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When I was pregnant with my first I felt her kicking before they said it was possible. At five months she made her presence known. She kicked so hard as I was working on the computer one day that she nearly hit a few keys. I was convinced she was a boy until the twenty week ultrasound proved otherwise. We gave her a strong, stately name, Elizabeth.When she was born she had such a powerful sucking reflex that she actually tore open my nipples during our first twenty minute nursing session. My husband had to take over and let her suck on his pinky, which she did for two hours!

The first two weeks of her life were excruciating for us. I remember feeling so down that it was sooo hard, even though I had ten years of infant care under my belt. She was a sensitive baby, yet when she nursed she had no regard for the person on the other side. Every time she latched I winced in pain, for four months. I saw five different lactation consultants and counselors, which barely helped. We were referred to an Ear, Nose Throat specialist who cut her tongue tie. This only helped her latch on even stronger. My husband started describing my nipples as being completely annihilated.

It was only because of my childcare skills that I was able to handle her. For the first five months of life she had to be bounced on an exercise ball every night during the bewitching hours from 6 – 10pm. She didn’t sleep through the night, ever. At twenty-three months we finally broke her of her 2am bottle. Also at two she started refusing to take naps. The only way I could get her to go to sleep was to drive her around in the car for 45 minutes. As a professional nanny it was part of my job to sleep train infants, and she was untrainable.

I read all five of the popular infant sleep books at the time, and tried each of their theories. She defied them all. Even the examples in the books of other babies who wouldn’t sleep all had logical explanations. No sleep routine, not enough exercise, too much sugar. Check, check, and check. She had all of the conditions conducive to sleep in place. Yet she thrashed around and woke up crying several times each night. Once when she was three she had a night terror so bad we had to drive her in the car to calm her down, at 2am. She is five now and gets up at least once still, usually because of a “bad dream.”

When her brother was born her whole world changed. She was deeply aware even at two-years-old that she was no longer the center of our lives. Her brother now took center stage. To make things even worse – he was easy. So easy. I remember nursing him sweetly to sleep and lying him in his crib. I would stare at his sleeping face in awe of how sweet and how easy he was. He learned to fall asleep on his own as an infant, napped easily right on schedule and rarely got overstimulated. A dream baby. Thus began her sibling rivalry.

Just like with the sleep issues we had major jealously issues and sibling issues. Again I read every good book on siblings and siblings getting along. Again my daughter defied them all. Just the other day she told me, again, she wished Nolan wasn’t in our family and that it was only her. “Why did daddy have to plant two seeds!!!” She says crap like this all the time. Also, she wishes we didn’t have a daycare and that I didn’t have to work.  

Now onto the tantrums, crying spells and bouts of anger. She has had meltdowns and explosions so intense I have found myself actually laughing a few times. Weird right? It is just so shocking how amazingly intense she can feel things that I can’t help but laugh sometimes. She gets physical, slams doors, tells me she hates me, hates her brother. Sound normal? Sure, all kids can get like this at times. But for us it is all the time. We will have a few weeks here and there of a good spell, but it never lasts long. When she was two and three and four people rarely judged us. She was a toddler after all. But recently things have changed… because now she is five. Now she is required to do things like clean her room and get dressed and go to school. All of these things are a battle. Especially school.

This year’s Thanksgiving was kind of a sad day in our house. Depressing actually. Not because of the turkey – which was our best ever. Not because of the decor – which was awesome. And not even because of our out of town family, one of them my estranged brother who made it to his first holiday since our daughter was born. No, that all went down without a hitch. It went so smoothly actually I even got to take a two hour nap before our guests arrived and dinner began. That would have been impossible in previous years. Thanksgiving was a disaster because our five year old daughter was a disaster.

She started melting down about half way through dinner when she knocked over her water goblet and it fell to the floor and shattered. I know she was embarrassed because I could feel her embarrassment and I even get a tear in my eye when I think about it for some reason. Five-year-olds love to do what grown-ups do. In fact the biggest compliment you can give a five-year-old is to say “You did that just like a grown up.” So when she started crying and getting upset because she knocked over her glass like a baby, I felt her pain. For the rest of the ten people at the table there was less understanding and more “can we just move on from this now so I can finish my meal in peace?”

Sure everyone said things to her like “it’s ok, no big deal.” After all no one had any reason to think that this would turn out to be such a big deal to my daughter. Only it was. It’s like a downward spiral of darkness when she gets like this. I barely had time to finish cleaning up the glass pieces all over the floor before I found myself swooping her up and bringing her to her room. I can’t even remember what I said but I know I acknowledged her feelings of embarrassment, because that’s how I roll. We went back to the table and she wanted to sit in my lap. The meltdowns continued throughout the night until people started to get over it. By desert she was fighting with her brother so bad I had to lock her in the bathroom with me until she calmed down. No, I don’t spank and i don’t do time-outs.

By the end of the night I was washing my third dish when I heard her hysterically crying in the other room. No one had any capacity or desire to deal with her. After all when a toddler has a meltdown it’s cute. A five year old, not so much. I tried bringing her outside but when we came back in she announced to everyone, “THIS THANKSGIVING IS THE WORST DAY OF MY WHOLE LIFE!!!” The next day I got an enlightening rundown from my mom just exactly what the in-laws, and herself, think of our situation. Our daughter needs more discipline and punishment, they said. In other words, we are pushover parents. I believe that one of my strongest qualities is being able to hear and take criticism well. But in this situation my husband and I felt totally unsupported by our families. I am not angry at their criticism of our parenting style, but rather that no one felt for the pain our daughter was in, or tried to understand it.

Now let me just take a minute to explain the days leading up to the downward spiral of darkness. First, grandpa had been sleeping on the floor in my daughters room for the past week, sawing logs at night. My daughter is an extremely light sleeper and I know her sleep was affected simply by the presence of another person in her room. Second, we came home the day before Thanksgiving from a two day Disneyland trip. Need I say more? Third, since we were traveling our diet consisted entirely of white sugar and white four. It has been proven that children need amble amounts of nourishing foods to sustain their rapidly growing frontal lobes. If they eat too many sugars they revert to their reptilian brains and become super cranky animals.

I offer the above explanation as simply a back story to our week, not as an excuse for our daughter’s behavior. There has been a clear line in the sand drawn between who I can trust in our family to honor our struggles and be supportive to us in our huge endeavor of raising two children – one very difficult and one pretty easy. My sadness about this day comes not from the separation that has inevitably occurred between me and my family. Rather, it comes from my own personal realization that our daughter is a force to be dealt with. At five she has a strong voice and her opinions and meltdowns can no longer be contributed to terrible twos, or awful threes or wild fours…

I used to think that sleep, diet and over-stimulation were the key factors that contributed to our daughters meltdowns. I relied on those factors heavily actually. Now I am seeing that while they do play a big part, they are not the entire reason. Some kids are just difficult, strong willed, stubborn and unmanageable. They are natural born leaders and when not given choices or when things are not going their way you are sure to hear about it. They defy classic parenting books and theories because they are here for our future, and our future had some pretty big problems to solve. They are bright, creative and extremely talented. If someone tells them to paint the pumpkin orange, they will certainly make it a rainbow colored pumpkin. They defy authority. Some day a book will be written explaining how to deal with them but for now no such book exists. (Except if I write it, some day.)

Thank god our daughter has us, and we love her more than anything. Only time will tell what she will become one day, and it certainly will be something exciting. 

Do you or someone you know struggle in raising a Difficult Child? If so please share your stories, trials and tribulations. Join our online community of parents supporting other parents. Email your stories to jess.trotter@yahoo.com

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This story begins three years ago with the birth of my second. While it is 100% easier the second time around, the addition of another child somehow creates 100% more work. Add to that the fact that my home daycare requires me to take care of four other children ages 0-4. Now I am going to give you a picture of the state of our house at this time. On any given day when a parent would drop off their kid in the morning there would be a pile of dishes in the sink from the day(s) before, toys scattered EVERYWHERE, laundry strewn about, more toys, and a boat load of other crap that us Californians simply have no where to put in our small bungalows we pay a fortune for.

Looking back I can see that having a new baby gave me the ultimate excuse to surrender to the chaos. Which I did. There were plenty of days where I never got a chance to get out of my pajamas or even brush my teeth – and I was running a business out of my house, working 45 hours a week. Every time I would start doing the dishes the(a) baby would want to be fed or changed. I would tell myself that as long as I was keeping the laundry basket level and not overflowing I was at least doing something.

At this time it was amazing to see how many toys had accumulated during the first two years of my firstborns life. After all she was the first grandchild of four grandparents, one step-grandparent, two uncles, one aunt and one great-grandma. Times these 9 people plus two Christmases and two birthdays and you have 36 gifts on average at each event. Then there is the weekly inflow of toys brought in by everyone every time they took my daughter somewhere or did anything with her. Think the zoo and Disneyland gift shops, toys at checkout counters and really any store you go into. On top of that we had a new baby who somehow needed a whole new set of EVERYTHING because he happened to be the opposite gender of our first born.

I found all sorts of excuses for our mess. Even in some parenting books I read theories that it is much more important to spend time with your children playing rather than running around bleaching everything. Finally we hired a cleaning lady. Actually she brought her own crew of people. Apparently having a home daycare requires extensive time-consuming detailed tasks like picking play dough out of the rug and scraping 100 stickers off of the dining room table and cleaning food out of places you can’t even imagine food getting into. And sand from the sandbox. Everywhere. The funny thing was that the hiring of the cleaning crew made me clean even more than ever – to clear a path for them to clean!

Over the last year things have shifted. When my baby was two and his sibling four it got a lot easier. We got into a groove. My son had weaned himself overnight and it was amazing to feel not tired for once. He was literally sucking the life out of me and when he quit the boob it was like someone was slipping uppers into my tea. I could complete tasks like dishes and laundry. But it still took at least 2-3 hours a day to have my house “clean”. I read more parenting articles that this busy work will never end. Dishes need to be washed and lunches made. So just suck it up. I tried to change my attitude. And my house was still a cluttered mess all the time. It seemed nothing would change. I was a prisoner in my own four walls of messiness.

Recently I discovered another way. As a writer of a blog it must come to no surprise that I love following great blogs. I hope someday to inspire others the way I am inspired when I come across a great new post. On Facebook I saw a blog about becoming a minimalist. Like most who discover this philosophy – I was instantly sold. Living life minimally means different things to different minimalists. So here is the deal. On the extreme end of the spectrum there are people who pare down all of their possessions to just 100 things. Not kidding. Since my son has at least 100 Legos in one tiny box this type of extremism would obviously not work for us. That is why I like Joshua Becker’s style he calls rational minimalism.

For Joshua being a minimalist means getting rid of at least 60% of your stuff. By creating space to breathe you are able to do more of what you love and what inspires you. Reading. Writing. Exercising. Playing with your kids. When you are surrounded by piles and piles of stuff – that stuff calls out to you. It needs to be cleaned, put away, cleaned again, sorted, folded, cleaned, organized and saved. For me it was 2-3 hours every night of my life. Americans are culturally indoctrinated to consume. The extent of our consumption is our greatest demise, both individually and culturally. One day I had this realization that if we bought our daughter one more toy it would make me sick. What are we really teaching our children?

So we are close to getting rid of 60% of our shit. I must have taken ten loads of stuff to the thrift store, we had a huge garage sale and Craigslist posts are still rolling in the $$. Now when I go shopping at Target I carry a small basket instead of loading up a cart-full, which I used to do every time. Over the past five years since having kids, stuff was constantly coming in and rarely going out. I attribute my lack of purges over the years to two things. One, I literally have many hoarders in my family. Some are sneaky organized hoarders who possess unbelievable organizational skills to be able to house the massive amount of stuff they posses, neatly. Some walk through their homes using little paths in between the piles of stuff they collect.  Two, I never thought I could get rid of my stuff.

I personally think that about 25% of people have no problem giving something away they no longer use, and their houses reflect this healthy attitude. They are neat and they function. For the rest of us there is this thing called hoarding. For me it was second-hand hoarding. I was absolutely shocked when going through the purging process that MOST of it was given to me by one of my relatives I described above. I wish I could give specific examples but I would like these people to like me still. Lets just say most of it was something that either was expensive (or so they thought) or possessed some sentimental reason for being a gift to me. All of it sat on shelves or in cupboards for years without being used. Ever.

This process was very time consuming but in the end I am down to 45 minutes of cleaning at night. If my husband is not working a night shift it’s 20 min each. I have 1-2 more hours of my life back per day. Another thing I didn’t expect was that going through my cupboards and pulling everything out required an extensive amount of mental processing. So much that it kept me up a night a few times. Now when I open a cabinet it is only half full and organized. It gives me a calm state of mind. It reminded me of something I learned once at a relationship course I took several years ago. Women have an amazing ability to remember where a vast amount of things are located within their house. This goes back to hunter gatherer days when it was critical for survival to remember which bush had the poisonous berries and which ones were safe to eat. I would wake up, and first thing in the morning one more thing would pop into my head that I could get rid of. In this way I deleted one less item to file away in my mama brain.

A list of things I sold that I hadn’t used in 1-10 years:
15 crystal champagne flutes
a crock pot
a Kitchen-aid mixer
a rice cooker
an electric coffee maker
wine glasses with stems
piles of dishes
five flower vases
chipped coffee mugs
the list actually goes on… and this is just the kitchen.

Here are the blog posts that inspired me and helped me in this process:
http://www.becomingminimalist.com/dont-just-declutter-de-own/
http://www.becomingminimalist.com/minimalism-benefits/
http://www.becomingminimalist.com/breaking-the-sentimental-attachment-to-books/
http://www.becomingminimalist.com/simpler-kitchen/

Good luck!

The mess makers.

 

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