Not Feelin’ It

Posted: October 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Clothing, Daddio, Doctors, Husbandry, Learning, Miss Kate, Parenting, Preschool, Sensory Defensiveness, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

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.

You may’ve seen me write about this here before. Kate hates clothes. She’s not a nudist, just a super-sensitive kid who can’t stand the feel of seams, stiff fabric, sewn-on decals, and zippers.

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 adored choir until the performances last spring where I had to coax her into her uniform while drugging her with TV. This year she quit choir after one rehearsal.

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.

The Emperor’s New Onesie from Hillary Frank on Vimeo.


Choir Quitter

Posted: October 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Husbandry, Learning, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Parenting, Sensory Defensiveness | No Comments »

Kate quit choir. (Try saying that five times fast.)

She’d joined a community youth choir last spring—a pretty well-known group where the older kids get to travel once a year and have cross-cultural experiences with singer nerds from other countries. Aside from voice training, she was learning how to read music and studying something called “music theory,” whatever that is.

Growing up my family prided itself on its deeply-rooted musical ineptitude. Mark, on the other hand, can play several instruments and was also a choir geek back in the day. He hauled out some old cassette tapes when Kate started last year and filled the house at high decibels with crackling recordings of his past performances. Kate would run home from rehearsals to sing him the new songs she’d learned and show off the sheet music in her binder.

It all seemed like such good clean fun.

But aside from all the “it’s good for you like broccoli” reasons for Kate to be in choir, Mark and I just wanted her to have a special thing that she’d get good at and stick with. Whatever that was.

My friend Sydney was a figure skater when we were kids. She went to a rink out on Route 6 for private lessons.  It wasn’t some after-school elective our other friends did. This was her own thing. She even had performances where she got to wear bee-yoo-tiful pastel outfits—and make-up. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was jealous that Sydney had a weird special talent. Something that was just hers, that she was good at.

So, Kate quitting choir sent Mark and me into a tailspin.

Now, I don’t shy away from parental challenges. I was happy to strong-arm Kate into continuing. I figured that if I did it could well be something she’d thank me for some day. It’s not first-nature to me, but I guess I’m a Wanna-be Tiger Mom. Or at the very least, I like to direct the course of my children’s activities (that’s a euphemism for being a control freak). And having my twerpy seven-year-old resist my well-laid plans rubbed me the wrong way.

But how do you drag a crying second grader out of a car, thrust her into a building, and make her sing? The day of her second rehearsal this fall she decided she was just not going. The conductor this year was strict. She didn’t like the songs. She was tired from her longer school days. And, she proclaimed, she was not going to get out of the car.

She’d promised us she’d go to try it out at least three times this year. We figured she just needed to get back in the groove. But it turned out she only made it there once.

So we had a family meeting. Or Mark and I at least tried to be all Brady Bunch formal about the somber-toned, sitting-on-the-couch discussion we had with her. Oh we were disappointed. Oh she had not held up her end of the deal. But here’s the thing—we were going to let her pick something else. Something she was interested in. Something she could stick with.

That, by the way, was Mark’s idea. My inner “course-director” was not keen on giving her free reign. I wanted to point her towards some classically character-enriching activity so she could, you know, perform for our dinner party guests. At least in my alternate fantasy life.

But I also thought about those kids who have some weird fondness for, like, the tuba. Perhaps there was something she cottoned to and would want to pursue without any urging from us. I do not need to repeat that parking lot meltdown any time soon.

We gave her some time to think, and a couple days later she came to me and simply said, “Horses.” Not “I want to learn how to ride,” just “horses.” Whatever the hell that meant.

I confess. I was ready to dismiss the idea summarily. I know the horse-hugger girl type, but that was never me as a kid. And I guess I can’t easily rally behind something I don’t really get. But I resisted putting the kibosh on it. If Mark’s plan to let Kate pick something was going to work, I needed to kick aside my inner control freak.

So I checked with some mama friends who’d sent their kids to camp at a local horse ranch. And get this: It turns out the place has a class called Fun with Horses. It’s not riding—it’s learning about things like how to teach horses tricks, what they like to eat, how to brush and care for the beasts. The kids even get to braid the horses’ manes, which did sound like some form of crack for Kate.

This is why I love the Bay Area. Your kid wants to take “horses” and it turns out there actually is such a class.

She starts in two weeks. After that we’ll consider whether she wants to move onto riding lessons, although Kate’s clothing sensitivities have her currently unenthusiastic about that. Suffice it to say that the kid who can only tolerate wearing a handful of old, well-worn cotton clothes is not keen on the idea of tight, seam-laden jodhpurs, stiff tall boots, and a helmet.

And unless we win the lottery, that’s frankly okay with me. I’ve had several parents look at me wild-eyed when I mentioned Kate’s interest in horses. “The cost!” they bellowed. “The time commitment! The travel! The begging for a horse of their own!”

Oh, and did they mention the cost?!

Maybe the thing Kate’s about to stick with and get good at isn’t gymnastics, or singing, or even horseback riding. Maybe it’ll be mucking stalls and horse hair-dos. And unless I want to drag her screaming from the car into some class she isn’t keen on, until her fascination with the clarinet naturally emerges I guess I’ll just have to make peace with that.

Have you wrangled with your kid’s extracurricular activities?  (Please tell me I’m not alone.) What’s your take on it all?

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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.