The older I get the more gripped I am by the importance of listening to people’s stories. Every one of us comes from a different set of circumstances, a different family, different upbringing, different environment and a unique and beautiful mesh of personality quirks. If you know me you know that I am utterly fascinated by all of it. I love to watch people interact, to learn where they came from, what makes them tick, what makes them hurt. It’s fascinating because it is so multifaceted and messy and truly what makes this place in which we live so tragically magnificent. But my, how easy it is to view everyone’s decisions and behaviors from the lens of our own pretentious glasses. We see everything through that little glass disc filled with what makes us who we are. But what of others’? The older I get the more I realize that learning to take off our personal lenses isn’t a free gift of maturity. Rather, it’s quite rare. Anomalous. Many never learn to stop and shift their perspectives long enough to gain understanding. How tragic.
People need us to lay down our lenses.
A few months back a friend of mine shared a video she’d seen on Facebook of a little girl throwing a tantrum at a toy store. The child was in complete meltdown mode while the mom stood there checking out, completely ignoring her daughter’s behavior. I think the comment by the original poster of the video (along with most of the comments) said something to the effect of, Spoiled brat needs a good ass whoopin. My friend is single and has no children. I remember those days. I remember judging parents and thinking that my kid would never fillintheblank. Or, better yet, I would never fillintheblank as a parent. I get it. Ten years ago I probably would’ve joined in with my torch and pitchfork and commented with something similar. “Oh, hell no! Not my kid! Stop spoiling your children!” That sounds about right.
But instead my first reaction to that video was uncertainty. Was the child having a meltdown due to sensory overstimulation? Did she have a behavioral disorder? Was the mom not addressing the behavior because she was just trying to keep her composure until she could release all of her frustration through tears once she got in the car? Had the girl missed her nap? Had she not slept well the night before? Is mom just barely hanging on?
No one knows. And yet, they all have so much certainty that they do.
There is more than one lens. Sure, the little girl could be a spoiled brat. That’s the easy line. It’s easy to jump onto a viral bandwagon and shake fingers at a complete stranger that we will never see again. But there is a story there. There is a human being with a different set of circumstances than mine, a different family, a different upbringing than I had, in a different environment, with a unique and beautiful mesh of personality quirks. And we’re all giving her the finger.
The past couple of years I have been that mother and my youngest son has been that little girl. Sensory Processing Disorder is our story, and it is constantly unfolding into the best of times and worst of times. It has shifted my perspective, yet again, on many things. Today when I hear a child screaming inside the store I go find them and stroll past, examining if it is a situation in which I can help. Because I’ve been the scrutinized mother standing at the checkout counter being judged by torches and pitchforks as my child screams his ever-loving head off. I have been the mother walking out of the middle of a gymnastics class that my son got kicked out of, through a cave of staring parents with tears rolling down my cheeks. I have been the mother that spends an hour helping her son into his preschool classroom one foot at a time after all the other parents have left because his routine that morning changed causing him to feel unsteady and hyperemotional. I am that mother.
My son is both sensory seeking and extremely strong willed, which, if I’m being totally open and raw here, has sent me into a spiral of high anxiety over the last couple of years. I’m already a very over-stimulated person myself (he comes by his sensory issues honestly) and I’m highly attuned to every single person around me. I notice everything, and my intuitive nature focuses on others first, including their mannerisms, facial expressions, energy and motives. Mix that with my son’s SPD and it makes for some difficult times for this mama that I don’t open up much about. I’ve gained weight, been much more on edge than I ever was before, and have felt like a failure almost daily for the past year. But as hard as it can be, it’s helped me gain new perspective, and I truly believe that alone is one of the best gifts we can ever be given.
Multifaceted and messy. Isn’t it beautiful?
I have read so many heartwarming stories from other parents of children with SPD that continue to uplift me when times get rough. I know it will get better, and it already has so much. If you have a child with SPD, I am enveloping you in a big mama hug. I get you. I see you. You are doing a good job. If you know anyone who has a child with SPD, give them a hug, encourage them, tell them they are doing a good job. And if you don’t, I hope I’ve helped you take off your lens for a second. Listen. Learn. Understand. The world is better for it.