Monday, July 09, 2007

They used to call it "Strong Willed"

Matthew is what Kurcinka would call, "highly spirited". In her book, Raising Your Spirited Child: A guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic, Kurcinka describes my son in detail. From the moment he was born, he has been highly persistent. From the moment he was delivered, he began screeching about everything. He screamed bloody murder when I unlatched him from nursing. He flat refused to sleep on his own. He gave baby contraptions such as the swing, the bouncy seat and high chairs full on screaming fits from the moment I set him in them. Daily showers for me were agonizing for him as he required constant human touch; those 15 minutes he was on his own was too much for him and he let me know it.

As he's gotten older, I see he rates about a 10 on each scale in her book. Her opening paragraph sucked me right in:
The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than any other children. All children possess these characteristics but spirited children possess them with a depth and range not available to other children. Spirited kids are the Super ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Every bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling.

My mother said tongue-in-cheek, "They used to call it strong willed". Whatever the term, I've been long convinced that Kurcinka is the only woman alive (aside from me) who really gets my son.

Tonight was the first night of Vacation Bible School (I had to spell that out for my Aussie friend but here in the US, it's known as simply VBS). The kids went with Grandma and Grandpa, who were teaching one of the classes. This is Matthew's third year attending so it's a familiar place and his sisters and grandparents were all there as well.

The kids happily drove off with Grandma at 4:30pm. A rare moment for Hubby and I to be alone, we went out to eat. Around 7pm, I get a call. It's Grandma. She says simply, "Can I talk to my son?" I could tell it wasn't her "happy voice". Apparently Matthew was having a major melt down and Grandma needed some backup. I've seen many of these melt downs. Remember, my child is more. So any meltdown is a major one. Hubby tries to talk to Matthew but he just keeps repeating, "I can't understand you. Can you stop crying and try to tell me what's wrong?" Grandma isn't sure what the meltdown is about either. I finally get to talk to him and he gets out through tears, "I just wanna go hooooooooome". But he can't tell me anything else. Grandma gets back and while she's troubleshooting with me to find the cause, she says, "I told him to go with Mrs. know, like Peter Parker's mother (score for Grandma to come up with a Spiderman gem!) and..." Matthew says, "But they told me to go with the other class." Grandma gets him to the right class and he did better.

I'm sure, to a parent with non-spirited kids, they can understand the confusion and maybe disappointment he felt that caused him to break into tears and want to go home. What you missed was the meltdown over his name tag getting torn, the meltdown over not being in the same class that his sisters and grandparents were in and who knows what other meltdowns that I wasn't even told about.

He gets over stimulated easily. As a baby, he would never go to sleep in his car seat. Screamed as loud as possible on each and every trip in the car. Yes, even as a newborn. The only time I remember him sleeping in his car seat was the day he broke his leg and I think he slept out of pain control. Loud parties send him up 10 notches and remember that he's already a Super bouncy ball.

The singing and cheering at the beginning of VBS, meant to get the kids excited about being there, over stimulated my Super bouncy ball and put him into Super Mega Overdrive. And then they sent him to a room with people he was unfamiliar with (slow to adapt/uncomfortable with change). Then he realized his sister wasn't going to be in his class with him (slow to adapt). Then his name tag ripped (he's also a perfectionist). And his shirt tag was probably itching and it was too hot/cold for him (sensitive). All this added up to meltdown after meltdown, I'm sure. God Bless those seemingly tireless VBS workers! They got him through it. By the time I arrived to pick them up, he had survived the singing and cheering closing ceremony (have you ever noticed how looooooong a Super Mega bouncy ball can keep bouncing?) and met me with a t shirt wet with tears. They might not have realized it but he was so happy to see me that he almost cried from relief of knowing the night was over...but he was working very hard to not cry again.

We loaded the van up (after the teacher fixed his name tag situation for tomorrow night) and Matthew happily chatted with me all the way home. I couldn't imagine that he would want to go back or that he got anything out of his time there. But I forgot for a moment that my Super bouncy ball is also more perceptive. He told me that he indeed did have fun and does want to go back tomorrow night. "Oh Mom, we have to wear shirts that can get wet tomorrow because we have a water game...and we have to take a dry shirt to change into." Matthew told me the Bible verse was, "Care about others as you care for yourself." I asked him what the meant to him. "It means just what it says Mom!" I asked him how he could show Rose that he cared for her as much as he cared for himself. He was quietly thinking to himself and Rose injected, "And tell me how I can show Matthew that too." Matthew pipes up immediately and says, "Rose, you show me that all the time. You clean up my things when I don't want to. That's very nice of you. Thanks for doing that all the time." I was so touched that it took several minutes before my voice returned.

When we got home, he told me that they are collecting pennies for VBS. He said they're trying to get enough pennies to make a whole mile. And when they get that many pennies, they will send it to "ohhh..I forgot the name of the country" so they can dig a deep well and have fresh water to drink.

So in spite of all the things that went wrong for him, he grabbed hold of most everything. My Super bouncy ball is very perceptive.

As Hubby was putting the girls to bed, Matthew followed me closely into my room. He grinned as I plopped onto the bed and patted for him to join me. He snuggled in tight and sighed deeply. And I swear it was the same sigh I used to get when he was a baby after I'd pick him up and hold him close. He nuzzled his head into my neck, just as when he was so little. He was home. It was quiet. Snuggling with Mom, all was well with his world again.

On the good days, being the parent of a spirited child is astounding, dumbfounding, wonderful, funny, interesting and interspersed with moments of brilliance...The dreadful days are a different story.


Jamie said...

I love that book. I went from Sears' "Night Parenting" to Dobson's "Strong-Willed Child" to finally Kurcinka and she was a life saver...and all that before we knew about the autism. The tips in her book gave me coping mechinisms. It was great.

The Small Scribbler said...

Have you read The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz?

Some of what you are describing...transitions, itchy tags...sound like a few of my kids with Sensory Processing Disorger. I learned to see them in a whole new way through this book.

She has a second book as well. The Out of Sync Child Has Fun.

A couple of my kids used to get very overstimulated when I took them out in public. I made them weighted vests to kind of create a closed-in-cozy feeling. It did help them focus and function better at places like the grocery store. I can give you the website for where I got the pattern if you might be interested.

I'm glad to read in the comment above that she found the book Raising Your Spirited Child helpful before she knew she was dealing with an autistic child. We have a Asperger's boy (autistic spectrum)and before we knew what we were dealing with we tried to follow standard Christian parenting advice. The results were disasterous. Some kids need a unique approach to parenting. I sure do understand about the good days and the dreadful days!


Jen E said...

I think I need to dig my copy back out for Scott. He's definitely a challenge most days!