    Becc via #ibot

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    1. As I was writing this, I thought, "Well, if she does have to deal with this, who better to guide her through it than me?" I just hope it never becomes an issue.

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  10. Oh my, whatever the outcome or road that you take I am sure all will work out with the best. You are loving, supportive and caring, which I just know will steer you all through the toughest of times. Fairy wishes and butterfly kisses lovely, stopping by from #IBOT

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  11. I have always worked with kids and know them quite well. And then my fourth child came along. He had anger like I have never seen in a two year old. And a three year old, four, and five year old. No one, including my family, would let him come to their house without me. I left the house with my stomach in knots every day, wondering what would set him off that day.
    As Joeh said, these can become greatest attributes. He has grown, matured, and learned. He is the easiest child of the four oldest now. He uses his attributes and has become a star soccer player and the top of his class in academics, even after skipping a grade in school. Determination, when older, can be a very good thing.
    It ain't easy, but it's worth it. You're on top of it, and you will all figure it out.

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    1. I really value your perspective as an experienced mother - thank you! This was very encouraging.

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  12. I'm sure you are a great mother. I think your experience through bullying, wearing glasses and everything else will help your daughter because she will realise how strong is her mother and a good example she is. I use to throw tantrums too when I was a child but this all changed when I grew up. For the moment, take the time to appreciate the dance with your daughter.

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    1. I used to take such temper tantrums that I would hold my breath until I passed out. So she certainly comes by it honestly. I worry that it signals an underlying mood disorder, but only time will tell.

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  13. You know her best so if you think she needs to be evaluated or get extra help, so to speak, then when it is that time, do pursue it and don't take "no" for an answer from any of the experts you may see and be persistent for them to evaluate her. I knew something was "up" so to speak with my daughter and for years couldn't get anyone to listen to me. She ended up getting diagnosed with Asperger's as a 15 year old which by then is kind of hard to get the help she could have used years before. So if you get to the point (and I'm not saying your young one has autism, I'm just saying if you suspect something that needs looking into) go with the fact that you know her best, better than any experts and what they might want to say or not say.

    betty

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this Betty. I often wonder what my teenage years would have been like if my depression and anxiety had been diagnosed and treated earlier. Maybe no different, or maybe a lot of heartache could have been avoided.

      I don't think my daughter falls on the autism spectrum but I'll never close my eyes to it if she starts showing signs. It's too bad it took so long for your daughter to get a diagnosis. At least you could move forward as a family from that point knowing what you were dealing with.

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  14. Wow, what a strong post. Best case scenario she's just headstrong and sassy. Worst case scenario, she has a mother who loves her and will support her!

    Dance on!

    Visiting from IBOT!

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    1. Haha - that's why I call her Sass on my blog! You've summed up my thoughts on this perfectly. Thanks for visiting!

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  15. You know I've sat in the car and cried many a times after an embarrassing and hard situation in public with my 3 children under 3.5 years. Sometimes I just wish I hadn't gone out but I had to. She's probably just flexing her muscles and is a headstrong and stubborn child. Thinking of you Azara, Emily

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    1. Three kids under 3.5 - wow!! I try not to go out much either, but sometimes it's unavoidable. My gut feeling is that she's just flexing her muscles, like you said.

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  16. I have suffered with depression and anxiety myself for many years, and I too worry that my kids will suffer with the same. All you can do is hope for the best for them. And whatever happens down the track, we'll deal with then.
    We've all had those sob in the car moments. Or sob on the couch moments. Or in the bedroom etc. Then we pick ourselves up and keep going :)
    xx

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    1. I'm trying to live in the moment more and not worry so much about the future.

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  17. Whatever challenges lay ahead, sounds like she's got the right person in her corner.

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  18. My second child was often like that, and I can relate to this post so much, including crying in the car on the way home. She has gradually gotten easier as she got older, though we still have her moments.
    Trust your instincts; if things don't seem right, do what you can. You're obvioulsy doing a stellar job already, just by being aware xxx

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    1. Thanks Jess. I do wonder if some of it is frustration from her speech delay. But I'm pretty stubborn too, and I think she just like to get her way, which I can understand.

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  19. Your darling Sass is so lucky to have a mum who is aware and ready to do whatever you need, that is best for your little girl. She may just have a huge personality. Keep dancing mama xx

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    1. Everyone comments on what a character she is - she's a lot of fun when she's happy...

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  20. I'm sorry that things are hard right now. I forget where I first heard the phrase, but I describe Little K as "More Child". When things are good, they are GREAT and nothing can contain her joy. When things are bad, they are terrible and she throws herself face down to sob or strike out at things. Her dad is bipolar and we have some mental illness on my side of the family, too. We definitely have some concerns and are getting active in helping her understand now, before she hits her teens.

    Things are slowly getting better, simply by holding her and talking her through her emotions. Then, once she's calm again, having a measured conversation about what is and is not acceptable behavior. It's been a hard few years but we are starting to see improvement.

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    1. Yes! This is exactly what she's like. I tell myself it's normal toddler behaviour, but it scares me a bit when professionals suggest there may be a larger issue, knowing the history I could have passed on to her.

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  21. I have two sisters, and my mom could tell you some hair-raising stories about us growing up. I think that girls are inherently more difficult then boys when they are little. But if it does turn out to be something more, she is incredibly lucky to have you to teach her, and guide her, and help her find her way.

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    1. I've heard that a lot about girls being harder to raise than boys. My son is only 4.5 months old, but he has been a much easier baby than my daughter so far. I can handle girl drama, because at least I understand it. Of course you always hope your children won't have to deal with the challenges you did, so that's what scares me.

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  22. Oh I feel for you, we've all had those moments where having a cry in the car or bathroom is the only thing to do. You're aware, gosh sometimes that's the hardest step, you're aware that her behaviour might need to be assessed and you'll know if it gets to that point. Sounds like she's just a strong and wilful little girl who is learning to cope with the world around her but if she's not she's got the right person to help her through.

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    1. I'm hoping that strength and determination will turn out to be a positive when she's older. I do hope being aware will go a long way too.

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  23. You have a fantastic attitude about this, and you are so aware of what is going on, and what may or may not be. Take it as it comes, it may very well just be from the problems communicating. I know my 2 yr old has massive tanties and many are from his lack of vocab, he just gets so frustrated at things.

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  24. I think seeing risk signs might be a good thing, but I also agree that it's important to enjoy the present too.

    Of course, I can't really talk, since I'm nowhere close to having kids.

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    1. It's all new to me too - at least with my daughter.

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  25. Wow, I have so much to say. What a powerful, honest post. I am glad you could get your feelings and fears out there. First off, toddlers are crazy people. I wrote a book a few years ago (no, it hasn't been published, it justs sits there, quivering with fear) and one of my chapters jokingly referred to preschool mood stabilizers. The tantrums, the RAGE, the mood swings...so totally developmentally appropriate. Also, if she does happen to be "like you" try to remember that these aren't *flaws* that you have, and if anything, you will be well equipped to help her cope. I can say that to *you* just fine, but when it comes to my own worries that my daughter has inherited my crazy sensitivity and moodiness? Then I freak out, too, so easier said than done. Thanks for sharing with us, and I will shut up now. :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Stephanie. Just that line "toddlers are crazy people" helped! I knoww if I read a post like this from someone else, I would have reassuring words, but you're so right: it's different when it's you.

      I'm sorry to hear your book is quivering with fear. I love reading your writing and I'm sure it's awesome!

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  26. She sounds fun! I am happy to have found you again - I thought I put you in my reader but something got messed up. I fixed it now but missed some awesome posts, I'm sure!

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    1. Thanks Stacie! She is fun when she's happy...

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  27. This was a beautifully written and poignant post. So much about parenting is simply exhausting and heart-breaking. My husband has struggled with mental health issues, but they emerged as a teenager. He was an affable upbeat toddler. Just like our is now. So, we're holding our breath. But I think the other commenters are right. If you're looking out for it and can provide benefit from your own experience, your child has a huge advantage. Take a breath my dear! Lots of hugs to you.

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    1. Thanks Kim. Your post on the Kenyan moms' attitudes toward temper tantrums made me resolve to chill out a bit. But this particular tantrum really was disturbing.

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Lend me some sugar!