How Charlotte Is


A few weeks ago, Catch took Charlotte to one of her YMCA classes for the first time. As the kids sat in a circle with their parents and sang songs, Charlotte ran around like a wild animal. Catch tried to control her, and one of the other moms said, “Oh, Charlotte is always like this—sitting still just isn’t her thing.”

And there, summed up in a single sentence by a perfect stranger is the core of my daughter. Sitting still just isn’t her thing.

Charlotte needs a lot. Constantly. She does not stop. She challenges every rule. She requires near-constant input. She is fearless and curious and that combination is often dangerous and/or destructive.

Her emotions are larger than life. When she is happy, you feel her joy all the way to your bones. When she is angry, she is a force to be reckoned with. When she is sad, even the dogs plead with us to make it better.

Our daughter is light and sound and speed. There is no calm before her storm.

For a while, we lived in a little bubble where we believed that this must just be the norm. She’s a kid. Kids are crazy. Ours is no exception. It wasn’t until we started spending more time around kids her age in a group setting that we realized that she’s actually a bit more than the norm.

Yesterday when I drove our nanny home, she told me about Charlotte’s day. They were in one of her YMCA classes, and she was hugging the baby brother of one of her friends. He’s a little over a year old. It turns out that her hug was just a bit too enthusiastic, and they both toppled over onto the (padded) floor. The nannies rushed in to get them both upright, and no harm was done, but our nanny looked up and saw that the mom of one of the other kids was glaring at her and Charlotte. She sort of laughed it off as she re-told the story and said, “She’s new to the class so she just doesn’t know how Charlotte is!”

How Charlotte is.

I feel like my heart broke a little bit right then.

Most days, I consider how Charlotte is to be a compliment because how Charlotte is is fucking incredible. But right now, we’re struggling with her, and all of a sudden, how Charlotte is feels like some kind of a red flag. It feels like people are saying, “Your kid is… different.” Right now, different does not feel like a compliment. Different feels like, “Holy crap, people—get a handle on your kid before this whole place goes up in flames!”

Confession: Catch and I can barely handle our child these days. This morning I broke down in tears as she screamed and threw her body around the house in a tantrum so violent that she sliced her toe open. I was late for work and panicked because I am on thin ice at work. I cannot afford to be late. Again. Right then, I really needed to not be sitting on my living room floor wiping away my daughter’s fountain of snot and tears with my t-shirt.

She wouldn’t let me put a bandage on her bleeding toe. No amount of rocking or singing or Elmo or pancakes was calming her. The nanny couldn’t even look in her direction without escalating things. She stood just outside the door, peeking in every so often to make eye contact with me and raise an eyebrow as a silent “How can I help you right now?”

When all of the bodily fluids had slowed to a minimum, and Charlotte sat still on my lap hiccupping the last sobs away, our nanny looked at me and said, “You’re doing such a great job.”

I know she meant it, but all I could think was that if this was me doing a great job—late for work, still in my pajamas, covered in bodily fluids, longing for my cup of now-cold coffee, holding a child who was staring at both the television AND the iPad—well, if that’s “great” then someone has obviously lowered the bar.

That’s par for the course these days. Things really started to escalate about two weeks ago, and we tried to explain it away, but it’s just getting worse. I even took her to the doctor on Monday morning because I was convinced something must be wrong.

I called Catch when I was finally on my way to work this morning and tearfully asked her what happened to our little girl. Her storm used to be like April showers and suddenly it’s more like a hurricane. All we can do is batten down the hatches and shield ourselves from the worst of it.

There are lots of words thrown about in parenting circles when you’re talking about a kid like this—more and spirited come to mind most readily. She is certainly both of those things, and she always has been. Up until now we’ve managed just fine, but today we are filling queues with books and articles because we’re at a loss. For the first time, we’re feeling like we need more help than Google and mom groups can provide.

Wish us luck.


34 thoughts on “How Charlotte Is

  1. I’ll start with, You are not alone! Emerie is very similar to how you describe Charlotte, slightly more introverted I believe but nonetheless spirited, more and my favorite high needs. Everyday is a question mark on how we will start and end the day, how I will cope with her tandtrums and demands. Demanding, that a good one! I think a lot of it is that they are almost 2 and I’ve never heard anyone say that around 2 was an easy time. It’s all about testing boundaries and patience and pushing buttons just for fun, or so it seems. Some days I barely make it through. Some days I literally tap out and give her to my mom or kate and say “see ya” and go to sleep. I get it, these type of toddlers are harder than most. I laugh at most of the moms I see and talk with that tell me about their “difficult” toddler. It really does take one to know one with these kids! I hope it’s just a bad day or week and the next will be better. We seem to have one bad week and one good one around here. Hugs to you both!!

    • We’ve noticed that these sorts of moods ebb and flow, also. Today has been a better day, so maybe we’re headed for a reprieve! Fingers crossed… may we all survive toddlerhood!

  2. I feel you friend, Ali was “one of those kids” when she was Charlottes age. Eventually you will figure out how to respond to her tantrums, and eventually she will outgrow them!

    • I look forward to both of those milestones! I’ve been dreaming about converting our guest room to a completely empty, soundproof padded cell we can just toss her into when she’s out of control. (I’ll keep dreaming…)

      • You know, it wasn’t exactly a padded room but we did put Ali in her room and closed the door and let her rage until she was done when she went off the deep end. We found that trying to calm her or whatever just made it worse.

  3. Your nanny sounds awesome. Because just from reading your blog I can tell you ARE doing a great job. Hang in there. If it’s any consolation, mine is probably kind of middle ground on the “more” scale, and in the past few months I’ve muttered more than once to my partner that maybe I can’t do this anymore. The emotions of two are…whoa. Hang in there, and don’t forget you are doing an amazing job, especially to that little nugget. 🙂

  4. I hope Charlotte never loses her Charlotteness. Although I do hope it gets easier for you soon. These tantrums are no joke. All that personality needs a place to go. I think you’re all terrific.

  5. First of all – I love your blog and the main reason is how authentically you describe Charlotte and parenting. Your love shines but not in a sappy way. Charlotte is in great hands. Secondly, in a former life I was an early childhood teacher. This age is really hard. In Australia we have a couple of really great resources for parents – Triple P and Circle of Security. I know at least one of them can be done online. Might be worth looking at, if only for reassurance that toddlerhood is hard.

    • Thank you so much for such a lovely comment. Toddlerhood certainly has its challenges. It seems that it’s all about extremes–the lows are so low, but the highs are so high that it helps even the paying field a bit. At least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself today. Happy birthday to Violet–I hope it was a lovely, strong day for you.

  6. Oh god, I hope you guys find a way to cope and get through this phase. Charlotte seems like such a bright kid. We haven’t reached this phase yet, but Mabel is definitely “one of those kids.” She never stops moving and already aggravates the baby she shares a nanny with. The other day I walked in to see her pinning the baby down trying to hug her. She means well, just doesn’t know her own strength. You guys are doing a great job! You’re wonderful moms!

    • Speaking of “more” that comment got posted premature because my son started kicking me while I was breastfeeding​ his sister lol. What I was going to say was that after the incident with my friend’s dad flipping out on my two year old I started reading more about spirited children and felt so much relief because before that I never saw other parents struggling like us and children quite acting like my son. The hardest so far for us has been 19 months to two and a half. Having him in school full-time with a nurturing but structured and limit setting teacher has done wonders. He actually does sit, which he never did before. He’s still spirited and we still struggle, but these high energy kids make us stronger parents. Also they are sooo much fun! You are great moms and anytime you need to vent to another mom of a “more” kid, I’m here in the trenches with ya!

      • I remind myself of that every time I find myself wishing she could just be one of those kids who sits quietly and follows directions. Although it would certainly be easier to raise that child, it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to help cultivate this little girl’s fierceness.

      • I alternate between really looking forward to seeing how school can help channel this energy and being afraid that they’re going to spend a week with her and send us packing!

  7. I loved reading this post. Not because you’re going through such a challenging time (obvi) but because your writing is so inviting and honest and it makes me feel like I’m able to really see what it’s like for you and your family. I also appreciate getting these glimpses of what could be in my future so I feel more prepared.

    Strong willed children will one day be able to move the world.

  8. My mother has told me a few times that one of the ways she coped with me as a child by reminding herself that if I lived to see adulthood, I would be amazing.
    I have no advice, since toddlerhood still looms in our future, but I bet Charlotte will do amazing things.

    • We think that about her constantly–that someday, all of these traits that make her difficult to parent are going to make her a kick ass adult. She just has to grow into it.

  9. I don’t know if it helps in the moment, but I was a “spirited” child, myself! Hang in there mama…I know it’s hard, and you’re doing a fantastic job just by TRYING to sort things out. Charlotte has SO MANY gifts – her strong will, her confidence, her big emotions. You and she will figure out how to use those gifts to her advantage in time. Remember, you’ve never been a mom to a toddler before and Charlotte has never been a toddler before, so you’re both learning as you go. Be gentle on yourselves!! Hugs!

  10. I think you guys are such awesome parents, and Charlotte is such an awesome kid. ‘More’ seems like the right word, because Charlotte’s behaviour does sound just like other kids her age, just maybe a bit more intense. J is not ‘more’ in the same way (she can be very emotionally intense, but also sits still a lot), but I STILL feel super frustrated and at a loss sometimes and worried that her throwing and hitting indicate that she’s going to be a mean kid or that her social reticence means that we haven’t engaged her with other kids enough. Parenting toddlers is so different from parenting babies… still worry a lot, but about different things.

  11. I could have written this post when Scarlett was two. Or three. Or four. Or yesterday. Scarlett, especially, is so exhausting as a child that I have often found myself in tears trying to figure out what I can do to direct her energy into a more positive outlet and I am frequently at a loss.

    But you know what else? Scarlett is fierce and stubborn in her independence. She questions how or why the world works and she expects deep, respectful answers. She is unapologetic for who she is, what she likes, and what she believes she can do. Scarlett is – quite truthfully – exactly the woman I would want her to be when she grows up. Her personality is one I would admire in a peer. I’d be PROUD to say she’s my adult daughter.

    But those traits are HARD in a child. They make each day feel like a battle when you’re exhausted and you need to work and make dinner and you don’t have TIME to foster this amazing independence and super rad personality because you JUST NEED TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ON TIME. I just need to feed her brother, I don’t want to DEBATE her on the pros and cons of her ankle socks! But she’s also so ready – in miniature form – to take on the world, and I don’t want to crush that, even on days where I want to sort of fling myself into the sun if it means I’ll get seven seconds of PEACE.

    Charlotte is amazing and strong willed and curious and brave. She’s exceptionally hard to parent…because she’s exceptional. <– Yep, I went there.

    So many parents I meet at the Y tell me they wish they could sign their little kids up for classes, but they worry about how rambunctious they'll be. They avoid it until they think their kids will be the ones sitting quietly, so How Charlotte Is is a lot like every damn toddler. You guys are allowing her personality to blossom and grow without the judgement that she has to be different in order to be out in the social world and I think that's a really awesome thing you're doing, even if you're covered in snot while you do it. Her enthusiasm for life is something you cannot teach, and I think she's going to do amazing things one day with it. 🙂

    • YES. I think these things constantly. Someday, adult Charlotte is going to take the world by storm, and all of these things that make life so hard for us right now are going to serve her so well on that journey. I feel like our job is to teach her to control her inferno so that it can continue to burn fiercely without destroying everything around her. There’s a learning curve there, though, so I figure we’re going to have to spend the next 10 years (minimum) getting caught in her flames. It’s a small price to pay if we can give the world a strong, capable, self-aware young woman when we’re through.

      • I think she’ll learn to self regulate in some areas, and in others, she may find a new purpose for her flames that shine them further from you and more on her passions. She is still very much nearly two, you know? That’s a very explosive age even for the quietest of souls. 😉

  12. I have been feeling this way so much lately. SO MUCH. Vacation has been hella hard because Charlie WILL NOT BE CONTAINED and we’re in a huge strange city so obviously she has to be contained. Lots of people have witnessed epic scream fests. Last night I was convinced someone in the hotel would complain as she screamed her head off about a diaper change. I have no answers but I am full of solidarity.

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