Monday, August 3, 2015

Sensory Mama Speaks Up

If you are a parent, chances are you've spent hours researching something. Maybe it was food triggers or daycares or schools or vaccines or whatever. Something caused you to pore over the internet looking for desperate answers.

For me, when my sweet baby turned 11 months and started throwing massive tantrums, I turned to sensory research. A few people suggested it after interacting with my son. It was something I knew a little bit about because of some friends with children who have sensory processing disorders, but really didn't know the details.

After reading up and talking to some friends and our doctor, it became obvious: this kid was spirited, but did not have anything sensory going on. At least not that we could figure out. So no help there.

But you know what did happen?

My husband turned to me and said "Sound familiar?"

Because it did. Painfully familiar. Not because of my children. Because of me.

Things I had always seen in myself and just thought were personality quirks. Hating for anyone to ever touch my face because even a little bit caused physical pain, not being able to handle repetitive loud noises, losing myself with too much noise and touch to the point of feeling like the only solution would be to curl up in a dark closet until it could all go away. Feeling like a failure that prayer couldn't keep me calm in the midst of parenting some days.

And you know what? What I thought was a lack of maternal instinct to handle the early years (and maybe still is on some level, I'm just not a baby person) might have been compounded by an actual physical problem with all the screaming and touching that comes with baby and toddlerhood.

And maybe, just maybe, there were actual solutions to feeling like my brain was going to explode halfway through the day.

I asked a good friend for a list and she shared some tips with me- some of them were things I could do IN THE MOMENT of feeling like it was all to much - these were things her son needed to calm down and if they work on kids, why not me? Not things I could do later when my husband got home, like read my books or go for a run or have quiet time to myself. But things, when in those deepest, darkest moments of feeling like I was going to snap and it was just all too much, things I could pull away and do. Or even do WITH a child still attached to me.

What is the list she sent?

- tight hugs/wraps
- deep massage 
- joint compressions
- therapeutic brushing
- impact
- weight bearing 
- heavy lifting

I have found for myself that the most effective way to keep my brain from going from overload to meltdown (and my meltdowns look like sad despair, not tantrums) are exercise, weight bearing and heavy lifting activities.  Please stay away from me with those hugs, though. Seriously. The last thing I was is someone to touch me with a compassionate look in his or her eyes when I am about to lose it. I will have to resist the urge to punch you.

And it turns out that when you have a ginormous toddler, it is tremendously easy to find weight bearing and exercise activities in the moment of chaos.

So yes, my neighbors, if they were to look out the window might see my toddler laying on my back while I do push-ups and loving every minute of it. Or see me using the monkey bars to do pull-ups  or chin-ups while he screams about something unknowable  - doing just enough that I can bring my mind back to sane and calmly deal with his meltdown since I've avoided my own - and honestly, half the time he stops freaking out when he sees me do them and just laughs and points at "mama up!" Or see us having races around the back yard (he already knows to kneel down for "on your mark, get set, go!" where I can sprint and sweat and feel instantly better.  Or doing burpees together, which he totally cannot do yet but seems to think are hilarious. My kid is incredibly physical and loves all this. We play hard and then we laugh hard. We fall down a lot, we get back up and we keep going. And man does that kid take good naps.

Incidentally, this is no small reason that I get questions all the time about how I've gotten my arms to be so toned and muscular, much more so than when I was younger and working out regularly.  "Parenting," I say. "Just parenting." Toddler workouts are no joke.

So even though the days are long around here, even though we are going on a full year since the tantrums started, even though it doesn't always work, I am thankful for such a beautiful fun-loving, son, for the willingness to keep learning about myself and make changes where I must to parent him better even as I attempt to take care of myself more fully than I did my first time around with this parenting thing.

And seriously, my deltoids? Things of beauty now. There's always a silver lining, friends.

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