Your Sensitive Child

There are many things parents can do to nurture and encourage highly sensitive kids, but I think the most important task is to love and accept them as they are. There is unspoken pressure on parents to coax sensitive, quiet or cautious kids into being more assertive, outgoing or bold at a very young age. Sometimes the pressure is put on the parents by themselves.  They know how outgoing and funny their child can be at home and they are eager for the wider world to know her as well. Or they fear that if their child isn’t speaking up and joining in now, then they will be left behind in life.

But this hurry-up-and-be-braver-louder-friendlier approach will simply backfire if it feels like criticism to the child. A child who feels comfortable about who she is right now even if that means a little scared, a lot cautious or simply reflective and observant in certain situations, will grow to be confident and kind.

The best essay I’ve ever read on this subject  Stop Worrying About Your Sensitive Child  was written by Janet  Lansbury, author of No Bad Kids. Having been a sensitive child herself, Lansbury remembers what attitudes did her more harm than good. Spoiler: Having parents who saw her sensitivity as a flaw that made her fragile was not helpful.

By not worrying about your sensitive child, Lansbury is not suggesting throwing them to the wolves, so to speak.  Sensitive kids often need extra time, encouragement and warmth, and those who receive that can turn into the most amazing adults.  What she is suggesting is to remember that your child’s temperament may be his greatest gift;  even if the world is yelling too loudly to notice this, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. When your child knows in his heart that you trust that he is exactly who he is meant to be, he will blossom beyond your wildest predictions.

~ Dana

 

A Morning in the Life of a Quarantwin Mom

IMG_20200331_1133196:45 Everyone gets up. Hubby gets dressed, I do not. I want to fit in my half hour exercise routine at some point this morning before I get dressed.. 

7:00 The twins watch Magic School Bus while hubby and I hustle around emptying the dishwasher, prepping the kids’ breakfast, prepping our own breakfast, feeding the dog, making tea.

7:30 Hubby eats breakfast and does the dishes. I drink my smoothie while trying to get the twins to stay in their chairs long enough to eat a few bites. If they don’t, they will be HANGRY.

7:45 Hubby goes upstairs to his office to start his work day after wishing me luck, which he knows I’ll need. The requests from the twins start flying my way. “Mommy hide and seek? Mommy read book? Mommy play?” We decide on reading a few books together. Then I tell them to play together while I deal with our laundry situation. And yes it is a situation. I only have to pause 13 times to help someone with potty, booboo, tie this, open that, can’t find this, she took my bear, and OH NO THERE’S A STRAW IN MY WATER CUP!!!”

8:45 It’s still a little too cold to go outside. Now would be a good time for me to exercise, but the twins are getting crankier by the minute, so I decide to do a craft with them instead. We make toilet paper roll monsters (I feel like there’s a good metaphor in here somewhere?). It eats up a good chunk of time and they love every second of it until the very end when one twin starts crying because she wants to make grass for her monster and I tell them we’re all done with this craft for now but we can bring the monsters outside later to play in the real grass. Of course the other twin catches on to the grass concern and they follow through with a level 6 out of 10 meltdown for me. As 2 ½ year olds, they are starting to master these morning meltdowns.

9:45 I manage to calm them down and I play with them for a bit before sneaking away to get dinner in the crockpot just in case I don’t get a chance later. I breathe a sigh of relief as I listen to them playing happily together while I cook. Now that their playgroup and library story time are no longer options- now that there is a pandemic – we stay home.  

10:15 It’s starting to warm up outside. Maybe instead of my indoor exercise routine, I’ll bring the girls for a walk in the stroller and then we’ll play outside… But all at once, the grocery delivery arrives, both twins are asking for a snack, and my phone is ringing. I give the girls a baggy of nuts even though I know I should have given them this snack earlier because now it’s too close to lunch time. Then I head out to the garage to bring in the groceries. The phone call is forgotten.

10:45 By the time I’m done, they’re getting tired. It’s too late to go outside because it’ll take us at least half an hour just to get dressed and ready to go out and then it’ll be almost nap time. We’ll go outside after nap, at which point some neighborhood kids will be outside too, and I will continue my struggle to explain to my toddlers why they cannot play with their friends.  I give them some carrots and toast to top off their snack-lunch and sit with them while we talk about what kinds of bugs we might find outside later. They’re obsessed with bugs at the moment.

11:00 We clean up and head upstairs. They’re cranky and ready for an early nap and so am I.

One twin goes potty, the other refuses via meltdown. This one’s an 8 out of 10 and she wins. I lose. Hubby is in the middle of a meeting; otherwise he would have come in to help me and we may have won. We go to their bedroom and read a few books. One at a time, I pick them up and say goodnight to the pictures on the wall, the windows, the giraffe that stands on their dresser, the fairy ornaments that hang from the ceiling… As I’m about to place the twin who just had the potty meltdown into her crib, she says she has to go potty. We all walk back to the bathroom. Several minutes later, they are both finally in their cribs.

12:00 I walk downstairs and collapse on the couch. I hear chatting coming from their bedroom. It’s fine, I think, they’ll fall asleep. But alas the chatting turns into crying.

12:15 I go back upstairs. Someone now has to poop. We all go back to the bathroom. One poops while the other gallops up and down the hallway. What happened to their tiredness?? Post-poop, we all go back into the bedroom and we repeat the goodnight routine. “Goodnight giraffe, goodnight window, goodnight painting, goodnight, fairy”… and then again with the other twin. My arms, wrists, and upper back have a constant mild ache from all of the daily lifting.

00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200331090103888_COVER12:45 They are both in their cribs – maybe going to sleep, maybe not. I am on the couch. Recharging for the afternoon is higher on my priority list than the morning exercise routine I never got to. This is not hard, I think to myself. Having a Covid 19 diagnosis is hard. Being a medical professional during this terrifying pandemic is hard. Losing your job and not knowing when your stimulus check is coming is hard. Having to work from home and homeschool teenagers at the same time is hard. This is not hard. But sometimes it kind of is.

~ Brittni

We Traveled With Two Toddlers and Survived

144838 (1)I returned home Monday evening with my husband (Jim) and our girls after a four-day trip to visit Jim’s family in North Carolina. The logistics of this trip were fairly simple by general traveling standards; a short, direct flight, a quiet air b&b to ourselves just five minutes from the family members we were there to visit, a spacious rental car with two rental car seats, two portable cribs waiting for us when we got there, lent to us by Jim’s brother, two generous rides from my mom to and from the airport at the start and end of the trip…
Yet there is no amount of simplicity or convenience that could have made traveling with 15-month-old twins easy. It was far easier than it could have been, definitely. And for that I am extremely grateful. But not easy.
I’ll spare you the full list of details, but in short, this four-day endeavor required a lot of planning, teamwork, and a solid sense of humor, and I am proud to say that Jim and I somehow managed all three.
Of course we had our moments (namely fruit pouches being accidentally squirted all over the seat of the rental car, our kids refusing to ride in their wagon for a 2+ mile walk, and a double meltdown at the airport (during which the parent -to -toddler ratio felt far too low). Thankfully, these fleeting moments were outweighed by the joy of spending time with family and by the sense of accomplishment of having survived our first plane-travel as a family of four.
Overall, it was successful, fun, and well worth it. It filled my travel quota for the foreseeable future though because when it comes to being a full-time parent of twin toddlers, there really is no place like home.
~Brittni

Why I Won’t Be Dressing My Twins in Halloween Costumes This Year

jonathan-talbert-530599-unsplashI adore fall. I’m your classic pumpkin-loving, sweater-wearing, apple-picking New England gal. Minus, unfortunately, the pumpkin-spice lattes. I can’t stomach the sugar or caffeine in those suckers, much to my dismay. But lattes aside, fall is my season. I was born in the fall. My husband was born in the fall. Our twins were born in the fall (okay they were born TWO days before the first day of fall, which I’m counting as fall) and I expect they’ll grow up to love pumpkins and wear sweaters and pick apples.

Yet, despite all of this, I have no plans to dress my 13-month-old twins in costume for Halloween tonight. Not because I don’t love Halloween (I was one of those annoying kids who dressed up and went trick or treating well into my early teens). But rather because finding/making/buying costumes for my toddlers, who are not old enough to remotely comprehend what Halloween is, just did not make it onto my list of priorities this year. Yes, I have a list. And everything on it is either important to me, important to my family, or otherwise important to someone or something that matters.

Keeping the kids healthy and happy? Important.  Grocery shopping? Important.  Family time? Important. Paying the bills? Important.  Date nights with my husband now and then to keep our marriage from being eaten alive by the fine art of parenting twins? Important.  Sleep, exercise, occasionally eating something other than the crust off my girls’ peanut butter toast? Important.  Voting? Important.  Laundry? Semi-important.  My super awesome seasonal pumpkin-carving job that I absolutely LOVE? Important.

Scrambling to dress my girls in costume for the sake of some cute photos? Not important.

“But they’re twiiiiinsssss!!!!” I know. That actually just makes it much more difficult and less appealing to dress them up. Twice the effort, twice the price, and almost zero chance of getting a single decent photo in which both of them are looking at the camera, let alone smiling. And then what? I’ve spent valuable time (and precious, limited energy) doing something they will forget by the time they wake up the next morning and that I will remember simply as a stressful couple of days of neglecting my own needs for the sake of a few lousy pictures.

I had a moment of mildly reconsidering this decision and even searched around for child-friendly Halloween events that might make dressing up a little more worth it, but all events are taking place either after their bedtime or during their nap time and let me tell you – Almost nothing is worth getting in the way of either of those.

So bring on fall in all of its beauty and splendor, but I’ll pass on Halloween this year. My girls will be in bed at their usual 6:30pm bedtime and I won’t be far behind.

~ Brittni

A Farm Fantasy

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Many years ago, I went through a phase when I sort of wished I lived on a farm. But when I dug deep into this desire, I realized I only thought of “farm” as a noun, and not as a verb.

To farm – the verb- would mean getting up at the crack of dawn and feeding or milking various animals, collecting eggs and gathering vegetables and swatting mosquitoes. And that’s just the first hour of the day.

I figured that I really just liked the idea of a farm – the adorable red barn (that would never need repairs) and the acres of lush green with little animals grazing (it would never snow) and most of all the farm fresh food that I would turn into healthy, delicious meals at the end of every day.

I would love the scenery, the spaciousness, the sunsets, the quiet.  It would be a great place to raise our children, I thought. The nature!  The freedom! 

But I wanted a farm without actually having to farm.  I’ve had a bad experience with chickens.  I like to spend my early mornings writing. I don’t exactly love getting dirty.

“I think you want to be a farmer’s wife”, my husband said.

“Probably not even that”,  I responded. ” I have issues with canning.”

Once I tried fermenting some vegetables. When it was time for me to loosen the lids on the jars I’d carefully placed in the basement, I could not get them off.  I was home alone with my future sauerkraut  and simply could not get the lids off, not matter how I tried.

I worried the glass jars would explode. I imagined shards of glass and shreds of cabbage bursting violently into the air, the smell of vinegar and rotting vegetables taking over our home.

I called my husband to ask if they might indeed explode.  He has a chemical engineering degree, so obviously he should know.

He told me they wouldn’t.  I didn’t think he sounded sure enough, so I kept a safe distance, treating the jars like angry house guests that might blow their tops, quite literally, at any moment.

***

I’ve long since given up my  farm fantasy.   I can buy locally grown produce at farmer’s markets, at least in the summertime.   I can find beauty all around me, in the plants and trees and art. It is easy for me to seek out quiet. I continue to spend my early mornings writing.

Occasionally, I still wonder what it might’ve been like to raise our daughters so close to nature, on some vast piece of land that feeds the soul. But I’ve also wondered what it would’ve been like to raise them in the city, surrounded by culture and diversity and subway systems.

Alas, every choice means saying no to something else.

And every farm needs a farmer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dance Begins

Dana: I am a believer in allowing children a lot of free play time throughout childhood. But as far as organized activities go, I did make it a point to offer up a variety of options. Here’s how it went for my three daughters:

Girl Scouts: They all tried this, starting at the earliest level (I think it was called Daisies?) I recall all three children feeling pretty neutral about this and sticking with it until dance began to take up a fair amount of time, which perhaps was before my youngest reached the cookie sale stage.

Sports:  Between the three of them, the girls tried various sports. None of them lasted more than one season(and sometimes not even that long). Brittni found Tee-ball to be chaotic, Jill was stressed out on the soccer field (she was only five,  but it seemed everyone started playing at five!) and Bethany got a stomach ache every Saturday morning before basketball practice until I told her coach she was quitting.

Then there was dance. No one wanted to quit dance. Over the years, we must’ve gone through 100 pairs of ballet shoes collectively, and a zillion hours of instruction and many, many dance shows. There were close friendships and tears, blisters and heartache, drama and glory. There was discipline and structure and artistry and joy and summers spent dancing near and far.

During Brittni’s very first rehearsal at about four years old, she would not get on the stage. She’d practiced a dance all year long with her peers but never before on a stage. Once she sat out the first round though, watching the other girls up there, she was ready to try out the stage for the next number. And from a seat in the audience, I saw the look in her eyes when she successfully performed the dance. She was hooked. Dance would become her drug. Her obsession. From that day on, I would be living with an addict. I was both happy for her and scared at the same time. And that, I would later learn, was a very appropriate response.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Unfiltered Truth

“We have to fight harder to safeguard our time and our dreams and our souls.”

Brendon Burchard, The Motivation Manifesto

 

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Mother: In my earliest memory of church, I am standing next to my grandmother, reciting a prayer by rote memory: “Lord I am not worthy to receive you….” 

Why am I not worthy? my five- year- old self wondered.   What have I done?  The prayer was coming through my lips. My thoughts about it were coming from my head. My heart was sort of disconnected from the whole experience.  

“…only say the word and I shall be healed.”

All around me people were broken. I would come to believe that it takes more -so much more-to be healed than only saying the word in church – things like courage, desire, truth, reflection, and yes, faith. My faith would come much later though, and have very little to do with a Catholic mass, or so it seemed. It would have much more to do with sitting with my self than with a congregation; more to do with uncovering worthiness than denying it.

***

When my three children were of the age to attend church, I did what every lapsed Catholic was doing. I dressed them up a bit and with my husband, who somehow thought I was equipped to make this all-important choice, took them there. I felt like a bit of an impostor, because I just never really liked going to church. Besides, I’d taken up meditation and yoga, one hour of which seemed to put me in alignment with Best Self more than any church service ever had. I loved devoting time to strengthening my connection to the divine, and to my own soul, but for me it was a private endeavor.  

I guess I’m  just a bit more hippy than churchy; More personal freedom worshiper than authoritarian follower. You could say it’s a personal preference. There are many paths to God, right? So how do you go about choosing for an entire family? 

Anyhow, I dutifully signed our oldest up for the First Communion classes, because in the moving sidewalk that is Catholicism, when it’s time, it’s time. This meant that she had to attend a class before the church service each Sunday, and then also attend mass after the class. She was six years old. By the time mass rolled around, she was hungry and bored and feeling about as Christlike as a famished banshee.

And just to add to my cognitive dissonance, one of our daughters asked, “Why is the priest always a man?”

I think something like, “Um..no good reason?” was my brilliant response. I thought she was a bit young to have a discussion on patriarchy or the history of Christianity or the merits and pitfalls of organized religion.

So that’s how we spent our Sunday mornings- for a short time- making everyone stop whatever activity they were engaged in to get ready for a round of church. Gather the snacks and the nursing baby and take the playing children out of the moment where God resides because it’s the Lord’s day and who needs peace anyway?

 

The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself. R.M. Brown

 

On one such Sunday morning, which is etched in my memory, my husband tried to gently and quietly carry our daughter out of church as she had grown increasingly agitated. When they got halfway down the aisle, toward the exit, I heard my darling, free-spirited daughter’s explosive cry:

  “I HATE CHURCH!”

 

And now let us pray.  Jesus take the wheel.

 

Sometimes parenting is a lesson in humiliation.

 

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.