Don’t Feel Good

Posted: June 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Miss Kate, Parenting, Sensory Defensiveness | 3 Comments »

My six-year-old, Kate, just got a new pair of sneakers. Hot pink lace-up Vans. They’re adorable in a preppie surfer-girl kinda way, and look just like the old pair she had.

But they are making our lives a living hell.

Mornings are miserable ’round here when it’s time for her to put on those damn shoes. She whines, whimpers, cries even. She pleads with us to let her wear the old ones. She begs for “just one more day.”

The new ones “don’t feel good,” she says. If I had a nickel for every time she’s used that phrase, well, we’d be able to buy lots and lots of new shoes. But she wouldn’t want those either. So it’s just as well.

Some kids stress about the first day of school or monsters under the bed or having to eat their broccoli.  For Kate, clothing is the enemy. If you’re no stranger to this blog, you’ve heard me go on about this before. Like when Mark went to Australia for work and Kate refused to change her underwear.

Or when she modeled for a photographer friend and was required to wear a woolen dress, cotton tights, tall boots… and a hat. [Wince] (Let’s just say her runway career was short-lived.)

Or the first time she actually wore a tutu to ballet class and I wept with joy and pride and the sweet normalcy of it all.

These things other kids do—tossing on, say, the Back to School outfit Grandma bought them, or new PJs on Christmas Eve to wait for Santa—are Herculean feats that are unattainable to my Kate.

The Occupational Therapist we saw 18 months ago called it Sensory Defensiveness, an extreme reaction to certain touch-sensations. Like, a shirt with a decal sewn on it won’t just elicit an “ugh” from Kate. She will claw it off, screaming and panicked. Some clothes aren’t just uncomfortable. She can’t bear them.

As with most diagnoses, there are degrees of intensity, and we are lucky that Kate’s is low impact. God bless the people out there who have it worse than us.

In fact, we’ve dialed the situation in to the extent that you might never know she has this problem. We’ve found shirts and skirts without bulky seams or itchy fabric that she’s willing to wear. And we’ve bought those things in quadruplicate.

And thrift stores are our friends. Other kids have broken everything in. And even though we have Paige to pass hand-me-downs to, I feel good about saving money on Kate’s clothes, considering all I’ve spent on things she only ever wore once. (Or that she cut the labels out of, then refused to try on.)

Once we get over the painful, arduous hump of breaking in a new pair of shoes, she will wear them every day for months, until she looks like a Dickensian pauper and we’re forced to buy her a new pair.

I’ve changed my expectations too. I’d love to dress her in cute outfits and put barrettes in her hair, but I traded in that desire for being able to start our days without tantrums, and with Kate feeling comfortable and calm. And I’ve stopped making costumes she refuses to wear on the day of the Halloween parade.

I’m trying to let go. I’m trying to rise above. Now I just smile at all her classmates in their sweet flowered sandals and their outfit-appropriate patent leather shoes. My girl? She’s the one in the velvet dress and muddy, threadbare sneakers. I really work on not letting it bother me.

We were down to three pairs of panties with her at one point. She had a drawer-full of others—all the same style and brand. But just three of them were old and soft enough for her to tolerate. Eventually one of The Chosen Ones split at the seams. When Mark threw them in the garbage can Kate wept like we were burying her pet dog, alive.

These are my maternal moments of heartbreak.

Two weeks ago Kate had her first concert. She joined a youth choir this winter, which she’s loved. She sings during dinner, while she brushes her teeth, when she’s falling asleep. I have to ask her to stop sometimes. She and Mark—a former chorus geek himself—bond over flowery high-pitched songs from the 18th Century. And best of all, choir requires no tutus, shin guards, or leotards.

So it was a bummer of the highest order when Mark learned he’d be traveling for Kate’s first performance. It was just a few weeks ago, and on the day of the show I was a basket case. I wasn’t the stage mom, worried that Kate wouldn’t hit her notes. I wasn’t concerned that she’d feel sad that her dad would miss her sing Homeward Bound.

My agita was about clothing. Because it ended up that there was a uniform she had to wear. Oy! A bright purple shirt with a sailor suit collar, a nylon black skirt, and black tights. And with Mark out of town, it was up to me to get my Don’t Feel Good Girl into this get-up.

There’s a reason why tights are called tights, you know. Kate does not do tights. And the awkwardly-cut, stiff new shirt was sure to be a Fashion Won’t.

I envisioned us being a hour late. Kate tear-strewn and inconsolable. And me holding the outfit that I couldn’t get her into. I pictured what our evening would be like if we were told she couldn’t participate in the show.

I texted my girlfriends throughout the day (bless their hearts), opening the pressure valve on my stress by sharing my fears. I read and re-read their encouraging responses.

I could do this. Kate could do this.


By 4:45 it was time to get ready. We’d eaten an early dinner and I’d given us 30 minutes for clothing and 30 minutes to drive there.  More than enough time.

I hauled out the big guns. I said the girls could watch a show while Kate changed.  I tried to keep my tone all easy-breezy. Usually my kids are in such hypnotic states in front of TV I can perform small surgeries on them without them even noticing.

But the tights! The tights were up first and were pure torture. She got them halfway on while laughing at Curious George, then looked down, realized what she was doing, and peeled them off in terror. We tried again. This time I gave into her request to try them sans panties. (They were thick black cotton so I figured it was hardly a Sharon Stone move.)

But no go, even without panties.

So you know what? I gave up on the tights. Forget the tights. Who needs tights?

I tossed them in my purse, she put back on her panties, and I coaxed the skirt on her as Curious George opened the farm gate and all the cows ran out. We tried the purple shirt solo, then over a variety of tank tops. Finally the right combination. Success!

And get this—we even braided her hair. A crazy, unexpected bonus.

She looked beautiful.

I wanted to dance, cry, and drink a massive gin and tonic and pass out. But I had a church to get to.

Every other girl was in their perfect outfit, black tights on, purple shirts pressed and perfect. And Kate run up to the crowd, melding in from the skirt up, but in her comfort-approved black-and-gray striped socks.

Instead of hating the other girls, I was proud of Kate. No tears shed, and 95% uniform success.

In a whisper I explained to the conductor that the tights were a no go, and why. And I didn’t stop to wonder about the judgments she might’ve been making about my child.

Summer camp starts in a week and a half. The “What to Bring” email always raises my blood pressure. Kate currently has no sweatshirts she’s willing to put on. So our next challenge is getting her to stop wearing the down jacket she still grabs when I ask her to bring a warm outer layer.

Either that, or start praying for snow in June.


3 Comments on “Don’t Feel Good”

  1. 1 Rona said at 9:55 am on June 8th, 2012:

    This is such a great example of the importance of understanding a child’s temperament. Kids who are high in sensitivity really do need moms (like you) who “get it” It takes washing new clothes many times before it touches her body, wearing clogs without socks in the winter, not labels in clothes, no socks with ridges, and lower expectations of what she should look like. Good job there mama!

  2. 2 kristen from motherload said at 10:18 am on June 8th, 2012:

    Thanks, Rona. I fear I wasn’t as quick to “get it” as I maybe could have been. The process has been intermittently frustrating, heartbreaking, and manageable. Not unlike parenting in general. :)

  3. 3 Shari said at 5:09 pm on June 10th, 2012:

    Our daughters don’t have sensory issues and we go through the same things some mornings. Most of the time I let them wear whatever they want as long as it is seasonally appropriate. There have been some crazy outfits, but they wear them with pride. I guess what I’m saying is we’re probably not as judgemental as you might think. We all have clothing challenges at with children who are Kate’s age. Some of us don’t have a medical diagnosis to support it. We just have free-thinking children.

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