My daughter is the type of child described as "high-spirited" by kind people. I thought all toddlers were as energetic as she is until her daycare providers began commenting on her busy nature. One day when my husband went to pick her up, he heard one of her teachers say, "Oh, Sass' dad is here," with a distinct sigh of relief. From grandparents to teachers, everyone loves her joie de vivre, as long as they can have a nap after watching her for any length of time.
When I gave birth to her little brother last year, I was entertained by casual friends warning me about the rambunctiousness of boys. "Brace yourself," said one well-meaning acquaintance. "Girls are more dramatic, but boys just go, go, go." I thanked her and kept my eye-rolling to myself. I couldn't imagine any boy being wilder than my warrior princess of a daughter. I was right: her brother is a mellow little guy who laughs at her antics but shows no signs of wanting to participate.
With Sass' passion for life comes an unholy temper, which she inherited from me. Every time my mother witnesses one of Sass' meltdowns, I can sense her restrained glee at how the circle has turned. You may think I'm exaggerating. Sass has a mild expressive speech delay, and recently I had to take her and her brother to a follow-up assessment at a centre that also treats autistic children. The assessment went well, but when it was time to leave, Sass had the worst temper tantrum yet in her 30 months of life.
Ten minutes into her fit, Sass kicked the double stroller so hard it fell over with her brother in it. He was strapped in and cried for a few minutes before going to sleep; Sass continued her rampage through the first floor of the building. I finally had to hold her in a straitjacket position in the lobby as people came out of their offices to see if I needed help. After carrying Sass to the car under one arm while pushing the double stroller with the other, and sitting on her to get her strapped into her car seat, I sat in the driver's seat and cried along with her before starting the 30-minute drive home. I wasn't surprised when Sass' speech therapist called this week to gently probe whether I wanted to book an assessment for the other types of services the centre provides. "She just has a bad temper," I said quietly, choking the words past the lump of shame in my throat. I was afraid I was wrong.
Depression and anxiety have stalked me for as long as I can remember, and one of my deepest fears is that my children have inherited these unwelcome companions along with my weak eyes and crooked teeth. Braces and LASIK eye surgery cleared those right up; my personality problems have proved more difficult to correct. My social awkwardness and inability to focus at school resulted in me being home-schooled for the third grade. I returned in the fourth grade to severe physical and emotional bullying, which pushed me at ten years old to ask my mother if it would be a sin to kill myself. I'm terrified that Sass is taking the first steps toward a path that will lead to me hiding the knives and talking to her about suicide along with the birds and bees.
It's too early to put labels on Sass' behaviour and I can still hope she's only an especially lively toddler. If time shows an ugly side to her moods, I'll take a moment to mourn the difficult journey ahead of her; then I'll settle in to teach her ways to find the light in her darkness. For now, I'll stop worrying and simply enjoy my baby's bright smile as she puts her small hand in mine. "Come on, mama," she says, bouncing in circles around me. "Wanna dance?"