Our BIG Night

 

Every night we have a routine. It has pretty much been consistently the same, with a few slight variations  since my son was about 3 months old. Relaxing music on his iPod plays in his room, we do bath time (I must restrict the number of Hotwheels cars he is allowed to bring into said bath to 7, don’t ask), I, or his Dad, or both,  put on his pajamas, we read a book or two, I “help him” brush his teeth and comb his hair, we snuggle in bed, exit stage right. Sounds beautiful, right? Except sometimes it’s not. Many times, it’s not.

We went through a whole phase (at least 2 months, I kid you not) where we (my darling husband and I) had to sit around on the floor with him after we put on his pj’s,  which was a HUGE battle, and make up stories using Hotwheels cars as characters. We ALL had to make up a unique adventure story that had to meet certain random criteria which changed nightly….. that phase passed eventually.

But still, it’s SUCH A STRUGGLE most nights!!!! From one transition to the next, usually SOMETHING triggers a need in him to NEED TO DO SOMETHING ELSE. And believe me, I’m zenmamalove, the self-proclaimed “Mama Lama” herself. I’ve got mad patience. I really do. But lately, and at certain ages and stages, it’s like pulling teeth, and by the time we get to “tuck into bed” I am tense, jaws are clenched, and I’m just dying to get out of there. Like last night. It was a disaster. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember losing my shit at the end, and telling him, in a not-so-great a tone of voice, that I was SO TIRED OF THIS STRUGGLE EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. That I hated going to bed angry and tense, and that’s how most of my nights were ending, and I hated feeling that way. I was completely honest with him about how I felt. And it must have somehow struck a chord.

Because tonight, the strangest thing happened. After his bath (which only required 5 Transformers), he got out WILLINGLY, and he asked me to help him then take off his bathrobe. Then he told me to close my eyes and ears and stay there until he called me, and he left the bathroom. He said it might be awhile but he promised he wasn’t playing around. Hmmmmm……my curiosity was killing me. But I stayed put, eyes closed, praying for the best. Time passed. I heard (of course we both know I could still hear what was going on) a rustling of clothes and it dawned on me…..he was trying to surprise me by getting dressed himself! This is huge! I know to most of you, you probably think “big deal, he’s 5  right?” But to this mama of a highly sensitive, sensory challenged boy, this is a HUGE deal.  We’ve been working on this skill for MONTHS. Sticker charts, incentives, you name it. Hit and miss. Most times I still have to be in his room, reminding him to stay focused, but distracting him with conversation enough that he doesn’t realize he’s actually getting dressed. Because God forbid his arm gets caught in a sleeve or a leg goes in the wrong pants leg, that the sock seams are uncomfortable or the shirt hangs the wrong way…..it could mean disaster and the end of trying for the day.

But tonight, my sweet, wet boy put on HIS UNDIES AND HIS PAJAMAS, all facing the right way I might add, BY HIMSELF, and sauntered back into the bathroom with the BIGGEST smile on his face, showing off his accomplishment, beaming with pride. I made a HUGE deal of it, I was honestly so flattered and touched, it was amazing. I thanked him profusely, told him how happy it made me feel…..then he said “What else can I do by myself now?” Well, shit, I’m going to roll with this!

“How about go find a pair of socks and put them on by yourself?” (do I need to mention how I had to abandon practicing that skill every morning on the way out to school because it just wasn’t worth the torture to both of us?).

“Okay!”. Pitter patter of wet feet down the hall to the basket by the front door, he puts on his socks WITHOUT A PROBLEM OR COMPLAINT and returns smiling.

WHO IS THIS CHILD AND WHAT DID HE DO WITH MY SON??????

So we head into his room to start story time and he says “Be right back!” and runs away, promising he needs to do something important, but not play.  A few minutes pass and I honestly have no idea what he could be doing, so I yell out to him “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” to which he responds “MAKING A DRAWING FOR YOU!”.

Now? At bedtime???

Okay, I will remain calm and patient and let him finish his very important task and be grateful he is being so kind and caring instead of rushing him. He eventually returns with 3 of his latest works of art, all which read “I ❤ Mom” (he started writing this on his own only 2 days ago and it has become a trend….I have quite the collection now). It is so sweet, it is honestly. I show him my gratitude and try to get him into bed to read our bedtime books. But he surprises me AGAIN and proclaims “Tonight, I am going to read you a story”. So he digs out the very last, hardest BOB book, Volume 1, which he hasn’t even cracked open let alone master, and proceeds to sound out every letter on every page and turn them into the proper words with very little coaching at all (that’s my boy!). This is the best reading he has ever done, mind you. He allows me to read the second book for the night, 4 pages of “The Children’s Encyclopedia of the Human Body” which we have now read from cover to cover officially. Nothing like some light reading right before bedtime….”But Mom, what is the pituitary gland exactly and what does it do again?”.

After books, it’s time for teeth brushing and hair combing….aka THE FINAL BATTLE SCENE. He says he’ll do it all by himself, no worries. I stay in the bedroom. He does it. WTF? Then he comes back into the bedroom to show me he has, and asks if he can comb my hair for me. Well, why the hell not?!?! Let’s just see how far this can go for the night! So he combs my hair a little till its “Perfect!” and then puts the comb back in the bathroom where it belongs (!) and comes back and TUCKS HIMSELF INTO BED WITHOUT A PEEP.

And then it hits me- one day, he seriously is NOT going to need me to help him at all with ANY of this. He will be grown, have body hair, be slightly smelly, and will do these things on his own, with very little prompting. No wrestling him into is pajamas, no reading 2 books before lights out and snuggling together in bed….none of it. And I realize how bittersweet these “battles” are. I also realize how much of the “battle” has to do with his sensory issues, transitions,  maturity level……..and my reaction to his BIG NEEDS at the end of a long day. How much my own thoughts and words plays into it. I get just a little taste of what it will be like when he is older and some of these things have worked themselves out…..and it’s such an odd sensation.  I am thrilled he CAN do all these things by himself, and a teeny weeny bit glad he still needs me still a little.

Okay, a lot.

We will see what happens tomorrow night when it’s time for bed. But for tonight, I am proud of my “big boy” and his many accomplishments. And I will bask in all it’s glory for as long as it lasts 🙂

Felix pajamas

The Highly Sensitive Gardeners

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Gardening to me is therapeutic. I love being outside surrounded by nature, feeling with wind, the sun, and the soil between my fingers. Planting seeds, or a tiny plant, is like the opportunity to aid in bringing forth new life into this world. You plant them, nurture them, tend to them, and wait, wondering what exactly will come of the hard work and love that you’ve put into the process.

My 4 year old son and I often garden together. We prune the flower beds, cut off the dying flowers, and pull out roots and stems that are way too far gone.

“Mom, this branch says ‘No!!!! Ouchy!!!! Don’t pull me out!!!’ and this other one says ‘Help me! I need more water please!’.”

I can’t help but smile at hearing the dialogue that his vivid imagination creates for the things around him who cannot speak (out loud) for themselves. What a beautiful thing it is to be that in tune with your surroundings that you feel what they feel. I think back to last summer when we first planted these very same flowers that we care for today, when they were teeny, tiny plants. We dug holes together, and he insisted we relocate every earthworm we came across. He said the worms were scared and needed a new home deep underground, not too far away, so they’d be safe and happy.

And although many times, hearing his words, the intensity of how much he feels things is a beautiful thing, at times it feels like both a blessing and a curse. You see, my son is not only highly sensitive, but also highly spirited (i.e. more stubborn, determined, and strong willed than any MLM salesperson you ever met, but in a tiny person’s body with huge lungs). I was able to recognize it pretty early on in his life because I am also highly sensitive.

I struggled most of my life, not knowing why I was “different”. Why each seemingly little hurt, each little disappointment to me took on a giant emotional gorge in my heart. I can remember as early as kindergarten feeling like I just couldn’t fit in. Throughout grade school, I was always the youngest in my class, the most timid, and the most emotional. The lyrics to a song could easily make me cry, heck even the beauty in a symphonic piece with no lyrics could bring me to tears. I was sure something was terribly wrong with me since everyone around me seemed so happy and so care-free. It wasn’t until my adult life and many years of researching and soul searching that I found a name for what I was, highly sensitive. It was a beautiful moment because finally I knew I was not broken, crazy, or alone. I just felt everything “more”. I learned to understand it, accept it, embrace it, and learned how to better deal with life and it’s situations as a result.

With my son, I suspected very early on he had inherited my sensitivity, which as a child, usually also comes coupled with sensory processing issues. He started off his life with horrific reflux, so pretty much from birth if he was awake, he was screaming. Like bloody-murder-somebody-please-save-me screaming. Feeding him took lots of emotional preparation. I recall one of our first outings as a “new family” to McDonald’s (don’t judge, we made it out of the house after our first week, that was huge for us): He was starving, but when he would drink from the bottle (as breastfeeding did not work out despite my very best efforts, but that’s a post for another day). He would arch his back, pull off from the bottle and scream as if we were pouring hot lava down his tiny developing throat. This would happen every time we fed him. Repeat this process every 3 hours ’round the clock. We couldn’t go out if we would be out and about during a feeding, as his screams could clear a room, and break the heart of any mother in a 2 block radius. Finally, around week 7, and after numerous doctor’s visits, failed medications, fights on the phone begging with insurance companies, etc. we had a “cure” that worked, and it was like a huge weight was lifted. We were finally able to enjoy our baby.

But that was just one tiny piece of the sensitivity puzzle. The world for him was often times too much, too overwhelming in general. He had to be worn in a sling or wrap all the time to feel safe. There was a vigorous rocking-chair-motion and shushing required to get him to sleep early on that even Dr. Harvey Karp would be proud of. Eventually, when he was old enough to watch some hard-core television (after, of course, the magical age of 2 years old when the “experts” deem it safe to expose our young susceptible children to the evils of television), the slightest hint of Thomas the Tank engine making a bad decision to play for a little while longer instead of getting back to work and chugging his cargo back to Tidmouth Sheds would cause my son to hide his eyes in terror, or run out of the room in tears to hide. There was a time, for years (yes YEARS) that the only way he could sleep was on top of me. Like lying vertically on my chest. Like nonstop, all night. It was the only way he felt “safe” enough to allow sleep to take over. To this day, at 4+ years and 40+ pounds, almost every night when I put him to sleep he requests a few minutes of snuggle time with him laying on top of me. Mind you, at this point his body is almost longer than mine. But when he does this, he snuggles in like finally all is right in the world, and its okay to relax.

The flip side of the sensitivity coin is the amazing compassion and kindness he feels towards even the tiniest living creature. How he will go out of his way when riding his bicycle to avoid crushing the myriad of earthworms that have somehow made their way to the center of the sidewalk. How a song can touch him so much that he will cry big, fat, silent tears, or ask me to please change the station because it is too much. How something as simple as dancing to a great song, or blowing dandelions, or riding on any type of public transportation can make his day completely perfect. His squeals of joy are as loud or if not louder than his shouts of discomfort.

I explain all this, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain, the duality of it all because raising a highly sensitive/highly spirited child is beyond hard. Beyond exhausting. And is probably something that is nearly impossible for anyone who is a) not highly sensitive or highly spirited, or b) not the parent of a highly sensitive or highly spirited child to understand.

Life for us HSC’s or parents of HSC’s is different. We are faced day in and day out with situations that for you, may require redirection, a stern look, or a firm “No”. But for us, it can escalate to World War 3 in a heartbeat because they are feeling completely overwhelmed and misunderstood. We have to parent these beings differently to make it work. Every transition is carefully planned out & announced multiple times in advance, every outing thoughtfully prepared so we have the right emergency food, drink, or toy. A neuro-typical person might see a child crying and throwing a fit, being a brat because he doesn’t want to walk from the shore of the beach to the sidewalk. To a highly sensitive child, the feel of the hot, wet sand stuck to his feet while it rubs against his shoes like scalding sandpaper is a sensation so overwhelming it can push him over the brink into the red zone. And because of this, sometimes you judge us. I know you do. Sometimes silently. Sometimes out loud. Sometimes to our face. Sometimes behind our backs. And I get it. Because you haven’t lived it. You have no idea what it’s like to deal with that kind of intensity nonstop, with the crazy situations that most people cannot fathom or understand. You look at us as if we have three heads when we negotiate or try to explain our way through a difficult situation. But we do this because we know this is the way it must be done in order for them to understand and feel understood, and for us to try and maintain our sanity. And the “Thank you, mama” in that tiny voice I get, accompanied with a gigantic bear hug that could crush my ribs when I do understand, stay calm, get it right and work with his sensitivities instead of dismissing them as nonsense let me know how integral it is to his sense of self-worth, sense of stability, sense of “this world is actually a safe place to be in after all”.

So please, next time when you feel that judgment creep in, take a moment and pause, and remember our experience is different than yours.

My heart breaks a little for him for all the times I know people will deal with him in ways that will do more harm than good, for both their sakes. I know I can’t protect him from it all, nor should I. So I don’t. But we talk about it a lot. I strive to make him self-aware of his own needs, and work on expressing them in ways that are socially acceptable. I know as he grows and matures, things will get easier for us all. Not easy, but easier. I know these traits he has can and will be honed in to something amazing, and he will one day discover a new planet or design and build a new technology racecar/rocket ship hybrid. His intensity and focus will be used for the powers of good and the advancement of humanity. It’s just for now, he’s 4. And for now, it translates into him obsessing over that one toy that the one kid on the playground has that he wants to take a turn with soooooo badly, and that he will cry about, tantrum about, plead about 100 gazillion times “But WHEN will it be my turn?!?!” And this can go on for hours, and leave an emotional mark for days, or even months. Like an elephant that never forgets.

Time and patience and teaching are the solution. There are no short cuts for us on this journey that will not backfire if we try to take them.

So for now, we garden. And relocate worms, and listen to the sounds & words of nature and flowers, and laugh and breathe get through the rough patches. I have learned to appreciate all the facets of this unique type of personality. I have learned to appreciate his extreme sweetness, as well as his extreme determination when he is so engrossed in the task at hand that he literally can’t even hear me asking him to put on his shoes or brush his teeth. I appreciate his “more-ness”. And as usual, it makes me wonder, who is the teacher here and who is the student?