E was in six shirts before 11 a.m. this morning. This is not entirely unusual, especially over the course of a day, but today there was an anxiety associated with the fashion show, a sensory overload I have witnessed before.
First he tried to wear the shirt he was wearing yesterday. That got the mom-veto. Then he tried a very cute blue v-neck, which, according to my flawed memory, has never caused an issue. But if he pulled on the neck, it revealed his shoulders, which was unacceptable. Then there was a fancy red number, which, again, if the neck was pulled it showed the top of his chest. This was followed by striped Polo-style shirt, which had grown both too short and irritating around the collar. At some point he was in one of his sister’s t-shirts, which was on backwards and didn’t quite fit, as you might imagine. Finally, he settled on a nylon superhero shirt that he loves, but today was horribly itchy, paired with jeans he has been wearing for at least three days.
He scratched around the neck and shoulders of the beloved Spiderman shirt, clearly pained. Will this stop itching? he asked. I said, I think you’re having having a sensory day. This happens to me a lot, where I just don’t like way anything feels.
BUT WILL IT STOP? WILL IT EVER STOP FEELING THIS WAY?
Yes, I told him, but maybe not today. Todd gathered him up from the living room to head to the basement laundry, and I listened to them talking on the stairs. WILL IT STOP? E needed to know. This happens to me all the time too, Todd said. I just don’t like the way my clothes feel. Things seemed to settle down a bit after that.
The fact that both Todd and I could relate and talk with him about it evoked in me a mixed reaction. On one hand, we could guide him through it, connecting and listening, even if we couldn’t help. We could offer a double dose of empathy. On the other hand, it was painful to realize he was coming by this terrible, awful, no-good state of mind honestly. In the same way he sports Todd’s blue eyes and my gap-toothed smile, he is saddled with a tendency to feel uncomfortable in his own skin, his own clothes, his own body.
I should have seen this morning’s episode coming. He’s been insisting on the same jeans and t-shirt for a week and doing a lot more “crashing” than usual. E likes to throw himself on the ground ninja-style, rolling through the grass and bark chips, not stopping until he is grass stained, dirt in his hair and sporting a bruise or two. Sometimes he’ll take a couple of willing participants along for the ride. Classic sensory-seeker, sensory-avoider double whammy.
Tiny wrens and sparrows saturate themselves with dust to maintain their plumage, turning and twisting about in a self-made dust wallow, rubbing their heads in the dirt and working it through their feathers. Dust bathing rids the plumage of excess oil, which is absorbed by the dust and expelled along with dry skin and debris.
What looks to me like a raucous romp in the dirt for fun — something a mother might actively avert her eyes from — is really a cleansing process, a detox, medicine for his sensitive soul and out-of-sync body. He’s learning — and teaching me — how to lighten his load and create just the right conditions to fly again.