Off and on I’ve been reading a book called Raising Your Spirited Child, in which the author argues that “spirited” kids are more of everything – more persistent, more energetic, more intense, more, more, more. I don’t know for sure if my daughter is one of these spirited kids, exactly, or if kids can be boxed in and so clearly defined as that author suggests. But I do know she definitely has a big spirit.
A few months ago, while volunteering as the guinea pig for that friend of mine who is in school to become a healer, she debriefed our session by telling me my womb was full of layers of mucus (no surprise there), but also that my daughter had been energetically in the room and her energy was “fierce.” The healer friend doesn’t know my daughter hardly at all, but yet, I thought that word seemed apropos, in fact, more than apropos, but right on the mark and perhaps more accurate that the word “spirited.”
Fierce has taken on new meaning in the past several years, probably due to Tyra Banks’ use of the word on her show America’s Next Top Supermodel. That pop-culture usage has to do with being all one can be, while simultaneously looking pretty and sexy (ostensibly for men’s benefit) while smiling with your eyes and being half-naked, yet also appearing confident and strong and aloof all at the same time. Mostly, I find this concept of the word fierce ridiculous and offensive to women, but sometimes, when my daughter is about to do something she shouldn’t do, like finger paint on the kitchen table with her spilled yogurt, her eyes look a little bit of that kind of fierce, (and, yes, usually she is half-naked, her favorite way of living it up in the house). She’s got a sly, smiling gleen in her hazelnut eyes and a half-twisted upper lip, both sinister and sweetly smiling.
My definition of fierce and/or spirited is: SHE’S UP! Seriously, when I started writing that previous sentence the first time, my daughter woke up at dawn, too early, too-tired, yet somehow raring to go. That moment was and is a true, real-time example of the kind of “more energetic” energy she has all the time, even when she’s sick or teething, which she has been now with her last set of molars for several weeks. In these special times, the fierce or spirited energy is accompanied by a horrid, nearly constant whine. Specifically, she’s whining this word, “Moooommmmy,” with no other words behind that one, even when I say, over and over and over again, “Yes, honey, I’m right here,” or “Can you use some words for mama to tell me what you need?” Her reply? “Mooooommmmmy….” and then two little pattering feet and a gripping bear hug (bear trap?) around my leg.
The old Latin of the word fierce comes from ferus, which gives us words like feral and ferocious, meaning “wild beast.” My daughter is completely cute and, most of the time, very sweet; she’s more like a bear cub than a boar. But when her fierce energy is riled, she can be unpredictable. Will she meltdown or won’t she? Will she whine all day and need me to pick her up, especially while trying to cook dinner with splattering oil in a hot pan, or won’t she? I never know for sure. It’s kind of like living with an alcoholic.
That all said, when we do make it out through the slanting rain and howling winds to get her some teething tablets at the store – does the homeopathic stuff even work? – she has no trouble at all being so independent as to dart out into the middle of the parking lot with cars and their disoriented-by-all-the-rain drivers coming right at her. My daughter is a paradox of need and independence – and that’s what makes her energy fierce. She loves to explore the wilderness but needs the safety and security of the mama sow and our den. She can rollick and play with other kids for quite some time before she lifts her head up from the tundra and sniffs out her mother’s presence. She needs the nourishment of her mama’s milk but wants to dig around in the dirt to find her own sustenance, which includes playing with her food, as baby cubs are known to do, by say, torturing a ground squirrel between their paws before they really eat them.
For my part, I’d be better off acting like a mama bear and honing in on my own wild beast self. With trepidation of alluding to a certain female politician/pop icon’s metaphor which argues mama bears are protective of their young, which I am, I offer another scenario: sow bears can be pretty darn blasé about their cubs’ antics. If you’ve ever seen wild bears in their natural habitat, the cubs go rolling down the hill into a muddle puddle and their mama couldn’t give two shakes. When my daughter’s acting fierce, when she wakes up without enough sleep and subsequently whines “mama” all day long, I need to be more blasé. I need to say, “yes dear,” without really listening; I need to allow her to climb on my back while I continue to root around in the dirt looking for my own grub. I need to play with her for a while, then bite her neck and tell her to find something else to do. I need to watch out for my daughter with my own fierce energy, my eyes smiling and aloof all at the same time so she knows I am there for her but also that she can explore her world – her wilderness – and be free in her own big, wonderful spirit.