Halloween is like black licorice. You either love it or hate it.
Me? I loooooooove Halloween. It’s the attention-seeker’s favorite holiday. The one time of year when you can unapologetically dress to elicit attention. You get to be creative. Plus there’s candy. And jack-o-lanterns. And cinnamony, nutmeggy, pumpkiny foods.
And did I mention the attention part?
Junior year in college I lived with a family in France. The mother was in her forties. Super young-looking, fashionable, and pretty. And she was a maniac extrovert. When my friends would come over she’d run around opening wine (as if we needed encouragement), cranking music, and dragging the furniture to the side of the room to get us dancing.
Her teen-aged daughter would be cowering in the corner. She was painfully, hideously shy.
Our parenting days were light years away, but my friends said, “That is SO going to be you and your kid some day, Kristen.” (They called this up to me while I was dancing on the couch.)
Weirdly, neither of my girls has retreated like a threatened snail in the wake of their mother’s extroversion. In fact, Miss Kate, my oldest, holds her own quite well. She’s one of the youngest in her class, but as other parents have commented, “You’d never know it.” I think that’s code for, “She’s all in your grill with the sass and spunk you’d expect from a much older kid.”
Or maybe they’re just referring to her mad reading skillz.
Anyway, it turns that I’m worried about Little Miss Self Esteem. On the one hand she’s so socially bulletproof. She went from camp to camp one summer without knowing a soul, and without batting an eyelash. She was the only girl in an animation class with 19 boys. And she was totally un-phased.
She’ll happily let anyone babysit for her. (I should take advantage of that and work a deal with some homeless folks.) She’s independent, confident, funny, and a good big sister—90% of the time.
She blew away her preschool teachers by asking if she could lead Circle Time. Apparently no kid’s ever done that, and her teachers ended up handing her the Circle Time reigns a bunch. (“Today,” she’d report, “I led the kids in some yoga poses and we sang a song about snowflakes.”)
These days as a big second-grader she volunteers at Paige’s preschool reading to the children and leading art projects that she comes up with on her own.
My Kate is the future Most Likely to Succeed.
And yet I’m fretting about all the things she isn’t doing. It’s not that I want her to do more. It’s not that she’s disappointing me in any way. It’s that there are things that I know she wants to do that she isn’t doing.
And it’s all because of clothes.
We’ve gone through phases with this. As a baby it seemed non-existent, but somewhere along the way she forsook pants for dresses. She whittled her wardrobe down to a handful of acceptable well-washed, worn out, super-soft cotton clothes.
She saw an OT a couple years ago and we brushed her and did some other exercises to desensitize her skin. It seemed to work. A bit, I mean. Even just learning other kids have this problem helped us all.
But it’s far from behind her. I’ll nearly forget about it, then she’ll need new shoes and I’ll realize how not-normal this behavior is that we’ve become so accustomed to.
So we started with another OT this fall. A well-respected woman who’s in walking distance of our house. She gave us some new insights and exercises, and already Kate seems to feel some things are easier. She recently wore a long-rejected shirt that Mark had bought her on a business trip. We nearly fainted when she walked into the kitchen with it on.
At school the other day I caught the end of her P.E. class. She was wearing a red vest along with her teammates. I was thrilled. We went shoe shopping a few days later and to my shock she picked out a pair of tall leather boots.
Things like these are victories. Totally unprecedented stuff.
So, what’s the problem? What I’m worried about is all the things she doesn’t want to do because of an outfit or uniform or some kind of gear.
She used to love ballet. Everyone else wore tutus and tights and slippers. Katie was in a baggy cotton dress, barefoot. This was fine with her teacher, but somewhere along the line from toddler to first-grader Kate decided ballet wasn’t her thing.
She still has training wheels on her bike since she can’t tolerate a helmet.
And she’s expressed interest in horseback riding and theater, but admitted that the required clothes or costumes made those things a no-go.
I also think she’d love Halloween, but—in my mama brain at least—she sees it as a day when she’ll have to wear something other than her four soft-and-cozy skirts or her three approved cotton shirts. Dressing up is anxiety-provoking. What’s fun about that?
A few weeks ago I’d just about decided that we’d put her in therapy. In addition to the OT, I mean. Might as well come at this from every angle, right? My dad and I had a long phone conversation about this and he agreed it was a good idea. Let’s hit this thing with a hammer.
But a chat with her pediatrician later that day had me reconsidering.
“Is she doing okay socially?” he asked.
“Yeah, totally,” I said. No-brainer to that.
You’ll go through two or three years when she’ll say no to things, the doc said. But you have to trust that she’ll pull out of it. Eventually there’ll be something she wants to do badly enough that she’ll be willing to wear whatever she has to for it.
Putting her in therapy, he contended, will just solidify this as a big issue in her mind. It could make it even harder to shake.
I called my dad to discuss this new perspective. And we agreed that it made sense too.
Oy! What to do?
It’s hard to resist that modern-day reflex to throw as many resources and specialists at a problem as possible. Especially when that problem relates to your sweet young child. Isn’t being a good parent about removing whatever roadblocks prevent your kid from being their best selves?
I said that to a friend the other day who replied, “Or maybe it’s about letting them remove those barriers themselves.”
For now at least I’m back-burnering the therapy idea. Mark agrees. Let’s focus on OT now and see what comes of that.
So then, time to hone my maternal patience skills. Time to sit on my hands when I see Kate yearn to do something that she ultimately decides against because some part of it won’t feel good. Time to sit back and appreciate all the dazzling things that Kate IS doing, instead of fretting over what she’s not.
And time to go put the finishing touches on my own Halloween costume.
Happy Halloween, y’all.
A friend emailed me a link to this excellent short video. (Thank you, Melanie!)
My husband and I related to so so much of it. In fact, Mark said it made him cry.
Check it out, yo.