This Week: Too Close for Comfort?
What happens when the sensory needs of our kids collide with the sensory needs of their mama?
Dear friends and fam,
Wow, what a week. I get the sense that I start many of these emails with that sentiment, which may seem repetitive or overstated. But this is truly how I feel every week: like I’m running a marathonbut no one will tell what direction to run in and there are tiny humans jumping out from behind every tree yelling “Boo!” or “Now I’m teething!”
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Speaking of teething, I typed that whole first paragraph one-handed because Baby is putting out teeth (we think) and doesn’t want to be put down. In fact, I typed a lot of things with one hand this week. I’m not saying this so you can buy me a treat or tell me how great I am (although I am always open to treats and compliments), only to highlight how so many challenges of this season of life can’t be predicted. You just have to go with them. It’s like pin the tail on the donkey, but the donkey is always moving and the tail keep changing shape and whoever is in charge of the spinning needs to cut it out.
Also this week, the surprise clinginess of Big Kid. Last Shabbat, I drove to Greenwich, Connecticut, where I serve as a part-time Cantor (or Hazzan) along with my lovely wife. I left the house mid-morning and was back before bedtime, after having led the congregation in liturgical music for two B’nai Mitzvah services. That, apparently, was enough to really shake up Big Kid’s sense that I will never, ever leave his side.
Since that day, he has been pretty much attached to me. He sits on my lap at mealtimes, snuggles his face into my neck, climbs onto my shoulders while we watch Cookie Monster’s Foodie Truck. This morning, at breakfast, he pressed his cheek against my belly and said, “Aw, it’s so warm!” It’s very sweet, very loving, and extremely overstimulating — especially considering Baby’s need to be held all the other hours of the day.
I don’t know if neurotypical people experience this, but sometimes my skin just gets tired, and when it gets tired it goes haywire. It’s as though every single sensation (my pants against my legs, my fingers against these keys) makes me want to scream because my entire epidermis is tingling, begging not to be touched. It can happen when I’m overstimulated in other ways as well; if I’ve been somewhere particularly loud or bright I don’t want to be touched either.
I’ve noticed that this also happens to Big Kid. If we’ve been at a playdate or the Children’s Museum or something he immediately gravitates to something low-stimulation. Which is awesome, I love that he innately knows how to ground himself, even if it’s by watching a full hour of Peppa Pig.
Usually, when my system is on the fritz, I solve it by taking what I call a sensory break — laying down in the dark in loose clothes with earplugs and an eye-mask and taking deep breaths. I don’t do any guided meditation or anything, I just breathe and let my thoughts unravel themselves. Often, I see bright lights or colors behind my eyes, very erratic and wild, until they settle themselves and the darkness sets in. That’s when I know my mind is calm enough to continue with my day.
This week, though, there has been no rest for the weary. With an extra-anxious Big Kid, a teething Baby, a house we need to fix by July, a day of volunteering at Big Kid’s school, and oh yeah a job so we can pay for our actual lives — how the hell was I supposed to find fifteen minutes for breathing and settling my buzzing body?
There are more things on Big Kid’s (and my) mind as well. Last night, as I sat on his bed after our two nightly versions of Good Vibrations and listened to his breath quieten into a slumber, he said, “Mama, I don’t want to leave this house ever.” I waited a beat to see if there was more. “But I also really like the Big House,” he added.
“Oh, honey,” I said, “That is the best description of exactly how I feel about moving. I love this place so much, and I’m so sad it’s not right for us anymore, but I also love the Big House.” He smiled, but I could tell he was still sad, too. Soon after, his eyes closed and he drifted off.
Y’all, there are a lot of feelings sloshing around this apartment. And I haven’t even begun to describe how I’m feeling about the state of the world this week.
So, what’s a mama to do when she needs no one to touch her and her two children are clinging to her like barnacles to a sea-swept rock?
I mean, I don’t really know the answer. Or, rather, there are many answers, all valid, all completely dependent on who’s in the situation and what exactly is happening. I’ve been mostly employing honesty, some boundaries, a lot of teeth-gritting, and brown noise.
Honesty basically means two things: Telling Big Kid that I need him not to touch me for a moment because my skin is tired and telling my wife when my overstimulation is about to push me over the edge of my sanity. By employing both of these measures, I have managed not to have a meltdown this week! Which is a wild accomplishment to me. Boundaries takes the form of locking the door when I use the bathroom so he doesn’t try to crawl in my lap while I’m on the toilet and other similar instances. Teeth-gritting is putting up with a large amount of touching because I recognize he also has sensory needs. And brown noise is what’s in my headphones right now.
I’m trying to take these less-balanced weeks as an opportunity to reinforce things like communication (“I need to take five”) and consent (“this is mama’s body and I get to decide when it gets touched”) in our household. It’s not easy. It’s hard. But it’s also hella important.
In about two minutes, I have to get in the car and sit in traffic, so I’ll sign off for this week. I hope your weekend is one of regeneration and rejuvenation. I hope you see and sniff a flower. I hope you hear a bird.
What I’m reading
This visual essay byon about The Comstock Act.
This recipe for pancakes bywhich I will absolutely try this weekend.
This essay about women’s anger by Leslie Jamison in the New York Times
What I’m listening to
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ new podcast Wiser Than Me, and especially the latest episode with Amy Tan, is gorgeous and wonderful.
The latest series from WNYC’s Death Sex and Money is called Hold On, all about the state of mental health in the United States, and it’s so sensitively done it’s just wow.
What I’m writing
This piece about trans and non-binary fashion designers who give back to the community for Real Simple.
The latest in the Dreams of Chaos series! All about how to work with our neurodifferences instead of against them with Dr. Andrew Kahn of Understood.org
Or how I imagine it must feel to run a marathon, never having done one.
This imaginary marathon is in a field?
No shade to those who love it! I get panic attacks from the high expectations of the disembodied voice.
This week won’t touch on that part, but suffice to say that things seem to be getting somehow shittier which is, frankly, terrifying as both a parent and a human who values other humans. More on that next week.
I’m so bad at boundaries. But I’m trying.