My youngest son has a personality that is larger than life. He is creative, imaginative, and explorative.  He marches to the beat of a different drum, and I am often fumbling to learn the steps as we go. At his four year old wellness visit, his pediatrician (who had observed his antics for 30 minutes) said, “My, he is a spirited child,” to which I replied, “Yes, and while I am trying not to kill his spirit, his spirit may just kill me.”

My son is constantly exploring who he is and who he wants to be. He is always pushing the limits.  And I try to let him, within reason.  I was not as accommodating or flexible with my oldest son, which has become one of my true parenting regrets.  And, so, my youngest son wears rain boots on sunny days, a scarf with his t-shirt and shorts in the summer, and he always wears his shoes on the wrong feet.  It has sort of become his trademark.  He paints his nails, wears tiny pony tails that stick straight up on his head like Pebbles Flintstone because he likes the hair tie, and sometimes, at home, he chooses to wear nothing but underwear and a cape.  For several months, he refused to wear pajamas, instead wearing only clean clothes to bed each night.  Last week, he flaunted blue fairy wings through an entire store, and he has not cut his hair length in months because he wants it to be long like Mommy’s.

Last spring, we endured the “baby” phase. Every day, he would come home, strip naked, and put on a pull-up (despite having been fully potty-trained for months), and actually “goo” and “gaa” all night.  Sometimes, he pretends to be a puppy and barks incessantly until we play with him … complete with doggy kisses, too.  And trust me when I tell you that getting licked by a dog is somehow better than being licked by a little human.

It seems he is always in character. Or, that he simply is a character.  And, while I love every ounce of his creativity and fearless self-expression, sometimes, it is exhausting.  There are days when I simply do not have the energy at 7 p.m. to make him a cardboard robot costume or rush the laundry in search of his favorite socks.  And I certainly did not have the energy (or the patience) to sew a button onto his favorite t-shirt this past week.  In fact, I thought it was foolish.  I did not want to ruin a perfectly good shirt by putting holes in it for an unnecessary decorative button.  So, I put him off.  For days, he asked about the button, and I kept dodging it.  Finally, he went to visit his grandmother, and when he returned, he was sporting a button at the top of his t-shirt, slightly off to the side, over his left collarbone.  I was mildly annoyed when I saw it, but the damage was done, and he was so happy about the button that I chose to leave it alone.

But, the following day, he started asking for a second button to be sewn on the same shirt. Again, after working all day and cooking dinner, I did not want to be bothered with this ridiculous task.  “When will this button madness end?!?” I wondered.  I offered to take him to the store to buy a shirt with buttons, but he refused.  His persistence wore on me until I finally agreed.  We went to my sewing kit and found another button.  He also picked out red thread that he wanted.  But my needle was missing.  So, I sent him back to his grandmother’s house, and again, he returned with a button sewn on his shirt, this time slightly off to the other side, over his right collarbone, to offset the first.

When he looked at me, his face beamed with excitement. He touched his two buttons, smiled proudly, and exclaimed, “Look, Mommy, I am Corduroy.”  [You know Corduroy, the children’s book by Don Freeman, about the lovable department store bear who longs for a home.  Because he is missing a button on his overalls, he searches the entire store for a button so that he can look new and be purchased.  And, although he was not successful, a little girl loved him just as he was, and gave him a new home, friendship, and a button.]  My son, who really does not like to be read to despite my nightly efforts, had brought home this story from the school library the week prior, and we had read the entire story together.

I looked down at my son, so proud with his two mismatched buttons sewn messily onto his t-shirt, and I no longer saw a ridiculous, exhausting, or annoying project. Instead, I saw a little boy who had found such deep meaning in a story and did not yet have the words to tell me.  I hugged him so tight, and my heart swelled.  And, just as the little girl had told Corduroy, I whispered to my son, “I like you the way you are.”

And, I realized in that moment, that although I probably will not always have the energy for some of his crazy ideas or the patience for his demanding that they come to fruition immediately, I do have to remember that they are his ideas … and that they are important to him. Sometimes, he is trying to speak to me—in his own creative voice—and it does not always sound like yours or mine.

Also, I used to really care about appearances. I really thought how my young children appeared to others mattered … that it was a reflection of my parenting in some way … especially in the days of social media perfect families.  And, maybe, it does.  But, I also realize that what matters more is that my child feels free to be himself and 100% loved for who he is.  In a world full of people striving to achieve some cookie-cutter ideal of perfection, I value his uniqueness.  And as he continues to figure out who he is and what he likes, I continue to figure out who I am as his mother.

So, as it turns out, in the moments when his spirit is not killing me, it is filling me with so much joy over the simplest of things. Who knew that two buttons and a t-shirt could bring us together in such a meaningful way?

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