Before I had Jacob, I didn’t believe in colic. I thought it was a made-up word for a fussy baby, and that “fussy” meant a baby’s needs were not being met. I know a lot of people who still feel that way.
Until I had one of those babies.
Jacob was the most calm, quiet baby in the first few weeks. I actually recall (I am cringing as I type this) wondering aloud why other parents made such a big deal about this whole newborn thing. It’s so easy! [Go ahead, throw something at the monitor. It will make you feel better, and it’s not my monitor.]
Of course, my baby was a jaundiced baby. He was lethargic, sick. Once he woke up, he was a very different baby. He screamed. A lot. Thankfully for me, there was a solution, and that solution was never putting him down. Now, before you decide that never putting him down is a mommy problem, let me assure you that I looked into EVERY OTHER THING. Maybe it was his tender little belly, and so maybe he felt better upright, cradled against me. Thankfully I discovered babywearing, which allowed me to do semi-normal things like a semi-normal person. Maybe it was the fourth trimester, and therefore my job to make his life as womblike as possible. Or maybe, just maybe, I have a sparkler.
From The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League International:
Maybe you’ve got a sparkler–an intense, sensitive baby who needs input, input, input! His only settings are high and off. That’s the downside. The upside is how truly bright and curious he is likely to become. You’ll work hard as a mother to this baby. Look for other mothers of sparklers, to share notes with. Keep your sense of humor and try not to compare your busy days with those of your placid-baby friends. And keep your little sparkler close to you–your presence and touch will often go a long way toward calming him.
I read this at a time that I figured our sparkly days were at an end; after all, he was quickly approaching toddlerhood and could no longer be considered any kind of baby! I was confused when, at 21 months (that’s a year and three-quarters for those of you who aren’t so great with math) he is still intense. INTENSE. And sleeping poorly. Picky about napping. When he is sick I get the ultimate show of his worldview: it’s all “mama” all the time. I mean, I can’t even go to the bathroom without him. Well, folks, sparklers can develop into what Dr. Sears calls “high-need children.” I don’t like this title as much because: 1. yuck on labels 2. sparkler was cute, sparkler was like sparkles, and who doesn’t like sparkles? 3. it sounds like “special-needs” and I feel that this is confusing. So read this article about the 12 features of a high-need baby.
In case you didn’t feel like doing that, I’ll summarize: it’s not special needs, just a more sensitive, exacting baby. He is intense, driven, and smart. As a small baby he was not easy to soothe, and needed to be held a lot. He cried, and there were times that I just didn’t know why. As a toddler, he knows what he wants and he has to have it. He is also curious and helpful. He makes connections between things he sees in a very sophisticated way for his age. He is very determined. He is also really in tune to the people around him. He is sad when they are sad. He tries to comfort other children when they cry. I hope this is the beginning of empathy, which is my main parenting goal at this stage. I believe that raising a generation of more empathetic children will actually make the world a better place.
Because these children are so sensitive, they develop great discernment and are able to consider the effects of their behavior on the feelings of others. They are able to achieve one of the ultimate qualities of self-discipline: the ability to think through what they’re about to do.
(From the Dr. Sears article linked above)
I believe that these qualities will work out well for Jacob, but he is a lot of work now. I also believe that it is no coincidence that he was given to a stay-at-home mom. A high-needs child would have a difficult time in day care, or dealing with frequent schedule changes. I know that in his first six months he really needed a lot of “touch time” with me, and there would have been no substitute.
He knows more words than I can count, he understands everything, he kisses my boo-boos and hugs me when I am sad. Sometimes I make him so happy that he grabs on to me with all the strength in his body and even rips out some of my hair. He is amazing.
But he is not easy.
There are times that I gaze over at the “easy” baby and I wish for a minute that my days were spent having fun and doing solo crafts during naptime, but that is just not in the cards for me. He is an “over-the-top” baby. Everything he does is an accelerated version of what other babies do. Of course, I believe that someday this will all pay off for Jacob, and I’ll be doing something incredible with my incredible sparkler.
I wouldn’t change him, given the option. But I might add some hours to my day and sleep through them.
My Dear sounds like you have a Genius on your hands…. his little brain is on overload looking for more and more knowledge which is good but unfortunately will wear you out ..Sue’s son was the same way and Veronica was too but in a slightly different way.Daniel is excelling in everything he touches now in his second year at ASU he Amazes me with his attitude and need for more knowledge….I mean he carries a 4.0 or higher in engineering which blows my mind completely.My wishes for you are patience and lots of rest.
Thanks for such a hear felt article! My oldest sparkler is 11.5 right now. A handsome grade 6 boy, a Mensa member and an amazing handyman that can basically fix anything.
He was this baby, over the top, high need, intense. I was 24 and overwhelmed. “The Fussy Baby” book saved us.
My number two is 13 months. When I was pregnant we were joking that the probability of having another sparkler is very thin. We can relax and enjoy the ride. We were so very wrong! He is even more intense and high needs. But this time I know:) And as I see his personality unfolding and his brightness blooming as he grows I feel honoured to be a mom of those two!
I said the same about my second, and he is a sparkler as well! Very different, but intense just the same. I feel lucky to have such smart, vivacious boys!
Any advice for the sparkler preschooler? I know this article is a bit older now, so I’m hoping you can provide some wisdom for the next generation 🙂 Found solace in these words a couple years ago, and turning to them again as we enter 3 y/o. Sparklers are such a joy, but at the same time, I am constantly afraid that I will unknowingly snuff out her spark. Thank you!
Hi Beth! What kind of advice are you looking for? My guy is now 8 and just a joy! He is smart as a whip and a very grown-up and intellectual child.
Oh anything! Reading materials, podcasts, etc. Just looking for some educational material on how to discipline and provide guidance without crushing their sweet (and feisty!) spirt. IMHO my girl is also more grown-up and intellectual than her peers, and most of the time its a joy, but other times it provides challenges that most other parents don’t seem to be facing (ex: there’s no pulling the wool over her eyes—she sees through any little white lie a parent might tell to try to redirect a child). Thank you again 🙂
Hi Beth! I’m sorry for the long delay in responding. I wanted to think about it, and I did…for a long time! haha. Okay so smart children I think are also very intuitive. You’re right; you can’t pull the wool over her eyes. I have found that telling the truth, just perhaps an abbreviated version to fit my child’s age level, is really the best policy. A few things I have told him that I would have to explain when he was older because I didn’t think his brain or heart was ready for all the information in the world. 🙂 We listen to Brains On (a science podcast for kids) which he loves. I started to read Harry Potter to him at age 4–which seemed maybe too early, but he connected with it on a major level. We read the first four books together. As soon as he was able to read, I chose books of facts, compelling stories, and books about things like empathy and kindness. He started reading the Harry Potter series this fall, which is a great series for teaching and fostering empathy, and he finished the last book by January! The library app is our best friend now, and he listens to and reads books like crazy. I work a lot on having him open up and talk to me about his feelings. I have found him to be perfectionistic and very hard on himself. He self-punishes, also, so I am gentle with him and explain, explain, explain EVERYTHING. I have always believed in talking through situations even if he couldn’t understand all of what I was saying. I wanted him to know that I will always be a source of answers, and truth. When he has questions I can’t answer, we look them up together. It sounds like you are on the right track, listening to and respecting your sparkler!