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Monday, October 12, 2009

Too Much Fun

A Guest Post by Zahava

Many parents of kids with sensory integration disorder look forward to school vacations with a mixed sense of joy and dread.

There is the joy of having time to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company. But, there is also the dread of knowing that at least a few times, the lack of regular routine will be too much for the child.  Almost certainly there will be some rough patches which require patience – often more patience than the parents possess – and the requirement for creative outlets to help keep the kid “on track” with the rest of the family.

The festival of Sukkot is not only a harvest festival, it is quite literally a feast for our senses. The ארבה מינים (arba minim/four species) have tactile and olfactory factors (shaking the לולב/lulav; the fragrance of the אתרוג/etrog).

Sitting in a  סוכה/Sukkah for meals for a week involves weather (good and bad). And the grand finale, שמחת תורה/Simchat Torah, involves singing, dancing, and more sweets than you can shake a stick at -- and often in overly-crowded, hot, boisterous conditions. Difficult, often, for folks without sensory issues -- overwhelming for those who do have them.

Now, several days later, I am rather surprised we didn't see the inevitable breakdown coming... but alas, we were too caught up in admiring Yonah's newly achieved ability to "go with the flow" this vacation to think proactively about how  שמחת תורה/Simchat Torah might affect him.

After having been a champion traveler/participator for two very long and extensive day trips, not to mention having been the perfect sleep over guest Thursday night at his Grandma and Grandpa's, we were not prepared for him becoming so over-stimulated during הקפות/hakafot that we would need to take him home early.

And 'overstimulated' might be a bit of an understatement.

The poor kid had been pushed just past the outer limits of self-control. The slightest request by David to modify his behavior resulted in earth-shattering screams and uncontrollable tears. Recognizing that he was well past the point of no return, David sent a search party into the woman's section to retrieve both me and our house key.

Upon exiting the shul I found my exasperated husband, and my beet-faced youngest child engaged in a battle of wills. To his credit, David was calm and collected, but Yonah -- oy, poor Yonah - was wrapped around one of David's legs, wailing wildly, resisting attempts by David to extricate himself from Yonah's tear-streaked grasp, and upon seeing me, ratcheting up the volume to new heights.

David quickly explained that Yonah had hit "critical mass," and that really, sleep was the only option at this point. Since Gili enjoys having David to celebrate with, and since Ari was off dancing with her friends, I offered to take the little guy home.

Yonah, unfortunately, did not agree to go willingly. After what seemed an eternity, we crossed the 100 yards between the shul and our front door and I managed to get him inside. I am quite certain that we presented quite the sight to everyone we passed. Yonah, was drenched with sweat and tears, and flailing wildly from my attempts to "move him along." I walked next to him, stooped over so that I could growl urgent whispers of "you had better control yourself little man!" into his ear as I tugged him past gaping neighbors and passers-by.

Once the front door snapped shut behind him, Yonah really kicked his indignant reproach into high gear. "I don't love you no more!" he screamed at me fiercely. "I don't love you no more! And I don't love אבא/Abba no more!" he screamed at me defiantly, his eyes locked on mine in an open challenge.

"Well, that's too bad, Yonah." I responded softly, "because even when we are upset with you, אבא/Abba and I still love you very much." `For emphasis, I placed a gentle kiss on his sweaty forehead.

"I am not going to bed", he hurled at me bitterly, "and, you can't make me!" he threw in for emphasis.

"Sweetie, you are going to bed. The only question is if you are going with a full or empty tummy." I responded crisply.

"I'm hungry," roared the little tyrant.

"I am sure you are," I answered as I was already busily preparing a plate of dinner and a cup of grape juice for his קידוש/kiddush.

Sensing that he really was going to be fed and sent off to bed, he desperately tried a new approach. With genuine sadness added to his fervent wail, he began bemoaning that he didn't want to eat dinner by himself. He wanted dinner with the family. Placing his meal on the table, I gently explained that shul wouldn't be over for quite some time, and that if he wanted to eat, he needed to do so at that moment. I explained that he wouldn't be by himself, because I would sit with him and keep him company.

As he was processing the state of affairs, a dramatic shift took place. A shift that really illuminated the huge distance we have traveled with Yonah since his surgery a year and a half ago. My sweet, affectionate, but usually rather inarticulate little boy began to sob. I quickly realized that the anger had completely subsided, and had in fact been replaced by deep and inconsolable sorrow.

"Yonah, sweetie?" I asked as I used one hand to gently wipe away the flood of tears and the other hand to gently caress his back, "Yonah, what is it?"

With a dismal toss of his head, he lifted his hands in a dramatic gesture, and declared, "I am really sad! I want to love you and אבא/Abba, but now I can't! You. Made. It. So. I. Can't. Love. You!" he yelled, punching each word for added emphasis.

The shift in his attitude caught me so completely off-guard! It was suddenly so hard not to laugh at the poor kid! (I know, I know, I got on the express elevator to hell!, but you try keeping a straight face when your kid goes all "Sybill" on you and let me know how that works out for you!)

I instinctively knew that the sadness was the manifestation of genuine regret for having said that he didn't love us "no more" earlier and that he hadn't a clue of how to retract the heinous sentiment and still "save face."

"Yonah, sweetie. That's the beautiful part about wanting to love someone -- all you have to do to love someone, is to want to, and it happens by iteself."

"But I can't!" he moaned miserably.

"Why not?" I asked gently.

"Because you were not speaking to me nicely. And אבא/Abba wasn't speaking to me nicely." he began to explain through his tears. "And I cannot love someones who don't speak nicely!" he finished with a twinge of defiance returning to his voice.

Determined not to allow his hilarious grammatical inconsistencies to be my undoing, I carefully bit down on my lip. "Well, then it's easy, then!" I began as he tossed me his best 'what kind of nonsense is this?' look. "Since you've stopped yelling and howling and carrying on, I have been speaking to you nicely, haven't I?"

As a sign of grudging acquiescence, he picked up his fork and began stabbing at the assortment of chicken and olives on his plate. Tears, of course, continued to trickle down his cheek.

As we sat quietly -- him chewing and sipping, and sniffling -- I was overcome with gratitude. Granted, it would have been a far more enjoyable evening had Yonah not gotten derailed somewhere during הקפות/hakafot, and had we all been able to enjoy dinner together. But the opportunity to watch him work through a range of emotions and circumstance -- to be able to identify and articulate his emotional status, and to be able to hint at what he needed to move past the momentary roadblock... well... it was nothing short of miraculous considering how incapable he was of doing this even just a few months ago.

The progress he has made at being able to communicate and express himself articulately is truly remarkable! 

By the time he'd finished his meal, washed up and changed into pajamas, the rest of the family had returned.

David, who was at first mildly perturbed at seeing the vonce(Yiddish for bedbug) still awake, melted as Yonah bounded across the room in a flying embrace mumbling, "I'm sorry I was a not-listening boy in shul."

After Yonah was safely out of earshot, I recounted the details of his supper with everyone. Both Ari and Gili cooed, "Oy! חמוד/chamood/cute!" with love and appreciation. David tried to appear non-plussed as he also murmured his appreciation of the events, but the surge of moistness in the corners of his eyes confirmed that he was also bowled over by the magnitude of Yonah's development.

Maybe not the fun celebratory meal we'd anticipated... but definitely the meaningful celebratory meal we needed in order to appreciate Yonah's hard-won growth and new-found ability.

Posted by David Bogner on October 12, 2009 | Permalink

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Wow!
You guys are such wise parents. Reading how you dealt with Yonah I am in awe. How do you know how to deal with situations like this? I would become pickled cabbage in the same situation.
It is so great to hear how Yonah is growing up dealing with all of lifes challenges. I suspect you have a very gifted boy there who will be extraordinary as an adult.

Posted by: Noa | Oct 12, 2009 7:38:02 PM

Wow... SO great. A tissue alert woulda been nice, too! (Hate getting ferklempt at my desk at work!)
Give that cute vonce a hug and a kiss from his Auntie Val.

Posted by: Val | Oct 12, 2009 7:39:22 PM

mazal tov :-) a HUGE achievement for him.

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | Oct 12, 2009 7:41:59 PM

That is great. Kids really are amazing.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 12, 2009 9:13:50 PM

Nice to see that Yonah was able to articulate his feelings, the bad and the good ones.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Oct 12, 2009 9:42:40 PM

Noa: Thanks for your kind support! Any wisdom comes from a wide variety of excellent parenting resources: Dr. Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski (Positive Parenting: Developing Your Child's Potential); Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk; Siblings Without Rivalry; and of course, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children); and of course anything by Glenn Latham and Stanley Greenspan. Kids don't come with their own instruction manuals, so we've tried to find some third-party accessories to make the job a bit easier....

Val: If it hadn't have been Shabbat/Yom Tov I'd have taken a digital video and posted it... He was so earnest!

Leah Weiss Caruso: תודה רבה/Thanks! It is sooooooo gratifying to see him developing these skills.

Jack: They certainly are!

Ilana-Davita: In some ways, I actually think the bad feelings are harder (and therefore, perhaps, a bit more important to be able) to express. I think it is a terrifying feeling for young children to experience anger/rage -- it can really posess a person. Being able to articulate what bothers you is the first step in being able to fix it! Since his surgery in May 2008, Yonah has done a good job of telling us what makes him happy, but has had tremendous difficulty in dealing with negative energy. This really was a huge breakthrough for him!

Posted by: zahava | Oct 12, 2009 10:47:22 PM

wonderful.
his acheivement yes... but also to the both of you for picking up all the nuances of his momentus afternoon.

Posted by: weese | Oct 13, 2009 4:16:18 PM

He's come a long way, baby.

Posted by: Baila | Oct 13, 2009 4:58:29 PM

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