Our family climbs a steep trail up to the top of a ridge every year to look at the fall color in Colorado. Dave and I have been taking the exact same hike, every year, since before the kids were born. We have gorgeous pictures – courtesy of my husband – of golden hued aspen in the background, followed by babies in the backpack, ruddy-faced toddlers with bright eyes, and smiling kids (missing many teeth!) in the foreground. It is one of those wonderful yearly rituals that reminds both Dave and I of the swift passage of time.
This year, as we were hiking a midst picking up interesting leaves and rocks, E wanted to talk about intensities. She, like all of us, struggles with managing her intensities at times, and she wanted to know how we navigated this as adults. Specifically, she wanted to know why she had to learn to manage her intensities at all. It was, and remains, a difficult question for me to answer.
Like most intense adults, I grew up not knowing why I felt things so intensely. Over the course of my lifetime, I have learned to manage my intensities mostly by observing others – seeing their expression change perceptibly when I have gone too far, overwhelmed them with too much information, too much excitement, or too many details. I have watched my message get lost in the delivery – being so enthusiastic about a problem I had finally solved, yet unable to explain it to others in a way that was meaningful to them. I have learned to temper the delivery, keeping the intensity under wraps, so that I can be more effective with the message.
Because of this, being around my family is both wonderful and exhausting. I love being around four other people for whom I do not have to temper the delivery. I can be as intense as I want, and they will volley that intensity right back to me, in a crazy ping-pong of words, movements, emotions, and energy. The flipside is that being around four other intense individuals is mentally exhausting. Our kids’ intensity seems to be a well that never runs dry. It also seems to defy mathematical rules, in that three intense kids together seems to equal more than 3, or 9. The end result is some sort of multiplier that I haven’t quite figured out.
In the end, as we hiked down the mountain, I’m not sure I was able to adequately explain to our daughter why she should learn to manage her intensities. Intensities are such an integral part of my being that I can’t imaging living without them, even if it would make my life easier as a result. I suspect that she will choose, over time, to temper the delivery of her intensities, if only out of sheer necessity. In the end, though, it is our choice, as intense individuals, whether to respond to the widened eyes and sideways glances with anything but a shrug. Thankfully, our family will embrace us – intensities included – at the end of the day, no matter which choice we made.