Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Taming of the Overly Sensitive Boy

I know it's hard to believe that this sweet little face could be causing strife at our home, but it's the truth.

This is B. The ever-so-slightly younger twin brother of J. Kind older brother to Baby C. Lover of books, dogs, Thomas the Tank Engine, Christmas lights, Baby Jesus, and all things baking.

Ultra-sensitive drama king extraordinaire.

That last descriptor is the reason we have strife in our home. Lately, as in over the course of the last few months, a very fragile side of B has emerged, and The Professor and I are constantly thrown at how emotionally delicate he is at all times.

B has always been a quiet, deep-thinking, sensitive child. We noticed this from the beginning, when he had to be soothed more and transitioned slower to new things as an infant. While his brother is the picture of laid-back, B will react to the littlest change in the environment (be it a stranger coming into our home, bedtime being pushed back an hour, the wrong drink at breakfast, a missing toy) in a negative way. He is very particular about his play, his sleep, his meals, everything, and he takes several days to adjust to change (say, visitors). We know this.

But lately, things have been a bit, well, ridiculous. B often wakes up in a weepy mood, demanding hand-holding or even lap-sitting at breakfast and bursting into tears at any perceived slight, to the bewilderment and consternation of his well-meaning parents. Any tiny tweak to his immaculately maintained schedule will make him edgy, and the smallest things will send him into Full Panic Mode. We're talking angry tears, prolonged wailing, actual crumpling at the knees. It's fairly dramatic.

And when I say "slightest thing," I mean slightest thing. Here's a paraphrased conversation from this morning:

B: "I want milk!"
The Professor: "How does a big boy ask?"
[Several moments are taken up with calming B down.]
The Professor: "Now. Please ask like a big boy."
B: "Please (gulp) may I have (sniff) milk?"
The Professor: "Good! Yes, you may have milk. It will take me just a minute to pour."
B: "WAAA!"
The Professor: "B. Seriously. You see me do this every morning. I just have to pour it."
B: [continues screaming]
The Professor: "Please calm down. Here is your milk."
B: (sniffsniffsniff) "Thank you."
The Professor: "You're welcome. Now I'm going to make you oatmeal."

Seriously. This is how our morning went. And it hasn't stopped. He has been like this all day. All. Day. Long. This is how he is all week long. It gets worse with time, too. He may hold off for an hour in the afternoon, after a refreshing nap, when he can play for a limited amount of time with his siblings, but pretty soon he's back to following me around, crying at the smallest thing (His sock is off! He can't find his play cookies! His sister looked at him the wrong way!) and just generally annoying the heck out of me.

It doesn't stop at night, either. He has been dealing with bad dreams for the last few weeks, which make him afraid to fall asleep. Sometimes it take him an hour or more of tossing and turning, crying out, and lots of parental reassurances to sleep, and even then he might wake up several times in the night crying. Every night after we've all prayed together and I've tucked him in, he and I chant a little litany together. It goes something like this:

Me: "Can you show me where your brother is?"
B: [points to the other side of the bed, because yes, they refuse to sleep apart, it's rather cute]
Me: "That's right. And where is Jesus?"
B: [looks up and moves his little hands in a vaguely circular motion] "He's everywhere."
Me: "Good! He's all around you, and He's right here with you. He's always with you. He loves you so much. And you know who else loves you? I love you. Daddy loves you. Ta and Pa and Grandma and Grandpa and JoJo and Cici and Janie and Ryan love you. Baby C and J love you."
B: [silently repeats everyone's names while staring intently at my face]
Me: "We all love you so much. You are so important to us."

Only after these reassurances and lots and lots of tucking in and cuddling and kissing can he even begin to think about sleeping. And I'm not complaining about that part--I'll take any cuddling I can get. But I hate to think that bad dreams haunt my 2-year-old son. And I hate to think he is so fragile all day, falling apart at the slightest problems, only to be dogged by scary things at night. I'd be exhausted.

I realize that I, as a fully-functioning adult with years of experience and perspective under my belt, cannot begin to understand just how big these "slight" changes and problems are to little B, who is both naturally prone to drama and sensitivity. He is little; this world is big. He is not emotionally mature, nor should I expect him to be. But it's hard not to expect some perspective, some measure of calm, especially when I really can't hold him in my arms 24/7, keeping up a steady stream of whispered assurances in his ear, shielding him from any change or clash of temperament. I just can't. It's impossible. And when I do the best I can, only to be rewarded with lots of snot and salty tears rubbed on my few good shirts, well. Huh.

I should place some of the blame on myself, as I am not a naturally patient person. I'm just not. I'm a great mom, good cook, a good writer, and I have a penchant for helping indoor plants thrive. But I am not patient. I recognize this personal failing, and the Lord has been giving me aid, along with challenges for my patience, for years now. I expect continue this learning for years to come. So it's hard for me to relate to little B, not only because I'm an adult, but also because I'm not an unfailingly patient person. I start out my morning calm and collected, but within just a few hours, I'm at the boiling point, biting back sharp comments and telling B to just go in the other room, please, for the love, stop crying. I've been known to lock myself in my room and muffle some yells with a pillow. I also enjoy karate-chopping pillows in the privacy of my own room. My poor shams.

I've had to learn that B, unlike his brother, doesn't react well to a sharp order to "Stop!" or a firm "No!" when I need a negative behavior to stop. He tends to melt into a blubbering mass of salty tears, which only makes me madder, which only makes him cry harder...and it's a vicious cycle. I have to take a deep breath, get on his level, look him in the eyes, and speak quietly and calmly, with only a hint of firmness. He needs lots of hugs, lots of reassurance, and lots of routine. (Which I already do, but on a whole-other-worldly level for B.)

I want to nurture my son. I want to love him not in spite of, but even because of his perceived faults. Because obviously I naturally view his sensitivity in a negative light, which I need to change to a complete acceptance of his singular uniqueness. I don't want to say things like, "Why can't you just be like your brother?" Besides being the worst possible thing you could ever say to a child (not less a twin), it discounts the uniqueness of his personality, the beauty of his one-and-only precious mind. He is beautiful. He is special. He is my one and only B, the only one in the world. Everything about him, everything, is important, and everything in his makeup needs to be nourished and shaped by his parents and his Lord.

His sensitivity is a gift, a precious, precious gift. While it is immature and frustrating and even ridiculous now, how will it manifest itself when he is a grown man? If we (with the Lord's sure hand) do it right, he'll be a servant, able to deeply relate to people and share in their hardships, quietly suffering with the less fortunate, faithfully serving his wife and children by always being aware of their needs. If I (God forbid) were to belittle him, tear him down, call him a "sissy" or worse, I could do serious damage. I don't even want to think about how so many children are indeed treated this way. I will do my part by honoring my son and my Lord.

So if you think of us at all at any point in the coming days, please say a prayer. Say a prayer for B, our growing son who is learning to experience an overwhelming world. Pray for his mother and father, who are tired and beaten down by the constant reassuring. Pray for his siblings, who are learning how to relate to their precious brother.

We all love B, and we want him to thrive.


Mindy said...

It's strange. I thought of you today and wondered how you handled dealing with three little ones all day. When I got home I sat down and read your blog. I will be praying for your family and for B. My heart goes out to him and his need for reassurance. I know that God will lead you and your family in the absolutely perfect direction for B.

This verse is in my devotional and makes me think of what you were saying about how you talk to B.

"When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need - words that will help others become stronger." - Ephesians 4:29.

I am not a parent, but I think the way you and your professor talk to B is absolutely wonderful.

Jason said...

You and Steve are amazing parents and I love the transparency on this blog.

I sent the link to my Mom. Hopefully you'll get another follower out of it.

Nightmares suck. It might not be a bad idea to have Father Bless him after the service on Sunday. Just a thought.

Hope you guys have a good week!

Jane said...

Oh, sister, this makes me wish i lived closer so I can be there more often.. and hold B if he feels like being held by aunt janie. i'll be thinking of you five tomorrow and the next day and the next.

Christine said...

Mindy, those are wonderful words in a wonderful verse. Thank you for sharing.

Jason, what a fantastic idea! You can tell we are converts. I would have never thought of having Father bless him.

Thanks all for the prayers. We need them! B had a hard evening, like he knew I had laid bare his dealings for the world and was getting even. Hmm.

Laurie said...


As always I am amazed and impressed by your child-rearing insight. Like Janie, I wish desperately I could be closer to help out.

Love and prayers to all of you.

Cousin Kelsie said...

You and your family will definitely be in my thoughts and prayers. There is nothing worse than being a parent and seeing your child go through a tough time and not be able to help them. It sounds like you're doing all the right things and hopefully as he gets older, he'll be able to tell you more what he's feeling instead of getting so upset. Hang in there!!