R.I.P., Mommy

I’ve been getting some interest in posts about Sensory Kids lately, so here are some thoughts on aggressive play from a couple years ago. I just had to confiscate a light sabre this morning, so it remains germane…

emily en route

A 32-year-old north side woman was turned into a banana and eaten this morning. The only witnesses, her two- and three-year-old sons, were unable to recall exact details of the incident, but it appears it might have involved foul play.

An angry young chef chopped up a 32-year-old Chicago mom at 4 p.m. this afternoon. He then put her in a soup with carrots and cinnamon. Her husband and two sons are being questioned.

A mother, confused for wild game, died of fatal wounds from a bow and arrow this afternoon. Just before the incident occurred, neighbors say they heard a young voice yell, “You’re a turkey and I’m a Wampanoag. I’m gonna shoot you, turkey.”

Image Sharks? Guns? “Yes, please!” Charlie and Kip say. (Daddy is much more comfy with violent play than I.)

I die at least three times a day. Each time, it’s new, in a way I’d…

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Smoothing into summer with Sensory Kids

We’ve made it through the first full week of summer. Gone are my leisurely mornings of quiet work time while both boys are in school; here are the days when every single moment is filled. From 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. or later. There’s not much room for anything besides engaging with them in every way I can devise and fending off their nagging for various electronic devices.

In an attempt to keep my sensory kid, in particular, feeling secure in this transition from school structure-o-rama to easy breeziness, I’ve created a summer rhythm. Every morning starts with “reading time,” in which my will-be first-grader and I practice reading one book. The rest of the day is fluid, save for the fact it holds one centerpiece activity the boys can count on:

Monday = Beach Day

Tuesday = Play Date Day

Wednesday = Culture Day (failed this week, but big plans for a tour of Chinatown and a return visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art in the next two weeks.)

Thursday = Pool Day (it was freezing yesterday. And rainy. But we’ll try again next week.)

Friday = Tag Day

This way, both boys have something they can expect to anchor each day. If I’m being dramatic, I’d say it makes them feel safe and prevents meltdowns, but really it’s just nice to know what comes next. I think we all can agree on that.

So far, I have managed to hit umpteen kid baseball games, host a playdate with five boys on a slack line and exercise lack of responsibility by taking down some serious sauvignon blanc with some mama friends at the end of said play date. I filled up a plastic pool in the back yard, whipped up my grandma’s unstoppable pie crust and turned it into blueberry pie. We played with my parents during a delightful long weekend, visited the Chicago Botanic Garden for the first time and laughed over the boys’ nonsense texts to Daddy. We’ve played tag with a bunch of sweaty kids at the park twice and hit up three street fests including Taste of Randolph, where Charlie and I developed a new love for the band, My My My. You will love them, too. Check it: http://www.mymymyband.com/music

All in all, summer is starting off harmoniously and the transition from kindergarten/preschool to summer-ness has been far less dramatic than the end-of-school transition in years past. If you have a sensory kid and have come up with ideas for how to make sliding into summer comfier for the whole family, email me or leave them in the comments section. I’d love to hear!

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Ballers

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I used to be precious about this antique couch.

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Slackliners

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The boys tried to make it like the real beach. Pretty pool.

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Reading time

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I am obviously not a pastry chef. But it tasted good.

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Very happy boys with their grandparents at the botanic gardens.

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This hat is intended to save me from botox and juvederm, or whatever stuff the ladies in their mid-30s are doing these days.

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Cracking up at ridicu-texts.

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Having a track coach for a grandpa has major perks.

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Batmen at Midsommarfest

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Have street fest, will party.

We thrash to be still: A tale of detox after a tough day

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The sensory-magical power of bowling was revealed to us last weekend. Heavy lifting, gross-motor throwing, twirling around in slippery shoes on waxy wood floors. Both boys were in heaven. It was a dream. We went twice.

I knew it’d been a rough day at school by the way the teacher handed me the clipboard to sign Charlie out. Before she could share any details, he darted out the door toward the parking lot in an attempt to avoid the ultimate nightmare—mom and teacher converging to talk about his tough day. He couldn’t dematerialize fast enough.

Tough days are the same for kids as they are for grown ups, I think. Something not awesome happens. You make some sort of mistake. Someone gets upset. You feel in some way uneasy. You try to pull yourself out of it. But it’s hard. What does this situation say about me? How do I feel right now? What do I do about it? Maybe you keep getting reminded of your shortcoming. Maybe you’re not sure of how to recover, so maybe you keep messing up. Maybe you feel generally discombobulated. Maybe you don’t want to face anyone because you’re embarrassed. Maybe it’s just one of those days. In the end, it doesn’t matter what went down. It’s just a tough day.

I said some things—shamey, punitive things—to him as we walked to the car that weren’t my best parenting. Maybe I haven’t been my best in general lately. Maybe I’ve been having my own tough days. Maybe my cropped-up-out-of-nowhere, monolithic internal shifting has prevented me from showing up for my kids in the super-present, heart-centered way to which I aspire. Maybe I could’ve been trying harder. Maybe I could’ve done something proactive to prevent the overload of his sensory system that’s been causing him three tough days in a row at school. Maybe.

Chicago is going on 21 days of below-zero temperatures. It’s been nearly a month of no outdoor recess, no park play and no running around out front. Too cold. This doesn’t bode well for a kid who regulates his nervous system primarily through gross motor activities.

We’ve had a ton of snow, which is heaped in parallel strips through unplowed alleys and side streets. When the sun comes out, it melts ever so slightly, such that it softens to collect and later freeze in the tire wells of our car. Charlie likes to kick at these hardened deposits of grimy, icy snow before and after school. Sometimes they dislodge from his blows, which he relishes; sometimes they don’t.

We pulled into the garage after school yesterday afternoon and he began kicking, to no avail. I helped him get one of the ice blocks unglued from the car’s undercarriage and what happened next amazed me.

Charlie began kicking and stomping the ice block with ferocity. Oh. He is mad, I observed. Wow. He’s really fucking pissed off about something.

“Kick it, buddy,” I encouraged, considering he might need to express his emotions physically. “Stomp that ice chunk. That’s it. Get it.”

His fervor in kicking and stomping grew. With each chunk of ice he chipped, he seemed a little more consumed by it. I stood nearby watching him, being there with him in his expression.

“Hey, Charlie. Are you mad?” I asked gently. He just kept kicking, almost as though he couldn’t hear me. “Yep, you’re mad, aren’t you buddy?”

He looked up at me and nodded his head once before going back to the demolition.

“I totally get it,” I said, noticing a delightful cocoon forming around the two of us. “You know it’s ok to be mad, don’t you? You won’t get in trouble for feeling mad. Say it out loud, even. Let yourself feel angry. Let it out.”

“Ok!” he fired back at me. “I’m mad. I’m really, really mad.” He looked up and, through the anger, I saw his relief. We found another ice chunk, but this one was too stubborn for his boots to dent, so I picked up a skinny length of firewood and he used it to whack the ice into oblivion. We found some more ice. And when all the ice was fractured in pieces around the garage, he marched into the back yard, where he began thrusting piles of snow off the table, chairs and steps with sweeping arm movements.

I pressed him on why he was angry, and at whom. It was a short list of people, and I was on it. I told him I understood why he was mad, and that I knew it was a hard day for him. He didn’t say much. Just kind of growled. “You don’t have to talk about it, but if you want to, I’m here to listen,” I said. “Or you can growl, or yell or whatever feels right to you. This is a safe space for that.”

He went to the trampoline, jumping and kicking at piles of snow, sweeping it away with a ceremonious combination of punches and footwork. On the stairs, he kicked at the ice buildup on the sides. Kip got a little too close and I encouraged him to steer clear of Charlie’s thrashing. “Kip, stand back,” Charlie cautioned. “I am like a ball of fire right now.”

He thrashed around the yard, strumming tiny icicles from their place under the back stairs, kicking at ice and whooshing his arms around wildly through piles of snow for a good 10 minutes. I could hear his breath from a few feet away. All throughout, I acted like a congregant at that Baptist church we’ve visited a few times.

That’s it.

Mmmhmm.

Do your thing.

I feel you.

All right, now.

That’s how you do it.

I got you.

Finally, with a touch of flair, he yanked his hat from his head, handed it to me and heaved a sigh. “I think I’m done, Mommy,” he said, the sweetness back in his face. “I’m ready to go inside. I feel so much better now.”

After the thrashing, we snuggled and played into evening, and we talked about what to do when he’s feeling overloaded at school. The next day, his teacher handed me the clipboard and tossed her hands in the air. “Well, today was much better,” she reported, baffled. “I have no idea why, but it was.”

I guess kids aren’t much different from adults on this front. After a tough day, sometimes the best medicine is to call it what it is, give yourself room to be mad (reeeeally mad, if need be), get your heart rate up to flush it out of your body and then go for hugs.

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While Brian was at a meditation retreat all weekend in Encinitas, Calif., this trio took to the bowling alley. After a rousing game, we huddled together for a photo. (it’s really too bad the scoreboard doesn’t show, because yours truly bowled an impressive 130. I felt sufficiently awesome about that. Grandpa Fogel would’ve been proud.)

A bedtime meditation for sensory kids

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For those who don’t already know, I have two sons, one of whom is an official sensory kid, the other unofficial. While heightened intuition, innate wisdom and emotional sensitivity are grand gifts in today’s world, parenting sensory kids like my little guys can be a nail-biting ride.

Throughout the course of a day, these kids absorb a lot. By “a lot,” I mean they take in all surrounding sounds, smells, sights, touch, tastes, energies and even other people’s emotional frequencies. In other words, their level of perception can get a bit like that of Robert Downey, Jr., as Sherlock Holmes. At the end of the day, if I’m lucky, their little nervous systems may have processed all this input effectively. However, after a long day of school and/or the stimulation of daily life as a city kid, it’s more likely they’re amped to high heaven.

So, before they go to sleep, we clear it all out. That way, they can start the next day fresh.

When they get older, they’ll figure out their own tricks for hitting the re-set button, but because my kids are so little, I’ve found they need help releasing all the gunk they’ve absorbed throughout the day. After years of experimenting with different approaches and gleaning knowledge from friends and experts like Alicia Isaacs Howes, an intuitive coach and friend who’s used visualization with her own sons, and Nancy Floy, whose powerful Mindfulness of the Body exercise prepares her patients to receive miraculous healing through her acupuncture practice at The Heartwood Center for Body, Mind, Spirit, I’ve come up with an evening meditation that works well for my boys. If anyone’s wondering, it works for grown-ups, too.

After we’ve bathed, brushed teeth, read stories, snuggled a bit and the lights are low, I help them draw attention to the soles of their feet by taking their feet in my hands and gently yet firmly squeezing the bottom of each foot, using my thumbs to give them a little massage. The idea is to treat the soles of the feet as exit doors for releasing built-up energy. If your child is super ticklish, just press the bottom of the foot firmly with your fist or open palm, using the heel of your hand to press into the heel, instep and ball of their feet, to the extent that it’s peaceful for them. If it’s not, just skip the touch and go straight into the guided meditation.

Guided bedtime meditation for Sensory Kids

The following is just a guide; it’s what works for our family. If a bedtime meditation resonates with you and your kids, play with your “script.” Tailor it to your kids, make it your own.

You’re walking through the forest* and you notice the ground feels soft beneath your feet. Right there, amid the tall, tall trees, you take your shoes off and let your bare feet sink into the cool, squishy mud.**

You feel the mud squishing between your toes, and it covers the tops of your feet, just up to your ankles. As you stand there feeling the squishiness of the soft earth, you notice the bottoms of your feet opening up, releasing all the stuff that you don’t need anymore. Any thoughts, feelings, experiences, beliefs, energies, ideas and other things that no longer serve your highest and greatest good come flushing out of your body through the bottoms of your feet and into the earth, where these things are cleaned and transformed. Anything from this life or past lifetimes that no longer serves your highest and greatest good flows gently and easily out of your feet like a faucet and you feel light and free.

At the same time, you notice a cord extending from the base of your spine*** into the ground. It extends down through all the layers of the earth—grass, mud, dirt, water, rock—all the way to the earth’s core, where you are always connected for as long as you want to be.

You now notice the crown of your head tingling gently as shimmering white light enters your body through the top of your head, filling it, your brain, your eyes and your throat with the brightest, most beautiful, most peaceful white light. This sparkling white light fills your chest, your heart, your lungs, your spine, your nervous system, your blood vessels and all your glands, purifying everything it touches and recharging every cell in your body. The glistening white light fills all of your organs, cleansing and restoring your liver, your gall bladder, your kidneys, your pancreas, your spleen, your stomach, your intestines, your bladder and your reproductive system. The shimmering white light then moves down into your arms, hands and fingers, and your legs, feet and toes. All of the bones and tissues in your body are filled with this brilliant white light. Soon, your whole body is shimmering light, and you feel totally free, totally peaceful and totally rejuvenated. You are ready for a wonderful night’s sleep.

Let’s pray:

God, give these children all the protection they need tonight while they sleep. As they journey through dreams, bless them that they may be bathed in Your protective light, accompanied by angels and filled with the peace, joy, love and belonging that comes from knowing Your constant presence. May they sleep beautifully and awaken in the morning feeling peaceful, restored, joyful, excited about the day and filled with the knowledge that they are loved, wanted and supported as Your divine child and as my child on Earth. Thank you, God. Bless these children. Amen.

NOTES: I use the term, sensory kid, to describe a child who has sensory integration issues or has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD). If you’re not familiar with SPD, see the SPD Foundation website. Regardless of how your child’s sensory issues present, I’ve observed that all sensory kids have at least a few things in common: They are highly intuitive, sensitive, quirky kids who often seem to have an otherworldly wisdom about them. (Not that it presents all the time but, when it does, wow.) These kids have great imaginations, which makes them especially open to visualization and guided meditation. I came up with the below script one night while putting them to bed and it stuck. Now, it’s part of our nighttime ritual. 

*Pick the element of nature that resonates most with your child. Nature is the ultimate cleansing agent for all of us, which is why many guided meditations begin by setting the stage in some beautiful outdoor place. As I desire to bring a sense of grounding before my boys enter the superconscious sleep state, I choose to paint a picture of earth and trees. However, we’ve tried it with sand and sea before as well. If your kid loves mountains, describe a mountain setting. If your kid loves the lake, describe the lake. If your kid loves rocks, describe a field of boulders. And so on.

**If your child is sensory averting, you may wish to describe something that feels less messy and offensive than mud or wet sand. For example, you guide them in removing their socks to feel a warm or cool stone beneath their feet.

***You may wish to touch the base of the spine to help your child with the visual. In fact, feel free to have your child lie on his or her stomach so you can give a gentle full-body massage as you walk him or her through the meditation.