Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Fine Line

It's been an exhausting couple of weeks 'round these parts. No major events, nothing's gone seriously wrong or anything -- just snotty noses, sleepless nights and shitty weather. With spring so close, every grey cloud on the horizon, every raindrop that falls, feels like a personal attack to me; I'm so ready for sunshine. Please spring, get sprung already.

No one in our house has been sleeping through the night, and everyone's been up before six everyday for weeks, now. It's getting so that if we sleep past 6:15, we're thrilled. And both girls have been waking up at least once per night, usually more, so we're all a little on edge these days. Most of the time, I feel embalmed.

Violet has another ear infection; her fourth in three months. She's been referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist, and we may be looking at ear tube surgery for her. It's a relatively common procedure, and if it helps Violet in the long-run, I'm all for it, of course (anything but constant the near constant doses of antibiotics the poor girl gets). I hate seeing her in such obvious pain when her ears flare up. But surgery? Under anesthetic? For my tiny babe? Shit. I'm nervous about it already, and it's only a possibility.

Hazel has been fighting a cold off this week, and while she's held it at bay, it's taken a lot out of her. She's extra tired, and that alone is enough to send her over the edge on any given day. But that, combined with the nightwaking, combined with the major growth spurt she's going through, has driven us all over the edge. We can't even see the edge from where we are most days lately.

So, here's the thing: Parenting a preschooler takes a lot out of you. If you want to do it right, you've got to be patient and consistent, and willing to take the high road. You've got to be creative with discipline, strong about setting limits, and understanding when they want to dress themselves, eat PB&J for every meal, or whatever their quirks are this week. We've all read the books, we all know what we're supposed to do. But what do we do when that's not enough?

Right now, in this house, that is Just. Not. Enough.

See, Hazel is one of the 15 to 20% of children who are born with highly sensitive nervous systems, called HSCs, or Highly Sensitive Children*. These kids are deeply refelective, sensitive to almost everything - scratchy clothes, the way their skin or hair feels, loud noises, a change in routine. They notice even the most subtle details of every situation they encounter, and are easily overwhelmed by noise, new people, new situations -- in short, they are deeply sensitive to the world.

While this may sound like hippy-dippy nonsense to some, I'm here to tell you that it's very, very real. This is the best anaolgy I've heard for describing an HSC: Imagine an orange-packing plant. Imagine thousands of oranges coming down a conveyer belt. In a "normal" or non-sensitive person's brain, all those oranges are sorted into three slots - small, medium and large. In the HSC's brain, instead of having three slots for processing and sorting the information that's towards them on the conveyer belt, they have fifteen slots, making for very fine distinctions. All goes well until you have too many oranges coming down the belt at once (for an HSC that might be walking into a loud classroom, or trying to watch a new movie) - then you've got a major problem. You're in Emotional Meltdown City, USA.

Wonderful, creative, bright and funny person though she is, Hazel is also a very intense, very emotional, very particular little girl. Hazel's mood sets the tone for the whole house, and when it's good, it's really good, but when it's bad... well, you know. I try really hard to remind myself that Hazel is as much a victim of her intense emotions as we are. And I try even harder to model appropriate ways of handling those emotions; and that's where I feel like, as the days go by, I'm losing traction. We talk a lot about how feelings -- all feelings -- are okay to have, but it's what you do with your feelings that counts, especially those feelings that we, as a society, are taught to think of as "bad" - confusion, disappointment, anger. But I find myself getting spitting mad at Hazel at least once everyday, usually because she's bullying Violet in some way, or deliberatly braking a rule to get my one-on-one attention, for better or worse. And I find myself really resenting the fact that, even when I'm having a really good day, I can't just have a good day. Because it's never that easy. With an HSC, even a trip to the grocery store, or a snack forgotten, can cause major emotional trauma. Even a morning at preschool can be fun, while at the same time being totally overwhelming, and of course, the meltdowns and freakouts are stored up for the moment when you feel safe and comfortable enough to let them loose, i.e. when Mama comes for you. I understand that. I understand my role and my responsibility. But sometimes I just don't have it in me to keep it together for myself and Hazel; sometimes I just don't want to. And being so finely tuned, Hazel picks up on my resentment or frustration instantly. So, most days, it's a really fine line that we are walking.

On the flip side of this is the fact that Hazel, like many HSCs, is a very gifted girl. She is blessed with a quick wit, a wise soul and dear heart. She is so intelligent, and so imaginative. She has always stood out - even if for just being different. Hazel and I are making every effort to be kind to, and understanding of, each other, especially as she grows older. We take "time outs" and have tea together, or do yoga together. Mike makes sure he and Hazel have at least one "date" together each week, just the two of them, doing something special. For Hazel, one-one-one time with those she loves really seems to help. So do regular periods of rest spent reading, or doing a puzzle, or zoning out with a CD. I've found an online parent's support network and am working on finding a family therapist, to help us all have a little more balance.

This feels like a lot of personal information to be putting out into the blogosphere. Part of the reason I've been M.I.A. is that I wasn't sure what I wanted to say, or even if I really wanted to say it. But I am going to put this out there because this blog was started as a sort of virtual time-capsule; a chronicle of this time in our lives. The Salad Days, as they're called. And even I, who is in the trenches with muck up to my eyebrows right now, knows this to be true: with the not-so-good, comes the great. With the yin, comes the yang. And if I wrote about only one or the other, when I look back on these pages in 30 years, I would be disappointed at the lack of truth in them. Also, I want to reach out to other parents with Highly Sensitive Kids, or high needs kids, or anyone who is struggling with the daily joys and challenges of being a parent. Because we've all been on the other side of the fine line at some point or another, right? And no one wants to stay there for too long. I know I don't.

*For more information about Highly Sensitive People, visit


Anonymous Chris (mr. megan) said...

That's a superb post. I look forward to seeing you guys soon.

9:28 PM  
Anonymous karen S said...

hey - i don't think i've commented on your blog before, but i've greatly enjoyed reading it (found it through citymama and childbearing hipster). i like your attitude. i wish i had something wise to contribute about highly sensitive children, but i don't. i'm pretty sure my SIL was one, which created for some very difficult times up until our early twenties. we're both almost 27 now and she seems to have learned some excellent coping skills to help her deal with the barrage of intense emotions and sensations that comes her way so often. hopefully hazel will do equally well, and perhaps earlier.
--karen (nurse-a-thon on CL)

4:02 PM  
Anonymous sweetchaos said...

I was a HSC and my sweetheart of a son is as well.

A little overwhelmed, utterly exhausted mama in the haight has your back.


4:40 PM  
Blogger Mistry said...

{{{hugs}}} to you and your adorable little ones stopped by after a while, my heart wrenched a bit while reading this post though I am not going to have anything to contribute but some good thought and positive vibes to your family and your dear girls.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Misfit Hausfrau said...

I wish I had some advice for the HSP. I can't even imagine how overwhelming it must be for her at times--and for you!

I think I can safely say that I have learned more about children since I started reading blogs than I ever thought possible. When I had my girls, I only understood them. It has been such an education to read about others.

Y'all get some sleep!!!!

5:34 AM  
Blogger Debbi said...

Hugs Sweetie!! Sounds like we are all having some stressful parenting days right now. Check my blog out for latest drama.

First of all. Ear infections. Been there done that. Hannah had them too, got tubes at about 9 mos. old. I was horrified. I know how you feel. Good news here is (and I am not exagerrating a bit) by the time you get to the waiting room, flip through a magazine and sigh one time, they will tell you she's all done and you can go see her in recovery where she will seem really tiny in a big old bed, but fine. No worries. And best part is they help sooooo much.

As for Hazel's sensitivity issues. There are people who specialize in this. My SIL works with autistic children who have similar sensitivity issues, sound, smell, texture, etc. If you want I could find out if she knows anyone in your area. She does AIT for hearing sensitivity it helps a lot of people not just autistic children. She works with ADD, ADHD, people with hearing problems, and sensitivity problems. If you want info on that let me know too. I can give you her e-mail. You are right is very real and very annoying to those who have it. Haze is smart though and smart kids overcome things in surprising ways. HUGS to all and hope you get some sleep soon. Love -- Cousin Deedee.

7:21 PM  
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Anonymous Kristen said...

Hi ~

I'm visiting via CityMama. I enjoyed reading about your daughter. I have a 20-month old who is on the intense side - I don't think she's a HSP but she has some of those tendencies for sure. Makes for an interesting existence, that's for sure!

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