There's been a big change in the Ahrens' household over the past couple of weeks. I've gone back to work, and even though I'm only working partial days these first few weeks until after Labor Day, it has had a huge impact on our home routine. As is to be expected, Lucas has responded to this change with some stellar tantrums and knock-down, drag-out power plays.
He's home with Toby all morning while I'm at school, and I'm happy to say that father and son are having a great time together. When I get home, though, I get the cold shoulder and general snottiness, along with some whopping tantrums over things like looking at him the wrong way. Lucky me! It's kind of a catch-22. I don't much feel like spending time with him when he's like this. After all, I'm tired from processing a ton of new work details each day and trying to hold about a dozen plans-in-progress in my head. It's so much easier to let Toby take the lead with Lucas in the afternoons, too. But when that happens, Lucas feels even more isolated from me and his pushing behavior increases.
I know that power and control are two of the key issues at work here. Another one is connection. My challenge is to stay connected to him through all of this annoying behavior, while still maintaining clear limits and boundaries, all while trying to find legitimate ways for him to meet his voracious need for power. Right now, he has very little control over the changes in his home life. Our old routines have been upended, and his new preschool (along with its stability and predictability) doesn't start for another two weeks. At the same time, my attention is wrapped up in this big, exciting change and I'm not as emotionally or physically available to him as I have been up until now.
This is a crazy time for him. I get it. And I'm not doing the greatest job at helping him through it. I'm looking forward to sending him to full-time preschool, and I feel guilty about it. I can't wait to spend time with other people's children at Xara Garden School, yet it's hard to spend time with my own son right now. It just doesn't seem right.
And yet … I know enough to cut myself a break. Parenting and teaching are two very different animals, the former being infinitely more complex and emotionally taxing. Novelty has a big pull for me, and everything about the new job is enticing right now. It's okay for me to feel more excited about that than about playing Candyland for the billionth time with a three-year-old who cheats.
It's okay. We'll reconnect. We'll find a new groove. Phase one: Life at home with baby/toddler/preschooler is now over. I feel some sadness, but life evolves. We'll all adapt.
Sensitive children pick up on all kinds of things we don't notice. I was recently reminded of Lucas' perception as it pertains to the negative energy people carry around with them.
My mom volunteers with this wonderful organization called Shakti Rising, a nurturing and empowering residential program for young women in recovery from substance abuse, violence, depression and other debilitating coping mechanisms. She goes to the house once a month to cook and enjoy a gourmet meal with the girls. The girls love her dearly. On occasion, she's had some of them come over to her house for dinner, sometimes for holidays, when Lucas and I are also there.
When he was just a baby - and a happy one at that - she had a group of Shakti girls over for Christmas dinner. Lucas cried and cried the whole time they were there. He wouldn't go to sleep in his little pack-n-play, as was his habit over at Grandma's, and even when I held him, he was in a terrible fit for the entire evening. I thought it was a fluke. Maybe he had gas.
A month or so later, there was a special event at the Shakti house. Mom wanted to show off her darling grandson to all the girls there, and so we tagged along. Within a few minutes of arriving, Lucas' happy, charming, bubbly little baby self turned fitful. After he'd fully disrupted the lovely garden party with his screaming, I cut the visit short and carried my upset buddy out to the car and took him home. He didn't make the best of impressions on those Shakti girls. This time, though, I knew it was no fluke.
I already knew by that time that he was very sensitive, and I suspected he was reacting to the energy of the place and the girls. It was odd, though, because the girls were absolutely delightful, and the deep personal growth they were doing in their recovery work was nothing short of inspirational. Regardless, I believe he was still sensing the pain that was the root cause of the addiction they were currently healing.
As a baby, Lucas had no way of understanding what that pain was about, and certainly no way of discerning the growth the girls were undertaking. He just FELT something very, very uncomfortable. Just as he feels my PMS, or feels my fear, he feels people's pain if it's strong enough. These girls had pain so strong it sent them into addiction, so I'd imagine that addiction energy carries a pretty hefty charge, even if it's from long ago.
I bring this all up now because for the first time in a few years, Mom recently had another Shakti visitor over for one of our Wednesday night dinners at her house. Lucas develops crushes on pretty girls just about daily, so we thought he'd be enamored or our dinner guest. In the back of my mind, I was wondering if he'd "outgrown" his sensitivity to the "Shakti girls." Here's what happened:
He avoided her completely for the first 45 minutes or so, hiding behind me or asking to play in another room. After multiple, gentle attempts to connect with him, he finally agreed to let her look at a book with him, and though still wary, he chatted with her for a bit. During dinner, he asked that his special booster seat (with its own tray) be set apart from the table. After dinner, he wouldn't go to sleep in the spare bedroom upstairs. He kept telling me something was scaring him.
After she left, he seemed willing to settle down, though he asked if she was already at her own house. He didn't want to relax until he was sure she was completely gone. He kept looking around the bedroom and telling me he was still bothered by something. Finally, he pointed to the Tibetan singing bowl on the side table and asked me to ring it. We've used it before to clear the space of "visitors" or unwanted energy. After I dinged it in all the corners and over the bed, he asked me to ring it in the closet, too. By the time I was done, he'd relaxed, and within minutes he was fast asleep.
I guess he hasn't outgrown the sensitivity. This was another reminder to trust that his negative reactions are valid responses to what he perceives. At almost four, he still doesn't have the ability to rationalize any of it. When he doesn't feel safe, for whatever reason, my job as his mom is to protect him. While it's uncomfortable for me to deal with the possibility that he may be hurting other people's feelings, that has to be secondary to supporting my son. Other people will quickly get over the fact that some strange kid didn't like them, but my son would not quickly get over the lack of trust he'd develop if I was more concerned about a stranger's feelings than his.
What do you do when your child seems resistant to someone for no apparent reason?
I'm excited to share that I recently presented my very first talk on the subject of this blog: sensitive children! For a first effort, I feel pretty good about the material I presented and the way in which I delivered it. I have quite a bit of tweaking to do, of course, but all in all, I'm pleased with how it went. The feedback forms I received showed that my audience agreed. It's a new beginning and I'm thrilled to have stretched myself in this way. So … yay, me!
But enough self-congratulations. The reason I'm sharing this with you is that, though the talk was interesting enough, the title of the talk was definitely lacking intrigue. I called it, "Understanding the Sensitive Child," which, though descriptive, is just not that captivating.
There is a possibility I'll be speaking on the topic at a wonderful conference this fall, (yes – thrilled am I!) and I have a feeling that if I keep this as the name, it will just be the crickets and me enjoying my lecture.
Can you help with some ideas? I really tend to get stuck when it comes to titles.
I guess you need to know what the talk is about before you can reasonably be expected to offer a title idea. In a nutshell, I address the characteristics of sensitive kids, share some stories to make them relatable, and then share some practical strategies to help address the challenges inherent in said characteristics.
What would you call this?
What would get you to come to my lecture instead of the one down the hall? Even better - what would entice you to come to the conference just to hear my lecture?
Any and all ideas are welcomed and appreciated! Thanks so much!!!