My youngest daughter is what some would call.. strong willed.
We had to practically force her out of my belly to be born and when she finally emerged, she was pissed to be here and clearly wanted to go back into that nice cozy dark space where there were less people looking at her. She then proceeded to cry for 3 months straight…or so it felt like.
We used to call her ‘Gremlin Maeve’ because she would give random strangers or her own family these incredibly strong looks of disdain that resembled a gremlin. Picture below for proof.
Everything is hard for Maeve. Getting dressed. Making decisions. But she refuses help at all costs. She is fiercely independent to a fault and makes no apologies for it. While her older sister still wants help getting dressed sometimes, Maeve will fight a shirt in her room for 45 minutes and come out with it backwards and inside out and expect you to compliment her.
She is easily overwhelmed, incredibly sensitive, strong willed, passionate and impossibly hilarious. If you rush her on anything, she will melt into a million pieces.
She is me.
(Minus the whole needing to put on a full outfit and makeup before leaving the house…THAT she got from her Nana who she is ironically named after.)
At just two years old, I had this sense that she and I would have a hard time together and I couldn’t place my finger on why. Her older sister’s meltdowns and personality seemed so much easier for me to handle and I couldn’t grasp right away why I got so much more frustrated with Maeve for the same meltdowns. Her meltdowns would send me into a ragey tizzy.
Then I realized it was because I was dealing with a mirror.
All of the things I struggle to contain and have shame about sometimes were right there flailing in front of me in an emotionally raw toddler. It made me uncomfortable to say the least.
I know what it’s like to be so stuck in my own emotions that my insides feel like a tornado I cannot tame. To be SO sensitive to the world around me it hurts and makes me want to retreat into a dark hole and never come out. To be so scatter-brained that no matter how hard I try to be organized I lose my damn keys everyday and feel immensely frustrated about it.
I wanted her to be like someone else, anybody else, not me. It’s too personal. I don’t want any baby of mine to live in the kind of head I live in. It’s too hard.
So at first I got mad at her a lot. Like being mad would fix it, would fix her and save her from my fate. Shocker- it made it worse. It triggered us both into these wildly out of control tornados who were just clashing and ripping each other to bits. Good Lord, we weren’t even in the teenage years yet- how can this be so hard already? What more is to come? Am I going to ruin her? Is she going to ruin me?
Then one day in counseling (which is where I have many epiphanies, don’t ya know) it dawned on me that the best way to parent Maeve was to give her exactly what I need.
When I have a tornado of depression and anger and god knows what else running through me, I need space to let it run its course, I need a calm voice and I need pressure on my shoulders. I need the other person to not be offended or shocked by my tornado and just be the calm.
I need eye contact, I need to be told it is okay, this will pass, let it pass. It is okay to ask for help. I need forgiveness from my lashing. I need to be told it is okay to sob one minute and laugh the next, it just means you are paying attention, there is nothing wrong with you. You are good, you are not bad.
As a kid, I always felt like something was innately wrong with me. Why did I FEEL so much more than everybody around me? Why couldn’t I control my emotions? How can other people just let things go and I can’t?
I would overhear whispers from extended family about how terrible I was, that I was out of control. That I was bad. For a while I tried to stuff myself down for the sake of people around me or just avoid people altogether, but it never ended well for me personally. Sometimes I still do that, but I’ve gotten better.
At a family event a few years back, Maeve was around 2 years old and having an epic meltdown. And as I was taking her away from the room of people to help calm her down, I overheard the same dreaded whispers, but instead they sounded like, “She’s just like you, Jilly.” And it wasn’t a compliment.
It was at that moment I realized, it is my job to protect her. Not from herself, but from other people who tell her she is too much. I will not be the one to tell her that her emotions are too much. No way, no how. I will tell her to let them ride. I will tell her they are a gift and someday you will learn how to live with them and use them for good. Because you are good.
Having a child as my mirror has not been easy, but it is a gift. A gift of awareness for myself and a chance to get it right with her- to give her what the well-meaning adults in my own life as a kid just didn’t know any better to give me.
Check back in with me in ten years when I have a teenager and maybe I will have a different tune…but gosh I hope not.