Embracing my high-needs little angel
Yesterday, right after I finished writing about why I need a nanny, Joaquin and I went out for our weekly playgroup, and if the last two classes at the Little Gym have been a nightmare, yesterday afternoon I really wanted to move to a different planet and not give Joaquin my new address. Joaquin was awful! He yelled and whined, and moaned non–stop for my attention. He’d wander out of the play area and end up in Kim’s formal living room, and out of nowhere he’d start screaming and crying as if I had taken him there and then I had abandoned him. He wouldn’t play like all the other kids. He would bring books for me to read, and then refuse to listen to my reading. A very load “Mmmmmmm mmmm mmmm” serenaded the adult conversation and demanded my full attention for most of the playdate. This behavior hit me like a bomb at the worst time…
I rebelled against his ruining this little piece of social interaction I’ve worked hard to bring to my life. I didn’t want to be loving, and patient, and caring, and give him the attention he demanded. I wanted him to behave! To be “normal” like the other kids. I didn’t want this. And I’m sure that my attitude made it even worse for him. So it was only until the playdate was almost over that Joaquin finally settled down and started playing peacefully like he usually does. I came home exhausted, feeling like a victim, and as soon as Joey came back from work, I went upstairs to consult my good friend Google.
I began searching for “high–maintenance toddlers”, which directed me to “high–needs toddlers” with a couple of book suggestions, and the best: After reading a little bit about these “high–needs” children, my perspective changed. See, lately I’ve started referring to Joaquin as “the toughest child” in our playgroup, a “difficult toddler”, a “challenging child”; but these books change those negative labels to more neutral adjectives like “high–needs” and “spirited”.
I’m not sure that Joaquin fits all the characteristics of spirited children, but reading through these articles reminded myself of how forever since he was born, I’ve always noticed that Don Joaquin seems to be more needy and demanding than the average child his age I find everywhere else… That child at the baby store, content and peaceful while being pushed on a shopping cart… The child I saw today sleeping in her mother’s arms at Target… The other seven children in the Mother’s Morning Out program from which Joaquin was kicked out… Every kid at our Little Gym class, all of who perform every single skill, rarely resist anything, and never cry… Brayden, who happily plays on his own at home and sits still and smiles for studio photos… Rory, who lets her mom brush his teeth and change his diaper, and goes out shopping with her… Natalie, who swings like a maniac on the playground, and has no problem landing head first on the water after being pushed down a pool slide…
My little one, he’s the complete opposite of every single one of the examples above. And looking back to history…
- Joaquin was so impatient when he couldn’t crawl. His efforts to become mobile were relentless. He was so driven, and was the first one to crawl and walk among his playmates.
- He refused to be restrained by anything. The swing, the car seat, the bouncy seat, the stroller, the sling… Remember how he got out of the highly–acclaimed Bumbo seat within minutes of putting him on it?
- He was and still is impatient. So impatient, I never seemed to let down the milk — or now pour it into the cup — fast enough. And God have mercy on us all if I don’t start reading the book within a second of being requested by Don Joaquin.
- He used to be a very frequent feeder… Remember how I had to plan to pull the boob out immediately upon arrival at our destination every time I dared to take him out on the car?
- He hates failing! And he refuses to be taught how to do something. He must figure out how to do it himself, at his own pace… One day he surprised me going down the stairs. And when he started walking he never had any accidents; he walked like a pro from the beginning. It’s as if he practices when I’m not looking around, and only starts doing things when he’s damn sure that he won’t fail and look like a fool. He may be a perfectionist, or just plain proud.
- He demands a lot of my attention, wants me always fully engaged, and leaves me exhausted at the end of the day.
- He resists with passion being pushed to do things. Little Gym has not been fun… I am officially known as the mother of the child who cries almost the entire class, every class. When Joaquin performs a skill, his whole class claps and cheers as if he was a special–needs kid who was finally able to do something challenging for his physical capacity.
- And yes, the biggie for the longest time: Joaquin exhibits separation/strangers anxiety much stronger and persistent than any other child his age I know.
All of the above seem to award him the “high–needs toddler” label. Plain “separation anxiety” has never come close to define my little angel. So there I have it: My child does in fact fit some sort of documented group. I may not know any other children like him, but there certainly are some. There are several other mothers out there who’ve cried like me wondering what the hell is wrong with their willful and clingy children… Where they’ve gone wrong… When things will get easier… Why every other child seems like a mellow angel so much easier to live with, so much less limiting. And the perspective that my child is in fact different, and that the payoff for my effort is a very cool, smart, driven, empathetic, potentially world–changing adult, believe me… Helps me so much!
So much that, under that new light, I just spent a wonderful morning with Joaquin. I brought my laptop and resumed my search from yesterday. Found an article and started reading it while Joaquin played around me. He’d play for a while, and then bring something to me. I’d stop my reading and respond to Joaquin. I’d play with him for about 5 minutes, and I’d see him suddenly becoming engaged on something new. I’d resume my reading. After a while he’d come back with a new thing for us to do. I’d interrupt my thing and respond to him. And what an angel! See, when I give this much attention to my bollo, he magically appears to become more patient, more respectful of my needs, more willing to work with me, and he dazzles me with how smart he is. It is at times like this that he shows me all his new tricks. So on these days that I give and give without expecting anything for me, the payoff from Joaquin is huge.
Sure, there’s no way I can keep giving this much every day of my life. So I do need a nanny. This morning I thought that I can do this for him IF if know that there will be one day every week where I won’t do it, and that day will be all mine. And I can do this if I don’t have expectations to achieve anything important or complete any project while I’m with him. That’s the tricky part for me: Being totally in the present… Lowering my expectations… Resigning myself to just do this, to accomplish nothing bigger than a tiny thing like reading ONE web article in 2 hours… It almost sounds like a meditative exercise to suppress your ego. But I think I can do it if I know that I will have a break to recover and replenish my energy. At least, I want to try it.
So after putting Joaquin down for his nap, I called the nanny. Unfortunately she didn’t want to take the job. I’m not sure why, and she wasn’t able to tell me exactly why her gut was not feeling that this was a right fit for her long term. I have some guesses, but it doesn’t matter. Although I didn’t get a nanny today, she told me she would be willing to babysit if I ever needed it. That’s a lot of help, and somehow knowing that at least I have that, keeps me satisfied for now. You probably don’t know how daunting it is to receive a Jury Duty notice and know that there is nobody in your city you can think of that you would feel comfortable asking to take care of your baby for two full days. As much as I like and trust my playgroup friends, I don’t feel I could ask them such a favor. I couldn’t ask a friend to take care of my high–needs child for free. So knowing that there is somebody I trust willing to do it, helps me go through this day.
I think I’ll keep looking for a nanny, go get some books at the bookstore to try to keep my positive outlook on my challenging parenting situation, and while Joaquin lacks the communication skills to engage with me on verbal negotiations (e.g. understand my bribes), I’ll just have to lower my expectations. Sounds like I’m embarking on raising a little center of the universe, but that’s not the case. Without some kind of balance between him and I, this won’t work… I just have to figure out how to split my energy between him and I, and I know that there will be many times when my supply will be down and he’ll just have to suck it and suffer the frustration of not getting what he wants. Lots of work ahead for this baby and his mommy…