How Parenting a Free Spirit Helped Set Me Free

I'm a planner. I formulate, list, organize, prioritize, and execute plans with relentless determination, and any obstacles are met with swift and decisive action to steer back onto course. In summer (when Oregon's weather is perfect and preciously short-lived), our weekend hikes are scheduled weeks in advance, Camelbaks and trekking poles are loaded into the Subaru the night before, and trail guides are highlighted down to the degree of difficulty to expect. Failure is not an option.

Two of my biological kids are planners, too. Go figure. I never have to worry about their homework, time management, chores, interests, follow-through, or commitment to future planning.

Then there's Noah.

On any given morning rush, Noah is the one walking around wearing one inside-out sock while brushing his teeth and simultaneously spitting out Doctor Who trivia to an invisible audience. He leaps up and down the stairs two or three at a time, stomps down the hall, forgets what he's doing to pet the cat until his big sister redirects him, puts on a bow tie (as he has done each day for four years), and runs out the front door without his lunch. Or maybe without his jacket. Or without his backpack. Then he dashes back and grabs the forgotten item(s), hugs and coos at the dogs one last time, and obliviously slams the door with remarkable force on his way back out. The whole house shakes.

Sigh. Every. Day.

Then there's school. Though Noah truly loves it, I routinely get notes home that read something like this:

Noah is a joy to have in class, but I'm wondering if you can talk to him about his socializing. He manages to get his own work done, but he can be distracting to others with his chattiness.

Sigh. Every. Semester.

Though I sound exasperated, I can't tell you how smitten I am with this kid. He's got a wild head full of thick and curly hair, freckles, glasses, a scar across his left eyebrow that causes the lid to droop just enough to give him character, and a generous smile. He's unabashedly happy, LOUD, kind, and confident. And his upbringing has been exactly what the doctor ordered for me.

Babies one and two cooperated with my careful deliberation and cautious mothering. Noah? He had other plans. When he was a baby, his older brother dressed as a rodeo clown for Halloween. I put the giant rainbow wig on Noah just for a laugh, and he refused to take it off. For months. He wore it everywhere we went, and I would have to carefully peel it off of his sweaty little noggin after he fell asleep each night.

Then there was the year Nacho Libre was in theaters. Noah wanted to see it for his 4th birthday after seeing a preview on TV, and he was hooked-- accent and all. I made him a costume for Halloween that year, and he wore it religiously for many months. The daily donning of the Nacho cape lasted for well over a year after that, and so lived Super Noah.

Over the next few years, Noah dressed as characters on the regular, and he would be utterly dedicated to them. He'd sign his school papers as "Indy" (the Indiana Jones phase), "Batman," "Bruce," "Night Wing,"... you name it. When his school did a play about insects, I sat in the crowd with my camera as the stage filled up with adorable ladybugs and colorful butterflies. In the center stood Noah, all in brown. He had insisted on being a cockroach "because they can survive radiation."

When his school did a play about outer space, the children once again lined up on stage in darling costumes. In the precious army of suns, moons, and planets, Noah once again stood alone. This time as a black hole.

Yes, these are funny and fond memories... but let me tell you that my gut reaction to each of these moments was a lump in my throat and a rapid pulse. A need to redirect Noah and bring chaos back into order. Thank God I never followed my gut on this one. There were boundaries for his own safety- yes. And believe me, those boundaries were necessary, or he wouldn't be alive today. But, so as long as he wasn't putting himself or others in danger, I let the boy fly. And it's done both of us a world of good.

Today, Noah is still a thriving free spirit on the brink of high school and beyond. He plays the flute and will spend hours in his room diligently figuring out how to play soundtracks from his favorite movies and video games. He played Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream and relished the stage. In a recent classroom, he was paired with an autistic child, because Noah treated him just like any other school pal. He's a Doctor Who fanatic (complete with a rather believable British accent), a computer geek, a skateboarder, a straight-A student, and an all-around good human being. He loves animals. He loves people-- genuinely. He's assertive and bold, and he cares nothing about what others think of him, yet he cares everything about the feelings of others. Yes, I'm proud! He's turning out just fine-- better than I ever could have imagined when I was a young, naïve, and neurotic mom.

Why am I telling you any of this? Because Noah taught me a valuable lesson starting the day he was born. He taught me to be flexible. To be humble. To delight in the discomfort he brought to my established routines and plans. To live a little more freely. Though I didn't know it in those early days, having Noah prepared me to be a mom of six-- three of my own, and three wonderful stepsons. By the time I entered into the trials of blended family life, Noah had already sent me to boot camp by repeatedly knocking me off of my orderly horse and reminding me to stop taking life so seriously. Had it not been for that "training," I honestly don't think I would have been lighthearted or nimble enough to survive-- much less enjoy-- those challenging times.

If you're a planner and you're reading this, relish the joy (and pandemonium) your quirky kid brings you. If you don't have kids (or free spirited ones, at least), find something that pulls you out of your comfort zone every now and then. Really. Do something crazy, unexpected, and out of the ordinary. Be impulsive. Surprise even yourself. It will do your soul some good, and it will keep you buoyant and happy in your stressful (but highly-organized) world.

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