Tag Archives: highly sensitive child

Play date FAIL

The play date was going fine until Zach’s friend wanted to go outside.

Zach’s friend, you must understand, is a very talented athlete.  Zach, on the other hand, is not.  While he has agility and stamina, he is almost six years old and weighs in at a whopping thirty-five pounds soaking wet.  He simply cannot keep up with the other kids in strength and speed.

So, we went outside.  Talented Athlete wanted to play ball.  Zach did not.  Zach used to like to play ball, but lately he has figured out that he is not able to do the things the other kids can do.  Anything that involves strength, speed, and eye-hand coordination immediately puts him on the defensive.  Which is to say he goes on the offensive.  He gets nasty and dramatic, crying and accusing the other kid of cheating.

Frankly, I was relieved when Talented Athlete asked me to pitch him the ball while Zach decided to color on his chalk board.  I am not much of a pitcher, you must understand, but I don’t care about my ineptitude, so I was more than happy to fill in instead of dealing with Zach’s dramatic performance.

I played ball with Zach’s friend for a few minutes, then went to get something from the porch.  I glanced over and saw that Zach was writing and solving math problems on the chalk board.

I just don’t even know how to respond to the fact that my kid opts out by doing math problems instead of playing ball on a play date.

Make no mistake, he was opting out.  He wanted to fit in with the other child, but he gave up before it even began.  His friend wanted to play with him, but Zach was so afraid of being a weak athlete that he accused his friend of playing unfair, flopped about on the ground, and even hit him.

I don’t give a shit that he isn’t good at sports.  I wish he didn’t give such a shit.  I wish he would play – like he clearly wants to – without turning it into a dramatic performance.  Or that he wouldn’t play and would invite his friend to do something else nicely, instead of bossing the kid around.

We put him in t-ball to give him a chance to learn a sport.  He didn’t like it but he stuck it out, and I was proud of him for that.  We try to balance giving him a chance to shine and also trying new things that will be hard for him.  But every time he encounters an obstacle, he turns into a drama queen and refuses to even try, then gets angry about not being capable.

He was supposed to do lacrosse camp for the next four mornings, just to have something to do, but frankly, I don’t want to send him someplace that will just make him feel like shit about himself.  I gave him the option, and he doesn’t want to go.  Fine — it was cheap and I don’t mind letting it go.

I just wish I knew what we did to give him such low self-esteem that instead of realizing he has strengths, all he can see is the ways he fails.  There is a lot of pain in store for him if he spends the next fifteen years learning that he doesn’t have to give up on himself every time he feels awkward socially.

I ought to know.  I was the teenager who opted out of uncomfortable social situations by writing stories.

The center cannot hold

I’m sitting on the floor in the hallway outside my son’s therapist’s office, and I’m crying.

I’m on the phone with my mother-in-law, telling her that Zachary is completely imploding.  He has been lashing out at his parents, his siblings, and his friends.  Earlier this week, we had a friend over and Zach kept yelling at him to stay where he had put him because otherwise he would cheat at some game they were playing.  Zach called his friend “rude,” which is astonishing because this is – and I say this having had a great deal of experience with kids in many different places – the nicest child in the Western hemisphere.

Yes, the nicest child in the Western hemisphere wants to be friends with my son, and Zach shat all over that gift.

Then, today, I pick him up at school, only to have the aide in the classroom inform me that Zach spent the morning telling kids he hates them and hitting.  She’s standing there, no sympathy in her voice, rattling off his list of offenses.  The teacher isn’t in, and so it has fallen to her to tell me that Zach has been having problems for a week.  A task she seems to delight in, by the way.

“Pouting!” she says.  “Like that.  See that?” pointing to him.  Because maybe I don’t know what my kid pouting looks like.

So, I’m sitting on the floor in the hallway outside my son’s therapist’s office, and I’m crying.

My husband doesn’t think this therapist is doing Zach very much good, and perhaps he is right.  After all, Zach is still just as anxious as when he started six months ago.  We are seeing no improvement in his behavior or his self-esteem.  Because it is all about low self-esteem.  He’s off-the-charts smart, and I mean truly off the charts, but all Zach can see is that for some reason he doesn’t fit in with his peers.  He doesn’t know why, so he figures it’s because there is something wrong with him.

Or maybe them.  Maybe there’s something wrong with them?  Yeah, that’s it!  If I don’t feel like I fit in with my peers, let’s blame THEM.  That oughta make me feel better.

I have a call in to a new therapist.  I am hoping she can get in to observe him before the school year ends, because he only exhibits these problems with other children, so she needs to see him in his native element.  In the meantime, the uncertainty of the end of the year is killing this kid.  We still haven’t found a house, creating more uncertainty, and since he has been moved so much, Zach puts no stock in our assurances that we are only looking for houses right here in town, near his friends.

If he keeps any friends.

I can’t figure out how to help him.  We get him therapists, we talk to him, we shower him with positive attention, we create boundaries – we do all the right things.  But sometimes – in moments when I am being honest with myself – I recognize that we are just chasing our tails.  Because we can’t help him.  He’s going to have to learn to fit in on his own terms, and we can’t show him how to do it.

Which is why I’m sitting on the floor in the hallway outside my son’s therapist’s office, and I’m crying.

Scenes from a playdate

Three boys popped themselves out of my minivan as I unbuckled Lilah from her seat.  “Do you boys want to play outside for a few minutes while I make lunch?” I asked.

“Yes!” shouted Benjamin, not-yet-four and full of excitement that a six-year-old was over for a playdate.

“Nah,” said Zachary, prompting his friend to reply in the same vein.  Crap.  I was sort of hoping they would stay out at least long enough for me to run to the bathroom.

They filed into the mudroom, kicking off shoes and moving quickly into the kitchen to make space for the next child.  “Come on,” Zach urged his friend.  “Let’s get away from Ben.”

There was no place to get away from Benjamin.  The house is small, and the child was persistent.  I had not so much as opened a jar of jam before I heard wailing from the next room.  “Get him out of here!” shouted Zach.

This was Zach’s first playdate with Elliot.  He and Zach were spinning their wheels, trying to figure out what to do together, as they hadn’t yet developed a rhythm to their play.  Zach’s room is so tiny that it is hard to open the dresser without banging into the bed, so there is nowhere to play up there.  All they have is outside – which they had already rejected –, the small living room, and the adjacent sunroom.  Where Benjamin was.

For me to make lunch would mean walking away from the children, all of whom were required to be in the same space.  And as soon as I walked away, Zach turned from playing with his friend to fighting with his brother.  No one wanted to see a repeat of our last two playdates, during which Zach had gotten so anxious that his brother’s presence had sent him into a tailspin.

I managed to sit Lilah and Benjamin at the table long enough to shove a slice of cheese in each child’s hand.  That meant I was left with two things that somehow had to be done simultaneously: feeding the younger children and helping Zach and his friend find something to do.  Were I to turn away from feeding Benjamin, he would be down from the table and in his brother’s face, triggering a meltdown.  Were I to turn away from the older boys, Zachary’s anxiety would kick into high gear as he tried to control every detail of the playdate.

I dumped some hummus on both plates, then turned to the older children.  “Would you like to play Guess Who?”

“Yes!” Elliot replied.

“No,” Zach moaned at precisely the same moment.  “The other kid always wins!”  The truth of the matter is that the kid who goes first pretty much always wins, but try explaining that to a kindergartener.

Seven minutes later, we had somehow managed to arrange a game of Guess Who, with Zach and Elliot on one side and Benjamin partnered with me on the other.  Since I had to keep excusing myself to reheat pizza and spread peanut butter, that meant that poor Benjamin was pretty much holding his own against a five- and six-year old.  He asked three turns in a row if the mystery person was bald.  Fortunately, he was so thrilled to be playing with the big boys, he could not have cared less whether he won, lost, or contracted pertussis.

After the children were fed, I sent the older boys into the kitchen to roll cookie dough into balls and place it on a sheet.

“I think we’ll have nine,” Elliot told Zachary.

“And there’s three already baked in the cake stand,” Zach pointed out.  “So we’ll have twelve.”

“Great!  We’ll have a dozen!”  I made a mental note to congratulate their teacher on her math instruction.

An hour later, the boys had eaten cookies, Benjamin and Zachary had argued over a broken toy, Lilah was weeping on the couch, and I was pacing by the window, hoping Elliot’s babysitter would arrive to pick him up so that I could put Lilah down for a very overdue nap.  Then it took five minutes for Elliot to get on his shoes while he and Zach both tried to convince us the playdate should go longer.  I waved goodbye and whisked Lilah up for her nap.

“Will you read to us?” whined Zach eight minutes later, as I came back down the stairs.

“One minute, baby.”

It was an hour-and-a-half later, and I still needed to pee.

Testing… testing

Our school district – in its wisdom – decided that the kindergarteners need to do a week of standardized testing.  This despite the fact that half the kids can’t read and the other half will be too distracted by picking their noses for the test to have any validity. Now, normally, I would just chalk this up to a colossal waste of time and resources.


The kindergarten teachers felt they needed to reassure the kids that testing is not a big deal.  For a week and a half before the actual testing begins.

Yes, they announced to the kids a week and a half ago that there would be testing.  They had the children practice using privacy folders, which are meant to curtail the wandering eyes.  They told them to be sure not to tire themselves out, eat a good breakfast, and get plenty of rest.

Now, if you want to make sure that my particular kindergartener does not get plenty of rest, the best possible way to do so is to inform him a week and a half before you start testing that he is going to be tested.

He began by telling me he would need to miss tae kwon do on testing week.  I got his teacher to talk to him and explain that physical activity is actually a good thing to engage in.  She told him that testing really is nothing to worry about.

I repeated the message, as did his therapist.  I even went so far as to explain to him that the testing was just there to help figure out if the teachers are teaching the material well.

Clearly, he was unconvinced.  He has been awake for hours every night, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling.  He fell apart on a playdate.  He has been hideous to his mother and brother.

OK, that last one has nothing to do with the testing, but I wanted to complain about it anyway.

Testing starts this morning.  It will last a week.  On the one hand, I am thrilled to get started so it will be over with soon.  On the other hand, I know this is just the beginning of two decades of this shit, starting with the kindergarten tests in which they have to identify which picture is three o’clock and ending in cold sweats for months before the LSATs.

I wonder if he’ll need a privacy folder for the Bar Exam.