To start off my afternoon, I put Lillian in bed, sent Charlie to quiet room time, and set about sweeping my floors and loading my dishwasher, all while thinking through what to write in this post on Mr. Ultrasensitive-to-a-Fault. I assumed I would detail all the grief Charlie has given me lately in a few key circumstances, and I still will. But first I have to mention: apparently Lillian didn’t want to be left out of this post, so she’s giving me a little grief of her own by refusing (yet again) to fall asleep. Finally I put a few books in her crib and said, “Okay, girl, if you’re not going to sleep, you’re at least going to stay there awhile.”
It’s been one of those days. I’ve had a few very sweet moments with my kids, and I’m clinging to those when I really want to throw up my hands, walk out the door, and let them figure out the rest of this day on their own.
I took Charlie to the dentist this morning. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Charlie has always been sensitive in unfamiliar situations with unfamiliar people. Being approached or, God forbid, touched by a stranger can send him spiraling into an uncontrollable episode of high-pitched whining and crying and gnashing of teeth. So last January, as we approached Charlie’s first-ever dentist appointment, I was extremely skeptical about his ability to last the entire appointment without a meltdown. But he was a trooper! I was blown away, and grateful to no end, that he did so well and wasn’t at all scared of the dentist. He got a new toothbrush and a cool matchbox car, and was pleased as punch.
Fast-forward to July. Early in the month, we attempted swimming lessons. Charlie was excited to go, even calm and happy as we sat around waiting for the lesson to begin. But as soon as he was given instructions, he went berserk. He refused to participate, even after I finally convinced him to at least get in the water. The failure of the day, however, was in my own response, which was obviously frustrated and disappointed at Charlie, two things that, in my ideal-mommy world, I would hope never to communicate to him so meanly. I was angry at myself, mad at the situation as a whole, and, to put it gently, a bit of an emotional wreck.
Later in July, Charlie was due for another dental checkup. I had no hesitation whatsoever, thanks to his stellar mouth-opening skills the first time around. So I was completely caught off guard when the appointment went downhill fast. He did great at the beginning. He climbed up in the chair, he was chatting with the hygienist, he opened up wide… but a few minutes in, the poor hygienist stuck his finger on the roof of Charlie’s mouth, unintentionally activating Charlie’s gag reflex, and the boy just lost it. No amount of talking or coaxing could convince him to settle down and let Mr. Phil get back to work. He was completely distraught. So we left, and I made an appointment for a month later.
Which brings us to today. Charlie and I have talked several times in the past few days about going to the dentist again, and he’s been great. He seemed ready to try again. I even had an appointment first, so he watched Mr. Phil clean my teeth and saw that it was no big deal. When it was Charlie’s turn, he started getting a little whiny and flaily like he does when he’s uncomfortable, and my heart sank. But at some point I must have said something that clicked with him, and he climbed up onto the chair, put on the cool sunglasses that the kiddos get to wear, and chatted with Mr. Phil about all the animals he had brought along. Things were going well. He opened up his mouth, got a few gentle pokes on his teeth, and I started relaxing. Then his tongue apparently bumped into the little mirror, which freaked him out, and all was lost. Whining, flailing, crying, squealing… A very kind female hygienist even came in to give it a try — maybe Charlie was just too nervous with Mr. Phil? — but to no avail. She was so sweet, and even “cleaned” the teeth of his toy dinosaur, snake, Buzz, and Woody. What a sport. But Charlie just refused to cooperate when it was his turn again.
And I’m completely flummoxed. I tend to think I’ve become pretty good at working with Charlie’s personality, but in these recent situations, I’m at a loss. And even looking back on them, I don’t know what would have been the best response from me. He needs love from me, most importantly, especially in situations where he feels vulnerable or afraid. But what does that love look like? Does it look tough, as in, “you’ll be punished if you don’t listen to and obey the instructor/teacher/hygienist”? Or does it look gentler, more compassionate? As in, “I understand that you’re feeling scared; let’s try again in a few months”? This brings to mind Ephesians 6:4 (“do not exasperate your children”): Am I not properly training/preparing Charlie for these situations, and therefore exasperating him by expecting too much? Or am I ultimately exasperating him by allowing him to control the situation with such out-of-control behavior?
I have no idea what to do. If this is a matter of his being too sensitive (Is it?), then I hope we can encourage him to be braver in these types of situations without squelching his sensitivity in other areas. Like, when he brings blankies and dollies to Lillian without prompting when she’s upset. Or when he thinks to pray for Lillian when she feels afraid. Surely this trait will benefit him someday and be a gift to the people he interacts with. Right now, though, it’s giving his mommy a headache.
Do any of you have sensitive kiddos and bits of wisdom to offer?