What Sensitive Children Can Teach Us

There is a philosophy about sensitive children that truly resonates with me.  This is how it goes: Sensitive children are the indicators of our species, like the amphibian, or the canary in the coal mine, letting us know about the health of our environment. Their discontent is letting us know what all of society would benefit from changing.

What do we need to change for the good of all? Look at the sensitives. What are they rejecting or rebelling against? What is making them sick? Sad? Overwhelmed? 

Sure, the more resilient seeming children of our species appear to be doing okay with the status quo. But doing okay does not mean things are optimal for the totality. So if the adults are brave or open minded enough to consider letting go of some of our rigid demands for conformity, we all stand to benefit.

Rather than figure out how to get these children into the mold of mainstream society in all areas, what if we changed the mold? What if the increase in numbers of children with attention deficit disorder or autism or simply high sensitivity served a purpose for all of society?

Perhaps they are here to teach us.  Perhaps each generation is raising the collective consciousness of all.  This would be great news! But to consider this, we have to be willing to change and to let go of our own rigid beliefs about how things are done. We have to allow the gifts and messages that these children bring, rather than treat them like a problem to be solved.

Let me give you an example that is etched in my mind. While in Kindergarten, my youngest daughter abhorred the cafeteria. So during her one full day of school per week, she dreaded going, knowing she would be there for lunch.

I reached out to her teacher, a woman who was firmly in the camp of “if a child is not conforming to what is expected, there is a problem with the child”.  Having no suggestions herself, this teacher referred me to the guidance counselor.  The counselor asked me to attend the next lunch day but to sit away from my child, and with the counselor.  Her thought was that my child would see me there, assume this was a “safe” environment, but not be allowed to sit with me.

“Better to have tears now in Kindergarten than later on in middle school”, this woman asserted as my daughter cried more, confused as to why I was there but not going to her to comfort her or sit with her. Children all around her gobbled down their food, shouted, jumped up and down, forgot about their food, or sat tolerant, sometimes attempting to speak above the noise, to a child nearby.

This was one of my regrettable moments of overriding my own instincts and sensibilities as someone else instructed me in how we would get my child to conform, or “adapt”.

When I look back on it now, I still cringe and take full responsibility for not overriding the – sorry, but – half-baked, cruel and counter productive instructions of this professional. Needless to say, it did not solve the lunchroom issue.

Anyhow, back to the amphibian philosophy.

What if cramming children into long tables with no elbow room, lots of noise, and a very short amount of time to eat lunch is not good for anyone?

What if there were smaller tables, perhaps some calming music, enough recess time before lunch so that all the energy would not have to be expelled during mealtime? What if there was at least the option to eat in a quieter, calmer environment for those who would choose to?

And what if my daughter, by being non adaptable to the current arrangement, was giving the adults an opportunity to consider something better for all. 

Can’t we imagine that?

Pay attention to the sensitive kids.

They just may be on to something better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twins, Love & Transformation

Brittni:
I told myself my next post would not be baby-related. I was thinking I’d keep this blog separate from motherhood for a while and maybe write a baby update a little ways down the road.  Well it turns out that when you are a new mom of twins, nothing is separate from motherhood. This mom gig is all consuming at the moment. How authentic would I be if I forced myself to write about something unrelated at a time when I literally cannot focus on anything other than the two little nuggets that turned me into a mother? Of course I will find a bit more balance in my life as some time goes by and I fall into more of a rhythm. But for now I am accepting of the fact that there is not a whole lot of room – in my brain, heart, or daily life – for much else.

They are three months old. These tiny beings have been the light of my world for three months now. (Nope, I am not one of those moms who fell in love with her babies during pregnancy – I hated pregnancy to be perfectly honest. It was really quite miserable. So my endless mountains of love for my babies began three months ago at the moment they were born.)

 

It has been three months since I laid under those bright operating room lights, my husband by my side, waiting to meet the two humans that had been growing inside of me for eight and a half months. I was shaking like a leaf, terrified at the idea of surgery (Twin A was breech, which meant I was having a C-section). But the whole experience was surprisingly calm and nothing short of its very own kind of perfect.

 

Those first days were surreal. Suddenly our much-anticipated twins were real. They were here, in my arms, delicate and beautiful and helpless. And here I was – practically helpless myself in my post-surgery state of immobility. My husband scurried around selflessly. He and the nurses took care of me and the babies while I focused on learning how to tandem nurse, determined to breastfeed. We carried on like this for two days, me and the girls practicing our breastfeeding skills while my husband and the nurses did the rest as I was not yet able to stand or walk unassisted. By the third day, the pain had subsided enough for me to maneuver myself slowly around the hospital room. I was weak, tired, and overwhelmed, but oh so happy.

 

But that evening, just minutes after my husband left to go home to shower, get the mail, etc., Kaiya, my precious ‘Twin B’, decided to stir things up a bit.  She was sleeping peacefully one second and the next she was blue as a blueberry and still as a stone and I hope that I will never again in my life have to feel a fear as horrific as the fear I felt in that moment. My mom was with me in the room and we both immediately snapped into action. A thousand thoughts entered my head as I tripped over myself to get to the emergency button across the room, the most prevalent thought being that I am not strong enough to lose her; the second most prevalent being that  maybe I already had.

My mom ran down the hall with Kaiya in her arms and nurses rushed out of what seemed like every room on the ward to come to our aid. I couldn’t see or hear or think straight. The pain that had rendered me immobile just yesterday disappeared as I ran out of my room screaming to nobody in particular that I needed my baby to be okay. And then I remembered I had another baby in the room alone. So I turned around and ran back yelling the whole time, “I need her to be okay, she needs to be okay”.  A nurse caught me when I nearly collapsed as the pain suddenly returned to where I had been sliced open just days earlier.  In a blur, she brought me back to my room and a minute later, my mom came in to tell me Kaiya was okay. “She’s okay”, she said. “She’s okay”. It took a minute for those words to sink in, but when they did, a wave of relief bigger than anything I had ever felt washed over me and I could breathe again.

 

Needless to say, our hospital stay was a little more dramatic than we had anticipated. BUT Kaiya is healthy and strong now and there’s nothing like a little perspective to make a couple of new parents feel grateful beyond words and stop sweating the small stuff. After nine days in the neonatal intensive care unit, where Kaiya was closely monitored until she outgrew her newborn apnea (apparently this is a thing and is not overly uncommon; kinda wish someone had told me about it before ten years had been taken off my life), she joined her family at home and now here we are; wow has it been a fun/crazy/beautiful/exhausting/amazing three months so far…

Three months of nursing; tandem nursing, one-at-a-time nursing, multitasking nursing, nursing in bed, nursing in public, nursing on the floor, nursing in the rocking chair willing myself not to fall asleep. Always. Nursing.

 

Three months of nights that feel longer than days. Grueling nights that are laced with beauty and awe as I rock, cuddle, and feed my two bundles of love in the dimly lit nursery, my husband slipping in and out to help me position them, change diapers, burp, and swaddle. We dance this family nighttime dance together until the sun peeks through the blinds and it is time to try to be thankful for whatever amount of sleep was had and embrace the new day.

 

Three months of diapers, onesies, and burp cloths. Binkies, little baby socks that get lost in the drier, and matching baby hats that hide the girls’ physical differences just enough to make me think twice about who is who.

 

Three months of baby-wearing. Of gliding around with a baby hugged tightly to my body in a sling. Of wishing I could wear both babies at once. Of trying to wear both babies at once at the expense of my back.

 

Three months of baby baths. Undress, wash, dry, lotion, diaper, dress, hand off to husband and repeat with the next baby. How might our routine feel if there were only one baby to tend to? How would all of this be different if I was easing into parenthood as a “singleton” mother? Would I be able to slow down a little? Indulge and enjoy each moment a bit more? And then, feeling guilty for occasionally wishing this were easier, ‘How hard would this be with triplets(!?)’.

 

Three months of Googling. ‘Infant sleep’, ‘twin routines’, ‘diaper rash remedies’, ‘binky addiction’, ‘baby growth spurt timeline’, and on and on and on. I have a whole new appreciation for my parents having had three babies pre-Google.

Three months of becoming more organized than I’ve ever been. I am a bit scattered and disorganized by nature, but as soon as these babies entered the picture, the need for order became notably stronger than my formerly disorderly ways. Looking for an alternative to ADD meds? Just have twins! JUST KIDDING. I mean…I wouldn’t trade my beloved twins for anything in the world, but… let’s just say I have ADD and twins and twins are way harder. I guess it’s for that reason that I have become a sudden queen of organization…
I put dividers in the kitchen drawers and assigned spots for bottles and pacifiers and milk jars. I have a bucket for dirty pump parts and a bucket for about-to-use pump parts. I put hooks on the insides of cabinets for bibs and towels. I have a bin in the nursery for burp cloths, a bin for blankets, a bin for sheets, and a bin for towels. I put a laundry basket in each bathroom and bedroom and do at least one load of laundry (AND FOLD IT AND PUT IT AWAY OMG) every day because we are going through so much laundry that I can’t afford not to. I set up a diaper changing station downstairs and one upstairs. I keep track of each of the girls’ nursing sessions in the baby app on my phone. On the whiteboard, I keep lists of chores to be done, groceries to be bought, thank you cards to be written, and questions for the pediatrician. Each morning, I set up a feeding station on the couch with fresh burp cloths, my tandem nursing pillow, and a full water bottle. Each night, I go through the house to fold spare blankets, take out trash bags full of diapers, and get the house ready for the next day. I do all of this, not because I am trying to be super mom (believe me I am anything but), but because if I leave anything undone, I will inevitably find myself caught soon enough in the sticky situation of having my hands full with two hungry or tired or poopy babies and no time or hands to spare to go looking for what I need in the moment.

 

Three months of falling even more in love with my husband. We have our struggle moments to be sure just as all new parents do, but in the end we are a team. Neither of us could do this twin parent thing without the other and there’s nobody else I’d rather do it with.

 

Yes, it has been one heck of a journey so far. I have been told by countless people to “enjoy every second because it goes by way too fast”. Well I can’t say that I have enjoyed every single second, but I can say that I am loving this with all of my heart. For three months now, I have been mom and not much else. The rest of me – the non-mom parts of me – will come back. They have even started to ever so slowly start to make their way back into my life. But I am not in a rush because, as everyone says, this does go by fast and I am all in.

The Heart of a Sensitive Child

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Daughter:  One of my biggest fears going into motherhood is that I might find myself helpless against the world’s determination to shape and reshape my daughters’ views of themselves. That I might have to stand by and watch as they are told who they are and who they should be, and that it won’t line up with their own truths.

I know this is largely unavoidable. Doesn’t it happen to all of us? Life seems to be a process of knowing, forgetting, and then relearning what sits at our cores. Perhaps that process of forgetting and then remembering ourselves is all part of the game. But it’s a relentless game and some, I think, are especially prone to getting caught up in its depths. I hope that my girls can be a little hardier a little less yielding – than I was. I hope that somehow I can help them dig their heels in and stand their ground against the confusing whirlwind of molds to fit and cast descriptions to fill.

I was never inauthentic per say, but I certainly paid attention and what I saw and heard taught me that perhaps I was wrong about a few things. The funny thing is though, I think the earliest version of me – the four and five and six year old version – knew much more than I gave her credit for.

I knew back then that free time was my favorite thing and that home was my favorite place. I knew that loose comfy leggings were the obvious clothing choice because dresses and skirts and constrictive jeans did not lend themselves to free, spontaneous cartwheels. I knew that my body was perfect because it let me run and play and dance and climb trees.

I knew that daydreaming was not only acceptable, but a wonderful creative escape that fully deserved my time and attention. I knew that there was nothing more beautiful than a well-illustrated children’s book. I knew that I loved to make art and that someday I would be an artist. I knew I didn’t like to sit still unless I was reading or making art.

I knew that I didn’t like church because I had to sit still…and listen to stories I did not understand and because it made me angry that women could not be priests. I knew that girls were just as strong and smart and worthy as boys and I knew that it was okay for boys to wear pink or play with dolls or cry.

I knew that being myself was more important than being accepted; despite hating to attract attention to myself, I flat out refused to follow the trends of my peers for fear that this would make me “fake”. I knew that bottling up my frustration, excitement, anger, sadness, joy, and fear was not worth it.  Well to be clear, I did not consciously “know” this, but rather I did not yet know how to not wear my heart on my sleeve.

I knew that it was wrong when an adult at school yelled at a student who was just confused and distracted and scared. I knew that it was wrong when a teacher exasperatedly took a book away from a little boy who was “not ready for that level of reading”. I knew that it was wrong when another teacher grabbed me by the hood of my jacket and yanked me backward when I was rushing down the hall at the end of the school day in my eagerness to get home where I could feel safe and free. I knew a lot of things that happened at school were wrong. And I think those early school years were when I started to forget some of the important things I had known.

I started to let the world around me teach me new lessons. I learned that it wasn’t okay to be shy and reserved. I learned that comfortable clothes were not always the right clothes and that daydreaming was not a wonderful creative pastime, but rather a recipe for getting in trouble at school.

I learned that, after kindergarten, art was only worthy of forty minutes out of the seven-hour school day one day per week. I learned that sitting still was a very good thing that teachers praised. I learned that boys and girls were separate and that if I was friends with a boy I would be teased by my classmates.

As I got a little older, I learned that my body was supposed to look a certain way and I learned how to hide what I was feeling. I learned that being accepted was at least as important as being myself, if not more so.

I had gathered a whole new body of knowledge that I found rather difficult to live with. If only I’d had thicker skin, had been more oblivious to the subtleties around me… Had I been somehow immune to the new and peculiar life lessons I was learning, I surely could have saved my unsuspecting family – and myself – the strain of endless meltdowns, physical illnesses, anxiety disorders, and other futile embodiments of a child caught off guard by a world she didn’t easily fit into.

As I’m sure many a like-minded, soul-searcher can attest to, it is no small task to sift through the layers upon layers of oneself in order to find what is real and worth keeping and what is not. As I sift, I am seeing more and more that the la

yers worth keeping – the real layers – are the ones that have been here all along. And I want more than anything to watch my daughters grow and dream and thrive with a level of trust in themselves that will allow them to hold onto what they know.   I want their own truths to be so solid, so illuminating, that the rest just falls away.

School Fever

Daughter:  Some of my most potent memories of  kindergarten are of seemingly insignificant moments that, to me, felt larger than life, such as when my teacher would have to say my name who- knows -how- many times before she got my attention. That was always so embarrassing.

I remember one morning at circle time, I was fixated on the material of the sneakers I was wearing. They were new & white and I was tracing designs over the smooth leather with my finger when I heard my name.  I knew as soon as I looked up that the teacher had been saying my name for a while because my entire class was staring at me, some of them stifling giggles.

“Are those new sneakers?”, the teacher asked me. I turned every shade of red
and fought back tears as I nodded my head. “It’s your turn”, she said, looking
both concerned and a little amused. I don’t remember what it was that we were
taking turns doing, probably because my distress over being the subject of
everyone’s mild amusement in that moment made me too numb to fully register
whatever followed.

That was not the first or the last time something like that happened in school. It was bad enough each time it happened though that I started to figure out in my later years of elementary school how to avoid such clumsy calamities. If I focused hard enough, I usually didn’t miss anything important. The thing is though, this took a huge amount of effort, as my instincts were to drift into my own world, which I found to be much more interesting than most things we were doing in school.

Nevertheless, I got better at making myself pay attention. I used everything I had to focus and I started to be praised for it. I became the “good listener”. I could tell that the teachers liked me because I didn’t cause trouble or noise or extra work for them. So I kept using all of my energy to pay attention. I kept being quiet and still and “good” because the praise felt nice. I could see and hear how the teachers got angry with the kids who were not quiet and still and good and I did not want that to be me.

Soon enough I started acting out at home. I was like an erupting volcano who had spent all her energy pretending to be a stoic mountain all day. I would cry and yell and lash out at my family.  And I felt incredibly guilty about this. I did not understand how I could be so well-praised at school and so monstrous at home. How could I be labeled as “sweet” and “respectful” and “quiet” at school while at home I was becoming entirely the opposite?

I didn’t know that the school version of myself was sucking me dry. I simply did not have it in me to be a stoic mountain for more than seven hours each day – seven hours of desks, text books, rules, lines, people, and generally way more structure than is natural for a free-spirited child who craves space, creativity, nature, and movement.

In second grade I discovered the beauty of staying home sick. I really was sick a few times and I swear the joy of not getting on that bus and going to school was worth any fever, sinus infection, or sore throat I had to pay for it. So some days, when I woke up and knew I couldn’t possibly manage to be the perfect school-version of myself that day, I would put on a semi-believable sick act; I’d do the classic holding the thermometer under the lamp; I’d fake-shiver as if I had the chills; I’d sneakily plug in my mom’s heating pad and hold it to my forehead for a few minutes so when my mom checked my head with her hand, she would say, “Oh…I guess you do feel a little clammy”.

I used every trick I could think of and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. On days that it did, I was the happiest girl alive – delving into art projects and books while simultaneously trying to act sick. I could sense that my parents were leery on those days. They weren’t sure what to think and that certainly added a pang of shame to my joy. But the bliss of not having to be who I felt like I had to be at school was just too good to give up. On those days, I was not monstrous at home. I was just me. I was happy and pleasant and not like an erupting volcano. And it was easy to just be me. It was a relief – for both me and my family – which is probably why my parents let it happen sometimes even if they suspected I wasn’t truly sick. We all needed a break now and then from volcano-Brittni and this is how we got it I suppose.

Then one day in school we were color-coding our multiplication tables. I had just finished sharpening all of my colored pencils when the boy at the desk next to me grabbed them from me and broke all the tips off with his hand. He gave them back to me laughing and, as I started to ask him why he did that, my teacher walked up to my desk and said in his deep stern voice, “Brittni, you’ve missed too much school to be fooling around. You need to focus on catching up on your work.”

It took all my strength not to cry as I crouched over my worksheet and started filling in my multiplication table with my now flat-tipped colored pencils. I was angry at the boy who broke my pencils and I was angry at my teacher for blaming me for the commotion, but mostly I was angry at myself for not focusing harder. For letting it happen. For not standing up for myself. And I felt trapped because I knew there would be no more “sick days” for me that year.

 

 

The Path of Most Resistance

Mother: Despite my being ignorant to the fact that it was the school bus that my daughter  was afraid of, even 20160516_175414more than school itself,  she did eventually adjust enough to make it through her Kindergarten year. In all honesty though, I think that she did not adjust to riding the bus as much as she accepted her miserable  fate..oh the guilt. It breaks my heart even now, two decades later, to think of putting her little tear-stained face on the bus. And for what? All in all, Kindergarten sucked more life out of her than it gave.

***

Summer flew by, filled with free play and fun, reading and swimming, family and cookouts. The jaws of the school bus came around again, this time gobbling up my little girl for the an entire seven hour day. I would come to detest those back-to-school commercials that portrayed the gleeful mom, happily shopping for her kids,  knowing they would be “out of her hair” soon.  For some of us, back-to-school was something to dread. And in those early years I could not shake the nagging feeling that our current setup was just a matter of inertia.  My kids were reading, learning, and exploring the world outside of school, with joy.  What in would they gain by joining the masses in a building that seemed to drain the joy from them? Could anything  be less natural a way to learn and grow than what our society deems mandatory?  What about freedom? What about play and creativity? And peace and authenticity? What about their brief childhood

But school is  the norm. School is what we do to kids.  School is what kids do. And therefore I was scared to face how wrong it felt  to me for us.  I was almost scared to think it, let alone speak it. 

What if I became a dissident?

What if I didn’t? 

I taught Kindergarten long ago, before I became a parent.  It was hard. I recall being under significant pressure to get all the kids “up to speed” and ready for first grade. There were twenty-five of them. Part of me just wanted to set them free.  I wanted to let them stay outside, or play indoors all day if they wanted, or go home, or take more than twenty minutes to eat their lunches. I wanted to let them climb in my lap at circle time and skip nap time – or extend nap time if they were tired. But I was a professional with an assigned agenda, not their mother.  I felt conflicted and overwhelmed.

At that time, I worked with some fabulous people who made teaching their career and have family members and friends who did as well.  Getting done what must get done in a school year while simultaneously nurturing a child’s sense is a tall order.  I feel strongly that we should value the teachers who do this well.  They spend over a thousand hours with our children in a given year! This is important.  If a child feels safe -safe to learn, safe to be curious, safe to be herself- at a school, in a classroom, with a teacher, then wow, this is the season for open heavens, rejoice! If your child loves and embraces being at school? Thank your lucky stars.

***

To “celebrate”  Brittni’s first day of first grade, (I was trying very hard to put a positive spin on this, and to focus on the success! She went! She arrived back home!) I  had the bad idea that our family would go out to dinner.  What was I thinking? Oh to be able to go back in time and let the older, wiser me make some past decisions. I think this is why I don’t often get nostalgic- In so many instances, I want a redo. This day is one of them.

We all piled into the car and drove the fifteen minutes to the restaurant. The next scene involves Brittni hugging a telephone pole outside the car, screaming and crying at the top of her lungs, wanting to go back home.

Why someone did not call the cops at this obvious sign of a kidnapping, I have no idea. But at that point I really thought we could not allow her to dictate the family’s evening plans, and so we waited it out, doing our best to soothe her tantrum, and assure her that dinner really could be pleasant and peaceful.

All of us a little less hungry at this point, but no longer making a scene on Main Street, we got through that meal quietly, deflated.

And here is what I now know, and what Brittni articulated many years later: School took every single ounce of her energy and then some- to pay attention, to follow the rules, to tune out the noise and focus on the teacher,  to be around many people, all day long as an introvert, to squelch the desire for quiet, for art, for more movement- to be a good girl.  

And she was being a good girl at school!  The teachers were happy with how diligent she was doing her work.  She was easy, quiet, smart. 

Then she came home and lost it.  And I wondered what had happened to my child. What was school doing to her? And why couldn’t I fix it?

And when she calmed down, she would sit at the kitchen table doing her homework, glancing out the window and asking aloud one day, “Is anyone really free?”

School may have been sucking the life out of her, but it was giving her some very big questions.